Continuing our look at the Jets’ draft class, the final selection by New York was a fullback from Kentucky. John Conner is an intriguing pick by the staff because he will be groomed and mentored by Tony Richardson for at least this season.
Conner figures to get plenty of action in special teams and perhaps some reps late in the game if there are any blowouts or games out of reach.
Daniel Mogollon, president of NFLDraftBible.com and College Football Insiders founder joins GreenAndWhiteReport.com for another “In-Focus” look at the fifth round pick out of the SEC. Mogollon has also broken down Kyle Wilson, Vlad Ducasse and Joe McKnight in previous interviews.
GreenAndWhiteReport.com: Was taking Conner in the fifth round a smart choice?
DM: He’s an all-effort player who leaves it all on the field, an old-school battering ram type of lead blocker, so you can see why a smash-mouth team like the Jets were interested in picking him.
I know many people believe that in year two of the Mark Sanchez era, with the addition of Santonio Holmes and in Braylon Edwards’ first full season in Gang Green, the Jets will open it up in 2010. I’m not sold. I think Rex Ryan wants to win with defense—he is Buddy Ryan’s son after all—and running the ball, so Conner appears to be a good long-term fit for the franchise. A premier lead blocker is an underrated piece to the running game puzzle. In addition, he looks to have the skill set to flourish not only as a run blocker but a pass blocker as well.
One could make the case that with just four picks it wasn’t prudent to use one on a fullback. That’s fair. After all, he was the only fullback drafted in 2010 and just two were selected in 2009, so it’s clear that many NFL people believe you can get a fullback as a priority free agent following the draft. No one had fullback listed as one of the team’s top priorities, but if the Jets didn’t feel there was a pass rusher (their biggest need not addressed) there with the 139th pick and that Conner was the best player on their board, then it was a smart choice.
GreenAndWhiteReport.com: How much will Conner benefit from Tony Richardson being there?
DM: Conner’s opportunity to learn from a veteran such as Richardson can be extremely valuable as far as his progression as a pro is concerned. Richardson broke into the league in 1995 with the Kansas City Chiefs while Conner was probably going to see the original Toy Story movie. Over a 16-year NFL career, the old vet out of Auburn has been through it all. He’s blocked for a rushing champ (Priest Holmes), played in Marty Schottenheimer’s grind it out offense, Dick Vermeil’s open attack, and even led the team in rushing one season.
Basically Conner has a resource for any situation and scheme a fullback needs to be ready for in the NFL. It’s like having a private fullback coach, so in my opinion it’s the ideal spot for the rookie to be in. Learning behind a veteran like Richardson is an invaluable experience, one which should help Conner’s learning curve and pay dividends for years to come.
GreenAndWhiteReport.com: Is the rookie ready to take over Tony Richardson's starting position this year?
DM: I’d have to say that’s unlikely at this point. Even though Richardson will be 38 when the season starts he was pretty darn effective last year. Fullback is a thankless position but Richardson played a big role in the Jets churning out the NFL’s top-ranked rushing attack.
Richardson’s effectiveness in 2009 and the fact that they are a win-now team leads me to believe the veteran will be the starter. That doesn’t mean Conner won’t see some reps. The Jets ran the ball 607 times last season which was 82 times more than the next team. Can Richardson take all that wear and tear on his body for another 16 games? Maybe, but why even find out?
It makes sense to get Conner’s feet wet as a rookie and at the same time save some tread on Richardson’s tires. From there, who knows? Rex Ryan is very loyal to his vets so he will likely stick with the experienced player. But this is a bottom line business and if Conner begins to outplay Richardson he will see increased playing time. It could be a similar situation to the way the team used Thomas Jones and Shonn Greene last season. As the year went on and Greene was outperforming Jones, the rookie continued to come off the bench but had the bigger workload by the time the playoffs came around.
Check in later this week for part two of our look at John Conner.
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