It only took four offseasons but Todd Bowles finally has what he wants at the cornerback position. It is known he likes his corners to be physical and has the ability play press at the line of scrimmage, which is something the team has lacked for a couple years now. On the outside they have Morris Claiborne coming back on his second consecutive one year deal hoping to prove he is the same player he was for the first half of the 2017 season. Now Claiborne comes in as the #2 on the depth chart rather than the top dog after Maccagnan went out and spent the big bucks to bring Trumaine Johnson over from Los Angeles. Johnson inked a 5 year 72.5 million dollar deal with 45 million guaranteed in March to join this up and coming defense. Having these two long, physical corners on the outside and Buster Skrine as the nickel back will finally allow Bowles to do what he has wanted to do this whole time.
Unfortunately, it isn’t fair to ask to rely on these three to stay healthy for all 16 games, so who should we expect to see step up if one goes down? Over the first three years of this regime they have kept 7, 5 and 6 cornerbacks on the roster respectively, but because only having 5 on a roster is preposterous we should expect to see 6 or 7 come September.
Juston Burris, 6’0 212 pounds, 3rd Season
Drastically needing cornerback help in 2016, everyone was hoping Burris could come in as a rookie and be that guy. Sadly, it hasn’t panned out like we had hoped. That isn’t to say that he has run out of opportunities though. Burris is still is young player but entering his third season it could definitely come down to how he performs leading up to week 1.
At North Carolina State, Burris was often playing press and was expected to fit into the scheme that Bowles likes to run. However during his time on the field he has yet to showcase what we saw just a few years ago in college. We often see him beat in coverage allowing the receiver to get too much separation. A big part of this is his poor footwork as it still needs to be improved. The expected physical nature has not shown up whether in press or even as a tackler.
Burris will still get snaps during the summer but with more talent up top and more recent draft picks, it could very well be the end of the road for him in green and white.
Jeremy Clark, 6’3 220 pounds, 2nd Season
Cornerback was the third position Maccagnan used back to back picks on during the 2017 draft and Clark was the first of the two. The former Michigan Wolverine was recovering from a torn ACL at the time which ended up practically taking up his entire rookie season outside of 5 snaps on special teams during week 17.
His size is what stands out above everything else. At 6’3 220 with long arms, Clark is exactly how Bowles would build his perfect cornerback. Unfortunately there are no times to see his speed but on tape it seems that the speed he does have to go along with his length shouldn’t be an issue. I’m not going to compare him to Richard Sherman but with his 4.56 40 has proven to be just fine so I think it’s more than fair to assume that Clark would run roughly the same time.
What he will need work is his fluidity and change of direction. Coming off this torn ACL, it won’t help by any means so I’m curious to see if he has been able to progress between his last college appearance to now. It will be a tough road ahead for Clark, but his size will keep him in the battle.
Derrick Jones 6’2, 188 pounds, 2nd Season
Jones was the second of the aforementioned back to back cornerback picks in the sixth round last year. Coming from Ole Miss he was making the transition to become a full time corner rather than splitting time at wide receiver.
Jones is the ultimate project who will be able to use some of his knowledge as a receiver to his advantage. He obviously has ball skills, knows route concepts and is a very good athlete. As good as that sound, there is also a lot of work that will need to be done. He needs better technique, needs to add strength and his change of direction is worse than you would expect out of a former receiver.
When it comes to making the final roster Jones will have the hardest time of all, bottom line. He will need to show growth at the position in order to make Maccagnan and company continue to believe he can improve into a quality defensive player. In addition, he can still prove his worth on special teams that obviously still needs help.
Parry Nickerson 5’10, 182 pounds, Rookie
Yet another sixth round pick spent on a cornerback but this one is different than the other two. As you can tell, Nickerson is smaller in stature in comparison to the others so that may relegate him to playing in the slot, something he did not do while at Tulane.
