New York Jets Cornerbacks – How Big Of A Problem?

Joe Caporoso with a closer look at the New York Jets cornerback position

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.

Author: Joe Caporoso

Joe Caporoso is the Owner and EIC of Turn On The Jets. His writing has been featured in the New York Times, Huffington Post, MMQB and AdWeek. Caporoso played football his entire life, including four years at Muhlenberg as a wide receiver, where he was arguably the slowest receiver to ever start in school history. He is the VP of Social Media at Whistle Sports

  • 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

    I guess if we let Stephen Hill go, to NE, they could say the same thing about him.

    There certainly is some talent and skills in this seconcary, but they are counting on 2 young guys, Milliner and Pryor to shoulder a lot of the burden. To me, the rest of the guys are under achievers, middling pros or guys past their prime. The D-Line is going to have to step up the pass rush, if this group is goign to make a marked improvement this year, IMO.

  • Joe Caporoso

    Dowling is competing to be the 5th or 6th CB most likely, similar to how Hill should be competing to be the Jets 5th or 6th receiving option (behind Decker, Kerley, Amaro and Johnson)…so comparable in that way, yes. Although I’d say it is more likely Cumberland, Nelson or Saunders ends up being the 5th, 6th option than Hill, who played plenty of reps in 2013 but regressed from his already disappointing rookie year.

  • The Dude Abides

    Yeah the guys are young and questionable right now. Thankfully the front is strong and will take off a lot of pressure by putting pressure on the QB’s. Wilson blows and needs to be off the field, Walls should be the 3rd and let the others fight for spots while wilson is regulated to special teams.

  • joeydefiant

    If Hill doesnt have a strong training camp I believe Idzik will finally give up on him and try to move him and if not cut him. Injuries are the onl way I see him getting any playing time in a game.

    I think 3 corners will end up being good out of this whole bunch of players. Besides Milliner I think anyone playing well in camp will end up getting the playing time opposite Milliner. I could see Wilson getting the start opposite Milliner in week one with Patterson in the slot. I thought Wilson played the best football of his career last year. Perhaps they leave him in the slot where he played well last year but personally I would like to see them give him one more shot on the outside before totally rwlegating him to a slot/role player role. After the bye week Mcdougle may end up getting starter reps as the 2 corner on the outside. I look forward to seeing if McDougle is the real deal. If McDougle and one or two of the WRs drafted this year end up being quality players it will really show that the Jets have a bright future ahead with Idzik as the GM. If you are going to mainly build thru the draft you have to be successful drafting quality players. If this draft bombs and the Jets dont have a good year I could see the media influencing Woody Johnson and putting Idzik on the hot seat already.

  • John Hunter

    Dexter McDougle (2014 Draft Sleeper) will emerge to be the starter opposite of Dee……book it.

    The X factor to the success of our young secondary will be OLB Antwan Barnes. Having a legit speed edge pass rusher will take an abundance of pressure off our CBs. Also, the presence of a hard hitting Safety to add intimidation in the middle will have a positive affect as well.

  • Dan in RI

    Lots of X-factors here: how good is Dee Milliner, when all is said and done? Rex is saying he’ll be something special–but Rex always talks up his players. Can Patterson stay healthy? Is Walls ready for more playing time? How fast can McDougle and Dixon learn the defense and get up to NFL speed? Both of those players have intriguing talent and skills, but you don’t know how they will develop. Is Ras-I-Dowling a diamond in the rough, whose career has been only temporarily derailed by injury, or is he simply a bust? Does Reeves have skills to go along with his speed? The only CB on the roster right now who isn’t a great big question mark is Kyle Wilson. Give the guy credit–he’ll never be great, but at least you know what you’ve got with him. The ceiling for most of the other players might be higher (maybe a lot higher), but potential never won a single game–only production does that. Until the other guys show that they can do it on a consistent basis, Wilson will stay with the team. And if he plays well this year, I would not be surprised to see him re-signed next year.

  • Joe..I was simply pointing out that if Hill were to get cut here, which a number of people here see as a very real possibility, and was picked up by another team, a very similar scouting report could be written. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. I’ll be if a NE fan were to read your thoughts on Hill, he/she might see him similar to how you see Hill.

  • Should read “I’ll bet if a NE fan…”

  • KAsh

    The thing is Hill has always had a strong camp. Always. His first year, he was beating Revis and Cromartie. His second year, he improved his route-running and fundamentals. His successes just never translated to the regular season. All this talk about “if Hill does not have a strong camp” is empty; Hill has always had a strong camp.

