On August 10th of last summer, New York Jets’ cornerback Dexter McDougle went down with a torn ACL to abruptly end his rookie season. During that same practice, his counterpart Dee Milliner hobbled off the field with a high-ankle sprain that lingered until he tore his Achilles in Week 6. Ex-head coach Rex Ryan immediately went into panic mode and tried to play safety Antonio Allen at corner to stop the bleeding. That move obviously didn’t work out, leading Allen to a disappointing season. McDougle’s injury really haunted the Jets later on when guys like Josh Thomas were starting due to the lack of depth at the position.
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With that being said, the former Terrapin could have learned a lot last year because of how many snaps he would have played. With injuries over the course of the season to Milliner, Allen, Darrin Walls, and Phillip Adams, McDougle was in-line to see the field plenty in his first year. The dismissal of Dimitri Patterson and the ineptitude of Kyle Wilson also chimed into a brutal 2014 campaign for Gang Green’s secondary. If McDougle and his play-making ability had been on the field, the Jets may have seen more than just 4 wins on the year.
Sep 14, 2013; East Hartford, CT, USA; Maryland Terrapins head coach Randy Edsall celebrates with defensive back Dexter McDougle (25) after McDougle ran an interception back for a touchdown against the Connecticut Huskies during the second half at Rentschler Field. Mandatory Credit: Mark L. Baer-USA TODAY Sports
In his 5 years at Maryland (one redshirt year), McDougle totaled 151 tackles and 6 INTs to go along with 19 pass deflections. One of those INTs he returned 49 yards for a touchdown. He also recovered a fumble and ran it 66 yards for a score in his sophomore season. In his senior year, he recorded three of his six career INTs before fracturing his shoulder after just 3 games. McDougle was in Maryland’s program before they joined the Big 10 conference, so he had the chance to play against many efficient offenses in the ACC prior to his jump into the NFL. He had the chance to play against teammate Geno Smith, ex-teammate Tajh Boyd, and Bills quarterback E.J. Manuel.
The 2013 third-rounder was projected to go in the earlier rounds of the draft, but scouts and GMs were too worried about his shoulder. His speed and footwork gives him the ability to make plays on the ball as the nickel or dime corner, so he truly could be an asset for any team. The Jets had no intentions for him to start on outside in his rookie season, thus making his inside-corner role very suitable in New York. The plan will be no different for McDougle in 2015 as part of a cornerback unit that is 5x deeper than last year’s group. As a matter of fact, he’d be lucky to find himself a decent amount of playing time in coach Bowles’ system.
McDougle is one of about 7 corners worthy enough to make the 53-man roster. Darrelle Revis, Antonio Cromartie, Buster Skrine, and Milliner are guys you could safely say are higher than McDougle on the depth chart. As of now, Marcus Williams and Walls are his competition in terms of seeing the field this year. Williams emerged on the scene in 2014 as one of the few gems pulled out of a horrific season, so he will be a very tough player to cut come September. Walls had a mediocre year in which he ranked 42nd out of 70 corners who played at least 50% of snaps according to ProFootballFocus.com. McDougle will have to edge both of them out if he wants to see snaps in his first official NFL season.
Aug 4, 2014; Cortland, NY, USA; New York Jets cornerback Dexter McDougle (43) walks out to the field prior to the start of training camp at SUNY Cortland. Mandatory Credit: Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports
The blueprint for McDougle to turn heads this summer is simple. Compete with Skrine and Milliner on the inside to leave Williams and Walls in the dust. Coach Bowles rarely uses his sixth or seventh corner (if he carries that many) in his defense no matter what the situation is. It may even be pushing it to say he utilizes the fifth-string corner on the team. According to Pro Football Focus, in 2014, the Cardinals only used four corners the entire season. Antonio Cromartie (1012), Patrick Peterson (994), Jerraud Powers (761), and Justin Bethel (74) were the only corners to receive snaps on the roster. In 2013, Arizona’s fifth corner was Javier Arenas and he only played 37 snaps.
If McDougle wants to even sniff playing time, he must show off his 4.43 speed and great footwork that helps him keep up with many slots receivers on the inside. He shouldn’t be looked at as a player on the roster bubble, but he is by no means a crucial piece to the defense. If he can stay healthy and lock himself in as the fifth corner, McDougle could be a major factor on special teams as a gunner and possibly another weapon for coach Bowles in the secondary.