Rex Ryan took the Jets to the AFC Championship Game his first two seasons as their head coach, winning two playoff games each of those years. One of those playoff wins was a 28-21 victory over the Patriots in Foxborough in 2010. It seemed unlikely at the time, but the Jets would not build on that success, but instead go on to finish 8-8 in 2011 and 6-10 in 2012.
There was speculation that they would let Ryan go and make it a clean sweep when they fired general manager Mike Tannenbaum following that disappointing 2012 season. Instead, they retained Ryan, but the speculation picked up again during last year's 8-8 season.
Following a 23-3 loss to the Dolphins in December of last year, ESPN New York Jets reporter Rich Cimini felt Ryan needed to win two of the last four games to keep his job, and Cimini didn't seem optimistic about it happening coming off that performance.
The Jets won three of the last four games, and Ryan ended up signing a multiyear extension, but his salary is only guaranteed through the 2015 season, so making a coaching change wouldn't be cost prohibitive.
So, can the Jets be a team that seemingly comes out of nowhere to make a deep playoff run and validate the decision to keep Ryan?
Second-year general manager John Idzik has been active in free agency, adding quarterback Michael Vick, wide receiver Eric Decker, wide receiver Jacoby Ford, offensive tackle Breno Giacomini, corner Dimitri Patterson and most recently running back Chris Johnson.
The Jets also hit it big in when they got defensive rookie of the year in defensive lineman Sheldon Richardson out of Missouri at No. 13 last year.
However, the jury is still very much out on three of the Jets' four picks from last year's draft as ninth overall pick corner Dee Milliner, second-round pick quarterback Geno Smith and third-round pick offensive guard Brian Winters all had their struggles.
Vick provides insurance when it comes to Smith, but Milliner and Winters need to elevate their game, and the Jets need help from this year's draft to get where they want to go.
Todd McShay and Mel Kiper both have the Jets taking Oregon State wide receiver Brandin Cooks* (Scouts Inc. Grade: 91) in the first round and Washington tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins* (Scouts Inc. Grade: 83) in the second round in their latest mock drafts. (You can check out McShay's mock here. Kiper's mock is here.)
Jets fans should be happy with those picks but it's not the only way to go about it.
Here's my blueprint for the Jets to get back into contention with their top three picks this year and it's more of a defensive approach. As always, draft-eligible non-seniors have been denoted with an asterisk.
Round 1: Pick 18 -– Ohio State corner Bradley Roby* (Scouts Inc. Grade: 89)
As Cimini points out in another post the Jets "cut Antonio Cromartie, made unsuccessful bids for free agents Vontae Davis and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and showed no interest in reacquiring Darrelle Revis" after Tampa Bay released him.
Patterson improves depth but he is a 30-year old journeyman coming off a season-ending groin injury and ideally he's a No. 3.
Jets' fans may be wary about them taking another corner in the first considering Milliner's disappointing rookie season and 2010 first-round pick Kyle Wilson hasn't come close to living up to expectations.
Robey is inconsistent and a bit of a reach too, which doesn't ease those concerns. That said he's a quick-twitch athlete with good speed and outstanding man-to-man cover skills, which makes him a perfect fit for Ryan's scheme. He also has the potential to develop into a playmaker.
In a perfect world, the Jets trade back and pick up Robey -- or hope Darqueze Dennard (Scouts Inc. Grade: 91) out of Michigan State falls to them. Dennard is steadier and also a good fit but the Jets should take Robey if they get stuck at No. 18 and the top two corners on our board have already been picked.
Round 2: Pick 49 -– Northern Illinois safety Jimmie Ward (Scouts Inc. Grade: 83)
Safeties Antonio Allen and 31-year old Dawan Landry are better against the run than they are in coverage. Re-signing free agent Ed Reed isn't the answer, either. He turns 36 in September, and age had caught up to the future Hall of Famer before last year.
McShay has Baltimore taking Ward a pick ahead of the Jets, and Kiper has the Rams taking him at pick No. 44, so he's in that range and could slip to them. Moving up a couple picks to get him may be worth it too.
Ward is a playmaker with the cover skills to match up with slot receivers and the speed to play a centerfielder-type role making him a good fit for the Jets. While he doesn't have great size at 5-foot-10⅝ and 193 pounds, he's above-average in run support.
If Washington State's Deone Bucannon (Scouts Inc. Grade: 85) is there, he too would be an excellent pick up.
Round 3: Pick 80 –- Alabama receiver Kevin Norwood (Scouts Inc. Grade: 68)
A second-round pick in 2012, Stephen Hill has missed a total of nine games over his first two seasons, and his speed hasn't shown up enough when he's been on the field. Plus, the Jets cut Santonio Holmes, so this remains a pressing need despite the addition of Decker and Ford.
One of the reasons I have the Jets waiting to take a receiver is the depth of the WR class. I think there will be good value at receiver when they pick in the third. Rutgers' Brandon Coleman (Scouts Inc. Grade: 72) is a massive target with enough speed to stretch the field and Wyoming's Robert Herron (Scouts Inc. Grade: 70) is an explosive slot receiver who can turn a catch underneath into a long gain.
Both could be on the board and grade out higher than Norwood, but Norwood's stock has been rising, and again, he's a good fit. At 6-foot-2 and 198, he can separate underneath, he isn't afraid to do the dirty work over the middle and he has outstanding ball skills. He doesn't play quite as fast as his timed speed, but he ran a 4.48 40 at the combine, so he's fast enough to make some plays downfield too.