Grading the 2017 cornerback situation
By Ryan Patti
The New York Jets are without question a defensive team, but cornerback is the worst unit on that side of the ball.
The New York Jets had three noticeable issues during the 2016 season. They had a poisonous locker room, the quarterback play was abysmal and the cornerbacks failed to get the defense off the field. The position is much healthier and younger, however, it’s hard to say it’s stronger than it was last year.
Cornerback Morris Claiborne is a new face in the building and you could already consider him to be the glue of the group. He was drafted sixth overall by the Dallas Cowboys in the 2012 NFL Draft and the storyline throughout his career thus far has been the injury bug.
In five seasons, he has logged just 47 games. When healthy, he has shown he can make a significant impact for a secondary. He has 151 tackles, four interceptions and a forced fumble in those 47 contests. His biggest battle will be remaining on the field for all 16 weeks because head coach Todd Bowles and company can’t afford to lose him.
Cornerback Marcus Williams is in line to be the team’s No. 2 corner for the second year in a row. The undrafted free agent has been one of the more underrated talents on New York’s defense since he joined the roster in 2014. He has totaled 97 tackles, nine interceptions, 2.5 sacks, two forced fumbles and a fumble recovery as a Jet.
Like Claiborne, he struggles to stay healthy. He missed three outings in 2015 and another three in 2016. Williams is a true riverboat-gambling corner and the defense needs him out there since the position is pretty thin, to begin with. Bowles would be hard pressed to count on the two rookie safeties to create turnovers in their first season. Williams is the one who has to take care of that job.
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Cornerback Buster Skrine is back for his third campaign in green and white, but he won’t make much of a difference outside of the slot.
When Williams went down last year, the rest of the corners went down with him. The biggest victim was Skrine. He was forced to play CB2 and found himself extremely overmatched against the bigger receivers.
When he’s in the slot, he’s a completely different player. We saw what he was capable of after a productive 2015 season as the nickel. He was one of the best blitzing corners in the league and he matched up perfectly with the smaller, quicker receivers. If Claiborne or Williams get hurt again, Bowles will re-live last year’s nightmare. Skrine on the outside is a disaster waiting to happen.
Cornerback Juston Burris is slowly rising up the depth chart, although it may be one more season before he gets a true crack at a starting gig. The sophomore gave New York meaningful snaps in Weeks 14-16 and earned himself a 72.5 overall grade on Pro Football Focus. He stands at 6’1,” 210 lbs. as one of the taller corners on the team. If history repeats itself, he’ll slot in for either Claiborne or Williams in a matter of no time. Look for him to see an increase in his 2016 snap count (186).
Darryl Roberts, Dexter McDougle, Derrick Jones, Jeremy Clark, Xavier Coleman, and David Rivers are the other six guys currently on the roster. Assuming general manager Mike Maccagnan keeps six, Roberts will most certainly join the other four in the final 53 roster. McDougle is healthy for a change and having himself a terrific camp and preseason, so you could pencil him into the bunch for now.
If Maccagnan keeps seven, which is very possible, Jones and Coleman will duke it out for the last spot. Clark is a lock to begin the year on the PUP list and Rivers should be considered a long shot given the names he has to beat out.
The bottom line here is that this unit isn’t too different from 2016’s and one injury will derail it. It’s hard to imagine that bullet being dodged.
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