The Jets draft Quinton Coples to do what Vernon Gholston couldn’t

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Coples, getting to the ball. (newyorkjets.com)
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It’s a sentiment you hear every year: The Jets need a dominant pass rusher off the edge.

The hand-wringing about the Jets' pass rush is a bit overstated but generally valid: They ranked 13th in sack percentage in 2011, 8th in 2010, and 15th in 2009. They have done so despite a scheme that has traditionally been blitz-heavy, although, as ESPN repeatedly flashed during its draft coverage last night, the Jets ranked just 12th in blitz percentage last year, down from 3rd and 1st the previous two years.

For a team whose defense has designs on dominance but has settled for mere excellence the past two years, the beastly edge rusher is the missing piece: a guy like Jared Allen, or Julius Peppers, or, closer to home, Jason Pierre-Paul or Osi Umenyiora.

The problem with this is that the Jets 3-4 defensive scheme doesn’t do much to accommodate these perfectly angular players who seemed engineered by God to blow past left tackles and destroy the quarterback. Those players excel as defensive ends in a 4-3 scheme, a position that doesn’t exist in the Jets scheme. Rather, the Jets must find their edge rushers from the ranks of outside linebackers—players who are also charged with covering running backs downfield. It’s very difficult to find an excellent edge rusher. It’s even more difficult to find one who can also play pass coverage.

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Given this, the Jets' best hope of upgrading their pass rush likely isn’t going come from the bold stroke of drafting the next Jason Pierre-Paul, but rather more incrementally. The Jets hope that last night’s selection of defensive end Quinton Coples, out of the University of North Carolina, with the 16th pick, represents a pretty big step.

Coples, who Ryan indicated would play left defensive end in the Jets’ 3-4 scheme, is a curious case. During his junior year, he excelled rushing the passer as a left defensive tackle, posting ten sacks. Then for his senior year he moved to right defensive end, the classic pass-rusher position, and struggled, with only 7.5 sacks.

His disappointing senior year had pundits questioning his play-to-play effort. ESPN analyst Jon Gruden was among these pundits, saying last night, “The effort is way too inconsistent for me.”

But Ryan, in his post-draft comments, indicated that Coples’ declining production was more the product of his position switch than anything else.

Switching from the left defensive tackle to the right defensive end, said Ryan, “Takes some time and adjustments. Everything you’re used to working off of, a right-handed stance, now you’re down to a left-handed stance. Some guys, they can make that transition easy, and sometimes you can’t.”

So Coples might not be the edge rusher fans have long clamored for. But Jets brass is hoping that he’ll be a good interior rusher who can get the Jets pass rush where it needs to be.

“The old saying is that the defensive tackle’s job is to push the quarterback back and the outside guy’s job is to push the quarterback forward,” Ryan said. “I think that with this addition, we can push that quarterback back a little bit.”

This year, it’s likely that Coples will compete for playing time immediately at left defensive end, opposite right end Muhammad Wilkerson. Wilkerson was Coples’ teammate as a postgraduate at Hargrave Military Academy, and put in a good word for him.

Whether or not Coples becomes a nominal “starter” off the bat is an open question. Mike DeVito, the incumbent left defensive end, is one of the best run defenders for his position in the league, but is removed in passing situations. Last year, Marcus Dixon and Ropati Pitoitua were the ones replacing DeVito in passing situations, but if Coples impresses in training camp, look for him to leapfrog those two in short order. (A key aspect of this draft choice is that DeVito, Dixon, and Pitoitua are all free agents after this year.)

The most optimistic pundits have compared Coples to Julius Peppers, the Chicago Bears' star defensive end and another University of North Carolina alum. The most pessimistic have compared him to Vernon Gholston, the Jets' sixth overall pick in the 2008 draft who never made the transition from 4-3 end to 3-4 outside linebacker, and became one of the worst Jets draft picks of all time. (Which is saying something.)

But Ryan set an optimistic, if not unreasonable, benchmark when he compared Coples to Shaun Ellis and Trevor Pryce, two 3-4 defensive ends who didn’t put up eye-popping numbers but were productive contributors for a long time.

DARRELLE REVIS IS CONSIDERING HOLDING OUT, FOR WHAT would be the second time in four years. During the "Hard Knocks"-documented training camp of 2010, Revis signed a four-year, $46 million extension to his rookie deal, two of which have expired.

Normally, holding out halfway through a renegotiated four-year deal would seem like a violation of the unwritten, hazy moral code that governs such things. But consider this, from Jenny Vrentas of the Star-Ledger:

At the time, the deal was thought to be a band-aid deal to end the lengthy holdout. GM Mike Tannenbaum called it an “intermediate” step toward keeping Revis with the Jets for the rest of his career.

Revis’ deal is frontloaded, giving him the Nnamdi Asomugha average he sought over the first two years, $16.25 million per year. His compensation then dropped to $7.5 million in 2012 and $6 million in 2013, which has fostered speculation that now would be the time he would want that long-term extension the sides didn’t strike in 2010.

For his part, Tannenbaum said what general managers always say when they’re put in this position: “Darrelle is under contract.”

This is one of those statements that sounds forceful and peremptory but, in the context of non-guaranteed contracts and the murky behavioral rules associated with them, actually means very little.

MARK SANCHEZ AND HIS RANDOM HIPSTER FRIEND—wait, no, that’s Santonio Holmes—were booed vociferously during Wednesday night’s Knicks game at Madison Square Garden.

Many factors contributed to this booing:

The obvious one was the Jets’ disappointing season, which was in no small part due to the disappointing play of Sanchez and Holmes, and, related or not, the public blowup of their relationship. New York fans are in a booing mood these days, anyway.

There’s also the likelihood that most people at MSG on any given night belong to the Giants/Yankees persuasion of New York fan.

But really, I think this booing represents a fatigue with inane Jets media narratives, like the one about how buddy-buddy Sanchez and Holmes are, and the one about Sanchez’s backup. It’s not that people are tired of the Jets. They’re just tired of manufactured Jets stories that have nothing to do with football.

APPARENTLY THE RAIDERS ARE INTERESTED IN HIRING THE JETS' vice president of college scouting Joey Clinkscales, who has overseen the Jets drafts since 2008.

I’m sure Clinkscales is a fine football man and all, and he played in college with Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie, but judging by his record alone, why anyone would want to hire this guy is a mystery.

The four drafts Clinkscales have overseen have been very poor. Consider the Jets’ first- and second-round picks during this span: Vernon Gholston, Dustin Keller, Mark Sanchez, Vladimir Ducasse and Kyle Wilson.

Now compare those guys to the Giants’ first and second round picks: Kenny Phillips, Terrell Thomas, Hakeem Nicks, Will Beatty, Clint Sintim, Jason Pierre-Paul, and Linval Joseph.

Of the Jets’ five players, only Keller is an above-average player for his position. Sure, Sanchez and Wilson can still develop into good players, but it’s not too early to characterize the Jets’ haul as pretty underwhelming.

The Jets have mined some value in the later rounds, but really not too much. Late-round picks Matt Slauson and John Conner are adequate starters. Shonn Greene, a third rounder, has been a solid enough contributor. Joe McKnight, a fourth rounder, has done good things on special teams.

But the core of the recent-vintage Jets has been assembled mostly from free-agent acquisitions, trades and players the Jets drafted before Clinkscales took over. Most notable among these is the “core four” group drafted in 2006 and 2007: D’Brickashaw Ferguson and Nick Mangold in 2006, and Darrelle Revis and David Harris in 2007.

Anyone looking for reasons for why the Jets haven’t ascended to the ranks of the Truly Elite need not look further than the players they’ve drafted since then.