In continuation with our positional breakdowns of potential NFL Draft prospects for the New York Jets, we turn our attention to a position seemingly in limbo. Today, our draft team provides a breakdown of the top five potential cornerbacks that could be selected by the Jets in April’s draft. These initial rankings are certainly subject to change as we progress through the entire pre-draft process, but as it stands now, these players are who we feel would be the best options for New York’s secondary. Be sure to give our draft team a follow on Twitter, and to check out our previous breakdowns of potential quarterbacks, running backs, wide receivers, offensive linemen, defensive tackles, defensive end/outside linebacker, and safety.
Desmond Trufant, Washington, 6’0″ 190 lbs - Trufant is one of the more impressive athletes of this year’s cornerback class. With quality size for the position, Trufant possesses above average top end speed, while maintaining very fluid hips, allowing him to change direction and adjust in coverage rather easily. Trufant has very good technique in his drops, as he is always balanced with his feet underneath him, allowing him to break on the ball when he has to.
Trufant also shows good instincts as he demonstrates the ability to properly decipher when to make a play on the ball or when to stay more conservative and look to deflect the pass. He is aggressive in run support, and shows a good ability to shed blocks when attempting to get to the ball carrier.
Trufant can contribute on special teams, as well, as displayed throughout his career at Washington and during an impressive Senior Bowl campaign. Likely a 2nd rounder, Trufant becomes an intriguing name for the Jets in the event that they decide to ultimately part ways with one of their current starting cornerbacks.
Xavier Rhodes, Florida State, 6’1″ 210 lbs - Bigger in stature than some of his counterparts, Rhodes uses his size to his advantage through a physical style of play when jamming at the line of scrimmage and helping in run support.
While he is one of the more physical cornerbacks in the class, Rhodes also has excellent athletic ability. He displays smooth hips and excellent balance, allowing him to change direction and break on the ball better than most of his peers.
Rhodes also displays very good awareness and route recognition, and looks very comfortable moving all over the field, having played at both the left and right cornerback spots at Florida State. Like Trufant, Rhodes will likely be a 2nd rounder, becoming an option for the Jets if Cromartie or Revis are moved prior to the draft.
Robert Alford, Southeast Louisiana, 5’10″ 188 lbs - A smaller school prospect, Alford showed some solid versatility last season, seeing time on the outside, as well as over the slot receiver as a nickel cornerback. Alford plays a more physical brand of the position, looking very comfortable in press coverage, while also demonstrating a good ability to blitz off of the edge and pressure the quarterback.
Alford does a good job of reacting quickly to the run, often looking somewhat eager to come up in support, while rarely jumping the gun early. While he isn’t necessarily as fluid as the two players aforementioned, Alford shows excellent instincts with a very good ability to read the quarterback’s eyes and recognize routes.
Alford may not have elite ball skills, but certainly plays the ball better than the average player at the position. He can contribute on special teams and in the return game as well, which certainly adds to his value in the mid rounds. Regardless of what happens with Revis and Cromartie, Alford could be an asset as a nickel cornerback and special teams contributor. A strong showing at the Senior Bowl showed that he has the ability to play with opponents from the bigger schools.
Tyrann Mathieu, LSU, 5’9″ 186 lbs - There are certainly a lot of red flags on Mathieu due to his off the field issues, but there is no denying that he is a special talent. While there has been some concern over a poor showing in the bench press at the combine (4 reps), upper body strength has never been what makes his game so special. Although, the fact that he knew he would be tested in the bench press and underwhelmed, could speak to how he handles himself in terms of preparation.
Still, Mathieu is a rare athlete, one who swept the nation as an electric playmaker in LSU’s secondary only a couple seasons ago. The former Heisman finalist does not possess elite technique just yet, but has been able to mask these flaws due to his superior athleticism. He also has great instincts and feel for the game, always finding himself around the ball.
While he is a bit undersized, he shows no fear in assisting in run support and playing more physically when he has to. He will certainly take some time to develop to be a player teams can consistently trust in the secondary, but his elite athleticism should allow him to find a role in nickel sub packages, while assisting on special teams and in the return game, where he can be a valuable weapon.
Mathieu’s stock is likely in the mid round range, due to his off the field baggage, but he is probably in the 2-3 round range in terms of his talent. If he can be had in the 4th or 5th round, the Jets will likely take a long look at him. The electricity he brings to the field is something that Rex Ryan covets in his defense. Depending on how New York feels about his character, Mathieu could hold great value, if selected in the mid rounds.
Will Davis, Utah State, 5’11″ 186 lbs - Davis certainly has his flaws in terms of overall coverage ability, but seems to be a very hard worker on the field. He will stick his nose in against the run, and demonstrates a fair ability to turn and run with receivers. His ball skills aren’t fantastic, but are certainly above average. Davis lacks some ability to get off of blocks, but could certainly be coached up in the area.
Davis has shown some struggle against the double move, but maintains a decent overall display of hip fluidity, balance, and ability to run with receivers. He appears smooth coming in and out of his breaks and shows solid range in terms of the routes he can cover. Davis is more likely a mid to late round pick, probably in the 5th – 6th range, but could be worth a flyer for New York to add some much needed depth behind the top 3 cornerbacks on the roster.
