Heading into the 2014 NFL draft, it is clear that the New York Jets‘ two biggest needs are wide receiver and cornerback. With that in mind, my pick for the Jets in our 2014 Rant Sports mock draft is Michigan State cornerback Darqueze Dennard. While the selection of cornerback ahead of a receiver may be a disappointment for some Jets fans, in this case it is the right thing to do.
Being realistic (i.e., not including players like Jadeveon Clowney and Sammy Watkins), the six players the Jets are most likely to take in the first round are cornerbacks Dennard, Justin Gilbert and Bradley Roby, and receivers Marqise Lee, Brandin Cooks and Odell Beckham. Gilbert and Beckham were off the board for this pick, so my decision came down to Dennard, Lee and Cooks. While I am very high on both those receivers, particularly Lee, Dennard is simply too good a player at too important a position to pass up.
No coach asks more of his cornerbacks than Rex Ryan, as Jets’ corners routinely spend the vast majority of the game in press man coverage with little to no safety help. After failing to address the need at cornerback in free agency, the Jets need a starting caliber player to pair with Dee Milliner. Dennard is regarded by many as the top rated corner in the draft, and he is an absolutely perfect fit for the Jets’ scheme.
Dennard is an extremely physical player who excels in press coverage, and is very comfortable playing on an island. He is not the best athlete in the class, checking in a 5′ 11″, 199 lbs with a 4.51 40, but that does not have any negative impact on his effectiveness. Dennard does possesses arguably the best cover instincts in the draft as well as good ball skills, and he had 10 career interceptions. The one knock on Dennard is his injury history, as he was in and out of the lineup at Michigan State with various ailments. However, he is a tough player with high character who will play through pain, and those qualities could very well sell Ryan and John Idzik on making this pick.
Personally, I would take Lee over any corner in this draft except Dennard. However, the way the board broke down in this mock left Dennard available at No. 18, and I simply can’t see the Jets passing on him if that scenario becomes reality on May 8. Dennard is exactly the type of corner the Jets are looking for, and pairing him with Milliner could give the Jets an outstanding cover tandem for a long time. With the incredible depth at receiver in this draft there is no reason the Jets can’t land a starter in the second round, making Dennard the right choice in the first.