In the days and weeks leading up to Thursday’s NFL draft, Jonathan Cooper did everything he could to avoid looking at mock drafts.
“They really make me nervous,” the UNC guard said with a smile, at an NFL Play 60 event at Chelsea Waterside Park Wednesday. “Nothing's written in stone, it's all speculation."
That’s the beauty – and, possibly, the curse – of this year’s batch of NFL hopefuls. While there isn’t one sure-fire star (like Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III in 2012), this draft class could produce solid starters for years to come.
And, with two picks in the first round, there’s no telling what the Jets will do. First-time general manager John Idzik can go a number of different ways in the first round: he can look to build a better foundation for his offensive (Cooper, Chance Warmack) and defensive lines (Jarvis Jones, Barkevious Mingo); select offensive playmakers (Tavon Austin, Tyler Eifert); or look to the future, by selecting a quarterback (Geno Smith, EJ Manuel). But with talent to be had in the later rounds, Idzik made decide to trade down in order to acquire more picks.
After talking to several draftees at Wednesday’s event, it’s clear any of one those avenues are a possibility for the Jets.
Said Mingo: "I would love to play for the Jets. They like to get to the quarterback and they like to draft players that get to the quarterback."
“I could see them picking me,” said Manuel, the former Florida State QB. “I know they just got another first-round pick so that makes me happy. I'd love to play for the Jets. I went there two weeks ago, visited with all the coaches and I had a really good vibe with all of them. Also with the GM, Mr. Idzik. So we'll see what happens."
The Jets currently have five quarterbacks on their roster, but none of them are viewed as long-term solutions. But is this the year the Jets should seek out Mark Sanchez’s successor? For months, draft analysts have said this is a down year as quarterbacks go. But, for Manuel, those negative comments only help cement the chip on his shoulder.
“I think u have to have one regardless of whether they say something or not,” he said. “I think a lot if that is media-driven, as far as them saying we're not that good. But it is what it is.
“This isn't college anymore. People are going to be blunt and they're going to be wide-open with you. I understand that and I'm sure the other quarterbacks do too."
Though he expects to be a first-round pick, Manuel said he won’t get too worked up if he has to wait to hear his name. The past few months have given him perspective beyond his years. His mother, Jackie -- who was diagnosed with breast cancer last year – will arrive in New York City Thursday following a radiation appointment. Manuel said he hopes to buy his parents a house with his new rookie contract.
“I finished my career in college with her going through that,” he said, “and now this is a whole new phase with her (hopefully) living the cancer-free life.”
Smith had dinner with Jets quarterbacks coach David Lee, offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg and two scouts the night before his West Virginia Pro Day.
“Just good dinner, conversation,” Smith said of the evening. “Just trying to get to know one another.”
The good vibes continued from there, he said. “They came and sat with me in West Virginia, came to my Pro Day, so there's a level of interest there,” he said. “I had a great visit and all those coaches are great – coach Lee, coach Mornhinweg. Just really sat down with those guys and enjoyed (it). We'll see what happens. Whether or not I go there will be up to the teams in front of them.”
Smith expects to go early in the first round, “but if I don't it's not going to faze me, really. The only thing I can do is wait until a team calls my name...and try to win the starting job."
The former Mountaineer also doesn’t seemed fazed by the prospect of being selected by the Jets – a rebuilding team nestled in a relentless media market.
“I think it's the way you look at it,” Smith said. “You can look at it like a negative or you can look at it as a positive. New York's a great place and market. A great city. And once you start winning games here, and get things rolling -- I mean, look at Eli (Manning), even "Broadway Joe." He's still a legend around here. It's all about how you spin it and how you look at it."
Austin, Smith's former teammate, also sees the Jets as a good fit.
“Hopefully, we can make it happen," the 5-8 receiver said of possibly being selected by the Jets. (Rex Ryan) said he had a plan for me…And they said they like players like me who bring big-play ability.”