As we head into the fourth preseason game, cornerback remains a massive concern for the New York Jets. Injuries and suspensions have taken their toll at an already thin position, and very little has been decided heading into tonight’s clash with the Philadelphia Eagles. Let’s take a look at what the final depth chart could look like (side note: consider Antonio Allen a safety for the sake of this exercise).
Starters: Dee Milliner, Dimitri Patterson
Reserves: Kyle Wilson, Ellis Lankster, Darrin Walls, Johnny Patrick
Milliner is the only sure thing the Jets have at corner right now, and they are desperately hoping he will be able to recover from his high ankle sprain in time to play in Week 1. Milliner came on strong at the end of last season, and the decision to pass on every significant free agent available has put a ton of pressure on Milliner to make huge strides in his second season.
Despite the ongoing AWOL saga around Patterson, it is still likely that he will be a starting corner in Week 1. Patterson is suspended for tonight’s game, but he has much more NFL experience starting at corner than any of his competition. The Jets had sincerely hoped third round pick Dexter McDougle would win this spot, but sadly a torn ACL ended that opportunity. No matter what nonsense happened with Patterson last week, he is going to make the team and he is the leading candidate to start.
Wilson is going to be the slot corner, as he has been the last few seasons. The fact that the Jets haven’t been willing to move him outside at any point during their preseason cornerback crisis is telling, and they are committed to leaving Wilson in a role they think he can succeed in. Wilson hasn’t been great this preseason, but the truth is he doesn’t have any competition for his job.
This is where things get interesting. Lankster should feel pretty good about his chance to make the team because he is a special teams ace. Even if things don’t work out at corner, he is still very useful to the Jets. However, Lankster will start against the Eagles tonight, and he might be able to carve out a bigger role on defense with a good game.
Walls should be safe as well, as the Jets have been developing him and he played fairly well in limited action last season. Walls will not play tonight, but he remains Patterson’s biggest competition for a starting spot. Walls probably won’t get the first crack at it, but don’t be surprised if he gets a bigger role as the season progress.
That leaves Patrick competing for one spot with LeQuan Lewis, Brandon Dixon and Jeremy Reeves. We can safely eliminate Reeves from consideration, and sixth round pick Dixon probably hasn’t done enough to make the 53-man roster either. Lewis has only been on the team for a couple weeks, but the coaching staff has been impressed, and he will probably start against the Eagles tonight.
Patrick is a slot corner, and he could make the team as a backup to and eventual replacement for Wilson. However, Lewis would give the Jets a little more depth on the outside, which could be appealing if they don’t think Milliner will be ready within the next couple weeks. This spot is truly up for grabs tonight, but the guess here is that Patrick’s upside (he’s a former third round pick) wins the final roster spot.
One thing that must be noted here is that there is a very good chance that the Jets will add one or two veteran corners after the next round of roster cuts. If any decent man-to-man corner hits the market, it would make a lot of sense for the Jets to try and add them.
John Idzik received a lot of criticism for how he handled the cornerback situation this offseason, and the critics are being proven right so far. If Milliner can improve, one of the backups makes an impact, and everyone stays healthy, the Jets could be alright. However, that seems like a long shot, and this could be a season long problem for the Jets.