- Associated Press - Saturday, April 30, 2011

FLORHAM PARK, N.J. (AP) - The New York Jets went on the offensive during the draft’s final day.

After beefing up their defensive line in the first few rounds, the Jets focused on the other side of the ball Saturday by taking offensive players with their four remaining picks.

“It is funny when you look at the draft, the first two years, we only took one defensive player,” coach Rex Ryan said. “This year, we have, what, two players on defense? That’s a record for me being a head coach.”

New York drafted Louisville running back Bilal Powell in the fourth round, giving the Jets some depth in the backfield. He joins LaDainian Tomlinson, Shonn Greene, Joe McKnight _ last year’s fourth-round pick _ and fullback John Conner, the team’s fifth-rounder a year ago in the Jets‘ solid rushing attack.

“I just want to come in and compete,” Powell said moments after being drafted. “I just want to get under those guys and learn the system and compete everyday.”

It’s uncertain when that will be, though, given the NFL’s uncertain labor situation with an on-again, off-again and now on-again lockout.

The Jets traded up eight spots in the fifth round, swapping places with the Philadelphia Eagles and taking TCU wide receiver and special-teams ace Jeremy Kerley. They also sent a sixth-round selection to Philadelphia for the Eagles’ seventh-round pick in the deal.

In the seventh round, the Jets took Alabama quarterback Greg McElroy, who helped the Crimson Tide win the national title as a junior in 2009, and Colorado wide receiver Scotty McKnight, a childhood buddy of quarterback Mark Sanchez and the school’s career leader in receptions and touchdown catches.

The Jets addressed their defense early in the draft, taking Temple defensive lineman Muhammad Wilkerson in the first round Thursday and Hampton nose tackle Kenrick Ellis in the third on Friday.

Powell ran for 1,405 yards and 11 touchdowns and caught 18 passes for 158 yards and three more scores in his senior season, his first as a starter for the Cardinals. He took on a more prominent role in the offense last season under new coach Charlie Strong, who replaced Steve Kragthorpe.

“My role changed and they gave me a different opportunity to play,” Powell said.

Powell didn’t run at the NFL combine because of a pulled right hamstring that he said is still healing, but the Jets are confident he’ll be fine when football starts up again. An excited Ryan, general manager Mike Tannenbaum and several other team officials were shown congratulating each other in the team’s draft room on NFL Network after the pick.

It was a curious selection if only because the Jets already have a few versatile pass-catching threats in the backfield in both Tomlinson, who’ll be 32 but wants to come back, and McKnight, who is expected to play a bigger role this season.

“It was a position of strength and we made it better,” Tannenbaum said.

“I almost felt like, the other teams, they never wanted us to take this guy,” Ryan said. “Sometimes, it’s, ‘Here’s the strength of your team.’ Well, we just added another.”

According to a report by ESPN.com last September, Bilal ran with gangs in high school and was hospitalized after being stabbed following his sophomore year. He credits religion for helping him turn his life around.

“I had a troubled (childhood),” he said. “I kind of rebelled a little bit, but ended up being saved going into my senior year. It changed a lot of things for me.”

After three mostly unspectacular seasons during which he started just five times, Powell blossomed as a senior and fell just 25 yards shy of the school’s single-season rushing mark, set by Howard Stevens in 1971. He ran for over 100 yards seven times, and his two 200-yard performances set Louisville’s single-season mark and tied Stevens’ career record.

Kerley, the 153rd pick, caught 56 passes from Andy Dalton at TCU for 575 yards and 10 touchdowns last season, and won the Mountain West Conference’s special teams player of the year award his last two seasons.

Wide receivers Santonio Holmes, Braylon Edwards and Brad Smith are scheduled to become free agents, and Kerley could help replace the versatile Smith is the Jets can’t re-sign him.

“I’m definitely a special teams guy,” Kerley said. “I know what makes me, and my special teams ability is what makes me the player that I am.”

McElroy, who ranks third in school history with 39 career touchdown passes, threw for a career-high 2,987 yards and 20 touchdowns with just five interceptions last season. He wore No. 12 at Alabama in honor of Jets Hall of Famer Joe Namath, his father’s favorite player.

“I can’t believe I’m not going to only wear the same college uniform as Joe Namath,” he said, “but hopefully will have the opportunity to wear the same NFL uniform.”

McKnight, the 10th player in NCAA history to catch at least one pass in every game he appeared, has known his new quarterback since he was 8 years old. Sanchez threw passes to him at Colorado’s pro day last month, and the two players’ families were together watching the draft when McKnight was taken by New York.

“We’ve never played on the same team, just always trained together,” McKnight said. “It’s a dream come true.”