Bent, theJetsBlog.com Follow on Twitter
There is widespread concern that the cornerback position could be a weakness for the Jets in the upcoming season. With roles available, could someone unexpected step up and become a key contributor?
Projected Starters: Trumaine Johnson, Darryl Roberts, Brian Poole (slot/nickel)
Projected Backups: Derrick Jones, Parry Nickerson, Blessuan Austin
On the Bubble: Arthur Maulet, Tevaughn Campbell, Mark Myers, Kyron Brown
Departures: Morris Claiborne, Buster Skrine, Rashard Robinson
In 2019, the Jets will be counting on Trumaine Johnson to play like a starter worthy of the $14.5 million per year contract they gave him last March. Johnson took a lot of criticism last year, especially when he was benched by the team towards the end of the year for missing practice, but the team seems optimistic he can bounce back.
While Johnson's spot is secure due to his salary, there are plenty of other opportunities to win roles or earn a roster spot. As things stand, Darryl Roberts looks set to be the other starter on the outside, while free agent Brian Poole should take over in the slot for the outgoing Buster Skrine. However, there could be competition for each role.
Roberts signed an eye-opening $6 million per year deal during the offseason, but it's backloaded so he could be released if he doesn't establish himself as a starter in 2018. The top candidate to push him for a starting role could be Derrick Jones. The former sixth-round pick previously turned heads in camp and intercepted a few passes in preseason action, but hasn't received many opportunities on the active roster.
Poole was a reliable slot defender in Atlanta, but the Jets may be hoping Parry Nickerson pushes him for the nickelback role. As a rookie, Nickerson didn't play much and had mixed results when called upon. However, he has good athletic potential and seemed to be getting some quality reps both inside and on the boundary during the offseason program. This has the makings of a good competition.
Rookie Blessuan Austin is a candidate to start camp on the PUP list as he continues to rehab an ACL tear, so there may be an extra spot available for one of the lesser-known players. Arthur Maulet is the most experienced, with 12 NFL appearances including one start, but the undrafted rookie Brown flashed in the offseason program, so may have an outside shot at a spot.
The team also lists Jeremy Clark and Montrel Meander as cornerbacks, but each seems more likely to be in the mix for a safety role based on their recent history.
Biggest question heading into camp
The major concern among the Jets fanbase is that nobody on the roster is good enough to start across from Johnson, regardless of who wins the competition.
Roberts started 10 games last year, but some of those were at free safety, a role he was miscast in. He had some good performances, but was an inconsistent tackler at times and, although it didn't receive as much attention as Johnson's benching, Roberts was also benched for an undisclosed rules violation before the season finale.
While someone like Jones could potentially step up and beat out Roberts, he's even more of an unknown quantity who has never started an NFL game.
That brings us to the very real possibility that the other starter might not even be on the roster right now. Morris Claiborne, a starter for each of the past two seasons, is still unsigned and could be a potential late addition on the eve of camp. The Jets will also be watching the waiver wires closely.
The Jets should have a good run defense in 2019, but their pass coverage is more of a concern. Question marks surround virtually every player, including Johnson.
However, while Johnson fell short of expectations, his numbers last season weren't as bad as the reactions might lead you to think. He led the team with four interceptions and only gave up two 30-yard plays all year.
Johnson arguably had the best year of his career in Gregg Williams' defense, so there is some optimism that he'll re-establish himself as a number one cornerback. If he's able to do that, it will provide the secondary with a big boost.
As for the other starter, whether it's Roberts, Jones, a re-signed Claiborne or someone else, the Jets need their pass rush to be better this year. Hopefully, that will prevent opposing quarterbacks from routinely being able to exploit any weaknesses.
In the longer-term, the Jets will be looking for players like Jones, Brown, Austin or Nickerson to step up. If one or two of these youngsters can establish themselves as contributors, that will give them some affordable depth going forwards.