Cornerback became a huge need for the New York Jets this offseason when they chose to release Antonio Cromartie and then not re-sign him. The Jets were linked to just about every big name corner on the free agent market, including Darrelle Revis, but they failed to add any of them. To make matters worse, the Jets inexplicably waited until the third round to draft a corner. Suffice to say that the position remains a mess for the Jets, but here is what their makeshift depth chart could look like.
Starters: Dee Milliner, Dimitri Patterson
Reserves: Kyle Wilson, Dexter McDougle, Ellis Lankster, Darrin Walls
The Jets currently have 11 corners on the roster, and right now I’m projecting them to take six, which makes sense given their importance to Rex Ryan’s defense and the contributions they make on special teams. Milliner, last year’s first round pick, is a guaranteed starter and the only sure thing on the roster. He struggled for most of last season, but something clicked late and he played very good football in the final month. The Jets are expecting big things from him this season.
After Milliner, things start to get really messy. The Jets signed Patterson to a one year contract, and he will get the first crack at the starting job. He is a journeyman who is comfortable in man to man, but frankly he isn’t a starting caliber talent. Wilson is a former first round pick who is not nearly as bad as he is made out to be, and he is a decent slot corner for the Jets. However, this could be his last year on the team, and he is not even a lock to make the roster this year.
In a perfect world, the Jets would like to see McDougle, this year’s third round pick, earn the other starting job. McDougle is very talented, but he is coming off a major shoulder injury and must prove he is healthy and can adjust to the NFL. The Jets passed over quite a few talented cornerback prospects in the first two rounds before reaching for McDougle in the third, and they need him to live up to his draft status. It may not be right away, but expect McDougle to be a starter by the end of the season.
Those four corners should all make the team, though Wilson’s spot isn’t quite locked down. The battle for the final reserve spots will be very difficult to sort out, with Lankster and Walls competing with Johnny Patrick, Ras-I Dowling, Brandon Dixon, Jeremy Reeves and Lowell Rose. Reeves and Rose are major long shots, while Dixon was an upside pick in the sixth round this year and seems likely to spend his rookie season as a developmental player on the practice squad.
Still, that leaves five corners for two spots, and there are some interesting players here. Lankster is one of the Jets’ best special teams players, and they re-signed him to a two year deal this offseason. He doesn’t contribute much defensively, but every team needs special teams aces, and his skills in that area should get him on the team. Walls played a decent amount for the Jets last season and showed some promise, and they also re-signed him to a two year deal.
Dowling is a former second round pick of the New England Patriots while Patrick is a former third round pick of the New Orleans Saints. Both have dealt with numerous injury issues in their careers, robbing them of the chance to live up to their draft status. However, each is still young, and if they can stay healthy and play up to their pedigree the Jets could end up with a pair of quality players. Walls, Dowling, and Patrick will likely be the battle for the final spot, but Walls is the favorite until one of the other two proves they can stay on the field.
The Jets are facing a lot of unknowns at corner, and they desperately need Milliner to take a huge step forward this season and have one or two of the reserves step up. If those things happen, the Jets’ secondary should be solid. If not, it will be another long year for the pass defense.