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New York Jets: Nate Hairston looking to make the most of his opportunity

EAST RUTHERFORD, NEW JERSEY - SEPTEMBER 16: Odell Beckham Jr. #13 of the Cleveland Browns makes a catch as Nate Hairston #21 of the New York Jets defends in the first quarter at MetLife Stadium on September 16, 2019 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
EAST RUTHERFORD, NEW JERSEY - SEPTEMBER 16: Odell Beckham Jr. #13 of the Cleveland Browns makes a catch as Nate Hairston #21 of the New York Jets defends in the first quarter at MetLife Stadium on September 16, 2019 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
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New York Jets cornerback Nate Hairston is looking to make the most of his increased opportunity after being given a starting role on defense.

It was no secret entering the 2019 season that the New York Jets were incredibly thin at the cornerback position. But newcomer Nate Hairston is looking to take advantage of the team’s lackluster depth.

Going into the season, most would have likely agreed that cornerback was the Jets weakest position group on the roster. A trio of unconvincing starters followed by poor depth led to plenty of pessimism from Jets faithful.

Trumaine Johnson led the charge as the team’s No. 1 cornerback. The 29-year-old had signed a massive five-year, $72.5 million contract prior to the start of last season but followed that up with one of the worst years of his career.

The hope was that he could at least perform marginally better this season, even if he was never going to live up to his contract.

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Starting opposite him on the boundary was 28-year-old Darryl Roberts. Roberts had spent pretty much the entirety of his career to this point as a backup but played sparingly in a starting role last season following injuries.

To his credit, Roberts played pretty well but expecting a repeat performance was counting on a lot.

Finally, newcomer Brian Poole was signed away from the Atlanta Falcons to replace the inconsistent Buster Skrine as the team’s starting nickel corner. Poole had struggled in his final couple of seasons in Atlanta but he wouldn’t have to play too well to be an upgrade over Skrine.

Behind them on the depth chart was former New Orleans Saints corner Arthur Maulet who made the team out of preseason and the newly-acquired Nate Hairston. Out of the two, it was Hairston who showed the most promise.

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The 25-year-old originally committed to Temple as a wide receiver where he would spend the first two years of his collegiate career. But a switch to cornerback was in order for his junior season and it wasn’t until his senior season that he finally saw looks with the starters.

And after an impressive performance in the East-West Shrine Game — a lower-tier Senior Bowl — Hairston was able to raise his draft stock enough to be selected in the fifth round by the Indianapolis Colts.

Despite being considered a developmental prospect, Hairston would see considerable time as the team’s nickel back during his rookie season playing pretty well in the process.

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However, a change in role and defensive scheme played a major factor in his dip in production last season.

Under a new coaching staff, the Colts switched to a more zone-heavy scheme which was bad new for Hairston who excelled in man coverage. On top of that, he was asked to play more on the boundary than in the slot.

As a result, Hairston was benched following the team’s Week 8 victory over the Oakland Raiders and he would play just 10 defensive snaps over the remainder of the season despite initially beginning the year as the starter.

He was on the roster bubble this preseason but was ultimately shipped away to the Jets for a 2020 sixth-round pick. Now, following the benching of Trumaine Johnson, Hairston once again finds himself in a starting role.

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The Temple product has impressed in his short time with Gang Green and played pretty solid in Week 2 given that he was matched up with Odell Beckham for the majority of the contest.

Hairston is once again exected to receive the start this week against the New England Patriots and he will be looking to make the most of his opportunity.

With Johnson squarely on the bench, the starting job is seemingly Hairston’s to lose. He’s shown promise in the past and is a great fit in Gregg Williams’ man-heavy defensive scheme.

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Perhaps the Jets have found a solution to their cornerback troubles in the unlikeliest of places.

Nate Hairston should be given every opportunity to prove if that’s true.

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