As we continue our focus on the potential draft selections in the Jets secondary, we hit on an area that will likely hinge on the front offices decision to trade (or not trade) Darrelle Revis or Antonio Cromartie.
Considering the abundance of issues all across the Jets roster, and the reality that trading down in the draft is a highly unlikely scenario (despite the desirability to many fans), a trade including one of the two corners is the Jets most likely chance to land additional picks in the first two days of the draft. And if one of the Jets starting cornerbacks is traded this off-season, it’s fairly safe to assume Gang Green won’t be content relying on Kyle Wilson for an extended period of time.
So where does that leave the Jets? Well, just like the draft day trade scenarios, the talent pool of worthy cornerbacks in this draft is very shallow. If the Jets aren’t interested in using a first or second round pick on the cornerback position, they may have difficulty finding a legitimate option.
Jordan Poyer, Oregon State, 6’0” 182 lbs: Poyer saw his stock rise following his impressive week at the Senior Bowl, and if he performs well at the Combine, he may even leapfrog Johnthan Banks as a potential low-first round/second round prospect.
While there’s lots of negativity surrounding Poyer’s lack of ideal top speed, it’s his toughness at the line of scrimmage and closing speed that I’ve taken notice of. While he may not be able to run with every receiver, his presence and physicality inside five yards is certainly a strength, and will help him tremendously in the NFL.
If Poyer can get over the 190-pound mark (there’s some doubt surrounding his ability to accomplish that) his skill set could translate well to the safety position.
It’s that versatility that has piqued my interest in the defensive back during the pre-draft process. And while his draft position may be too high for the Jets needs, a trade of either starting corner would likely change that.
Darius Slay, Mississippi State, 6’0” 190 lbs: While stud-corner Johnthan Banks receives the most hype of any Mississippi State player entering the 2013 NFL Draft, the corner on the other side of the field, Darius Slay, is no slouch.
Slay, who boasts an impressive build and long frame, has underrated cover ability and experience returning kicks. His impressive quickness and closing speed quickly become apparent on tape, while a lack of experience — played two years at Itawamba Community College (Miss.) and only started one season MSU– and tackling tenacity may be cause for concern.
He’s currently projected to go sometime on Day 2, but a strong showing at the Combine could fuel a rise up draft boards.
David Amerson, North Carolina State, 6’2” 194 lbs: Amerson is another cornerback that struggles to wrap up and provide help in the running game. And while he doesn’t project as a starter right away, his exceptional height and length is reminiscent of Antonio Cromartie. But unfortunately for Amerson, he doesn’t possess the same speed of Cromartie.
There’s a concern that he won’t be able to match up with some of the faster wide receivers in the league, and his time spent at NC State saw him lined up in off coverage (and zone) more often than press coverage, creating even more concern.
But he’s known for his tenacious approach to improving his game, which is a great sign for NFL scouts. And if his improvement over the past few seasons is an indicator, he’ll be considered a capable starter very shortly.
While he still needs to refine some of his technique, a third or fourth-round pick for Amerson could offer the Jets good value.
This position for the Jets isn’t terrible. New York has a Pro-Bowler on one side in Cromartie, finger-wag master Kyle Wilson on the other, and the best corner in the league, Darrelle Revis, waiting in the wings.
As fans, it is impossible to say that we’d like to see Revis wearing any color other than the green and white, however we also must understand why it needs to be done. Revis is asking for far too much money and the Jets need too many pieces around their entire team to put all of that money into a player that isn’t a quarterback. Furthermore, if the Jets trade Revis they can probably bring back a good haul depending on who they trade with.
Moving along, the Jets will likely go into the season opener with Cromartie and (unfortunately) Kyle Wilson as the starting cornerbacks. While the Jets did have a decent pass defense in 2012, the numbers aren’t necessarily fair because the run defense was so poor. However, the Jets can probably look at a few real late round prospects, which will be projects, but can provide upgrade in terms of depth. The 5th round is the earliest the Jets should be looking at CBs. The first 4 rounds should be already sealed up with: OLB, OG, RB, and TE. In my opinion the 5th should be used on another OL too. Either way, we press forward.
Tyrann Mathieu, LSU, 5’9” 175 lbs - This would be a really questionable choice. Mathieu went through a series of well documented off the field issues at LSU, resulting in his full season suspension this past year. If he slips to the 5th round, Mathieu can clean his act up in the NFL and be a real starter for a team. Last I heard, he was working out with or keeping in contact with Revis himself. It will be interesting to see how far he drops.
Branden Smith, Georgia, 5’11” 182 lbs - Smith was the nickelback for the Bulldogs this year, something the Jets could certainly add for depth. Smith can be a solid role player, but don’t look for him to become the starter to play across from Cromartie. If available inn the 6th round, it wouldn’t be surprising if the Jets took a shot on him. Smith also played well in the East-West game.
Kenny Okoro, Wake Forest, 6’1” 190 lbs - Okoro played decently this season with a physical and overall balanced skill set. He has potential to be a good corner with good coaching and support. For a 6th or 7th round pick, there is minimal downside to taking Okoro here.
Smith and Okoro would be pretty good gets for the Jets in the really late rounds. The Jets’ hands are tied with what they have to do in rounds 1-4, not to mention they have to acquire more picks so they can leave the draft with 10 players and not just 7. Rounds 5, 6, and 7 are where they can take a little lit of chance.