Commentary

Jets' pick of Powell raises eyebrows

The Louisville RB joins a crowded backfield -- could LaDainian Tomlinson be let go?

Updated: May 1, 2011, 7:35 PM ET
By Rich Cimini | ESPNNewYork.com

FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- After replenishing the defensive line with Muhammad Wilkerson and Kenrick Ellis on the first two days of the NFL draft, the New York Jets went all offense Saturday in the final four rounds -- including a running back.

[+] EnlargeBilal Powell
J. Meric/Getty ImagesBilal Powell is the latest addition to the Jets' running back corps.

Yeah, another running back.

The surprising selection of Louisville's Bilal Powell, chosen in the fourth round, gives the Jets four tailbacks and raises questions about the status of future Hall of Famer LaDainian Tomlinson. At the start of this crazy offseason, the Jets said they expected Tomlinson, who turns 32 in June, to be back for the final year of his contract.

Even though the powers that be didn't sound as convincing late Saturday when they emerged from the draft bunker, the reality is that nothing has changed. The word inside the organization is that there are no plans jettison him. Smart move.

General manager Mike Tannenbaum and coach Rex Ryan presented their "more is better" philosophy, although the way they talked up Shonn Greene, Joe McKnight and Powell, it left you wondering where Tomlinson fits in.

Tannenbaum called Powell a three-down back, a value too good to pass up. Ryan all but handed Greene the starting job, saying he's "ready to be that bell cow." He also praised McKnight, describing that 158-yard performance in the meaningless, regular-season finale as if it was a coming-out party.

It would be a mistake to cut ties with Tomlinson, who, despite his late-season swoon, still holds value. He's the best receiver among the backs, the best pass protector and the emotional glue to the backfield -- maybe the entire offense. They need him. And they know it.

For all their varied skills, Greene and McKnight aren't complete backs. Greene has durability and fumbling issues. McKnight spent most of his rookie year living down his disastrous preseason. Maybe they're both ready to explode; maybe not. Tomlinson is an ideal, reasonably priced insurance.

So why Powell? Why a luxury pick?

"In my mind, it was a position of strength and we made it better," said Tannenbaum, who has drafted four running backs over the past three years -- Greene, McKnight, fullback John Conner and Powell.

It's possible they could keep the eight young legs and Tomlinson; remember, they broke camp last year with six backs, including Danny Woodhead. (Ryan: "I kind of wish we would've kept him.") Ryan believes the team's late-season success can be traced, in part, to having backfield depth and fresh legs for the stretch run.

Sounds good. Just make it happen.

Other quick thoughts on the Jets' draft:

• The pass rush remains a question. Wilkerson and Ellis will add muscle, but the defense stills needs more speed on the edge. They didn't draft a rush linebacker, which may have been their No. 1 need.

• The Jets also didn't draft any defensive backs, which means they're confident they will be able to retain most of their free agents -- a group that includes Antonio Cromartie, Brodney Pool, Eric Smith and James Ihedigbo.

• You have to wonder about the future of venerable defensive end Shaun Ellis, an unrestricted free agent. Suddenly, the defensive line rotation looks formidable, with Wilkerson, Kenrick Ellis (if he avoids jail time for his assault charge), Mike DeVito, Sione Pouha and Marcus Dixon. They should make every effort to re-sign Ellis, almost 34, because he'd be a good mentor for the two rookies.

• The Jets started big, drafting nearly 700 pounds in defensive linemen, and they closed small. They selected wide receiver/kick returner Jeremy Kerley (5-9, 188), quarterback Greg McElroy (6-2, 225) and wide receiver Scotty McKnight (5-11, 185).

• Kerley, a multi-purpose player at TCU, is a potential replacement for Brad Smith, a free agent. McKnight, Sanchez's best friend from childhood, is a slot receiver. The Jets didn't make a major commitment to a potential front-line receiver. Clearly, they're banking on to re-signing Santonio Holmes and Braylon Edwards. If not, they will use the free agency/trade avenues to fill holes -- whenever those avenues are open.

• McElroy's arrival gives the Jets perhaps the deepest quarterback depth chart in the league -- seven. The Jets believe he can develop into a No. 2 in time. For now, Kellen Clemens' days as the No. 3 appear numbered.

Rich Cimini

ESPN New York Jets reporter

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