Five Corners the Jets Should Target in the Draft

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The Jets entered the offseason needing reinforcements on the defensive side of the ball. Two weeks into free agency, New York has gotten them on all three levels.

The additions of Sheldon Rankins and Carl Lawson help bolster an already stout defensive front. Jarrad Davis — along with the return of C.J. Mosley — will anchor a new-look linebacking corps. Lamarcus Joyner will give the Jets stability at the back alongside newly-franchised safety Marcus Maye.

Still, there’s one gaping hole in Gang Green’s defense that general manager Joe Douglas and head coach Robert Saleh have yet to fill: cornerback.

The Jets cornerback room is the youngest in the league. Only Justin Hardee has been in the NFL for more than two years, and he projects to play mostly on special teams. Bryce Hall and Bless Austin were Day Three investments in the last two NFL Drafts who gave the Jets quality snaps in 2020. The rest of the room is comprised of depth pieces and roster hopefuls, but the cupboard is relatively bare. New York will need a boundary corner and a nickel corner to fill it.

Of course, there’s still ample time in free agency to do so, and several appealing names remain on the market. Richard Sherman, Casey Hayward and Steven Nelson are all proven veterans who could fit nicely in Robert Saleh’s defense. 

Brian Poole is coming off a career year and is certainly a candidate to re-sign in New York. Maybe the Jets will sign one of those guys in the coming weeks, but Douglas has been adamant about how he wants to rebuild this Jets roster.

“Ultimately for us to get to where the great teams are, the most consistent teams are, you do that through the draft,” Douglas said.

Fortunately, the Jets have the capital to practice what Douglas is preaching, with five picks in the first three rounds. Here are five corners they can target with those picks in the 2021 NFL Draft:

1. Greg Newsome II – Northwestern

The Jets clearly aren’t going corner at two, and the top three corners will almost certainly be gone by pick No. 23, so the board starts with Newsome, who was outstanding through six games with Northwestern before a groin injury ended his season. The 6-foot-1 junior allowed just 12 catches on 34 targets for fewer than 100 yards in those six games, showing off his length, elite athleticism, and quick feet to shut down Big Ten receivers. Newsome played in Pat Fitzgerald’s zone-heavy scheme in college, which should make him a natural fit for Saleh’s unit, but he does have the flexibility to play in any system should the Jets choose to employ more man concepts. Newsome has the makings of a shutdown NFL corner if he can stay healthy, and should be in consideration at pick No. 23.

2. Eric Stokes – Georgia

If New York decides to wait until No. 34 to draft a corner, Stokes might just be their guy. The Georgia product was one of the best corners in college football over the past three seasons, and posted five full games in 2020 where he allowed fewer than ten receiving yards. He’s a physical press corner whose top-level speed allows him to play bump-and-run effectively. Simply put, Stokes can fly. Running a 4.25 40-yard-dash at Georgia’s Pro Day has him hurdling up draft boards. That acceleration and closing speed allows Stokes to jump passing lines and create turnovers, as evidenced by his four interceptions and two touchdowns for the Bulldogs in 2020.

3. Asante Samuel Jr. – Florida State

The name might ring a bell, and when it comes to his skills on the football field, the game will look just as familiar. The son of a former two-time All-Pro, Samuel Jr. displays the elite instincts and fluidity that granted his father such a successful NFL career. He is a bit small at 5-foot-10 and 184 pounds, but he more than makes up for it with his change of direction and nose for the ball. That change of direction shows in his ability to diagnose run plays quickly and shoot gaps to make the tackle. Samuel Jr. had three picks and five pass breakups on just 32 targets this season, playing both on the boundary and in the slot. This is a guy who was born and bred to play corner, and he looks the part. He’ll be in consideration for New York if he falls to No. 34.

4. Ifeatu Melifonwu – Syracuse

Melifonwu is kind of the anti-Asante Samuel Jr. He has top 1% physical tools, but is still very much learning to tap into them. At 6-foot-3 and 212 pounds, he would be one of the bigger corners in the entire NFL, and his size doesn’t come at the expense of speed. Melifonwu will benefit from a predominantly zone scheme that allows him to use his range and length to eliminate pockets in the mid-to-deep passing game, much like Richard Sherman was able to do this past season for Saleh in San Francisco. His press-man ability needs work, and he needs to learn how to use his size, but with his physical gifts and the right coaching staff, the ceiling is the roof.

5. Elijah Molden – Washington

Saleh is on the record saying that the most important question he needs answered when drafting a corner is “can you win your one-on-ones?” On third downs, two-minute drills, key situations, he wants a guy that isn’t going to need help to blanket his man and get the defense off the field. That’s Elijah Molden in a nutshell. The 5-foot-10 senior posted a Pro Football Focus coverage grade of 90.9 in 2020, playing almost exclusively out of the slot. He has the necessary scheme versatility and tackling ability to be an every down slot corner in Saleh’s defense should the Jets decide not to re-sign Poole in free agency. Like Melifonwu, he’s a second- or third-round guy, but he can be a plug-and-play starter in New York.

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