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Palladino: WR-Heavy Draft Could Play Right Into Jets’ Hands

Wide receiver Marqise Lee of the USC Trojans (Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)

Wide receiver Marqise Lee of the USC Trojans (Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)

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By Ernie Palladino
» More Ernie Palladino Columns

Good news: Derek Jeter and Hannah Davis apparently have reconciled and are back on the celebrity dating track.

Bad news: The Jets remain in search of a reliable target for Geno Smith.

Ordinarily, you’d think these two events were unrelated.

They are, basically. The only thing they have in common is their miniscule-at-best impact on Middle East peace and global warming.

Really, the top item was just an easy way to get into the second, far more important item below it. As the NFL Combine continues, Rex Ryan and John Idzik will no doubt keep their eyes peeled for one of the top-flight wide receivers currently being timed, prodded, poked and perused in Indianapolis which might fit snugly into their No. 18 draft spot.

With only Jeremy Kerley standing tall in Smith’s arsenal, the Jets could use a stud pass-catcher. And if there is any year to find one in the high rounds, this would be the year. According to the Daily News, this is one of the deepest receiving crops in recent years, right up there with the quarterbacks. And wouldn’t it be something — just a flight of fancy here — if the Jets went QB-WR in Rounds 1 and 2?

That’s getting ahead of things, however. Not by much, though. With Mark Sanchez on the verge of release, given the $13.1 million salary cap hit he’ll cost the Jets this year, and the $1 million roster bonus that, among other things, could trigger the release of Santonio Holmes, the Jets will soon be experiencing the severe shorts at both positions.

Although one should not count on the Jets standing pat with Smith as their quarterback of 2014 — he showed more than enough flaws as a rookie to support a draft do-over at quarterback — the bare minimum requirement this year should be a high-round wide receiver. The defense will remain strong enough, especially in that ferocious front seven. But winning football games in this day an age takes points.

Lots of them. And a good wide receiver who hopefully would be more reliable than Stephen Hill would help Smith and offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg immensely.

There should be some good, solid stock to choose from by the time the Jets go on the clock. Many draftniks predict as many as eight wide receivers could go in the first round alone.

Marqise Lee could be around. He was a big YAC (yards after catch) guy for UCLA, sort of in the Holmes mode minus the mouth and bad attitude. He’s had injury problems, and at 5-foot-11, 195, he won’t be the biggest receiver out there. But at this point, anything is better than what the Jets have outside of Kerley right now.

Then again, a fellow like Odell Beckham Jr., a big-play threat out of LSU, could be a better fit for Mornhinweg’s version of the West Coast offense. He averaged 19.5 yards per reception last year. He’s another little guy, but the Jets probably shouldn’t be too concerned with physical size at this point.

This is the Combine, though, and more than one general manager has been known to fall in love with large, bulky players who show stopwatch speed and bench-press strength. If Idzik belongs to that club, then he’s probably paying special attention to Florida State’s Kelvin Benjamin. He’d make a nice, big target for Smith at 6-foot-4, 230, and be oh, so tempting a target on the end zone fade. Whether he’ll be there at 18 is a huge question, so it would probably take a trade-up to get him.

Still, scouts say Benjamin is a dynamic force, something that moribund offense could use.

Then again, there’s a whole flock of quarterbacks coming out, too. The way Smith played in 2013, it might do the Jets good to release Sanchez, throw Smith into a backup role, and start over with a real franchise-quality quarterback.

But if they’re sold on Smith as their guy, then wide receiver might be the first-round pick. They should have a variety to choose from, at least.

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