This is a series covering the position battles in training camp and projecting the roster and depth chart for the New York Jets this season. Today’s installment will cover the defensive backs.
The New York Jets secondary is a bit of a mismatched group. Cornerbacks Antonio Cromartie, Dee Milliner and Kyle Wilson project to be one of the best sets of cover men in the NFL. At safety, however, the team has very average veteran Dawan Landry starting next to one of the three young players battling for the free safety spot. The emergence of one of these players would be a big boost for this secondary.
Players in Camp: Royce Adams, Antonio Allen, Aaron Berry, Josh Bush, Cromartie, Mike Edwards, Donnie Fletcher, Jaiquawn Jarrett, Landry, Ellis Lankster, Bret Lockett, Rontez Miles, Milliner, Isaiah Trufant, Darrin Walls and Wilson.
Projected Cornerback Depth Chart: Cromartie, Milliner, Wilson, Lankster, Walls and Trufant.
Projected Safety Depth Chart: Landry, Allen, Bush and Jarrett.
I project the Jets to carry six corners and four safeties, and much like the linebackers, this is because of special teams. Lankster and Trufant have proven their worth on coverage teams the last two seasons, and Walls could see time as the fourth coverage corner following Berry’s torn ACL. The top three corners and Landry are set in stone, but the battle at the other safety spot is totally up in the air.
Starting at corner, Cromartie was asked to step up when Darrelle Revis tore his ACL and he delievered in a big way. The defense didn’t miss a beat with Cromartie as their No. 1 corner, and he is the biggest reason they felt comfortable trading Revis. Cromartie is still prone to gambling for interceptions a little too much and he may not be quite as good as Revis, but it is also pretty easy to make a compelling case for ranking him among the top-five cornerbacks in the league.
The Jets drafted Milliner ninth overall, and he will assume the starting spot vacated by Revis. Milliner is physically similar to Revis and actually has a resemblance in play style as well, and he has star potential. Milliner has been somewhat injury prone, which is a concern, but if he can stay healthy, he should be a key player.
Wilson will cover slot receivers in the nickel package, as he has done most of his career. Wilson may not have fully lived up to his first-round status, but he is a very solid player who is very important to the Jets’ defensive scheme. With the NFL becoming more and more of a passing league, it is imperative that teams have three good corners, and Wilson gives the Jets that.
The Jets couldn’t afford to re-sign Pro Bowl safety LaRon Landry, so they did the next best thing and signed his brother, Dawan. Landry is familiar with Rex Ryan and his defense from their days together with the Baltimore Ravens, and he will play the same role LaRon did. Landry is physical and very good in run defense, but he will have to improve in coverage, especially given that he will have an inexperienced partner at safety.
Originally, it appeared Bush would be the best fit at free safety, as he is the best cover man of the group. However, Allen has been getting the majority of the first team reps in camp and will likely start tonight against the Detroit Lions. Allen is more of a strong safety than free, so it will be very important to see how he handles the center-field role that Ryan’s defense requires from the free safety position.
The wild card is Jarrett, who is a former second-round pick of the Philadelphia Eagles. Jarrett was never able to become an effective player in Philly, but at just 23 years old, the Jets believe they can revive his career. He has reportedly been impressing coaches in camp, and a strong game tonight could move him into the driver’s seat for the starting job.
The free safety position is one to watch for the Jets all preseason, and if one of the three young players can prove his worth, the Jets could have one of the top secondaries in the league.