Much has been made of the New York Jets’ poor pass defense last season, with a large part of the blame being (deservedly) directed at the cornerbacks. However, the safeties had their part to play in the Jets’ 22nd ranked pass defense, and free safety remains a key need for the team. The Jets are thin at safety already, so look for them to add a potential playmaker in the draft.
While free safety is a key need, the Jets are pretty well set at strong safety with Dawan Landry. There is nothing special about Landry, but he the type of reliable, hardworking veteran that every team needs a few of. Landry recorded 100 tackles, 1 sack and 1 interception last season, and he provided a solid presence against the run from his safety spot. However, Landry has a lot of weaknesses in coverage, which is a big reason why the Jets need to add an impact free safety who will allow Landry to play in the box, where he is at his best.
Last season, Antonio Allen handled the bulk of the work at free safety despite the fact that he is a natural strong safety. Allen is a well rounded player that the Jets like, and he did an admirable job playing out of position, recording 63 tackles, 1 sack and 1 INT while providing decent coverage on tight ends. Allen split time with veteran Ed Reed, who was signed midway through the season. Reed was a complete disaster, and there is no reason to expect the Jets to make any attempt to re-sign him. Right now, it appears that Allen is the front runner to start next season, and the Jets must bring in a rookie to compete with him.
Josh Bush is the only true free safety the Jets have on the roster, but he has yet to make much of an impact and is better suited for a backup/special teams role. The Jets have former Philadelphia Eagles second round pick Jaiquawn Jarrett as well, but he is another hard hitter who lacks coverage skills and is better suited as a reserve. Finally, Rontez Miles is an intriguing prospect who the Jets will try to develop this season.
Despite the presence of some promising young strong safeties, the Jets have nothing to speak of at free safety. They desperately need to acquire a playmaking centerfielder with range and coverage skills. The Jets understandably passed on making a huge offer to Jairus Byrd in free agency, but they surprisingly chose to ignore the secondary market. At this point, Mike Adams is the only player available who might be able to help, and he could be worth a one year flier.
More likely, however, is the Jets upgrading the position through the draft. Ha-Ha Clinton-Dix and Calvin Pryor are two outstanding prospects who should go in the middle of the first round, but it is extremely unlikely that the Jets will take a safety that early. Jimmie Ward is a rising prospect who should go in the second, but again, that is likely too early for the Jets. It is most likely that the team will look to use a third or fourth round pick to bring in some young talent.
Terrence Brooks would be a nice fit in the third round, and he brings the versatility and coverage skills the Jets need. Brock Vereen could be a quality option with one of the Jets’ three fourth round picks, while Dion Bailey, Tre Boston and Dez Southward could be targets later. Unfortunately for the Jets, the true impact players are going to be off the board earlier than they are willing to commit to a safety.
It is clear that the Jets have to bring in some form of competition at the free safety spot, because their performance in coverage last season simply wasn’t good enough. The Jets should invest their first and second round picks at wide receiver and cornerback, but after that free safety becomes the most pressing need. Look for the Jets to use a mid-round pick on the position, and they will be hoping to find a player who can shore up their pass defense.