Undrafted Jets Fan-Favorite Battling as ‘Under-the-Radar Standout’: Report

Isaiah Dunn

Getty New York Jets cornerback Isaiah Dunn at Oregon State in 2018.

What a difference a year can make.

Last June, it felt like the entire New York Jets fanbase was hoping for something special out of the rookie class, which included several undrafted free agents that had a decent shot at making the 53-man roster. Now, most of these lower draft picks and UDFAs have been relegated to reserve roles after the influx of talent over the offseason.

A perfect example is 2021 rookie Isaiah Dunn, who came to One Jets Drive as a priority UDFA and instant fan-favorite in camp. It seemed like everyone had good things to say about Dunn last spring but in the end, he only started one game during his first NFL campaign — logging 114 defensive snaps with another 80 on special teams.

This year, Dunn has become somewhat of an afterthought with additions like D.J. Reed Jr. and Ahmad “Sauce” Gardner at cornerback, but it hasn’t stopped the Oregon State product from giving everything he has.

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Dunn Impresses Once Again

During a spring roundup from ESPN’s Rich Cimini, the veteran beat reporter highlighted several “under-the-radar standouts” from OTAs and minicamp.

The only cornerback on the list was Dunn — not counting fellow second-year standout Jason Pinnock who has converted to safety. “Keep in mind, there was no contact, no running game and no bump-and-run coverage (well, maybe a watered-down version),” Cimini reminded. “June stars can fade in August.”

Having said that, it’s encouraging to see Dunn continuing his progression despite the new hand he’s been dealt. Bryce Hall and Brandin Echols beat out Bless Austin, Pinnock and Dunn (among others) in 2021.

Outside of Austin, the Jets decided to keep the others on the roster because they believed they could turn into assets long-term. Throw Reed and Gardner into the mix and you now have what could be one of the deepest young cornerback cores in all of football.

Reed (25 years old), Gardner (21), Hall (25), Echols (24), Dunn (23), Javelin Guidry (23), Rachad Wildgoose (22), Pinnock (22) in a pinch, and nickelback Michael Carter II (23). All nine of these players were brought in by general manager Joe Douglas — seven came while Robert Saleh was head coach.

It’s a great problem to have for the coaching staff, but it does create some adversity for a player like Dunn.

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Training Camp Competition

With Reed, Gardner and Carter projected as near-locks to start in 2022 — barring injury — that sets up an interesting competition in training camp.

You expect that last year’s number one cornerback, Hall, will most likely make the roster as a backup but who will join him? Echols looked to be a prospect that could push Hall for a starting role before the franchise drafted Gardner but a shoulder injury hampered him all spring.

The impressive JUCO product won the majority of first-team snaps behind Hall last season and Coach Saleh praised his ceiling and potential throughout the year. He did flash in moments but his greatest issues were consistency and availability. As he did this spring, Echols dealt with various injuries as a rookie, and his overall experience was exploited by top-tier wide receivers.

Then there’s the versatile Guidry who should battle Echols for a role behind Carter in the slot, as well as the outside. Side note, Carter should start but his job is far less of a guarantee than Reed or Gardner with players like Echols and Guidry nipping at his heels.

Buffalo Bills’ cast out, Wildgoose, feels like the odd-man-out as of now — especially when you factor in special teams captain and gunner Justin Hardee most likely claiming a spot — but you never know.

That leaves Dunn. Is there enough room for the perennial camp standout that had some disastrous moments on the field in year one?

After the immediate release of Austin, seven CBs made the Week 1 roster last September (with Hardee). That’s considered a high number around the NFL community. Will seven make it again in 2022, now that the starters appear more defined?

If they do, it gives Dunn a fighting chance to continue his NYJ career.

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