BGA: Evaluating the Dee-pleted CB unit

With the recent injuries suffered by rookie third round pick Dexter McDougle (ACL tear, out for the season), Dee Milliner (ankle sprain, severity yet to be fully established but reportedly out for “several weeks”) and Dimitri Patterson (apparently minor leg injuries), we thought it would be a good idea to take a more in-depth look at the rest of the Jets cornerbacks to evaluate the in-house options they already have on the team.

Both Rex Ryan and John Idzik had positive things to say about this group of players earlier today and, while they might not comprise any household names, they have varying degrees of experience, pedigree and skill-set.

After the jump, we’ll be mostly revisiting my previous film study on the rest of the candidates to get more playing time over the next few weeks and reiterating their strengths and weaknesses to see where they fit in.

Introduction

To have such a sudden rash of injuries at one position is certainly troubling, especially when the Jets were counting on players by whom some parts of the fanbase and media have yet to be fully convinced. McDougle’s injury was unfortunate, especially coming one day after the team had talked up the role he was looking set to earn for himself this season. However, the loss of Milliner, who the Jets were unquestionably counting on to be their number one cornerback would be much more damaging, so it’s encouraging that recent reports have suggested he should return early in the season and may even be back in time for the season opener.

That being the case, the team’s depth chart would end up pretty much where it was expected to if McDougle wasn’t going to be a key contributor (which few expected and even fewer were relying upon). However, Patterson’s struggles in the first preseason game have further cast doubts on the depth of this group. Certainly while Milliner is out they will be weakened. Could someone step up and earn themselves a role that will lead to them seeing extended playing time even after his return, though?

Potential starters

After a miserable first game as a Jet, a lot of fans are down on Dimitri Patterson. Even though a couple of these plays might not have been all his fault, he did not look good and we’ve since learned that he was slowed by some injuries. I looked in detail at Patterson in this article and, when I did, I saw a player who, as recently as last season, was a physical corner with good closing speed and outstanding ball skills. Durability has always been the question with him, although I liked the pick-up due to his ability to play both outside and in the slot and what that might mean for others on the roster.

It’s certainly disconcerting that he’s injured already, but the fact he felt the need to try and play through injuries is perhaps a sign that others are pushing him hard for his spot, which bodes well for the depth there. While it’s possible Patterson, now 31, is totally broken down and will never be the same again, the Jets have a good recent record of getting players with ongoing issues on the field and seeing good production from those players. Therefore, it’s too soon to rule out him playing an important role at the moment. If he struggles in his next preseason appearance, that will be worrisome, but others are waiting to show that they do have what it takes.

Darrin Walls seems to have hung onto his role at “next man up” from last year. When Milliner missed time due to being benched and through injury, Walls filled in at the starting cornerback spot and held his own, although the Jets did lose two of the three games he started, including one in Tennessee where he was beaten for a touchdown.

I reviewed Walls in depth when they signed him. He impressed with his closing speed, reactions and timing, although he isn’t particularly physical and doesn’t have much experience of playing in the slot. One further weakness which, it’s become evident, he hasn’t improved upon (Ryan was tweaking him in the media about it a few days ago) is that he has really poor hands. I wonder if that will hold him back with the onus for this defense being on increasing their turnover output (and the players they targeted – Patterson and McDougle – were both guys who were productive in terms of intercepting passes when healthy last season).

It’s surprising there hasn’t been more buzz about Kyle Wilson as a potential starter. When Darrelle Revis was injured early on in 2012, Wilson was a starter on the outside, across from Antonio Cromartie, and the pass defense didn’t fare too badly. He did revert back to the slot in nickel packages, but was on the outside more than at any other time in his career. Last year, however, the Jets seemed insistent on leaving him in that slot role full-time, not even considering him for additional reps on the outside even with Cromartie and Milliner both injured and Milliner struggling most of the time when he was healthy anyway.

We know what to expect from Wilson these days. He doesn’t always get his head turned around in time, seems to be involved in too many coverage breakdowns and irritates everyone by celebrating plays where he didn’t deserve any credit. With that said, his numbers in the slot stack up well with the rest of the league in a position that’s very difficult to excel at. Also, he’s improved his physicality since he was young, is a surprisingly reliable tackler and – despite an early season meltdown against the Bills – showed encouraging discipline by being penalty free in 15 of 16 games last year. Even with all these injuries, he still seems to be working exclusively as a nickel corner (and played exclusively in the slot on Thursday night), but you have to believe he’s in line for another chance to prove himself eventually. As 2012 showed, even if he starts, that doesn’t mean he has to give up the slot role when they go to their subpackage.

