Who Will Start At Cornerback Opposite Milliner in 2014?


Sep 21, 2013; South Bend, IN, USA; Michigan State Spartans cornerback Darqueze Dennard (31) breaks up a pass to Notre Dame Fighting Irish wide receiver DaVaris Daniels (10) at Notre Dame Stadium. Notre Dame defeated Michigan State 17-14. Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

As the new League Year began in March, one of the first orders of business was to cut starting cornerback Antonio Cromartie. The move would save the Jets around $8 million in cap space. Cromartie was a good Jet, playing at a high level from 2010-12, before having one of the worst seasons of any cornerback in the league. Both injury and the natural decline that age brings played a part in Cromartie’s steep drop off. Cromartie had a nagging hip injury that he played through the entire season. According to Pro Football Focus, Cromartie let up 937 yards and seven touchdowns with quarterbacks having a quarterback rating of 100.7 throwing against him. He was ranked 103rd out of 110th amongst cornerbacks. The sight test backs up that information. That information was included in an SBNation.com article by Jeff Gray that you can read here.

So how do you replace the league’s 7th worst corner in 2013? I am not going to rehash the early part of free agency. Suffice to say there is still a hole to fill at cornerback for the Jets. Is that person who is going to fill the starting cornerback role on the roster now, on another NFL roster or a pick from the draft? That is the question we will tackle today.

The two candidates to fill the position in-house are Dimitri Patterson and Darrin Walls. Patterson has bounced around the league and has played well when he has not been injured. In 2010 with the Eagles, Patterson 50 tackles, 11 pass breakups, four interceptions including one returned for a touchdown. He had 12  more pass breakups the next year in Cleveland. Last year, while in Miami, Patterson had a terrific start to the season with four interceptions in six games before a groin injury grounded him and despite his efforts to come back, Patterson had surgery after the season. Patterson’s durability is what hurts his candidacy.

Darrin Walls has been likened to a relief pitcher by Rex Ryan on multiple occasions. Walls came in to play for Milliner when Milliner was ineffective. Walls played very well at times, making him a player that Jets fans wanted to see more often. He played better than 2013 Cromartie last year but is Walls starting material? I think that Rex Ryan really does just see Walls as a talented backup who can come in and start in an emergency but not someone he would rely on week to week. Maybe that changes this year if Walls vastly outplays Patterson and the draft pick in training camp and the preseason.

If the board doesn’t fall right or the Jets don’t find a cornerback prospect that can start immediately in the draft, they will have to make a trade during the 2nd or 3rd day of the draft or wait until some more veteran cuts come in to find a potential starter. One name to watch is Johnathan Joseph of the Texans. With a cap number of over $11 million it has been written that Joseph is available via trade for a mid-round draft pick or might be cut altogether if he doesn’t agree to a slash in pay. The Texans are in a much better cap situation now than when that was written so I don’t think a cut is on the table but with Joseph turning 30 and another year on the contract after this at a cap number of over $12 million, a trade is not out of the question. Under new coach Bill O’Brien they are rebuilding from scratch and they want a clean slate. Joseph is inconsistent, he has stretches where he is a true shutdown corner then he gets injured or has concentration lapses and gets beaten. All in all Joseph is still one of the better corners in the league and would be a good two year stopgap until a developmental draft pick becomes ready. There also might be other trade scenarios that haven’t become apparent yet that Idzik could act on in the coming weeks and months.

Dec 7, 2013; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Ohio State Buckeyes cornerback Bradley Roby (1) celebrates wafter intercepting a pass during the third quarter of the 2013 Big 10 Championship game against the Michigan State Spartans at Lucas Oil Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

The most likely place for the Jets to find their other starting corner for 2014 is the NFL Draft. This isn’t the strongest cornerback class but there are some good prospects that can be good from the start and stars down the road. The players who have or will visit the Jets are Darqueze Dennard, Kyle Fuller, Jason Verrett, Justin Gilbert and Bradley Roby. Those are far from the only choices as you can read about the prospects and their metrics in articles written by Greg Peshek of Rotoworld.com, you can read those articles here and here.

Dennard, who played at Michigan State, is a Rex Ryan kind of corner. He excels at press man coverage and loves to play physical, man to man defense. Dennard is a very smart defender, that knows all the tricks of the trade and while he may never be the best corner in the league, he reminds me a bit of Revis in his skill set. If he is on the board at 18 I don’t think the Jets would hesitate on pulling the trigger to draft Dennard.

Kyle Fuller of Virginia Tech had some of the lowest completion percentages among the cornerbacks, with a burn rate 2nd only to Dennard. His experience at Virginia Tech was almost entirely lining up 6-10 yards off of receivers and having the play unfold in front of him which is something he would have to transition from if he were drafted by the Jets. Still, Fuller is a good corner, who has good hands and a nose for the football.

The next corner to look at is Jason Verrett of TCU. One of the best ballhawks in the group, he broke up 1 out of every 2.75 passes thrown his way which is ranked 1st among this year’s class of corners. Verrett does have some experience with press coverage having pressed or pressed and bailed 25% of the time, however he is most often lined up from 1-5 yards off of the line of scrimmage where he has been 51% of the time. He is more likely to try and jump the route than come up and jam the receiver at this point in his career. However, the ball skills are something that the Jets were lacking in 2013 and would be a welcome addition.

Justin Gilbert of Oklahoma State is another interesting corner for the Jets to evaluate. Gilbert’s metrics aren’t favorable as he is beaten a large percentage of the time on the intermediate passes most thrown in the NFL and he doesn’t press a lot while playing off coverage 77% of the time. However, the reason he is rated so highly despite his inconsistencies are the fact that he has both short area quickness to adjust and speed in the open field to run with routes according to Mel Kiper of ESPN. Kiper is also impressed with Gilbert’s size and strength, showing the ability to get physical and redirect routes at the line along with the ability to turn his hips well and cover deep routes. He has good return ability to go along with ball skills.

Lastly, Bradley Roby of Ohio State has been linked to the Jets prominently since the draft season begun. Roby was probably the best cover corner in college football in 2012 before having a bad 2013 by his standards. He can play physically but lines up 6-10 yards from the line of scrimmage 67% of the time. Roby got abused by Jared Abbrederis of Wisconsin to the tune of 10 catches for 207 yards and that is not counting the penalties allowed. He said that he was slacking and his play improved tremendously after that. It seems to be a case of a young player believing his own press clippings and not putting in the extra work to improve. If the Jets like his character and see 2013 as a couple of bad games then Roby could be a Jet, if they either trade down in the 1st or up in the 2nd.

Those are a lot of choices and I’m sure there are more I could have listed from the draft. Personally, I think that they will draft Dennard and be very happy for years to come with a combination of Milliner and Dennard. Dennard fits what Rex Ryan is looking for in a corner both in play and in attitude. If not Denard I believe the Jets have a lot of interest in Roby and have been doing their homework on him. I could definitely see them making a play for him late in round one or early in round two if they miss on Dennard.