A few weeks ago we were asked where the depth of the 2014 NFL Draft class aligns with the Jets needs. Our intent was to write a two-part article. The first would address the generalizations learned from a survey of the depth of the upcoming 2014 NFL Draft class, while the second took a more practical player-level approach. The more we wrote, the more we realized this was going to turn into a series.
Since we've already surveyed the depth of this draft, it's time to talk about the talent that's contained in this class. First up? Cornerback.
Bassett's Baseless Projection: One pick before fifth round, who then is starting before the end of the 2014 season.
Three Names of Note: Stanley Jean-Baptiste (6'3' 218 lbs, Nebraska), Keith McGill (6'3" 11lbs, Utah), Bashaud Breeland (5'11" 197 lbs, Clemson)
Analysis: Drafting Dee Milliner with his first pick of the 2013 NFL Draft proved straight away that John Idzik is not just copying John Schneider's blueprint for success. While Schneider did draft safety Earl Thomas (along with Russell Okung) in the first round of Schneider's 2010 (first) draft, all of Seattle's cornerbacks have come in the fourth round or later. With names like Richard Sherman, Jeremy Lane and Tharold Simpson, it's hard to argue with Seattle's results; there's value in drafting system cornerbacks deeper in the Draft. The quality prospects in the second, third and fourth rounds is impressive. The corners might need some molding before becoming an every down player, but by drafting in that window, the Jets have the chance to "sustainably succeed" by controlling the salary of yet another starting quality cornerback for years to come. Like the Seahawks, the Jets have a turbocharged defensive line and have already used two first round picks on corners in the last five years; putting a premium on the NFL's top corner prospects might be on the wane for the Jets.
After losing Darrelle Revis and Antonio Cromartie in back-t0-back seasons, no one will say the Jets secondary is Mr. Right. Even so, their group currently constitutes more than enough of the qualities to be Mr. Right-Nows to make it work in the short-term paired with the strength of their defensive line. The Jets still don't have a proper second cornerback on their depth chart and with six draft picks prior to the end of the fourth round, the Jets picks match up nicely with the sweet spot at cornerback in the coming the NFL Draft.
Name Dropping: The Jets could easily add an elite cornerback at the top of the draft like Justin Gilbert or Darqueze Dennard. While Gilbert has more athletic upside, both project well at the next level as longtime starting players on the outside with the fluidity and physicality required. Dennard and Gilbert could be gone by the time the Jets pick at 18, but drafting either would be an easy boost to a defense in which adding a solid second starter at corner would tie up all the loose ends. If those players are still on the board when the Jets pick comes, it might be hard to turn either down but the Jets have pressing needs on offense.
Pierre Desir (projected 2-3 round) might be one of the most intriguing prospects of this second tier. He played at Lindenwood and will need time to adjust to the NFL, but is the most athletic, physical and of course raw player in the group. He might need the most time to adjust and transition and come with the most risk, but upside. Stanley Jean-Baptiste (3rd round) is loaded with physical talent and can play both press-man and off-man coverage equally well, but would need to be a more physical cornerback to play for the Jets. Similarly, Keith McGill (3rd round) has all the fluidity and can play in press coverage but needs to play with a little less hesitance. Having close ties to Clemson football through his son Seth, we expect that Rex Ryan will lobby on Day Two for Clemson's Bashaud Breeland. Breeland had a bad pro day due to an issue with his shoes, but is an athletic, fluid, and aggressive cover corner with range and the willingness to play the run. While Breeland could benefit from an NFL strength program and some technique refinement, he might be a nice fit for the Jets in either the second or third round.
The trio of Florida defensive backs is interesting. Marcus Roberson is the best of the group (2nd round) with the fluidity, patience, recovery speed and physical aggression. Roberson looks the part of the prototypical rangy, athletic NFL cornerback. Still, Roberson's technique needs refining; he can get grabby in coverage and tends to be more hesitant against the run. Louchiez Purifoy (3rd round) is something of a jack-of-all-trades master-of-none. While he has athleticism and has worked on offfense, defense and special teams, his projection to the NFL is something of a mystery. Jaylen Watkins (4th round) is moving quickly up draft boards, but likely as a projected switch to safety. Similarly to Watkins, Virginia Tech's Antone Exum (4th round) might be asked to transition to safety in the NFL.
As a last ditch effort at upgrading their secondary, the Jets might draft Deion Belue from Alabama early on Day Three. While Belue might lack prototypical size, he comes out of an excellent program (see Dee Milliner, et al) and has the aggression needed to play at the next level ... it's just that his upside is substantially less then the previously mentioned players.
Be sure to add your thoughts about the depth of the cornerback position in the comments!