Derrick Jones & Deontay Burnett – Can They Take the Next Step in 2019?

Stephen Russo with a closer look at whether WR Deontay Burnett and CB Derrick Jones can develop into major contributors for the 2019 New York Jets…

Todd Bowles’ tenure with the Jets cannot be described in just one word, but I think the word ‘frustrating’ encompasses the emotion that Jets’ fans feel towards the previous Head Coach. His in-game management and gameday roster decisions were perplexing. The overall stubbornness and unwillingness to change or admit fault was particularly maddening, especially when it came to the personnel decisions late in a lost season. In 2018, while the Jets were clearly struggling and playing meaningless football in late November and December, Bowles still seemed hesitant to give young players a chance.

Two of those players were Derrick Jones and Deontay Burnett, who were unquestionable rising stars among the Couch Coaches of Jets’ Twitter. Even if these two don’t blossom into Deion Sanders and Jerry Rice like many fans expect, one thing is certain: they should be given a chance to earn themselves more playing time than what Bowles’ provided. Allow me to take a closer look at their careers to date to see what we may anticipate from Jones and Burnett as we enter a new year, with new coaches and new systems.

Jones was drafted in the sixth round of the 2017 draft out of Ole Miss. He entered college as a wide receiver before switching to cornerback full time in his senior season, therefore his experience at corner is very limited. He only managed somewhat significant playing time in his senior season where he racked up 21 tackles and two interceptions. However, Jones is an athlete and has shown flashes in the little time that he has seen the field. Although Jones has only suited for four games with the Jets and gotten significant playing time in one (week 17 vs. NE, 2018), his solid play during that game and in preseason left many wondering why he wasn’t given a chance sooner. His lanky frame (6’2, 188lbs) and jersey number (31) made fans reminisce about Antonio Cromartie. Jones is raw, but his frame, athleticism, and two years developing as a pro corner should be enough for him to compete for a significant role in 2019.

Deontay Burnett has a bit of a different story. Burnett attended USC where he was one of Sam Darnold’s top targets. In the infamous 2017 Rose Bowl against Penn State where Darnold put on a show, he had the help of Burnett who caught 13 passes for 164 yards and 3 touchdowns. Burnett finished his junior year with 86 catches for over 1,100 yards and 9 touchdowns. Burnett signed with the Titans as an undrafted FA in 2018, before being waived and signing with the Jets in September. For much of the season, fans were forced to watch Jermaine Kearse lazily catch balls on the sideline or Andre Roberts get time at receiver due to lingering injuries to Enunwa and Anderson.

However, when Burnett got his opportunity to play, he made the most of it. Only active for five games all year, Burnett made an impact in two of those games showing some highlight reel catches and a good rapport with Darnold. Against Chicago, Burnett caught 4 passes for 61 yards, including a beauty on the right sideline where we went up between two defenders to haul it in. And in the season finale in New England, Burnett gave his best performance and was one of very few bright spots for the Jets, catching 5 passes for 73 yards.

Jones (24) and Burnett (21) are young and have flashed upside in limited action. With a new head coach in Adam Gase, who has preached a clean slate to his players and the media, will these two be afforded the opportunity to compete? Jones should be allowed to make his case CB2 option across from Trumaine Johnson. Burnett should vie for a role as WR4 behind Anderson, Enunwa and Crowder. Only time will tell if these players can take advantage of the expected fresh start and show that they can take the next step.