The Robert Saleh defense has always been known for rotating young defensive backs and giving unproven talents a chance to thrive. Gang Green will need to hope Saleh can carry that magic over from San Fran to the Meadowlands, as this is the group plagued by uncertainty.
Current Depth Chart
CB 1: Bryce Hall, CB 2: Brandin Echols & Isaiah Dunn, Nickelback: Javelin GuidryBackups: Michael Carter Jr., Jason Pinnock, Justin Hardee, Corey Ballentine (IR)
SS: Lamarcus Joyner
FS: Marcus Maye
Backups: Ashtyn Davis (IR), Sheldrick Redwine, Sharrod NeasmanBryce Hall (CB 1): The pick some lauded as the steal of last year’s draft will have a chance to prove the analysts right this season. Hall immediately came into a big role when healthy last season, playing eight games and starting seven. Hall racked up 36 tackles, an INT, 1.0 TFLs, and 3 PDs. Hall also allowed a 71.2% completion percentage, while getting tagged for 393 yards and 2 TDs. However, he allowed just over 10 YPC, and demonstrated a lot of potential. Rolling into the season with him as CB 1 isn’t exactly ideal, but this very well could be the season where Hall breaks out and becomes a household name.
Brandin Echols & Isaiah Dunn (CB 2): The two corners get paired together for the sake of this preview. There is no clear favorite for the other outside guy, following the release of Bless Austin. Echols was one of the Jets three corner picks on the last day of the draft, and the Kentucky product has the makeup of a potential starter. He started 22 of 24 games at Kentucky, putting up 108 tackles, 2 FFs, 1 INT, 1.0 sacks and 11 pass breakups. He’s undersized, but he’s a speedy corner with range to keep up with top receivers. Dunn was a UDFA add that the team prioritized. Dunn was essentially an 8th Round pick as the team handed him the largest UDFA contract EVER. Dunn had 115 tackles, 1.5 sacks, 1 FF and 18 breakups. Dunn and Echols are both fast, undersized, and guys with good character. The Jets are taking a risk relying on one of the two to stick as the outside starter, but the two provide much more upside than Austin.
Javelin Guidry (Nickel): Guidry, a 23 year old corner with safety like speed and range gets the nod over the rookie, Michael Carter Jr., in route to a likely starting spot this Sunday. Guidry possesses good tackling ability and has been able to make plays, with 4 FFs last season. Guidry is a playmaker, and playmaking is exactly what he’s going to have to do to fend off Carter Jr..
Lamarcus Joyner (SS): Joyner is a veteran of the NFL, and makes the move back to his more comfortable position of safety. Joyner succeeded with the Rams before struggling to acclimate to a new role in the Raiders defense the past two seasons. The Jets took a bet on Joyner reverting to his Los Angeles form, time will tell if the bet hits.Marcus Maye (FS): As the cornerstone of this secondary, Maye is one of the longest tenured members of the team. Maye is a consistent producer and a top ten safety in the game of football. Maye is a talent, and arguably one of the best on the team, and a lot of the questions around his future can be quieted by a strong season.
The Backups: The Jets will operate a true rotation at corner as they apply different groups until one sticks. Carter Jr. will likely get flung into the fire relatively quickly, and the 22 year old from Duke is highly favored within the organization. Jason Pinnock was the first of the three corners taken on the last day of the draft. He uses his hands well and he adds the most size of the young corners. He’s aggressive, and could very well be the spark plug that sticks on the outside, if he’s given the shot. Special teams captain Justin Hardee and Corey Ballentine are both superb athletes who will likely slot in the rotation, if they are desperately needed, but they are better suited to stay in special teams. At safety, Ashtyn Davis is a high potential guy with absurd range. If he can stay on the field, he has potential to be a starter on this defense. Behind him, Redwine and Neasman will likely slot in when needed, but Redwine will likely garner more playing time than Neasman.
It’s hard to analyze this group, from a potential standpoint, they did take a step forward. I was never high on Bless Austin or Pierre Desir, so losing either of them isn’t a downgrade to me. I was a fan of Brian Poole, and I think the team has a hole in the nickel spot because of him. As of right now though, I am optimistic that the team is being constructed in the image of Saleh. I am betting on him to take advantage of the potential gained in the offseason and turn it into a big upgrade by solidifying a stable cornerback rotation.
Best Case: The Jets Find Their Guys
The Jets are set to try out multiple combinations and rotate guys in and out until one group sticks. With a lot of young players in the secondary, especially the corners, having three guys stand out as clear cut starters would be the best case scenario. This means Bryce Hall solidifies himself as a CB 1, someone steps up to take and hold both the CB 2 job and the Nickel spot. This also means when Ashtyn Davis is healthy that he carves himself a spot out. If all of those things happen, the Jets will have had a massively successful season, regardless of the record.
Worst Case: Revolving Door of Rookies
The worst case scenario is the Jets rotate and rotate until they can’t anymore. Nobody sticks in the cornerback group and they get shredded every week. As for the safeties, if Maye regresses or gets traded, Joyner fails to regain some semblance of success and Davis is a dud, the Jets will achieved doomsday for their secondary.
Prediction: Take the Good with the Bad
My best guess is the season is bumpy, but produces some bright spots. I think Bryce Hall will prove that he can be a very good outside corner, but not a cornerback one, prompting the Jets to chase one for the 2022 season. I also predict two of the four young corners play well. I expect one of the two to be more than serviceable as an outside corner, and if I had to rely on one I would pick Echols. I also think Carter Jr. carves himself out playing time as the go to nickel guy.
As for the safeties, I think Joyner will struggle but be serviceable until Davis is healthy. From there, I expect Davis to become the starting free safety, and hopefully earn the job for next season. Expect Maye to play well, but not well enough to warrant a massive pay day, bringing the debate into the offseason. Call me a delusional optimist, but somehow, someway, I think the Jets get something out of the secondary and they show legitimate growth towards the end of the season.