Tenacious Jets Rookie CB Looks to Defy the Odds Once Again

Brandin Echols

Getty New York Jets cornerback Brandin Echols (#26) celebrates with Kentucky on October 3, 2020.

All summer long we’ve been breaking down the top New York Jets rookies and only one draft pick remains, sixth-rounder Brandin Echols.

**In case you missed them, linked are all the 2021 rookie scouting reports; Zach Wilson, Alijah Vera-Tucker, Elijah Moore, Michael Carter, Jamien Sherwood, Michael Carter II, Jason Pinnock, Hamsah Nasirildeen, Jonathan Marshall, Isaiah Dunn, Kenny Yeboah, Camilo Eifler, Chris Naggar, other UDFAs.

Despite being drafted, the former Kentucky Wildcats cornerback has taken a backseat to undrafted free agent Dunn in the eyes of most fans and media personnel. To Echols, a player who battled his way from a junior college to the pros, being the underdog is nothing new.

Before his two seasons with Kentucky, the Jets rookie corner got his first opportunity with Northwest Mississippi Community College (NWCC). Echols was actually a wide receiver in high school until the coaching staff at NWCC turned him into a defensive back.

New York Daily News beat reporter for the Jets, DJ Bien-Aime, noted that Echols wasn’t thrilled about the position change at first. In the end, it became a blessing in disguise.

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Disruptive Athlete With Closing Speed

According to Bien-Aime, NWCC saw him as a defensive back because of “how explosive he was, [as well as] his natural athletic ability.” Most draft analysts concurred with this initial diagnosis.

Lance Zierlein of NFL.com wrote: “Echols has some holes in his coverage but he’s an aggressive ball-challenger with elite athletic traits who should be a Day 3 selection.” As a top strength, the draft analyst cited the Kentucky product’s “4.35-second 40-yard dash and 42.5-inch vertical jump.”

We’ve seen this theme a lot in Joe Douglas and Robert Saleh’s joint draft picks on the defensive side. Pinnock, Marshall, Nasirildeen and more were all known for their athleticism, not to mention 2020 draft picks Ashtyn Davis and Jabari Zuniga.

This new Jets regime seems to enjoy betting on traits like these that they can mold and develop. As for Echols, the feisty cornerback has plenty of positives to share. Here were some of his greatest skills determined by Zierlein.

  • Plays with adequate discipline from zone [coverage].
  • Reads and anticipates route turns.
  • Disruptive with his length.
  • Good burst to close out separation from [the] receiver.

Echols seems like a decent scheme fit for Saleh’s Cover-3 buzz, which involves a bunch of press-zone coverage. The idea of this system is for long, athletic corners like the former Wildcat to either hold their zone or man for a short period of time, allowing the pass rush to influence the quarterback.

The key is the front four. It is paramount that they get to the passer FAST.

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Weaknesses & Chances of Making Roster

Echols crucial test will be whether or not he can match up with the size of an NFL receiver. Pro Football Network’s Tony Pauline summed up the rookie’s greatest weakness pretty easily; “possesses a thin build and gets overmatched by bigger receivers, not a strong or stout corner.”

Due to his skinny frame, the Jets have tried Echols in the slot more often in OTAs than he was used to in college. Michael Nania of Jets X-Factor broke down the versatile defender’s positional snap percentage at Kentucky and the clear winner was outside corner (77%).

Echols also played 15.8% in the slot, 4.3% at inside linebacker, a combined 2.1% at either safety position, and 0.8% at outside linebacker. I still see him as a developmental dime package D-back at the pro-level and Pauline agreed, stating; “Echols has enough skill and ability to line up in dime packages at the next level.”

It’s really an open competition at cornerback for the Jets in training camp, so the sixth-rounder out of Kentucky has as good a chance as anyone to make the 53-man roster — although nobody seems to be focused on him. The CB battle opens up with Bryce Hall and Blessuan Austin as the two starters on the outside and some combination of Lamar Jackson, Pinnock, Dunn and Corey Ballentine behind them.

Then in the slot it’s Carter II and Javelin Guidry, followed by Echols and Elijah Campbell. Echols’ versatility as an inside/outside option could end up aiding him in a pinch.

The former NWCC athlete is a fighter and a grinder who’s been overlooked in the past. It’s no surprise that Coach Saleh was willing to take a flyer on a player like this that’s always going to give 110%. After all, the franchise’s new mantra is All Gas No Brake for a reason.

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