There’s no reason to sugarcoat the mess we witnessed in the Jets secondary during their disastrous 2016 season: The cornerbacks stunk.
Sure, Buster Skrine’s tenacity and versatility shouldn’t be discounted, but much of the rest of the group simply wasn’t very good at all. The poor play on the back end helped get the defensive backs coach fired for Pete’s sake.
From Darrelle Revis’ selective effort to Marcus Williams’ disappointment (after a solid 2015 campaign), there were mistakes virtually every week. Mike Maccagnan loves second-year man Juston Burris and took a one-year flier on Morris Claiborne, but the general manager needs to add at least one more corner in what has been billed as a defensive back-rich draft.
Here’s a look at five cornerbacks, including one especially intriguing option that could pay off in the long run:
Marshon Lattimore (Ohio State)
Lattimore will be the first cornerback off the board in a couple weeks. There’s no guarantee that he’ll make it to the Jets at No. 6, but the billion-dollar question remains: Should Maccagnan pull the trigger on an explosive player at an obvious position of need or trade down to stockpile picks?
The GM has announced to the NFL world that he’s looking to trade down whenever and wherever he can during the team’s rebuilding process. In Michael Jordan parlance, the 6-0, 193-pound Lattimore’s ceiling is the roof, but he doesn’t come without some amount of risk. For all his physical gifts and explosion as a press-man corner, Lattimore only played one full season for Urban Meyer thanks to troubling hamstring issues. He missed his freshman season due to surgery and couldn’t finish the following season due to his hammy woes. He was fully healthy last season, which was encouraging, but are the Jets convinced that his leg issues are a thing of the past?
Truth be told, I watched Ohio State games on TV, but didn’t watch one second of Buckeye All-22 film. The scouts that I touched base with that actually did love Lattimore. The raw numbers are tantalizing: He had 14 passes defensed on 35 passes thrown at him last year. Lattimore has the makings of a Pro Bowler, but could the Jets get a quality corner later in the draft?
Gareon Conley (Ohio State)
Todd Bowles understands and knows defensive backs better than most in the league, so there’s no doubt that he left Ohio State Pro Day recently with a good idea of Meyer’s top two cornerbacks from last season. Lattimore has rightfully gotten much of the attention in the pre-draft process, but Conley could be a sneaky good pick for the Jets.
There’s been plenty of buzz surrounding Conley in the past month or so. He excelled at the Combine with a 4.44 40-yard dash and an impressive drill work. It’s unclear if he’ll sneak into the first round. If not, he might be a quality second-day pick for the Jets.
The 6-0, 195-pound Conley had four picks, eight pass breakups and allowed only a 37 percent completion rate en route to earning honorable mention All-Big Ten honors as a junior last season.
Conley is a press-man corner, which is exactly what the doctor has ordered for Bowles’ secondary.
Kevin King (Washington)
King’s relatively giant 6-3, 200-pound frame has intrigued the Jets, who had him in for a pre-draft visit last week. It would be hard to fault Maccagnan & Co. if they turned in a card with King’s name on it in Day 2 of the draft.
The two-time honorable mention All-Pac 12 pick has the length to be a nightmare on the back end. He allowed just one touchdown in the last 101 passes thrown his way in college. King is solid at press man, which is a must in Bowles’ scheme. He’s not a burner, but’s it’s not as if he’s running in quicksand, either.
King isn’t the most physical player on the block, but he’s a tantalizing prospect that could have position flexibility for Bowles too. He’s played free safety in the past.
Quincy Wilson (Florida)
Wilson’s teammate Jalen “Teez” Tabor got much of the pub last season in Gainesville, but I have a sneaking suspicion that Wilson might turn out to be the better pro. Bowles got an up close and personal look at both cornerbacks at Florida Pro Day.
Wilson isn’t a blazer (4.54 40-yard dash), but he has the tenacity, toughness and physical style that Bowles loves. At 6-1, 211 pounds, Wilson has a quality frame. He had three interceptions and nine passes defensed in 13 starts as a junior last season. He will give receivers fits at the line of scrimmage. The big question is whether he can hang with them at the top of their routes.
Some have wondered whether Wilson might ultimately be a better safety at the next level.
Is Wilson worth a first-round pick if the Jets trade down? I think it makes more sense to give Wilson a good hard look in Day 2.
Sidney Jones (Washington)
Okay, this pick would take a bit of cajones by Maccagnan. Jones was a slam-dunk first-rounder before he tore his Achilles tendon at Washington Pro Day. So, 2017 will be a red-shirt year. Can the Jets afford to use a premium draft pick for a guy who won’t see the field as a rookie one year after they did the exact same thing for Christian Hackenberg?
If Maccagnan can acquire more picks in rounds two and three, for example, by trading out of the No. 6 overall pick, he’ll have the flexibility to grab Jones in Day 2. It could be the ultimate steal assuming that Jones makes a full recovery. (Yes, I know. “Assuming” can sometimes make an ass out of you and me, but I think it’s worth the risk).
Imagine the Jets grabbing Jones and another defensive back in the first three rounds. If Woody Johnson is truly committed to a rebuild, then the powers that be should feel comfortable taking Jones on Day 2. He’s too good of a talent to pass up.
The 6-0, 186-pound Jones disrupted 21 percent of the passes thrown his way in the last two years. He has tremendous ball skills, who loves to gamble. More times than not, his gambles result in big plays. And the Jets could sure use more big plays on the back end.
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