Now that Jets fans have had a day to mourn the loss of the greatest defensive player in team history, it’s time to look forward and pick up the pieces that are still here. With perhaps the best defensive coach in the league running the show, and centerpieces like Mo Wilkerson, Quinton Coples, and Antonio Cromartie, the defense is still likely to be amongst the league’s best. But without Number 24 out there in the secondary, the cornerback position will look much different. Let’s take a look at where the position stands now, and how the team will go about trying to replace Mr. Revis.
Antonio Cromartie – Yes, Darrelle Revis is a once-in-a-generation type talent at cornerback, but Antonio Cromartie isn’t too shabby himself. He’s coming off a Pro Bowl season in which he stepped up big time and took over the Revis role covering the top receiver on each team 1-on-1. He’s amongst the top ten players in the league at the position and will be heavily relied upon in 2013 to perform up to the same level as a year ago. Cro knows it’s his show now and he has to be “The Man”, and there’s no reason to think he can’t handle the job.
Kyle Wilson – Kyle Wilson gets a lot of flak from Jets fans, and sometimes rightfully so. But a lot of the criticism he receives is due to the fact he was drafted in the first round three years ago and hasn’t quite lived up to the expectations of that. Had he been drafted in say, the 3rd round, people probably wouldn’t be so hard on him. After being shuffled back and forth from outside to nickel and back to outside throughout his career, he gets to settle in to one spot from Day 1 and know what his job will be the whole season. The talent that made him a first round pick is still there, and hopefully he’s ready to step up and become a legitimate NFL starter. He was very close to Revis off the field and trained with him regularly, so we can only hope he picked up a few things from his mentor along the way. Oh, and for the love of God, let’s hope he dropped that ridiculous finger wagging as well.
Ellis Lankster – When Revis went down last year, it meant a major spike in playing time for Lankster. Originally expected to be the 4th corner, he was bumped up to the nickel role, which gets a lot of field time in Rex Ryan’s defense. Unfortunately, he wasn’t really ready for that challenge and struggled for the majority of the season in coverage. The team finished as #2 in the league in pass defense, but that was a flawed stat, as the Jets were usually trailing and the run defense was poor. Had teams been inclined to pass more often against the Jets, Lankster would have been exposed even more, and things could have gotten ugly quick. I expect Lankster to be back on the team next year due to his solid special teams play, but if he’s any higher than 4th on the depth chart, it could be a rough season.
Aaron Berry – Berry is the forgotten man in the Jets secondary. He was signed last year after the Revis injury and must have gotten injured signing that contract, because he was rarely seen from that point forward. Fortunately, he signed a 2-year contract and is expected to return healthy this year. There’s a strong chance he can grab that nickel role and play a pretty large role on this defense in 2013. He was a solid corner in Detroit before landing with the Jets, and he has the talent to strive in Rex’s man scheme.
Darrin Walls - Walls received minimal playing time after being promoted to the active roster in November, but was actually very impressive in that limited action. With a full year in his pocket now, and a whole offseason of working with Jets coaches and learning all the nuances of the playbook, Walls is a wildcard in the Jets secondary. The Notre Dame product has the talent to produce and at 6 foot, 200 lbs, the size to go with it. He will be given the chance to show what he can do in training camp. Don’t be surprised when you hear Rex talking him up this summer.
Isaiah Trufant – Trufant is another player that showed some promise last seasons, but unfortunately suffered an injury that cut his season short. He’s a very solid special teams player, so he will likely earn himself a spot on the roster, regardless of how much he plays at corner. However, he did show promise in coverage last season, and he will be in the mix to be the 4th corner.
1st Round Pick: Dee Milliner or Xavier Rhodes – There’s a chance the Jets could look to use one of their two first round picks on one of the top two corners in the draft, but I think this option is highly unlikely. With Cromartie and Wilson in the fold, the Jets already have two legit NFL players at the position, whereas at other positions… not so much. I expect those two first rounders to be used elsewhere, whether they keep those two picks or use one to trade down. However, if they pick up an extra middle round pick in a trade down, that’s where they could add a corner.
Middle Round Draft Pick: Tyrann Mathieu? - I’m just throwing the Artist Formerly Known As The Honey Badger out there as a possibility, but there are several corners the team could target in those middle rounds. Mathieu is just the most intriguing. He was long regarded as one of the best defensive players in college football before a string of off-the-field issues led to him being kicked out of school and off the football field for over a year. He can likely be had in the 3rd or 4th round, and if he keeps his nose clean, he could provide excellent value. He’s the kind of player Rex Ryan loves due to his versatility and playmaking skills, and he could really push to use a draft choice on him.