The cornerback competition will be a story to watch throughout training camp and the preseason. What is the current pecking order among the CBs? Joe Malfa takes a closer look.
1) Morris Claiborne
The sixth overall pick of the 2012 NFL Draft never quite lived up to the hype, with injuries preventing him from enjoying any sustained success.
Claiborne got off to one of the best starts of his career in 2016, but a groin injury ended his campaign after just seven games. He finished the season with an 84.0 grade from Pro Football Focus, good enough for 13th in the league among qualifying CBs.
Claiborne will head into the season as the undisputed No. 1 CB on the roster, but how long will he last? Sustaining an injury seems to be a case of when — not if. The 27-year-old has never played a full season over the course of his five-year career (15 games in ’12, 10 in ’13, four in ’14, 11 in ’15 and seven in ’16).
Claiborne signed a one-year, $5 million contract with the Jets. As long as he is healthy, expect him to put together a strong season. Players always seem to be at their best when they know they will be searching for a new contract in the offseason.
2) Buster Skrine
If Skrine makes it through training camp, he is a lock to start in the slot because he is the only proven slot corner on the roster. His roster spot, however, is far from guaranteed.
Skrine is coming off a poor showing in 2016, which earned him a 45.5 grade from PFF (89th in the league among CBs). If the young pups of this secondary shine, there would be no reason to retain the 28-year-old slot corner. Cutting him would save $6 million in cap space and free up playing time for the young cornerbacks who will actually be with the team beyond this season.
Monitor this situation closely.
The Battle Zone:
3) Juston Burris
As of now, Claiborne is a lock to start on one side and Skrine will start in the slot (assuming he is not released), but the starting job opposite Claiborne is up for grabs.
Burris will enter training camp as the favorite, at least in my mind, to win the job.
The 2016 4th-round pick showed promise last season, but he had his fair share of growing pains as well. He saw an uptick in playing time and began to establish himself over the last four weeks of the season, ending the year with a respectable 72.5 grade from PFF.
Burris has the prototypical size and instincts of an NFL cornerback. He needs to take the next step and prove himself this preseason.
4) Darryl Roberts
Roberts is the most intriguing prospect of Gang Green’s crop of cornerbacks heading into camp.
His sample-size was limited in 2016, but he posted some elite numbers according to Pro Football Focus.
Among 117 cornerbacks recording a minimum of 175 coverage snaps, Roberts ranked 4th in coverage snaps/receptions allowed (14.1) and 5th in yards allowed/coverage snap (0.75).
I am not saying 2016 was a fluke, but I am not willing to move Roberts ahead of Burris until he proves it in camp. Most of the attention will belong to the quarterbacks, but the battle between Burris an Roberts is the battle I’m most eager to monitor throughout the preseason.
5) Marcus Williams
The Jets’ secondary has seen many players come and go over the last three seasons, but Williams has been a constant. He has not been a permanent starter, but he has been a regular contributor.
Since 2014, Williams has played in 34 games for the Jets, registering nine interceptions (six in 2015) and 97 tackles.
Burris and Roberts will have the first two cracks at the starting spot opposite Claiborne, but Williams will earn his fair share of snaps as well. His versatility makes him a solid depth option, especially given Claiborne’s injury history and the uncertainty surrounding Skrine’s spot on the roster.
Both of these rookies are wildcards.
Clark was a day two talent coming out of Michigan, but injuries forced him down to the 6th round. He will likely start on the PUP, but he may factor into the equation at some point in the season.
Jones, also taken in the 6th round, was a wide receiver at Ole Miss until last season. He projects as a viable special teams option this season, but expectations at cornerback should be relatively low considering he only recently converted.
The Odd Man Out:
7) Dexter McDougle
Let’s face it — members of the “Idzik 12” not named “Quincy Enunwa” are simply not welcome.
- Claiborne surprises everyone everyone by staying healthy for all 16 games, playing well enough to earn a three-year, $24 million extension next offseason.
- Skrine is released during training camp after being outperformed by the younger, cheaper cornerbacks.
- Burris shows improvement in year two, cementing his role as the No. 2 option.
- Roberts does not live up to expectations following his strong showing in last year’s small sample-size. He will see a reduced number of snaps unless there is an injury in front of him on the depth chart.
- Marcus Williams plays exactly like the Marcus Williams we have come to know — not great, but steady in a rotational role.
- Jeremy Clark starts on the PUP list but eventually shows promise and works his way into the rotation after the bye week (Week 11).
- Derrick Jones receives almost no time at corner but proves his worth in kick and punt coverage.
- McDougle seeks employment elsewhere after the first wave of cuts.
Photo Credit: NewYorkJets.com