NY Jets: Cornerback position suddenly looks very crowded

NY Jets (Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images)
NY Jets (Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images) /

Previously a position of need, the NY Jets cornerback room has actually become a bit crowded.

Last season, it was quite clear that the NY Jets had many weaknesses on the roster, but one position that specifically stood out as a position that needed to be addressed in the offseason was cornerback.

At the start of the season, Trumaine Johnson and Darryl Roberts were locked in as the team’s starting cornerbacks on the outside, while the then newly signed Brian Poole manned the slot.

Ultimately, Poole turned out to be a bright spot on the team’s defense, as he played in 14 games and totaled 56 tackles and one interception.

The same, however, can’t be said about Johnson and Roberts.

Johnson, for example, played in only seven games, totaling 24 tackles and one interception. Simply put, the 30-year-old proved to be a bust in New York and turned out to be one of the worst signings in recent team history, which is why the Jets parted ways with him following the conclusion of the season.

Roberts, meanwhile, performed better than Johnson, playing in 13 games with 62 tackles and one interception, but he too proved to be unreliable, as he was burned on multiple occasions and seen as a liability.

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He had little experience as a starter prior to 2019 and this past season proved that he was not fit for the role. Like Johnson, Roberts was also released by the Jets.

The NY Jets’ cornerback play started to pick up last season once the reinforcements were brought in.

Given the struggles of both Johnson and Roberts last season, the Jets were forced to mix things up as the season progressed, offering more time to younger players like the 26-year-old Arthur Maulet and the 23-year-old Blessuan Austin.

While neither player started the season with much playing time, the duo actually performed rather well under Gregg Williams as the season neared its conclusion. Maulet, for example, played in 12 games, racking up 38 tackles and one interception.

Austin, meanwhile, was drafted out of Rutgers in the sixth round of the 2019 NFL Draft and although he was dealing with an injury at the time, he flashed on occasion, playing in seven games and totaling 25 tackles, four pass deflections, and a forced fumble.

Throughout his first four games, he was also rated as the second-highest cornerback in the NFL with an 84.8 grade from Pro Football Focus.

Despite the optimism surrounding Maulet and Austin, however, the Jets still needed to address the position this offseason.

And although the NFL’s future is currently unclear due to the coronavirus pandemic, the green and white will be entering next season with a much more crowded and competitive cornerback stable.

Poole re-signed with the Jets on a one-year, $5 million deal in the offseason and will once again serve as the team’s defensive back in the slot.

Maulet, on the other hand, also re-signed with the Jets last month and both him and Austin will once again be competing for starting positions on the outside. Austin, specifically, was even recently labeled as the Jets’ “most intriguing project player” by Bleacher Report.

Aside from Poole, Maulet, and Austin, the Jets have also added some new faces at the position including free-agent signing Pierre Desir, fifth-round draft pick Bryce Hall, and trade acquisition Quincy Wilson.

To make matters even more interesting, it’s likely that all three of these new additions will compete for playing time come the start of next season.

Desir struggled early on in his career but came into his own in 2018 as a member of the Indianapolis Colts where he finished with 79 tackles, eight pass breakups, and an interception while allowing just 48 catches on 83 targets and two touchdowns.

He then struggled again in 2019 but that was primarily due to a nagging season-long injury.

If he can return to form, Desir, who, at this time, is expected to start on the outside for the green and white, could potentially end up serving as a key player for the Jets.

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Hall, meanwhile, will also be a name to watch as many felt as if the Jets got a steal with the Virginia product given that he was once expected to be a first-round pick before suffering a brutal leg injury during his senior season.

When healthy, however, Hall has proven to be highly talented, as he led the nation in forced incompletions in 2018 while recording 62 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss, two forced fumbles and two interceptions.

He may need time to return to full health and become comfortable on the field again, but it wouldn’t be shocking to see Hall compete for a starting spot next season.

Finally, the Jets acquired Wilson from the Colts on Day 3 of the 2020 NFL Draft for a sixth-round pick. The 23-year-old represents a bit of a unique case given that he’s coming off a rather terrible year in 2019.

In 2017 and 2018, however, he showed a bit of promise and it’s believed that he struggled in 2019 due to the Colts abandoning a man-defensive scheme. The Jets, however, run an aggressive man scheme on defense, which could benefit Wilson greatly.

Ultimately, the Jets’ cornerback room is much more crowded than it was just a year ago but that’s not necessarily a bad thing as the team will have a group of talented players competing against each other to find the most deserving of a starting spot.

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In addition, it’s important to remember that the Jets were depleted by injuries last year, so more depth is always a positive.