New York Jets Training Camp Preview: Cornerbacks

July 23rd, 2013
The depth of front with this man is set and in place, but how does it look to shape up behind him?  (Photo: US Presswire).

The depth of front with this man is set and in place, but how does it look to shape up behind him? (Photo: US Presswire).

By: Mike O’Connor, Staff Writer

It’s been an interesting turn for the Jets’ cornerback position since its heyday before Darrelle Revis’ 2012 ACL tear, when both he and Antonio Cromartie were playing at their respective high levels.  Interesting, well, because the quality of the position, which has carried the Jets throughout their success in 2009 until now, arguably hasn’t diminished.  

Darrelle Revis was and still is the best cornerback in football, and he obviously gave the Jets such freedom in their defensive schemes.  Yet, that’s what makes the corner situation for 2013 so intriguing.  While the rest of the NFL and its fans were infatuated with the most dominant defensive player being available and eventually traded, the Jets were busy bolstering and maintaining their secondary going forward without Revis to make up for his departure.

The results of the revamping at cornerback have left us with something relatively new.  For the first time in recent memory, the position has depth.  That’s right, it’s a deep pool of talent at last.  We’ve been spoiled by Antonio Cromartie’s stellar play as the team’s number two corner for so long, that it’s easy to forget how underwhelming the play was behind him and Revis.  At times, the depth even proved to be a liability with teams picking on anybody not numbered 24 or 31 whenever they could.  Now, the talent behind Cromartie is still unproven and underdeveloped, but at least it’s plentiful.  However, with so many capable player to push each other in camp, some won’t make the cut.  Let’s examine to take a look at how things on the back end of the defense will play out.

Projected Depth Chart: 

1. Antonio Cromartie

Antonio Cromartie has impressed Jet fans as soon as he got to New York from San Diego in 2010.  He came in as a young but unpredictable talent in a zone scheme that he simply didn’t enjoy playing in.  In all fairness, the zone looks didn’t fit his play-style, but he was irrational and immature to call out the coaches in their defensive schemes.  Since arriving in New York, not only has Cromartie improved his play significantly, but he has matured with every passing year.  Cromartie is now a loving father who knowingly saves his money to pay for his child support, a Twitter-free man, and as of this year, a true leader on a young defense that could use passion and direction.

Cromartie still wavers in consistency from time to time, but his athleticism, range, and instincts still provide a near-elite corner in Darrelle Revis’ wake.  If anything, the 29 year old can still improve, especially with the spotlight bearing down on him more as the Jets’ most talented player in the secondary, and by far.  There is substantial weight on Cromartie’s shoulders heading into 2013, but his play in the past two years in particular shouldn’t have fans doubting him.

2. Dee Milliner

After debating with myself multiple times, I’ve definitely settled down with the idea of the Jets’ ninth overall pick occupying the starting spot across from Antonio Cromartie.

Milliner, the far-and-away best corner in last year’s draft, is an impressive physical specimen who’s physicality and fluidity along with raw coverage skills should allow him to make an immediate impact.  I’ve gotten comfortable with the idea of Milliner starting right out of the gate because of how quick the adjustment process to NFL speed will come as a result.  The Jets’ handling of Kyle Wilson certainly wasn’t the only flaw with Wilson, but I think that Wilson’s slow start (played slim snaps behind Cromartie and Revis) caused his learning curve and adjustment to stall enough that it has hurt him down the road in his career.

We’ve seen Kyle Wilson’s ceiling as an NFL cornerback, and it isn’t all that promising.  Dee Milliner is an electrifying athlete, and though Antonio Cromartie’s presence should have him targeted early and often in 2013, it will only be for the better in the early stages of his career.  It should be a telling year for the rookie, as he’ll see time and be pressured by a Jets’ defense that relies heavily on their outside corners to play heavy man to man coverage.

3. Kyle Wilson

It’s not exactly an enthralling tale to Kyle Wilson’s career as a Jet.  The former first round pick offered the Jets unbelievable value as a third corner, and fans assumed that all Wilson had to do was live up to the medium expectations placed on him for the Jets’ secondary to be unstoppable.  Well, Wilson never developed as a player, whether placed primarily in the slot or on an island outside.  Each year Jets’ nation expects a bit more from the fourth year player, but at this rate, his skillset doesn’t look to offer any drastic improvements.

Wilson isn’t necessarily an awful corner, and at least you know what you’re getting with him.  He’s an inconsistent tackler who gambles too much in coverage, and his instincts and overall speed leave him a bit behind on most complicated routes run by opposing receivers.  However, he still has respectable ball skills and knowledge defensively to make for a decent third corner.  What makes Wilson liable to be passed up on the depth chart, however, is his fit.  Since he’s no better in the slot, which is likely where he’ll be placed in 2013, rather than outside, an on-the-rise depth player like Darrin Walls could prove to fit the slot corner position more efficiently.

Wilson is unlucky, because the third corner on most teams would be pretty safe with Wilson’s level of talent.  Yet, the Jets’ outside corners could be good enough if Milliner plays as advertised that the slot corner will be under just as much heat from the passing game as the starters.  Wilson will have to show up as an improved player to fight off the solid, young depth behind him.