When they did that back in 2012, it was Ellis Lankster who came into the game and played on the outside. Lankster fared well in that role, playing 199 of his 335 snaps on the outside and holding receivers to 13 catches on 28 targets when he was out there (a 41.5 quarterback rating). While he didn’t fare quite as well in the slot, those results seem deserving of further consideration and he got his chance to start at practice today. Like Wilson, Lankster is another player whose 2012 performance wasn’t enough to warrant many opportunities on defense last year. Lankster is definitely small (5’9″) but does bring a physicality and the likes of Captain Munnerlyn have shown that a player that size with that kind of physicality can start on the outside.

While he didn’t play much last season, he did get to show off his press coverage abilities on this nice play:

That came at a point in the season where the Jets had not been pressing enough and the fans were calling out for them to do it more. For Lankster to demonstrate this as a strength but still not see many opportunities is curious, although Rex Ryan did imply that he’s so important to the special teams coverage units, they may have been reluctant to risk him on defense at times.

On the bubble

Ras-I Dowling was a mini-camp star, but has fallen back down to earth since then and wasn’t even listed as a third stringer when the team released their first official depth chart. I looked at Dowling here. His main strengths are his size and physicality but his main weakness has been durability. He looked raw as a rookie, but seemed to have made some improvements in his second season. Maybe the recent injuries improve his chances of sneaking onto the roster, but you’d probably like your back-end-of-the-rotation guys to be someone who will contribute more on special teams. Still, at least he should get some reps on defense now (he didn’t in Thursday’s game) so now he can make an impact.

Johnny Patrick signed with the Jets all the way back in March. I took an extended look at him here. He saw extended playing time with the Chargers in 2012, but was mostly overmatched in coverage. He was impressive on special teams, but the Jets still have other players who can fill that vice/gunner role just as well, if not better, that he can. In addition, it’s going to be hard for him to make a case for himself if he misses time and he’s missed several days recently (and the first preseason game) with a hamstring injury.

The best of the rest

Brandon Dixon was a sixth round pick this year, but hasn’t seen much of an opportunity so far. He did not play on defense in the first preseason game. Dixon has nice size and great speed but played at a small school and only had one interception in his senior year. It’s a pretty big jump to expect him to contribute at the NFL level this year, but his speed stands out on special teams and you’ve got to believe he’ll at least be a practice squad candidate this year.

Jeremy Reeves is very small, but a tremendous athlete. He stood out at mini-camp and did intercept a pass in the green/white scrimmage. He saw action briefly last week and closed well to make an open field tackle. As we saw with Isaiah Trufant, it’s too easy to exploit a cornerback’s size when they are this small (Reeves is listed at 5-7, 170) but maybe he could develop into a role player. He missed practice today too, though.

I actually would have mentioned Antonio Allen here even if he didn’t play cornerback at practice earlier (with the first unit in team drills, where he had two interceptions). I’ll admit that surprised me, although I was going to suggest that he is likely to play in the slot a lot as the nickel cornerback this year, perhaps to the detriment of Wilson. While everyone was impressed with his performance against the likes of Rob Gronkowski and Jimmy Graham last year, most of the times he was targeted came when he was lined up in the slot, where he played 170 snaps over the course of the season.

I’m not completely sold on Allen as a safety or in zone coverages, but where he shows fantastic potential is in man-to-man coverage. Therefore, perhaps the move to cornerback makes sense on some level, although I’d still expect it to be matchup specific due to his lack of ideal speed to matchup with speedsters on the outside (he ran a 4.58 forty at the combine). Also, in the event that the move to corner is a success for Allen, could this open up a spot in the safety ranks for a certain veteran whose presence last year had an almost immediate positive impact upon the struggling cornerbacks?

Conclusions

Possibly in denial, I’m still operating under the assumption that Milliner will be good to go for the majority of the season, but if his return is delayed longer than expected, or he suffers further setbacks, then that would be a much bigger cause for concern. However, there are some talented players here and if Ryan can use them in a way that maximizes their abilities (and perhaps masks any deficiencies) then hopefully the young Jets secondary can not only perform well this season, but give us hope for the next few years as well.

