With new general manager Joe Douglas in hand, Gang Green is still left wondering how they can fix one annoying problem: strengthening its pool of cornerbacks.
In April, the Jets unsuccessfully tried to jump more than 30 spots into the second round of the draft. They did so with one target in mind: Washington cornerback Byron Murphy.
The 5-11, 190-pound Murphy wasn’t the most physically imposing player at his position, but the Jets believed that he could inject life into a pedestrian cornerback corps, according to sources.
The powers that be saw star potential in Murphy, but there was one giant problem. The Jets didn’t have a 2019 second-round pick after unloading theirs in a deal with the Colts in 2018 that ultimately landed Sam Darnold.
Gang Green originally hoped to pick up a second-rounder by trading down in the first round, but former general manager Mike Maccagnan opted to take Quinnen Williams after he couldn’t find a deal to his liking. After that, the Jets weren’t slated to pick again until the third round (No. 68).
They wanted Murphy bad enough that they asked teams near the top of the second round like the Colts (No. 34) and Seahawks (No. 37) what it would take to make the jump.
However, the Cardinals killed any chance of a deal when they scooped up Murphy with the first pick of second round (No. 33), leaving a suspect secondary — one that includes Trumaine Johnson, Darryl Roberts and newly acquired Brian Poole — unimproved through the draft. (The Jets targeted Georgia wide receiver Mecole Hardman later in the second round before the Chiefs moved up for him, per sources).
But Gang Green is fully aware that they could use upgrades at cornerback. Douglas’ first acquisition: He claimed cornerback Montrel Meander off waivers from the Raiders on Wednesday.
“That doesn’t really bother me,” Roberts said about a lack of faith in the team’s cornerbacks. “I don’t really pay attention or worry about what outside people say. We can control what we can control. I know we’re good enough to make plays on receivers in the league. All of us made a ton of plays before. So, that type of criticism or talk about us doesn’t really bother me, honestly.”
Although Poole, who left the Falcons to sign a one-year deal this offseason, maintained that “we got a lot of talent (and) a lot of experience” on the back end, it’s fair to question whether Gregg Williams’ top three corners are good enough to thrive this season.
“We really can’t control what they say,” Poole said. “All we can do is come to work every day and work, continue to get better and come season time, they’ll see.”
Jets cornerbacks had their fair share of struggles last season. Johnson, plagued by a quad injury, disappointed after signing a blockbuster deal in free agency. Mo Claiborne had a knack for inopportune penalties. Buster Skrine struggled. Roberts, who had 10 starts at cornerback and safety, was a bright spot for the league’s 24th-ranked pass defense before re-signing this offseason.
Williams’ aggressive, blitz-happy scheme will put more stress on the cornerbacks, which could present challenges with this group.
“He’s an aggressive play caller,” Roberts said. “He lets us be ourselves. He lets us cut it loose. That’s the type of defense that I like to play in… If you’re in zero (coverage) or playing man, you got to have that type of mindset: If I don’t get any help, I just got to win. You just got to be wired differently.”
Gang Green’s lack of a consistent pass rush off the edge might complicate matters. If the Jets can’t generate heat on quarterbacks, it could expose some obvious blemishes on the back end.
“Obviously, he likes blitzing, so that’s leaving corners out on an island,” said Johnson, who had his most productive seasons playing for Williams when they were with the Rams. “As a corner, that’s how you think about it: go for it.”
It’s a great mindset if you can deliver.
The obvious question: Do the Jets have the personnel at that position to deliver?