The first thing that will pop out with Parry is his blazing speed, running a 4.32 40 yard dash at the combine. It shows up on the field too being able to get himself back into plays if he is beat initially. While he may get beat in press or against bigger receivers, he shows the quick, fluid hips to turn with them and the grit to compete with them, no matter the size.
If you have been watching the Jets over the years, you know that they have had trouble consistently causing turnovers. This is where Nickerson can shine. In his collegiate career he hauled in 16 interceptions, flashing great ball skills. He gets his hands in there to frequently make plays, whether it’s interceptions, pass break ups or deflections.
He may not have played special teams but look out for him to be a gunner on punts. With his straight line speed he should be on the short list of players to play the position. So he may not make a difference right away on defense if he makes the team, but special teams has been nothing but trouble since Mike Westhoff left.
Darryl Roberts 6’0, 182 pounds, 4th Season
Probably the biggest name of the bunch. Playing in just under 42% of the snaps, Roberts was the #3 in terms of playing time. Over the course of his Jets tenure, the former 7th rounder has shown some flashes in coverage but hasn’t been consistent enough to get on the field as much as he would like.
In 2017, Roberts was able to get more playing time than any other year being able to reel in his first career interception against none other than Ryan Fitzpatrick. Roberts has improved during his time in New York but can still tend to get crossed up in coverage, allowing just about 14 yards per catch against the two, three and even four receiver. While he does have great athleticism, his technique needs some work and quite frankly his frame just isn’t the greatest for playing press man.
Playing as much as he did last year can only benefit him in this battle, knowing what to expect against NFL caliber receivers. As mentioned, Roberts was able to show some flashes but will need to build off of that sooner or later.
Rashard Robinson 6’1, 177 pounds, 3rd Season
Despite not being in contention last year the Jets decided to make a move for Robinson at the trade deadline. They ended up moving a 2018 fifth rounder which is a lot when you consider Aqib Talib was traded for the same thing, just 17 picks further back.
In the half season Robinson was around he wasn’t able to find steady playing time. When he did get on the field it was noticeable and not in a good way. Playing in only 20 defensive snaps, according to Michael Nania on Turn On The Jets and Gang Green Nation, Robinson was targeted six times and allowed 5 receptions for 131 yards. That’s a whopping 21.8 yards per attempt, in comparison the next highest from a Jets cornerback was 7.8 by Claiborne and Burris. He did nothing positive to contribute to the defense last year and in fact made it much worse.
Coming out of LSU, everyone knew there was talent there but many worried about him off the field. During his NFL career he has struggled on the field and was recently arrested for edible marijuana possession last December. The concerns have not gone away and it’s starting to look like trading that fifth rounder was a mistake. He has much much to prove to everyone this summer in order to have a shot.
Ever since Revis was traded back in 2013, the Jets have had a hard time fully recovering on the back end of the defense. They went through some hard times fielding players that aren’t even in the league anymore such as Dee Milliner, Darrin Walls, Phillip Adams, among others. However, it looks like they have finally gotten somewhere with the position group so that it could at least be among the top half of the league.
With Trumaine Johnson, Morris Claiborne and Buster Skrine the starters are set barring any injuries. The backups however can easily be any of the players named above. When the final cuts are announced there are two I fully expect to make it and those two are Parry Nickerson and Daryl Roberts.
Before training camp starts it’s tough to say but the final spot will likely come down between Burris, Clark and Robinson. I can see it being any three of these players but at the end of the day I see Maccagnan and Bowles going with Clark. Jeremy Clark has the size they covet and showed in college he could play at a high level. Not really playing for almost two years will hurt his case but his length and potential could put him on top of the others.
If they do decide to keep seven corners on the roster I think they would go with Burris, solely on the experience he has at this level. Plus Robinson hasn’t given them much of a reason to keep him around. Any combination for the final 3 or 4 remaining slots wouldn’t be all that surprising, which really makes this group one to watch during the summer. You’ve seen my thoughts, now let me know yours!