I would be discouraged if the Jets brought in a scrapheap-veteran unless it’s just someone they’re throwing into the mix for depth purposes. If the Jets’ young corners miss out on reps while they assimilate an over-the-hill player or someone who isn’t an ideal scheme fit into their defense, when that player probably isn’t going to do much more than any of the rest of them would have done with those reps, that strikes me as a waste of time. However, if the other Jets corners get their chance over the next few weeks and nobody shines, then perusing the market is suddenly an approach that becomes more palatable. Let’s see how it goes first though. It would be good to see the safety group pick up the secondary too and perhaps Calvin Pryor’s return will galvanize that unit to raise spirits.

Right now, I feel like the Jets have several viable candidates for a starting role on this team, each of whom has their strengths and weaknesses. However, until we see them get their opportunity it will be difficult to predict which of them will rise to the top.

I therefore wont commit myself to predicting who will win a starting role but I’d be interested to hear your thoughts, so please reply to this poll and let’s hear your more detailed thoughts in the comments:




90 comments
Matthieu Laughlington
Matthieu Laughlington

Thanks for the hope. It'd be really easy to pour it on right now but here you are shining lights. For this I thank you.

oddmanrush
oddmanrush

I fully expect them to bring in a guy after cuts are made or even toss a late round pick to a CB on another team. I'm not really fretting about this cornerback situation right now. It's week 1 of preseason, a lot of things can happen.

j3tsfan29
j3tsfan29

Dear god if idzik brings in reed I will be anti idzik. That ship has sailed. Let him to pasture already. He can't help the cbs any more then he has already. I believe we need an outside cb to come in, unless Dixon becomes what we need him to be. Wich I don't see happening anytime soon. I can't believe patterson will make it through 16 games wich means someone else might as well be counted on as #2. Unless Allen pans out we need someone else. We have enough safeties with Jarrett Landry prior bush. This is where the no regrets bites you in the tush!

NYCPEinGermany
NYCPEinGermany

"Also, in the event that the move to corner is a success for Allen, could this open up a spot in the safety ranks for a certain veteran whose presence last year had an almost immediate positive impact upon the struggling cornerbacks?"


Wags tail and pants with tongue out (I can feel a joke at my expense in there somewhere)

Brian Miros
Brian Miros

Would really like to see  Ellis Lankster given an opportunity to win the job.  This CB group is currently missing that leadership for training their body in the offseason.  If you remember the past two years, Cromartie used to arrange training out in California for all of the defensive backs.  They came into camp healthy and in shape.  With Cromartie gone, someone needs to take on that leadership role....Kyle Wilson in his 4th year and a former #1 pick is in his make or break year.

WW85
WW85

With our front 7, I'd think the 20 time is more important for a CB than the 40 time. Also, a very physical guy like AA can reduce a WRs speed advantage by playing aggressive at the line.   In any case, i'm pretty excited to see AA play outside. Physicality can go a long way, especially with Pryor roaming the middle.

jvsvn
jvsvn

A lot is going to happen before the start of the season. There will likely be a couple guys in the 53 that are not on the roster right now. The preseason has barely started. There are going to be more injuries throughout the league and all the guys are going to be cut, etc. It was a good draft for corners which means there will be a few decent vets on the bubble. 

Hey hank! I live in Naples too

MarshRandy
MarshRandy

If Milliner is back by say, week 2. Are we in any different of a situation than we were on Saturday? Don't think McDougall was expected to play much this year

levi
levi

Hella write up Bent. I hope SNY ponies up and cuts you a check! You deserve it.

jdb4
jdb4

Perhaps the Jets will just carry 5 CB's and 5 Safeties now.


Milliner, Patterson, Wilson, Lankster, Walls


Allen, Pryor, Landry, Jarrett, Miles

How about dunta robinson

Disgruntled Jets Fan
Disgruntled Jets Fan

#FreeLankster!

Interesting to see who gets the most time early on this saturday. The Bengals offense is scary, outside the OK QB.

marcus81
marcus81

what about Brandon Dixon CB? if Jets used a draft spot for him, they should see how he can be developed and what he's got

a57se
a57se

Last seasons' CB's were Cro, Milliner, Wilson, Walls, Lankster and Trufant.

