For Jets fans, it feels like a lifetime ago when Darrelle Revis and Antonio Cromartie were consistently locking down receivers on a weekly basis. Yes, things have definitely changed since the two aforementioned players left New York; the secondary has not yet been able to fully bounce back. After showing promise in their rookie years, Jamal Adams and Marcus Maye are hungry and looking to build on solid first seasons this coming year. Add in a splash free agent signing at cornerback and some lofty player predictions and fans finally have some hope for the secondary heading into 2018. The big question that remains is will this unit rise to the occasion? Or will they fail to live up to the hype and fall flat yet again?
2017 is best viewed as a transition year for the Jets secondary. It was critical that both Jamal Adams and Marcus Maye gained adequate experience in a season that was considered a rebuilding year for the entire team. Here are some statistics to consider when looking at the secondary in 2017:
- 30 passing touchdowns allowed (2nd most in the NFL)
- 1 passer rating (18th in the NFL)
- 3 yards per game (20th in the NFL)
- 59% completion percentage allowed (8th in the NFL)
- Of the 59 total penalties committed, 43 were by a member of the secondary (2nd highest)
- 11 interceptions (20th in the NFL)
While not as bad as some may have thought, many of these statistics are not very favorable and place the unit towards the bottom of the league; clearly there are many areas to improve in 2018. Luckily for the Jets, the addition of former Rams standout cornerback Trumaine Johnson should help in a lot of these areas. Considered a true shadow corner, Johnson’s ability to lock down opposing team’s number one receiver and force turnovers will be big for the Jets secondary this year. Although not additions, the spotlight will be on second year safeties Jamal Adams and Marcus Maye. Both players need to take sizable leaps forward in order for this unit to get to where it wants to be in 2018.
Experts around the league are definitely expecting a better performance this year, but players have also generated buzz claiming this unit has the ability to be the best in the league. While confidence is a good thing, to a degree, it comes down to players performing to or exceeding their potential and expectations. With that being said, let’s look at some key players to watch in 2018:
Trumaine Johnson #22 – Cornerback
Trumaine Johnson signed a 5-year, $72 million contract in the offseason to come over from Los Angeles and lead the Jets cornerback unit in 2018. He will slot in nicely on the outside for a team that hasn’t seen a corner of Johnson’s pedigree in years. Although last year may have seemed like a down year in terms of statistics, Johnson was considered one of the best physical, press corners in the NFL. He struggled a bit in off coverage, but as a player who has consistently been in the top tier of corners throughout his career; look for him to rebound in a big way with changes in scheme and scenery.
Jamal Adams #33 – Safety
Jamal Adams enters his second year with a lot of hype, some of which he created through his outspoken personality. In one of my previous articles, I compared Adams to other standout rookie safeties and broke down what he needs to improve on this upcoming season. Overall, he had a good start to his career, but must improve his coverage in order to get into the top tier of NFL safeties. There’s a lot of pressure on Adams this year to take a big step forward. As one of the leaders of the defense, if he doesn’t, the secondary will struggle to reach its peak and he will certainly hear it from the media and fans.
Marcus Maye #26 – Safety
After an uneven rookie season where Marcus Maye showed promise, but also some growing pains, he has to play at a more consistent level this year. Maye started strong out of the gate last year but faded as the season went on. At free safety, it’s easy for struggles to be exposed and there were times last year where he was clearly out of place in coverage or flat out missed assignments. I’m confident in Maye’s talent, but am a little worried about a slow start, considering he was injured throughout the preseason and is doubtful for week 1. Hopefully, once he gets back into game action, he performs more like the player we saw in the beginning of the year.
Morris Claiborne #21 – Cornerback
For Morris Claiborne, talent has never been an issue. His inability to stay on the field has kept him from meeting his potential that had him drafted 6th overall in the 2012 draft. Last year as the Jets number one corner, he played in 15 games and I think he doesn’t get enough credit for the job he did. There were definitely some hiccups, but I believe, overall, he played well covering opposing team’s number one wideouts; PFF graded him as the 4th best shadow corner in the league. After resigning with the Jets on a 1-year contract, Claiborne has a lot to play for this year. He should benefit from playing opposite Trumaine Johnson and I expect him to have a solid year, assuming he can stay healthy, which is a big if.
Buster Skrine #41 – Cornerback
2017 was yet another up and down season for cornerback Buster Skrine. He struggled again with 13 penalties and covering receivers on the outside; he spent only 28.2% of his snaps in the slot, which is his natural position. The good news for the Jets is the addition of Johnson will allow Skrine to slide back into the slot, where he has been a much better player throughout his career. In the last year of his contract, I believe this will be Skrine’s last year with the Jets. However, if he turns into the player they believed they were getting when they originally inked him to his lucrative contract, they may consider bringing him back.
While the addition of Johnson and continued progression of returning players should certainly help the defense, the Jets must force more turnovers and reduce the amount of penalties in order to be successful this season. The secondary hasn’t been able to consistently come up with interceptions, which has hurt when trying to stall opponents’ drives. The amount of penalties committed has given teams second chances that they have continually taken advantage of. Additionally, the lack of pass rush puts extra pressure on the secondary locking down pass catchers for a more extended period of time. Combining these three things is not a recipe for success and it’s imperative Todd Bowles and Kacy Rodgers stress more disciplined, consistent play this year.
With all things considered, I think the secondary will improve in 2018 and be closer to the 15-20 range in the NFL. I believe Jamal Adams takes a big step forward and Trumaine Johnson scores the Jets first defensive touchdown since 2013. I also predict injuries will force Derrick Jones into a larger role, where he will play well, but experience some issues in his first year getting action at corner in the NFL.
This secondary, dubbed “New Jack City”, has the potential to be near the top of the league if everything goes right. While that’s unlikely, it should definitely be fun watching this unit play this season. Once live game action begins on Monday for the Jets, be sure to lookout for my weekly breakdowns of the secondary, where I will recap who had big games and who failed to show up. Thankfully, football season is finally upon us.