- Rich Cimini, ESPN Staff Writer
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FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- We're inside the New York Jets' defensive meeting room, and JoJo Wooden is seated next to a computer, poised to punch up some video of their top two draft picks, Muhammad Wilkerson and Kenrick Ellis.
The lights are dimmed in the big, vacant room, which resembles a college lecture hall.
Wooden, the assistant director of player personnel, taps a key, and here we go -- a personalized, in-depth look at the two XXL defensive linemen.
The vitals on Wilkerson, a first-round pick from Temple, appear on the big screen at the front of the room. In addition to name and school, we see these numbers:
DL55 and 6041/315 -- his ID number at the February scouting combine and his official height (6-foot-4 1/8) and weight from the combine.
This is akin to the opening credits in a movie. The goal in this particular production is to see the star at his best (highlight plays from college) and worst (some lowlights), providing the eyes in the draft room -- scouts and key decision-makers -- an objective look at the prospect before they give a final grade.
So in our first scene of Wilkerson, we see him ... in his underwear.
This is footage from the combine in Indianapolis, where every prospect is required to stand almost-naked before the NFL's scouting community. You might laugh, but this is serious stuff for the folks who make a living evaluating talent.
"Huge butt," Wooden says matter-of-factly, looking at Wilkerson on the screen. "Big thighs, hips. Nice-looking arms. Very thick."
If Wooden were commenting as a judge at a beauty pageant, he'd be in hot water. But this is the NFL, and his remarks are the highest form of praise.
"Look at the bubble on the lower body," Wooden says as Wilkerson turns slowly, providing side and back views.
No, the Jets didn't draft Wilkerson because of his impressive bubble, but this illustrates how intensely they study potential picks before the draft. The other 31 teams are no different.
They evaluate everything, from butt size to how a player responds when he gets his butt kicked.
Fans didn't see Wilkerson and Ellis on national TV last fall -- Ellis played at tiny Hampton (Va.), a Football Championship Subdivision school -- but the Jets' scouting department saw every play from every game.
To GM Mike Tannenbaum and his staff, it didn't matter that ESPN's "GameDay" never showed up on the Temple and Hampton campuses. In their opinion, big, strong and talented means big, strong and talented, regardless of the level. In a span of 24 hours in late April, the Jets believe they revamped their defensive line with 662 pounds of brick wall.
"It's hard to find two guys like Mo and Kenrick, guys that have the type of bulk we like up front," says Wooden, who has spent 14 years climbing the ranks in the Jets' organization.
The Jets allowed ESPNNewYork.com into their inner sanctum to view the videos they used to evaluate the two players in their pre-draft meetings.
Not surprisingly, the Wilkerson video shows him last season against Penn State, the top team on Temple's schedule. He made a lot of money that day, as they say in the business, recording nine tackles and one forced fumble. He said he approached the game like his personal Super Bowl, knowing he could silence critics that questioned the Owls' level of competition in the MAC.
Wooden grabs the remote and settles in for some MoTV. As a former linebacker at Syracuse who made it to the Cardinals' training camp in 1993, he appreciates good defense.
On Penn State's first possession, Wilkerson knifes into the backfield and forces a fumble. On the third possession, he beats the left tackle with an outside move, knocks back the left guard and tackles running back Evan Royster for a 3-yard gain.
Wooden likes that play. He shows it over and over.
"You see the physical play," he says, picking out Wilkerson with his laser pointer. "The good thing about him is, you haven't seen him on the ground so far."
Later in the series, Wilkerson shows up again. This time, he explodes past a somewhat confused left tackle and drops Stephfon Green for no gain.
"Look at the quick move, the 5-yard ability to close here," he says, rewinding. "That's pretty good. You see quickness off the ball, the ability to close and finish. He uses his natural ability to go and make a play."
Fast forward to a pass play, same drive. Wilkerson doesn't record a sack or a quarterback hit -- he's no speed demon on the edge -- but he beats the left tackle with a sophisticated series of moves to hurry Rob Bolden into an incompletion. Scouts notice stuff like that.
"This is pretty good here," Wooden says, eyes glued to the screen. "He's able to take that right hand, use his left hand for a little swim-over and get his hips out of the way. He doesn't get there, but just that move alone is pretty positive."
On we go, watching a gritty Temple team take Penn State into the fourth quarter before falling 22-13. As Wooden evaluates Wilkerson, he keeps hitting on the same themes: They love his size, power and versatility. In this game, he switches between left and right end in the base defense, sliding inside on passing downs.
Wooden also makes it a point to note Wilkerson's hustle, how he usually shows up in the frame at the scene of the tackle. On Penn State's first play from scrimmage, a 50-yard run, Wilkerson runs the entire play, the first defensive lineman to arrive at the pileup.
"You don't want to have to coach desire," Wooden says. "These guys are coming in with that mindset, which is what our defensive staff wants."
The coaching staff has input into the draft. For instance, Rex Ryan, defensive coordinator Mike Pettine and defensive-line coach Mark Carrier each wrote scouting reports on Wilkerson and Ellis. Add the reports from the area scout and the cross-checking scouts, and you're talking at least seven reports per player.
As for Ellis, he had a strong supporter in longtime evaluator Mike Davis, who has spent most of his life in the state of Virginia. He commands a lot of respect in the draft room, and his enthusiastic thumbs-up is a big reason why the Jets picked him in the third round, ignoring off-the-field issues that include a pending charge for felony assault.
Wooden punches up the Ellis video, which begins with his combine numbers (6-4 7/8, 347), his underwear shot and footage from a game against North Carolina A&T. The quality of the video isn't as sharp as Temple-Penn State, but Ellis jumps out immediately, chasing a play to the sideline.
"Another good motor player," Wooden says. "We're not talking about a 270-pound guy doing this. This is a 350-pound guy, getting to the ball."
Despite his physical prowess, Ellis still has a lot to learn. He gets fooled on a counter play in which the right guard, across from him, pulls to the left. Ellis fails to read it correctly and shoots the vacant gap into the backfield, taking himself out of the play.
Wooden shows it again. It's not pretty. If the room were filled with his teammates, Ellis probably would be receiving an earful from the likes of Bart Scott.
"He'll see this play better as he gets older," Wooden says. "He'll see it faster and be able to read the guard. There's an indication that he's pulling -- a lot of weight going to the left here."
Wooden, standing at the screen now, points to right guard Alex Harper. If Harper were leaning more to the left, he'd be a tower in Pisa. Ellis fails to recognize it.
Later, North Carolina A&T runs the same play, and once again Ellis takes the bait -- except he realizes it in mid-play and tries to recover before he ends up in no-man's land again.
It's another mistake, but at least it's a baby step in the right direction.
Wouldn't you know it, North Carolina A&T runs the play again. This time, Ellis makes the right read, slides down the line and engulfs the running back, Mike Mayhew.
"This," Wooden says, "is really the way you want to play it."
It's not pretty -- for the ballcarrier.
Now it's Hampton at North Carolina Central, and we see a series of plays in which Ellis is having his way with the center and guards. On one play, he shoves the center so far into the backfield that Wooden remarks, "He almost knocked him into the [concessions] tent."
Ellis is a bigger gamble than Wilkerson because of his small-school background, the first draft pick produced by Hampton since 2008. Then again, who can say with certainty how it will turn out? In 2008, the Jets drafted a big name out of a big school and he turned into an all-time bust -- Ohio State's Vernon Gholston.
That reference is made to Wooden, but he makes like Ellis on the third counter play -- he doesn't take the bait. He looks at the big screen, preferring to watch the future instead of reliving the past.
Because that's what scouts do.
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1dEric D. Williams