4. Darrin Walls

You might say I’m overreacting to a player who came on in garbage games at the end of the year, but this is the fourth corner we’re talking about.  If I can bank on a young talent making significant strides this year, it’s going to be within the excellent depth found at cornerback on this 2013 Jets’ roster.  Furthermore, I’m taking Walls, the former Notre Dame product here over the likes of Ellis Lankster and Aaron Berry.  Walls has seen limited snaps thus far in his career as a Jet, and I’m solely basing this upside and ranking on the depth chart by his play against the Jaguars last year and the hype he has received from his elite conditioning during the week of OTAs.  The hype may be overdone or unwarranted for Walls, but I’m buying even the limited action I’ve seen from him.  The youngster has experience in other NFL schemes and loads of upside as a player.

5. Ellis Lankster

Lankster was really bashed around by Jet fans last year because of how often he seemed to be getting beat, but Lankster wasn’t as awful as he may have seemed.  He was forced into the third corner role when Darrelle Revis went down in Week 3, and he had little experience before this consistent playing time.  Lankster underwhelmed many with his poor ball skills, resulting in many dropped interceptions or closely completed passes, but it could have been much worse.  Lankster flexibility as a slot corner, outside corner, and a guy who can drop back and play zone should offer the Jets enough versatility for them to keep him around for another go in 2013.

Missed the Cut:

6. Aaron Berry

Berry was a defender quickly on the rise with Detroit earlier in his career before off-the-field incidents came back to derail his promising career.  Berry should find himself right in the thick of things in training camp, as neither Darrin Walls or Ellis Lankster have a noticeable leg-up on him in the depth chart.  Berry didn’t play much last year when he was signed because he couldn’t stay healthy with his wrist injury, but that shouldn’t hinder the 25 year old any longer.

Berry is simply too hard to read to hand him a roster spot over other fully-capable depth players.  There’s absolutely no telling which Aaron Berry will show up; he could unfortunately never find his talents that were abundant in Detroit.  Off-the-field incidents hurt players harshly, and we know that very well because of this summer’s NFL crime, but they bring down fringe-roster players more than ever.  Berry needs to show up to camp as the player he was three years ago if he wants to grab a spot.

7. Isaiah Trufant

Do you see what I’m talking about now with the depth of the position?  Last year, Trufant provided a unique skillset that was effective for specific reasons.  For example, Wes Welker was “managed” by the Jets last year when the Jets placed Trufant on him for the entire game.  Trufant was able to stick with Welker consistently because of his quick twitch that allowed him to cut off Welker’s quick, in-the-flat routes.  Trufant also donated his skills and effort to special teams, where he was an efficient gunner and tackler when needed.

It was really unfortunate when Trufant’s knee injury versus the Seahwaks last year knocked him out for the year, however.  Now, this leaves a 30 year old corner on an uphill climb.  Trufant can surely hang with Walls, Berry, and Lankster for a roster spot, but his skillset, age, and injury combined will likely have the Jets looking for more overall talent and youth at the position.

8. Mike Edwards

The Jets managed to sign one of the 2013 draft’s better undrafted cornerbacks in Edwards.  He hails from Hawaii, and offers excellent pure speed and instincts.  While his game isn’t yet complete and he must learn in training camp, he could make a case for the last corner spot if the Jets decide to carry six of them.  Edwards’ speed will make him attractive as a last-roster-spot kind of guy because of how well he should be able to play as a gunner on special teams and as a return man, especially considering I predict Joe McKnight will miss this year’s final cut.

8. Mike Edwards

The Jets managed to sign one of the 2013 draft’s better undrafted cornerbacks in Edwards.  He hails from Hawaii, and offers excellent pure speed and instincts.  While his game isn’t yet complete and he must learn in training camp, he could make a case for the last corner spot if the Jets decide to carry six of them.  Edwards’ speed will make him attractive as a last-roster-spot kind of guy because of how well he should be able to play as a gunner on special teams and as a return man, especially considering I predict Joe McKnight will miss this year’s final cut.

Marquee Camp Battle:  Fourth and fifth corner.  It’s actually unfathomable how unpredictable these three positions are to guess.  I have them going to Walls and Lankster, but what if Aaron Berry plays like his talent is capable of?  Or what if the team simply can’t ignore Trufant’s unique skillset?  Each one of these players could definitely be cut if camp doesn’t go their way.  If this isn’t a neck and neck battle until the end of training camp, I’ll be genuinely surprised.

Sleeper Performer: Darrin Walls.  I realize I’m hyping up Walls quite a bit, but like I said, the battle between the four corners (Walls, Trufant, Lankster, and Berry) could literally go any direction.  Thus, I don’t think it’s absurd to go with Walls based on the slight upside I saw from him at the end of the season.  He could really catch people by surprise when he’s breathing down Kyle Wilson’s neck come late August.

Surprise Cut: Isaiah Trufant.  It’s hard to call Trufant a surprise cut, because he’s just as at risk of missing the cut as any of these corners below number three on this list are.  However, I think him being cut will maybe surprise some Jets’ fans because of how well he played last year.  He contained Wes Welker like a gutsy veteran, and added spark to the special teams units.  Like I said, however, age is a cruel thing in this league.  With Trufant being a 30 year old player coming off of a serious knee injury, he’s already starting from the pit of a deep hole.  Not only will he have to prove his health in training camp, but he’ll have to remind coaches why his specific skillset is so worth keeping in their back pockets.

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