    Also, it matters little what receiving option Hill will be in the offense when it comes to making the roster. Joe, you have been saying for a week that Kerley, Decker, Amaro, CJ, and now Cumberland will see the majority of receptions, but all that means is that Hill could still start. In fact, that list is missing a player that can stretch the field vertically, which leaves a prominent role in this offense to Ford, Saunders, or Hill. Ford and Saunders being similar types of players, a clear niche exists for Hill to run away with. It would take an awful camp for the team to cut Hill and go with a less versatile offense.

    As for corner, Walls has been put on notice. (So has Wilson, but he is more secure.) The team has gotten two corners with the versatility to play both outside and inside (Patterson and McDougle) and those seem to be the two corners competing to start across from Milliner. They could take Wilson’s role, but in a curious choice, are trying to fill the hole on the outside. The team has also gotten two corners who fit the prototype height-weight-speed and were highly touted coming out of college, but have disappointed so far in their career (Patrick and Dowling). These latter two seem to be competing for backup duty, which means Walls better step up his game. Patterson and McDougle are ideal backups for each other and for Wilson. Lankster and Reeves are special team gunners (tacklers with 4.3s forty speed). Milliner is starting and he needs a backup, so there really is only one spot left for Walls, the athletic Dowling, and the Wilkerson-of-the-secondary Patrick. This backup may also get starting duties across from Milliner against bigger receivers, so Walls better step up.

  • Steve Windeler

    There is not one corner on the team past his prime.

    Walls is the most polished CB on the roster, and the only one with athleticism limitations. He can start on the outside, and do pretty well, but his ceiling is average.

    Lankster as been here a while and he has looked like he could hold his own if given more opportunity as well

    Then we have 7 CBs all with the ability to become stars in this league, and it seems as though we’re hoping one or more of them steps up, and stays healthy.

  • Mark

    One key to confident CB play is to put more pressure on the opposition QB.

    Last year we witnessed how quick release QB’s ate us alive with short passes which sooner or later resulted on longer completions being open, or significant yards after completion.

    Our LB’s just are not effective when they drop back in pass coverage. The tendency of our CBs to play loose on the line, and last years pre-Reed safeties being more of an anti-run defense sure raised the pressure on the CB’s to defend the long pass as the short pass was almost always there.

    When asked about the lack of sacks and pressures, Wilkerson said they need a little more coverage time for the rush to get to the QB. I have to believe him.

    I’m looking forward to seeing how a new Safety corps will change things. I also hope that Davis will improve his drop back abilities.

    As far as the Jets CB corps. Seems like there are enough bodies with enough up side to put out a reasonably good unit – especially if they don’t have to do it all themselves.

  • David

    You won’t know if it is a problem until the season begins, but just looking at it on paper, there are more question marks than there are answers: Will Milliner be the guy we saw the last quarter of the season or will he be the guy that got benched on multiple occasions? Will Patterson stay healthy for 16 games? Will Wilson thrive back in the slot or will he continuously get torched? Will Dowling turn it around and justify the #33 overall pick? Will Walls continue to grow and take the next step? What will McDougle give us?

    Just way too many questions right now to get truly excited about the Jets CB situation.

  • Lidman

    Steve..I guess the ‘past prime’ comment was wrong. Patterson never really had a ‘prime’ and he probably belongs in the ‘midling pro’ category.

    I believe Milliner will be a good CB. However, Jets fans have a very slanted view of what a ‘good CB’ is. Revis distorted it and Cro was above average. This just in: the deck is stacked against CBs and they get beat, and take penalities (even when Cro was playing well he was often penalized).

    Steve, I disagree that we have “7 CBs all with the ability to become stars in this league…” I guess it depends on how you define ‘star’. To me, a ‘star’ is a player who other teams must account for on every play. A star CB impacts a QBs decision process. A star CB gives the DC more options with the entire defense. I don’t think the NYJ have a CB who does that. Might Milliner be a guy like that? Maybe. But, I don’t think you can objectively say that anyone else on the current roster, is likely to be such a player. The vets they have all have displayed limitations, during their career, and their draft picks are unknown, at this point. If the NYJ have 7 possible stars, how many are their among the other 31 teams? This league is filled with physical freaks.

    What the NYJ do have is a defensive line that has flashed the abilit to rush the passery, while being tremendous against the run. If their secondary performance is going to show significant improvement, from last year, I think it’s a safer strategy to bet on increased pass rush productivity from the DL, than it is to count on individual CBs becoming ‘stars’.


