FLORHAM PARK, NJ-For a guy who was generally acknowledged to be "winning" the first couple of days of the competition, Kellen Clemens had an interesting take on the fight for the Jets' starting quarterback spot.
"We're getting a lot of attention through all of this, but really, if you look at the five guys in front of us, our offensive line, they're going to make it easier for whoever the quarterback is," Clemens said. "Add in our special teams and our defense, and the way I look at it, whoever's playing quarterback for this team, the group that surrounds him is going to make it easier to perform."
Coming as it does from a man who very much wants the job, this is a jolting dose of perspective. Clemens is almost saying that it doesn't matter who the Jets' quarterback is, because the rest of the team is so good. But maybe it shouldn't be a surprise that Clemens has done so much deep thinking about this. After all, the competition for the Jets' starting QB job can't really start until after this weekend's NFL draft is over.
With the Jets sitting at the No. 17 pick in the first round, there's a chance they could select a quarterback who would come in and compete with Clemens, Brett Ratliff and Erik Ainge for the starting QB spot. Matt Stafford looks as if he's going No. 1 overall to the Lions, and Mark Sanchez looks as if he'll be long gone before 17, which means the Jets would have to trade up to get either of them. But Josh Freeman could still be there when the Jets pick, and since none of the current options is a slam-dunk NFL starter, they'd have to at least consider a talent like that.
Right, Mike Tannenbaum?
"Right now we're comfortable with the three guys we have," Tannenbaum, the Jets' GM, said during Friday's pre-draft press conference. "Those guys have earned the right to compete for the job, and that's based on the long period of time they've been here and the work ethic they've demonstrated. They've done enough good things to earn the right to go forward and compete."
Which may be true, may be a draft smokescreen and may be both. Tannenbaum said he's very comfortable at the No. 17 pick and fully anticipates taking a player at that spot (meaning, not trading up). But the truth is that nobody actually knows what's going to happen come Saturday night. Surprises early in the round could lead to Sanchez (or even Stafford, really) dropping down the board and enticing the Jets to trade up and out of their spot to land a potential franchise QB. They could decide that Freeman is the best player on their board when it does come time to draft. And if they pick a quarterback, then Clemens, Ratliff and Ainge will find a new face in the QB competition when the next minicamp arrives on May 11.
"The way I look at it, any extra work that we can get is better for us," Ratlliff said. "Where then that much further ahead than whoever comes in, whether it's a veteran or a draft pick. We have a head start."
It seems fair to assume that the Jets will address offense with their first-round pick, since their offseason to date has been so focused on addressing the defense. That point was made to head coach Rex Ryan in his own press conference Friday, and Ryan smiled at his questioner and said, "You can presume anything you want."
Ryan and Tannenbaum both joked that offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer has been pestering them to make sure they pick an offensive player in the draft, but coach and GM both stuck to the pre-draft script, repeating their plan to "let the board dictate" who they pick.
"If it happens to be that clearly the best player on the board is a defensive player, then Schottie is going to go crazy, but we've got to be fair to our football team and get the best guy," Ryan said.
As Josh Alper pointed out in his rundown of the Jets' draft needs in our "Perfect Draft" series, the Jets have needs at wide receiver and maybe even running back on the offensive side of the ball. Given the strength of this year's WR crop, picking a receiver would seem to be the Jets' best move at No. 17. There has also been some talk around the team about interest in Oklahoma State's Brandon Pettigrew, the draft's top tight end. But as long as the big three QBs are on the board, the post-Brett Favre Jets are going to look like a good landing spot for one of them.
Joey Clinkscales, the Jets' director of college scouting, offered thumbnail breakdowns of Sanchez and Freeman during Friday's press conference:
"Sanchez is a fantastic leader. He's played in Los Angeles, which is like the 33rd NFL team, and he's led that team. He doesn't have a large body of work, but the body of work he's put together has been really good. Really special."
"Freeman is physically gifted. He has a big arm. Maybe hasn't has as much success as Sanchez, had at USC, but he's a very talented, athletic kid."
If the Jets get either one of them, we're sure to hear much more from Clinkscales and the rest of the team about how great they are. But whether they take a quarterback this weekend or not, once the draft is over, the Jets will finally, at long last, really know what their quarterback competition looks like.