NEW YORK - Even with a potential franchise quarterback dangling in front of them, the Jets’ notoriously finicky fans approved of their team’s decision to anchor the offensive line instead.
New York selected Virginia left tackle D’Brickashaw Ferguson with the fourth overall pick in the NFL draft Saturday, bypassing Southern California quarterback Matt Leinart — drawing mostly cheers from fans in green and white who gathered at Radio City Music Hall in Manhattan.
“The fact that the Jets fans showed me a lot of love really spoke volumes to me. I know that I’m welcome here at this city,” said Ferguson, who grew up in nearby Freeport — about 10 minutes from the team’s practice facility.
Nothing like the 1995 draft when the Jets faithful — whipped into a frenzy when Warren Sapp slipped down to their pick — showered tight end Kyle Brady with boos as he took the stage. This time, they whooped and shook their fists, one fan pointing to his head as if to indicate that Ferguson was the smart way to go.
The 6-foot-6, 312-pound Ferguson was considered the best pass blocker available, and will have a chance to start immediately on a revamped offensive line. The Jets have only two experienced tackles on their roster: Adrian Jones, who can move back to his more natural right tackle spot, and free-agent acquisition Anthony Clement.
“In my background on defense, one of the things I appreciate the most is a good left tackle,” said first-year coach Eric Mangini, who was New England’s defensive coordinator last season.
Ferguson has said in the past that his role as a left tackle is to be a quarterback’s bodyguard.
“I think that’s an easy term to use just because everybody understands that a bodyguard serves as a form of protection,” Ferguson said. “Being a left tackle, kicking out and blocking defensive ends, that’s a form of protection for the quarterback so that he can do his job more efficiently without the worries of outside harm.”
The Jets had some discussions with New Orleans about trading up for the Saints’ No. 2 pick — where USC running back Reggie Bush went. With Chad Pennington coming off a second rotator cuff injury and career backup Patrick Ramsey, acquired from Washington, in the fold, there was talk that the Jets could go for Leinart with their first pick.
Instead, they opted for the player they hope will protect their quarterback — whoever that ends up being.
“The last few weeks, as different scenarios evolved, we put a lot of time, effort and energy into making our board, and we tried to stick to the board as closely as we could,” general manager Mike Tannenbaum said. “We think Matt Leinart is going to be a very good football player, but we’re excited about having D’Brickashaw.”
Ferguson has quick feet, good balance and, most importantly, is excellent in pass protection. He’s light by usual NFL offensive lineman standards, but more than makes up for it with his athleticism and long arms.
“And as a person, through all the research that we did, D’Brickashaw is an outstanding individual,” Tannenbaum said. “When we put all of those aspects of the decision together, it all came back to D’Brickashaw.”
With their second first-round pick, at No. 29 overall, the Jets drafted Ohio State center Nick Mangold.
“He’s going to give us great competition at a couple of spots, both center and guard, which is a positive thing for us,” Mangini said.
The 6-3½, 300-pounder will be reunited with former Buckeyes teammate and good friend Mike Nugent, who was the Jets’ first pick last year. Mangold will help replace Pro Bowler Kevin Mawae, who was let go after the season and signed with Tennessee.
“I think it is a great thing to have that kind of pressure,” Mangold said by conference call. “Going into Ohio State, I also had to fill the shoes of some pretty good centers.”
New York traded down in the second round, sending the No. 35 pick to Washington for the No. 53 pick, a sixth-round pick and the Redskins’ second-round pick in next year’s draft. Then, the Jets turned around and sent the No. 53 and sixth-round picks to Dallas for the 49th selection, and took Oregon quarterback Kellen Clemens.
He gives the Jets some depth at quarterback — another position of need. Clemens threw for 2,406 yards with 19 touchdowns and four interceptions, despite missing the final four games with a broken left leg — which he said he’s almost completely recovered from.
The Jets also traded the No. 71 pick to Philadelphia for the 76th pick, which they used on Ohio State linebacker Anthony Schlegel, and a seventh-rounder.
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