We dumped Cro and Trufant while replacing them with Patterson and McDougle. One could argue that this was a downgrade though not off of Cro's injury plagued 2013 performance.

Apparently Milliner was slotted to take Cro's place as the number 1 CB with Patterson taking the no. 2 spot. The Slot remains WIlsons' and the depth is the same except McDougle takes Trufants spot.

With McDougle going to IR eventually, someone will have to take his spot...perhaps Dixon if the Jets are afraid to lose him on waivers in an attempt to move him to the practice squad.

In the meantime, Patterson (if healthy enough) will move into Milliners' #1 CB role with Walls the most likely candidate to move into Pattersons' role. Though the idea of using Wilson in the #2 spot then moving him to the slot has some merit only if you think Wilson is better on the outside than Walls (or Lankster).

I would think Walls and Lankster will get the first opportunities to fill in at CB2 (and CB1 if Patterson is not ready to go). Another big opportunity exists for the borderline guys as they will fill the dime package should Rex feel the need for it...

   This will also give the borderline guys more reps with the second unit as everyone moves up a slot or two with the current injuries and maybe three spots depending on Patterson.

  I would think the outside guys (Dowling, Reeves, Patrick and even Dixon) might have a slight advantage in this situation as Rex has already not used Walls and Lankster in expanded roles when he had the opportunity to do so last season, instead opting to continue to play a sub-par Cromartie and struggling rookie. If none of those guys show much then Walls would make the most sense....

Howard Silversmith
Howard Silversmith

@jvsvn  Absolutely.... some vets will get cut and some rookies will be signed to practice squads... McGill in Oakland may get cut- or Breeland in St. Louis (these guys were projected ahead of McDougle)

Hanknaples
Hanknaples

Sounds terrific!! It's a great place isn't it??

BTW, what is your user name??

DarrolRayFanClub
DarrolRayFanClub

@MarshRandy Where you been Randy. I agree -- McDougle was a depth guy. The only problem is that it was a position where depth was questionable. But not a huge loss.

Hanknaples
Hanknaples

@levi You do know Allen...working out as CB with the Firsts made two NICE Int's today , right??

I'm telling you Levi, the ship is NOT sunk yet with this guy (or Patterson)....just watch !!!

juunit
juunit

I wonder if Matt Scott (the backup QB) is gonna puke mid-game again. He apparently did 3 times last week.

Bent
Bent moderator

@Disgruntled Jets Fan Typically the first unit would play the first half.  I'd imagine several different guys will get a look with that group.  Will be interesting, especially with how badly Dalton torched us last time.  Even a bad but not terrible performance could in theory be seen as an improvement!

Bent
Bent moderator

@marcus81 I did mention him, under "best of the rest".

a57se
a57se

@marcus81 

He is very raw and was drafted on potential but this is an opportunity for him if he can show something...

harold
harold

@a57se 


I agree up until Walls.  I think Lankster will get the benefit of the time because he can play the ball better.  I like Walls but his ability to be a playmaker is so lacking that he does make any impact plays.  I think Lankster  (as Bent) mentioned will be much better for what we are trying to do, which is create turnovers.

Best place in the world! I signed in with my twitter that I don't use. Hit me up on Facebook. Hisham Fayed . I should be the first one to pop up. Are there any jets hangouts on Sundays down here?

__fense
__fense

@DarrolRayFanClub @MarshRandy I don't think our CB depth was questionable at all. It a little bit questionable now that we don't have McDougle, but we can weather that. The only issue with CB has been if the starters will be good enough, because we have a bunch of guys that seem to be just under starting quality, Milliner, and that's it.

MarshRandy
MarshRandy

Hah. Got a new job and I can't really comment at work anymore.

Yea depth is an issue, but it would have been an issue if we signed a FA and then he got hurt. The way I see it is Milliner's side of the field is fine, pending he gets healthy. I'd rather he sit out the first three weeks of the year if that's what it takes for him to be at 100% the rest of it. As for the other side I still have some faith in Patterson, who cares about one preseason game, and Walls could be ok.

Rex will have to make some scheme changes and I have faith that he will. Having an improved safety group obviously helps there too.

