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With the first of their three sixth-round picks in last month's draft, the Jets selected Tulane cornerback Parry Nickerson. This regime has already brought in several young cornerbacks, but none of them have managed to separate themselves from the pack.
Does Nickerson's skill-set give him a chance to eventually become the home-grown starter they've been trying to develop?
The book on Nickerson is that he's an athletic playmaker, but that he also lacks size. For that reason, most experts are projecting him to be a slot corner at the NFL level, which would typically allow him to match up with the small and shifty players that the big, physical cornerbacks of the modern era often struggle to stay with.
Nevertheless, Nickerson is a physical player, who primarily played on the outside in college and held his own against bigger receivers. As he didn't play in the slot much in college, there might be an adjustment period required for him to be able to do so to an NFL standard. In addition, his agility numbers at his pro day were poor, although it's likely he wasn't 100 percent yet having pulled his hamstring at the combine.
His skill-set seems to be well suited to such a role, though. He moves fluidly and can anticipate and mirror the receiver's route. While his lack of length might be a detriment to his ability to press bigger receivers, it shouldn't limit him against most slot specialists.
On the rare occasions that he lined up in the slot in college, he didn't give up any big plays and even intercepted a pass. So, he has shown some capabilities there, albeit with a very small sample size.
Nickerson brings a few things to the table that the Jets secondary has sorely lacked over the past few seasons. The first is playmaking. Only the Bears had fewer interceptions than the Jets' eight in 2016, and they weren't much better in 2017 as they placed 10th-worst with just 11.
Nickerson not only had 16 career interceptions at Tulane, but also scored two defensive touchdowns, something no Jet has done since 2013. He has an innate ability to come up with the ball in contested-catch situations.
Another thing that Nickerson can hopefully bring is discipline, which we know is something head coach Todd Bowles has been desperately searching for. Despite being regarded as a physical player, Nickerson was only called for one penalty in the past two seasons. In addition, he hasn't been the kind of player to give up a big play due to a blown coverage assignment.
To a lesser degree, Nickerson has shown improvements in his tackling, and a willingness to contribute in run support. If he will be in the slot, then he'll be closer to the tackle box which will test his play recognition, and how easily he can anticipate and avoid blockers. If he can make that adjustment then he can hopefully emulate Buster Skrine, who wasn't much of a run defender before last season, but quietly showed major improvements in 2017.
With so much to like about Nickerson, you may be wondering how he was even available in the sixth round. While Tulane isn't a top school, he's faced and held his own against some top receiver prospects including Anthony Miller, Tre'Quan Smith and his new teammate Robby Anderson, so it's not a level-of-competition concern.
It's more likely that teams had concerns about his long-term prognosis due to a knee injury early on in his career.
Rumor has it that some teams may have passed on him for that reason. While Nickerson obviously got over the injury and played well over the past few years, then proved his health by running a 4.32 40-yard dash at the combine, it may be that teams feel his career may be shorter due to the risky procedure he had after suffering the injury in his freshman season.
However, if this means he'll have a six-year career instead of a 12-year career, the Jets can still get great value from him while he's on his low-cost rookie deal. They'll hopefully have reassured themselves that he won't be overly susceptible to further injuries going forwards too.
Having temporarily addressed the starting cornerback roles in free agency, the Jets still need young players to step up and prove they can assume those jobs in future. Good slot cornerbacks are not easy to find, as the Jets found out when Skrine was injured last year.
So, if Nickerson can become one, it could set him up for a long and successful career.