This past offseason for the New York Jets, general manager Mike Maccagnan put a huge focus on a position that was the weak link on the 2014 team. That position was cornerback. In 2014, the Jets were shuffling out corners week in and week out, at one point starting an UDFA and a veteran player who never started at the position before. Simply put, cornerback was a nightmare last season for the Jets.
Maccagnan not only brought in one cornerback to help solve the problem, he brought in three who will be starters for the Jets this year. He brought back Antonio Cromartie, who comes back to the Jets after one season with the Arizona Cardinals, Buster Skrine, a nickel cornerback who was a solid starter for the Cleveland Browns, and Darrelle Revis who is arguably the best cornerback to ever play the game comes back after two short stints with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and New England Patriots.
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While adding these three is tremendous for the Jets, it leaves two other young cornerbacks on the team in an interesting situation. Those two cornerbacks are third year cornerback Dee Milliner and second year player Dexter McDougle. Milliner, a former first round pick out of Alabama, and McDougle, a third round pick out of Maryland, seem to be the forgotten players in the Jets’ defensive secondary. In my opinion, both Milliner and McDougle will be important players this upcoming season.
2014 was a tough year for both of these two young corners. McDougle suffered a torn ACL before the season even started, and Milliner suffered a torn Achilles attempting to block a kick in a game against the Denver Broncos. While returning from those injuries is not easy for any athlete, Milliner was running and working out on the side during mini camp, while McDougle was out on the field participating in drills with the team.
McDougle has been given the nickname “Cinnamon Badger” by Cromartie, as McDougle may play the same role that Arizona Cardinals’ safety Tyrann Mathieu, who is famously nicknamed “Honey Badger.” McDougle is a very versatile player who has the ability to play all over the secondary. He has the ability to play on the outside as well as play the slot. In Todd Bowles defenses, it is known that he likes to play a lot of cornerbacks, so I would expect McDougle to see the field a ton this season and the Cinnamon Badger will have a chance to show the Jets what he can really do.
It has not been an easy road for Milliner so far in his tenure with the Jets. In his first season, Milliner struggled mightily at times, and was benched multiple times by former head coach Rex Ryan. He did however performed very well at the end of the season, shutting down star wide receivers Josh Gordon of the Browns, and Mike Wallace of the Miami Dolphins. In the game against the Dolphins, Milliner also had two interceptions to cap off his great day.
Dec 8, 2013; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; Oakland Raiders wide receiver Rod Streater (80) is unable to catch a pass while defended by New York Jets cornerback Dee Milliner (27) during the game at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports
2014 was a “wash” year for Milliner as he was never healthy, capped off by a torn Achilles in Week 6. While the past has been a roller coaster for the former first round pick, I expect a big year from him in 2015. This year, the expectations are much lower for him with Revis, Cromartie and Skrine ahead of him on the depth chart. For the first time in his career, Milliner will not be asked to be the No. 1 cornerback, which will be a big break for him mentally.
Milliner provides excellent depth behind Revis and Cromartie on the outside. In college, Milliner was put on opposing teams tight ends, most notably former Notre Dame star Tyler Eifert, who Milliner completely shut down in the National Championship game a few years back. Stopping tight ends has been a big issue for the Jets the past few seasons, so I would expect to see Milliner line up against opposing tight ends this season in certain defensive packages.
Heading into the 2015 season, the Jets arguably have the best trio of cornerbacks in Revis, Cromartie and Skrine but do not forget about who is behind them on the depth chart, as Milliner and McDougle have a chance to have a big 2015 season.