By Ernie Palladino
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The Jets and Giants coaches and executives who attend this week’s NFL Scouting Combine will certainly pay rapt attention to the portion of the 332 prospects who work out Feb. 25 and 26 in Indianapolis.READ MORE: Sen. Gillibrand, Rep. Torres Propose Federal Heat Sensor Requirement In Wake Of Deadly Bronx High-Rise Fire
They’ve all got value boards to refine, and the Combine represents one of the big pieces of that puzzle. But when it comes to really big pieces, their eyes should certainly sharpen on the 27th and 28th. That’s when the guys who can really get after the quarterback step out at Lucas Oil Stadium.
Those are the pass-rushing defensive linemen and linebackers. As they go through their dashes, bench presses, shuttle runs, vertical leaps and agility drills wearing only aerodynamic lycra and a grimace, Jets GM Mike Maccagnan, Giants GM Jerry Reese and their scouting minions will have just two objectives: find someone who can dump the quarterback with some regularity, and make sure they don’t fall in love with the wrong guy.
The last part takes some doing. It’s easy to get fooled at stopwatch events like this. Any prospect who cares even a little about enhancing their draft position — virtually all of them — have been working out since the end of the college season at special facilities designed to improve their sprinting form, tailor their diets and peak their strength so they hit Indianapolis on Tuesday in optimum shape. The times they run, the heights they jump and the 225-pound reps they bench can boggle the mind and muddle the judgment.
A guy can look like Lawrence Taylor and turn into Mike Mamula, a record-setting workout monster the Eagles fell head over heels with in 1995 who turned into little more than a mediocrity at defensive end.
Happens every year.
Neither Maccagnan nor Reese can afford to make that kind of mistake.
Maccagnan is currently mulling a franchise tag for defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson, which would lock down one power-rushing spot for at least the upcoming season. But the Jets lacked an outside pass rush the whole year. With Ohio State’s Joey Bosa projected to be long gone by the time the Jets pick at No. 20, Maccagnan should probably pay close attention to Georgia outside linebacker Leonard Floyd or Alabama middle linebacker Reggie Ragland, both of whom could be there.READ MORE: Remote Option Returning To NYC Schools As Omicron Continues To Fuel Nationwide Spike In COVID Cases
In Floyd, they could land a speed guy who can get the league’s 12th-ranked pass rush a step closer to replicating the Denver pressure that became not only the apple of the league’s eye, but that of Jets safety Calvin Pryor as per his pre-Super Bowl tweet: “If we had a pass rush like Denver (weary-face emoji).”
Ragland spent his time with the Crimson Tide commanding the middle, but raised eyebrows when he asked Senior Bowl coaches to work him out on the outside. He apparently did well enough that he can now be considered for both spots.
The Giants are, of course, in far worse shape. With nine-fingered defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul’s projected productivity as up in the air as the unrestricted free agent’s roster status, the Giants need a player at No. 10 who can impact the league’s worst pass rush.
Reese undoubtedly will spend much time ogling Oregon’s DeForest Buckner, the defensive end many draftniks have him taking. With 10½ sacks and 17 tackles behind the line in 2015, the senior was looked upon as a leader, a quality the Giants could certainly use on a changing defensive front.
Clemson junior Shaq Lawson could also grab their attention, due mainly to 12½ sacks and 24½ tackles for loss, but especially if he posts times that back up the quickness he showed in dominating Notre Dame’s first-round left tackle, Ronnie Stanley, in October.
The other positions will draw plenty of attention, too. But for the Jets and Giants, pass rush is paramount, at least in the days before free agency opens March 9.
This week, it’s all about the prospects. The trick for them comes in separating the real players from the “workout warriors.”
Given their respective needs, neither can afford a mistake, especially when it comes time for the pass rushers to show their stuff Saturday and Sunday.MORE NEWS: Driver Charged After 15-Year-Old Girl Struck, Killed By School Bus In Brooklyn Hit-And-Run
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