In the wake of losing their superstar cornerback Darrelle Revis to a season-ending knee injury, the New York Jets are leaving no stone unturned when it comes to bolstering their depth at the cornerback position.
Joe McKnight, the Jets’ primary kick returner and third-string running back, appears to be getting primed for a heavier workload at cornerback, a position he played in high school before switching to running back full-time.
Two weeks ago, when Revis missed the Jets’ Week 2 game with a concussion, there was talk about McKnight seeing a few snaps at cornerback after he was seen practicing with the defense that week.
In the end, he did not end up playing any snaps on defense in that game, as the Jets were able to scheme around the short-term loss of their best player, albeit in a losing effort.
Now, the Jets have their hands tied, as life without Revis will continue the rest of the season, and apparently that means that the transformation of Joe McKnight from running back to cornerback is definitely on the table.
“We’ll do that this week with Joe McKnight,” head coach Rex Ryan said on Wednesday. “He’ll have a role on offense, but we’re also teaching him how to play corner.”
“Not quite a full-time capacity, but he’s going to be over there a ton in the meetings and everything else.”
Ryan has continued to say all season long that McKnight will have a role on offense, yet the 24-year-old has only been on the field for 7 of the Jets’ 204 offensive snaps through three weeks, and that role looks like it will shrink now.
Second-year running back Bilal Powell has emerged as the Jets’ best running back as starter Shonn Greene seems to be running in quicksand, and the Jets recently signed rookie running back Jonathan Grimes as well.
Grimes appears to be more of the Joe McKnight mold, a speedy all-purpose back who can run, catch, and return kicks if needed. If McKnight moves primarily to defense, Grimes is set to take on McKnight’s offensive role.
With three other running backs, plus Tim Tebow, McKnight is now free to focus on learning how to play defense at the NFL level, which is obviously no easy task, but something the Jets truly believe he’s capable of.
“He has the necessary skills,” Ryan said. “He’s got the speed, the size, the athleticism, the ball skills. Everything you look for in a corner. So, I don’t think there’s any reason not to think that Joe McKnight couldn’t be a corner.”
“It’s just going to take time, obviously,” Ryan said. “But I think … [we have] great teachers of the game. It’ll be interesting. I would not bet against Joe McKnight becoming a good corner.”
It’s not the first time the Jets have floated out the idea of playing guys on both sides of the ball.
Cornerback Antonio Cromartie took some practice reps at wide receiver during training camp, and the Jets also experimented briefly with using linebacker Nick Bellore at fullback.
With Revis sidelined, Cromartie is now the Jets’ number 1 cornerback, so any talk of him playing wide receiver is probably on the back burner. But it also means that McKnight could be joining him in the defensive backfield soon.
I wouldn’t expect McKnight to be any higher than fourth or fifth on the cornerback depth chart going forward, barring a dramatic improvement in the coming weeks.
For what it’s worth, McKnight played cornerback in an NFL regular season game for one snap so far in his career. He came on a blitz on the play, pressuring the quarterback, and forcing an interception.
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