The primary concern for most New York Jets fans when it comes to the 2014 roster is the cornerback position. When naming the team’s biggest “needs” or question marks at this moment, it is more than fair to put corner at the top of the list. While the position doesn’t lack potential, there are plenty of “IFs” still hovering around the players who will be in the mix for playing time. Let’s take a closer look…
Dee Milliner – We know Milliner is going to be one of the starters and likely spend most weeks tracking the opponent’s top receiver. The player we saw in December (who was Defensive Rookie of the Month) should be up to the task of being competent, if not very good, in this role for 2014. However, can Milliner stay healthy for the entire season and maintain his ascending level of play from the end of last season? The natural talent and skill-set is there, which is why he was a top ten pick. He has a strong defensive coaching staff and system that should enhance his strengths. If Milliner can be the player the Jets drafted him to be, many of the concerns at corner for this season will be eased.
Dimitri Patterson – Rex Ryan pegged Patterson as the other starter in a recent interview, which was somewhat surprising. Yet, maybe not as much when you consider Patterson has nine years of NFL experience under his belt and is coming off an intriguing season in Miami, where he missed substantial time but played very well when on the field. He has been an adequate starter at times throughout his NFL career but the reality is he only played 15 games over the past two seasons and hasn’t played a full 16 since 2010. If Patterson is healthy, do I think he could be a functional starter in Rex Ryan’s defense? Yes. They got by with a similar caliber of players in 2009 but counting on Patterson to give you 16 games is risky.
Dexter McDougle – The Jets took him in the 3rd round for a reason but will he be ready to roll for major reps by September as he battles back from a shoulder injury? There is always a learning curve for rookies, particularly at corner, as we saw last year with Milliner. McDougle probably won’t be ready for starter’s level reps by week 1 but as the season progresses it wouldn’t shocking if he gradually sees his playing time increase.
Darrin Walls – Walls played well in limited action last season and looks to have potential to be a starter. The Jets have been hesitant to give him a bigger role but if he could have a strong training camp, there is a great opportunity this season to push for playing time. Walls also has the advantage over Patterson and McDougle of being familiar with the defense. It will be interesting to see how much, if any, chance he gets with the first defense in training camp and the pre-season,
Ras-I Dowling – Intriguing because of where he was drafted (33rd overall) and his measurables (6’1, 210 pounds, 4.4 forty yard dash). He has struggled with injuries throughout his brief NFL career, including hip and thigh issues that have prematurely ended recent seasons. He has landed in a situation where a strong summer could put him squarely in the mix for playing time
Kyle Wilson - Wilson isn’t likely to be in the mix for playing time on the outside, as he has settled into his role as a competent slot corner. Ultimately, it is disappointing that it took four seasons for a 1st round draft pick to develop into a solid role player but as of now he is the Jets best option there. It will be interesting to see what happens, if all the “ifs” we discussed above break positive for the Jets (Patterson staying healthy, McDougle quickly getting up to speed and Walls getting a chance and playing to his potential) – In that scenario only, could we see Wilson potentially being shopped at some point.
Ellis Lankster – A special teams demon. I wouldn’t anticipate him being a major factor on defense in 2014.
Brandon Dixon, Johnny Patrick, Jeremy Reeves – Dixon has the benefit of being a recent draft pick and possessing a high amount of special teams potential. Patrick has played in 37 games over the past three seasons. Reeves has head turning speed. I would temper expectations for any contributions from these three in 2014.
As of today, I’d expect the Jets to open camp with Milliner and Patterson as the starters and Wilson working as the slot. McDougle and Walls should be the second team corners, with Dowling and Patrick potentially rolling through, especially in three corner sets, when the Jets could potentially bump McDougle into the slot. It will be interesting to see how the Jets experiment and rotate with their personnel when it comes to their corners with the first defense. Will they work in series with McDougle on the outside and Patterson in the slot or reversed? Will Walls actually get a chance to prove he belongs with the first team? If they experiment with Milliner in the slot for certain situations, who do they prefer on the outside?
After reviewing the position, concern over the position is fair. Yet, it is worth keeping in mind the Jets spent a first round pick on a safety and have the benefit of arguably the best defensive line in football. Their strengths in other areas could help mask some growing pains at this position.