The New York Jets have increased expectations for 2019 after an active offseason:
In 2019, #Jets will win…
— Joe Caporoso (@JCaporoso) July 30, 2019
Two of the most commonly cited positional groups that could hold them back from hitting nine wins or exceeding it are their offensive line and cornerback group. For today, let’s look at what the team currently has on the depth chart and how much of an impediment it could be to the team making a playoff run…
The Jets only made a pair of minor tweaks to their cornerback depth chart this past offseason, despite the group regularly struggling in 2018. They swapped nickel corners by letting Buster Skrine walk, replacing him with Brian Poole and took a late round swing on oft-injured Blessaun Austin. They also let former starter Morris Claiborne leave in free agency and moved their backup corner from the previous few years, Daryl Roberts into a presumed starting role.
As it stands now, the Jets have Trumaine Johnson in the “lead” role in the second year of a 5 year, 72 million dollar contract. Johnson is basically locked on the roster until after the 2020 season unless the Jets want to eat a 15 million dollar cap hit. He missed six games in 2018, an alarming sign for a soon to be 30 year old cornerback and struggled when on the field despite a pretty PFF grade that was somewhat puffed up by Josh Allen throwing him a pair of punt interceptions late in the season. Roberts will start opposite of him, coming off a season where he played 64% of the snaps and a season before that where he played 41% of the snaps. He has generally been okay in a reserve role and as a situational player but has never been a full 16 game starter. Poole’s level of play declined after a promising rookie season in 2016 but at a minimum, he should be younger, more athletic version of what Skrine was for the Jets in recent years.
The “depth” positions are wide open, led by third year corner Derrick Jones who has only played a handful of meaningful NFL snaps, second year slot corner Parry Nickerson who looked wildly overmatched as a rookie, walking injury Jeremy Clark and recent roster add ons with limited experience like Arthur Maulet and Mark Myers. Basically any injury to one of their starters would put the Jets in a position of giving major reps to a player with extremely limited NFL experience.
Internally, the Jets are hoping 2018 was an anomaly for Johnson and he will play better under Gregg Williams, who he has experience with. It is probably naive to expect Johnson to be an elite corner at this point but if he can stay healthy and be competent, the Jets situation can hover around slightly below average rather than being a potential disaster. Roberts will need to show more consistency and prove he can be a lateral move to what the Jets got from Claiborne in recent seasons while Poole can hopefully cut back on penalties and create more big plays than Skrine did from the slot role.
With the changing rules in the NFL, the days of a prime Darrelle Revis lockdown corner are likely gone. The position is becoming increasingly difficult to play but still carries substantial value and if a team is not strong at the position, they need a top tier pass rush to help compensate for their deficiencies, while the best teams in the league found a hybrid of both.
New England had Stephon Gilmore, who was one of the top cornerbacks, if not the best, cornerback in the NFL last year particularly down the stretch. The Chargers had arguably the best slot corner in the NFL, Desmond King, along with Casey Hayward on the outside, nevermind a strong pass rush led by Melvin Ingram and Joey Bosa. The Rams loaded up with Marcus Peters and Aqib Talib at corner to complement their pass rush led by Aaron Donald. The Saints hit a home run at corner with Marshon Lattimore in the NFL Draft. Dallas had an All-Pro corner in Byron Jones to go with DeMarcus Lawrence as a pass rusher. Chicago had an All-Pro corner in Kyle Fuller to go with Khalil Mack as a pass rusher.
A problem for the Jets is they don’t have a proven top corner or a proven top pass rusher. Their roster currently lacks a player who has ever reached double digit sacks in a season and they remain totally unproven at edge rusher overall. Their problems at cornerback would be easier to stomach with more upfront. They will be supported by All-Pro safety in Jamal Adams but the status of his running mate, Marcus Maye, remains in question heading towards week 1.
There are at least two All-Pro caliber pieces on the Jets defense in Adams and CJ Mosley but their unit is going to struggle unless players like Johnson and Poole substantially improve their play from last year. It may ultimately be on the Jets offense to take a massive leap and do something they have not done much of in recent years…win a few shootouts.