Everyone knows that the New York Jets need major help with their passing game, as they ranked 31st in the NFL in pass offense. However, the Jets need almost as much help defending the pass, ranking 22nd in pass defense this season. While the upgrading the wide receiver position will be the Jets’ highest priority this offseason, improving the secondary is a close second. It is for that reason that the Jets could target a defensive back in the first round if they can’t land a top receiver.
We’ve already looked at the two top safeties, Ha-Ha Clinton-Dix and Calvin Pryor. Now it’s on to the cornerbacks, where Oklahoma State’s Justin Gilbert has emerged as the top prospect early in the draft process. Gilbert had a monster senior season, recording seven interceptions and being named 2nd team All-American. Gilbert was somewhat inconsistent in his Oklahoma State career, but his strong performance as senior has given NFL teams faith that he will be a very good player at the next level.
Gilbert has very good size at 6’0″, 200 lbs, and he is expected to run about a 4.5 40. That is solid speed for a corner, and if he can get his 40 time down a little bit lower it could solidify him as a top 10 prospect. Gilbert would be appealing to the Jets because of his ability to play press man coverage. Rex Ryan’s defensive scheme relies heavily on corners being able to get a good jam and cover their man without help, and Gilbert has the ability to do that.
Gilbert has very good hands and instincts for creating turnovers, an area the Jets lacked in this year. He can be a little prone to gambling, but that can be coached out of him. As you would expect for a corner of his size, Gilbert is a solid tackler who is reliable in run support. His size and speed combination also means that few receivers are a physical mismatch for him. Topping it off, Gilbert is an outstanding return man, which is another weak area for the Jets.
There is a good chance Gilbert will go early in the draft, likely to the Detroit Lions at No. 10. However, there is always the chance he slips due to teams targeting another position or a different corner. The Jets just drafted Dee Milliner in the first round last year, but they are expected to release Antonio Cromartie, putting them in the market for another starting corner. I don’t think the Jets would be thrilled about the idea of having two young corners as their starters, but they would have to consider Gilbert if he’s available.
As with Clinton-Dix and Pryor, Gilbert is likely to only be seriously considered if the top pass catching options are off the board. Still, Gilbert looks like he could be a very good corner in the NFL, and the Jets certainly need to improve their secondary. It’s probably a stretch, but depending on how free agency and the first half of the draft go, Gilbert could find himself high on the Jets’ draft board.