One of the things we have consistently heard about the last two head coaches of the New York Jets is that “they need quality cornerbacks to properly run their defense.” It is fair to question what defensive coach doesn’t need quality cornerbacks to run their defense, especially in today’s pass friendly NFL. Regardless neither the team’s previous GM or their current GM has done a sufficient job building the position, straining the rest of the unit.
After trading away Darrelle Revis before the 2013 season (an understandable move considering the team and player’s situation), the Jets tried to rebuild through the draft. Former GM John Idzik used the 9th overall pick on Dee Milliner in the 2013 draft and the following year used a third round pick on Dexter McDougle. Both picks flopped, along with the decision to move one time ascending strong safety Antonio Allen to cornerback. All three players are currently non factors in the NFL.
Current GM Mike Maccagnan decided to take the opposite approach to fixing the position, ignoring it in his first draft, investing a 4th round pick on Juston Burris in his second draft and a pair of 6th round picks in his most recent draft (Jeremy Clark and Derrick Jones). Maccagnan decided to throw money at the problem, landing Darrelle Revis, Antonio Cromartie and Buster Skrine in a single offseason for a combined 60 million guaranteed dollars. After a brief grace period, the decision to sign all three began to show cracks and then imploded.
After a strong 10 games in 2015, Revis faded down the stretch and then put forth a pathetic effort in 2016 en route to being cut (and still unsigned). Cromartie was inconsistent at best for all of 2015 and was outplayed by undrafted free agent Marcus Williams before being released after one year. After an encouraging 2015, Skrine struggled with a larger role in 2016 and missed multiple games due to a concussion.
The Jets were not overly proactive in rebuilding the depth chart heading into 2017. They took a one year flier on Morris Claiborne, who is unquestionably talented but has averaged 9.4 games per season over his five year career. Skrine is back as the second most accomplished corner on the roster but with him best suited to the slot, Williams and Burris will battle for reps on the outside opposite of Claiborne. Daryl Roberts, an intriguing waiver pickup who flashed a bit last year, could also be in the mix while it is probably unfair to expect rookie 6th rounders Clark and Jones to make an impact this season.
For the Jets to have a competent cornerback group they will need multiple things to break their way: Claiborne staying abnormally healthy, Skrine avoiding a concussion and staying locked in the slot role, and either Williams finding his 2015 game, Burris taking major strides after a nondescript rookie year or a surprise starter emerging out of the Roberts/Clark/Jones trio. They may get one or two of those things to break right but expecting all of them to seems overly optimistic.
The Jets invested big at safety this offseason using their first two draft picks on Jamal Adams and Marcus Maye, while both are talented they are going to encounter growing pains as day one rookie starters. They need to find their own way before they are counted on to regularly compensate for inferior cornerback play. In 2017, the answer to potential cornerback problems can’t be “the safeties will cover for it.”
After this season the Jets could very well be cycling through a cornerback rebuild again, as Claiborne is on a one year contract and Skrine’s contract makes him an easy, fiscally responsible cut after this season. Marcus Williams will also be a free agent, meaning unless a collection of late round picks rise to the occasion, the Jets will be back to investing premium capital at a position of critical importance.
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