By William McInerney
The New York Jets had a lot of players leave last offseason, many of whom were released. The defensive back position was a place that saw a lot of change. The starters last year were Darrelle Revis, Marcus Gilchrist, Calvin Pryor and Buster Skrine. Of that group, only Skrine remains, as Revis and Gilchrist were released and Pryor was traded to the Browns for Demario Davis.
The Jets secondary will look very different this year. They invested both their first (Jamal Adams) and second (Marcus Maye) round draft picks in the safety position. They are two players who do complement each other very well, with Adams being more of an in-the-box safety, while Maye is more of the coverage safety model. Ultimately, I would expect them to be the two starters in Week 1 barring injuries to either of them. There’s an outside chance of Rontez Miles pushing for a starting spot, but Maye and Adams are the Jets future at the position, and in a year all about youth, it makes sense they will be the starters.
If Adams and Maye are the two starters this year, there will probably be some issues this season. Not with skill, but with communication and being able to do it snap in and snap out. Generally being a safety is a position that requires a lot of thinking, and it often take rookies a year or two to develop. Landon Collins, arguably the best safety last year, had a solid but not great year in his rookie season. It typically takes a year for the NFL game to slow down for players, and for safeties that’s usually when they really start to shine.
So, although the Adams and Maye combination could become one of the best in the NFL, there could be some growing pains along the way.
Cornerback is a different animal for the Jets this year. Morris Claiborne is expected to be the top corner this year. Claiborne had his best season last year for Dallas, however, he has struggled with consistency and health since coming into the league. Ultimately, Claiborne may be better served as a No. 2 cornerback in the NFL, although another strong season could push him into the No. 1 range.
The spot across from Claiborne is more up for grabs. Skrine played most of the snaps out there, but he struggled on the outside, and is not locked into the spot. Marcus Williams is a playmaker who could challenge for the starting spot as well, although he struggled some last year after getting six interceptions in 2015. He isn’t a player guaranteed to start either.
Juston Burris is an intriguing name for the second spot as well. He played well last year, grading out very well in coverage, although he spent most of his time in dime formations where he played against the third and fourth receivers. I have my question as to how well he covers the outside guys who are faster and better at making catches while covered and breaking free from guys covering them. The Jets have said they want to get him more snaps this year, so he could be an outside candidate to start.
The last CB of note is Darryl Roberts, who had a good year in coverage in limited snaps. In fact, Pro Football Focus had him rated fourth in coverage snaps/receptions allowed, and fifth in yards allowed/coverage snap. Although I don’t always agree with Pro Football Focus’s overall rankings of players, they do tend to be pretty good with isolated statistics like these.
These numbers don’t necessarily mean Roberts will be able to do that as the No. 2 corner. He was also often playing in dime sets, and usually covering receivers who weren’t at the top of their depth charts. Thus, a couple of things make those stats a little less telling. First off, the players he was covering don’t see as many targets as the top two guys do (remember, those stats were per coverage, not per target). The second thing is those guys aren’t as skilled. Roberts is an intriguing player, who deserves a chance to see top unit minutes during the preseason to make his case, but I wouldn’t guarantee him a spot.
The Jets secondary has a lot of unknowns, and could have some struggles this year. But the foundation for the future has been laid at safety, and could be there at corner as well. Time will tell.