What sucks is McDougal isn't going to have any momentum going into next year when we were counting on him to contribute, and I think we'll have to go corner again in next year's draft.

levi
levi

@Hanknaples My concerns are not with either of those guys, Walls and Lankster are up for their chance and thats something Ive wanted to see, Allen will be the SS I reckon but he and Pryor can switch it up occasionally because thats what Rex does. I think Patterson will be ok IF of course he stays healthy. Im upset McDougal is out I liked him.

j3tsfan29
j3tsfan29

Damn that I'd rather have miles then reed.

Disgruntled Jets Fan
Disgruntled Jets Fan

Hopefully "bad but not terrible" is not our motto though. :)

I tried to block out that game. Oof.

marcus81
marcus81

@Bent @marcus81  he did have very good athletic numbers at the combine, something to work with, McDougal would have taken some time to develop too

a57se
a57se

@Bent @a57se 

The ripple effect here is that we may keep an extra CB for fear of injury or Milliner just  not being ready on opening day.

I say an extra assuming we keep Dixon yet not really expectung any contribution from him like Aboushi and Campbell last season.


Hanknaples
Hanknaples

@levi 

"Im upset McDougal is out I liked him" 

And I have a strong feeling Dee will be out longer than expected......maybe even surgery to tighten the separation !!

juunit
juunit

I wouldn't think so. Scott actually had a good game, especially considering his lunch being on the field.

Bent
Bent moderator

@Disgruntled Jets Fan


Milliner had a bad day that day.  Shame he can't get a chance to show how far he's come.


Walls came in and got beaten for a TD too.

Bent
Bent moderator

@a57se @Bent Another ripple effect is that now instead of being "forced" to carry six cornerbacks just because they have six guys at that position deserving of a spot (whether for ST purposes or just as a CB) maybe the Doog injury frees up another spare spot for a luxury like carrying an extra guy at another position for ST only (Miles?  Hakim?) or stashing a guy like you suggest (maybe Barnes or Hyder rather than Dixon).

levi
levi

@Hanknaples Losing Dee would be bad for any amount of time... at least thats what we assume because we dont really know how good he is but he looks promising.

Disgruntled Jets Fan
Disgruntled Jets Fan

That was the game that really fortified for me that other teams are going for quick passes to neutralize our DL.

a57se
a57se

@Bent @a57se 

I don't see that at all...we'll take 6 CB's at a minimum into the season. 

Bent
Bent moderator

@a57se @Bent Okay, but either way Doog frees up a spot for someone.  Maybe they carry six, but it would have been seven?


What if Allen is seen as a 6th corner (in much the same way Coples was seen as a potential 6th lineman)?  Maybe they can afford to only carry five.

a57se
a57se

@Bent @a57se 

With the lineups we play the first 6 of 7 games??

That would be gross negligence to me...


Bent
Bent moderator

@a57se @Bent


I don't think so.  One of those guys will probably be inactive anyway and if you're using a spot on Dixon while not really expecting a contribution, then you can just as easily add a street free agent Hank Poteat style should the need arise.

a57se
a57se

@Bent @a57se 

If we went into a game against GB, Chicago, Detroit, SD, Denver or NE with only 5 active CB's including Milliner and Patterson (Dixon not activated), well, I am not a gamblin' man but I think you are risking a disaster since Patterson is a proven injury risk and Milliner is coming off a high ankle sprain.


Bent
Bent moderator

@a57se @Bent


Yes, taking those factors into account, that's probably true.  If they're healthy though, I'd still only expect them to activate five with Allen available as a contributor in the slot (and Miles who was used the same way on Thursday night).


Day one roster might be a different story though because that's "only" the Raiders and we can shake things up once the veteran contracts no longer need to be guaranteed and the rookies can be IR-stashed without exposure to waivers.

a57se
a57se

@Bent 

What do you think the fan reaction would be if both those guys got hurt early and our secondary gets torched???

Bent
Bent moderator

@a57se @Bent But let's face it, if those guys got hurt early is someone like Brandon Dixon going to prevent our secondary from getting torched any better than Antonio Allen or Rontez Miles could?


Still, going back to my earlier point, Dixon's special teams potential is intriguing so maybe he's the luxury guy they'd carry anyway.

Bent
Bent moderator

@a57se @Bent Probably this:


Look at our roster.  Look at our injury history.  Look at the inactive list. #fail