Next Few Weeks Could Determine Jets Future at Cornerback

Bryce Hall

Getty The New York Jets have found a legitimate starter in Bryce Hall, but they need to find his running mate.

When the season began, the New York Jets’ greatest weakness was expected to be the secondary.

The hope was that the “stacked” defensive line might ease some tension for the inexperienced cornerbacks but after a catastrophic injury to Carl Lawson, the front four seemed to crumble. Ironically, the secondary actually picked up the slack for the early portion of the campaign, although it too has struggled after Marcus Maye joined the edge rusher on the injured reserve.

Couple those two key losses with veterans like Vinny Curry and Lamarcus Joyner and you have a shell of the defense that patrolled the field during training camp. Now, both the run defense (28th) and pass defense (31st) have sunk to the bottom of the NFL in yards against.

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What to Do at Cornerback?

Joe Douglas has overhauled the Jets cornerback room over the past two offseasons, with 2020 rookies like Bryce Hall, Javelin Guidry and Lamar Jackson, plus 2021 rookies like Michael Carter II, Brandin Echols, Isaiah Dunn and Jason Pinnock.

The Jets GM also signed specialist Justin Hardee and ex-Buffalo Bills CB Rachad Wildgoose.

None of these players were here in 2019 and they make up the entire cornerback room today. It certainly seems like Douglas found something in Hall and Carter, who account for one starting role on the outside and the nickel-slot role on the inside.

That leaves one starting outside spot and a dime-package (fourth CB) role to fill in 2022. These positions have been manned by Echols and Guidry for the majority of 2021.

With the sixth-round pick out of Kentucky (Echols) now sidelined, Dunn was promoted into that ‘CB2’ spot against the Miami Dolphins. Stefon Diggs had picked on Guidry the week before, so it made sense that Robert Saleh decided to try out one of his rookies on the outside instead.

Only it didn’t work — Dunn looked lost in coverage and he was completely burnt on a 65-yard touchdown over the top and a one-yard end-around score on the ground, as well as a couple of other notable gainers by the Dolphins.

Pinnock also subbed in at dime and was caught on a late holding flag that virtually ended the game for New York. Both didn’t appear ready for the moment, and it raised some concerns about the future.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not criticizing the decision to start these guys. The season is over and Saleh must see what he has in these younger players, but these next few weeks without Echols could determine what Douglas chooses to do at cornerback in 2022.

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Draft, Acquire or Hold Firm

Saleh and Douglas have three clear options for the position. They could draft top talent at cornerback with one of their two potential top 10 picks in 2022 — or add another body in a later round — acquire a starting-caliber veteran via free agency or trade, or hold firm and attempt to develop the players they have.

If I’m being honest, I’m not sure Echols, Guidry, Dunn or Pinnock are the long-term answer across from Hall. Carter looks legit but the other four have been hit or miss with Echols being the best of the bunch.

Teams are barely targeting Hall at this point in the season because of weak spots in coverage at CB2, safety and linebacker. That makes the Jets’ top cornerback look like Darrelle Revis but in actuality, he just isn’t being challenged. Not only does that hurt the defense as a whole, but it also keeps Hall from developing into an elite starter down the line.

2022 is actually an excellent draft class in terms of playmaking defensive backs. Some of the big names are Derek Stingley Jr. (LSU), Kaiir Elam (Florida), Andrew Booth Jr. (Clemson), Ahmad Gardner (Cincinnati), Trent McDuffie (Washington) and safety Kyle Hamilton (Notre Dame) among others.

In terms of free agency, consistent players like Marcus Williams and Jessie Bates may interest Gang Green at safety, but who’s available at cornerback?

If they make it to free agency, some of the more appealing names that still have upside are J.C. Jackson, Carlton Davis, Kyle Fuller, Donte Jackson, Darious Williams and Charvarius Ward — but there are also plenty of 30-plus-year-old veterans that should be available.

Whatever Douglas decides, this is definitely an area of major intrigue during the upcoming offseason, and the evaluation period starts now.

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