FLORHAM PARK, N.J. (AP) — Rex Ryan and his aggressive Jets defense just got a big boost.
The Jets selected Temple defensive lineman Muhammad Wilkerson with the 30th overall pick in the NFL draft Thursday night, giving New York the big-time pass rusher they coveted.
The 6-foot-4 1/2, 305-pound Wilkerson had 9 1/2 sacks last year for the Owls, and should immediately help the Jets, who have made it to the AFC championship game the last two seasons.
“I don’t see him as a nose tackle, but this young man can play defensive end in our system and tackle as well,” Ryan said. “I see him as a possible three-down contributor for us. We’ll see. His work ethic, he’s going to have to come in here and earn his reps and everything else, but we think he’s going to be an outstanding player for us.”
Despite Jets fans at the draft site at Radio City Music Hall chanting “We Want Bowers!” — for Clemson defensive end Da’Quan Bowers — New York went with a local kid from Linden, N.J., who can also be a huge help against the run.
“I think Muhammad really fits what we want to do defensively, a guy who can really play head-up on a tackle and kick back in passing situations over guards and centers,” Ryan said. “Really, he really was an outstanding fit for what we do defensively.”
While Ryan’s defense has ranked among the top teams in overall defense the last two year, but it was far from dominant last season. A major culprit was not putting enough consistent pressure on quarterbacks — something they hope Wilkerson will provide.
“He was an excellent player in college, but we think he’s got more to give,” Ryan said. “I’m just excited to see this guy. We’re going to push him and push him and push him, and coach him up to play the way we play.”
Wilkerson was the Owls’ most valuable defensive player last season and decided to skip his senior season to enter the draft. A team captain, Wilkerson was named to the Outland Trophy watch list, and finished his career with 17 1/2 sacks.
He was also a disruptive force in the backfield during his career, stuffing running backs behind the line routinely. Ryan compared him to Trevor Pryce, who played for the Jets last season, as a guy with good size and a terrific wingspan — 35 1/4 inches — who can get to the quarterback and be plugged in anywhere on the defensive line.
Even draft guru Mel Kiper liked the selection, praising it on ESPN’s broadcast.
“You can make an argument this is the best pick of the first round,” he said.
General manager Mike Tannenbaum, who has earned a reputation for being a wheeler-and-dealer on draft day, said there were a few “cursory” phone calls made about trading the pick.
“We listened when we were on the clock, too,” he said, “but really, when Muhammad was on the clock, we were really excited about that opportunity.”
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