    Personally, I thought Hill had made strides early in the season. He was Geno’s most targeted WR the first 3-4 games. He made some tough catches, against Atlanta, over the middle, on the GW drive. He made a tough catch v Pittsburgh, getting drilled by Polamalu, on a 1H ending drive that resulted in a FG. However, as the season went on he was less involved (was it injuries?). Joe points out, he still yet to use his physical advantages, especially when it comes to ‘high pointing’ the ball and he’s proven to be a bit frail. I only brought him up, because if he gets cut, a team will pick him up and sell him to their fan base on his ‘measurables’. When the NYJ picked up Maybin, who’d been a bust, in Buffalo, it was based on where he was picked in the draft, due to his measurables. They picked up Ras I, because of…say it…measurables…Verhon Gholston got a chance in Chicago because of…..

  • Jeremiah Johnson

    It’ll be very interesting to see how this all plays out this season. It seems like the Jets are expecting big things from Milliner based on the comments made by Rex & Ellis Lankster this offseason. At the very least he should improve on his rookie year. As Cro was terrible last year, even an average performance from whoever starts opposite Milliner would be quite an upgrade.

    And as others have mentioned, there are other factors to consider. Can Davis improve? Will Barnes stay healthy & provide that speed edge rusher? How much will Coples & Richardson improve? Does Jeremiah George play on role on passing downs? Can the offense get a lead & force other teams into obvious passing situations?

    It certainly makes A LOT more sense to sign these guys who are “intriguing” because of their “measurables” as free agents to low cost contracts rather than being the team that drafts them early, or even worse trades up to draft them early, initially.

  • Or, if a team has 23+mm of cap space, it might have made some sense to sign one of the many F/A CBs who were available, in the off-season.

    Don’t get me wrong, if the DLine can step it up, that will be a huge help, and if one of these CBs steps up, it will be huge. However, if they solidified the spot, in FA, they’d likely be in a stronger position defensively, allowing them to develop their young CBs, rather than count on so many question marks.

    When you see the deals that Haden and Sherman got, then you look at what some of the F/A CBs below that tier got this year, it’s evident the position is only going to get more expensive going forward, as the cap increases.

    Everyone likes to cite Seattle as the model way to build a franchise. Just remember, they signed both Cliff Avril and Michael Bennett as F/A last year. Without those 2 signings, their defense would likely not have been the force it was.

  • glegly

    Whoa, Steve W, I want whatever Cornerback-happy drugs you’re taking. I’m more than a little petrified of this group. We’re hanging a LOT on a handful of games Dee played in Dec as evidence that he’s our #1 CB. He can easily revert back to Sep-Nov form. Yes, Cro was a broken man (certainly compared to year before), but I fear for how much we’re going to miss him, or rather a player like him. Wanted no part of DRC, but SOMEONE with serious experience would’ve been nice. If I’m an opposing offense, just leave a TE or RB in to help block and wait for a WR to get open. It’s too much of a passing league to have this weak of a secondary.

    God, I hope I’m wrong. But doesn’t this pos feel like our version of WRs last year?

    As for Hill, fellas, don’t try to talk Lidman down from that dream. I’m thinking they’re related, if not the same man. In fact, has anyone ever seen Lidman and Stephen Hill in the same room? Hmmmm.

  • bonebreaker

    joeydefiant; I agree with what you said about Wilson and I think he deserves more credit. Who knows how he is going to play this year… he just might surprise us hopefully.

    On another note, I think we are giving too much credit to the second corner position to begin with. I think teams have moved around their second best or even best receiver into the slot in order to create matchup problems. NE didn’t have any good WR last year and did most of its damage with Edelman in the slot (if I remember correctly). Therefore, the slot might me just as important as the second CB position.

    What we need most from this group is turnovers and hopefully Patterson can provide that for us; playing on the outside or roaming around in the slot.

  • Bonebreaker…interesting stat I saw that NYJ caused 13 fumbles, on defense, last year and only recovered one. Simple reversion to mean would get them extra possessions. Hopefully, more pressure up front, and a big hitter at S, help create even more TOs.

    Glegly..I don’t love Hill. I see his short comings. I also see that for the majority of his NYJ career he’s really had no threat opposite him, and sub par QB play. I don’t suggest he’ll ever be Vincent Jackson or Demaryius Thomas though.

  • glegly

    Mr. Hill, it demeans you as a player to troll message boards under assumed names…I’m just glad you understand you have short comings. MORE TIME IN FRONT OF THE JUGGS MACHINE, PLS!

    BTW, our new WR posted some decent stats with that passing machine known as Tim Tebow (I quake just typing his name) at the helm.

  • Geronimo

    The Tebow/Decker thing really means something, to me. At least, it means 1) Decker can find daylight even while the secondary drifts toward Tebow’s laser pointer stare, and 2) he can catch 70 mph fastballs thrown at his trailing ankle.

    For some reason, the press is saying the Jets overpaid for Decker. I don’t see that at all.