New York Jets must find depth among top-heavy cornerback group

The New York Jets bolstered one of their most glaring needs this offseason by signing Trumaine Johnson to a massive five-year deal worth $72.5 million during free agency.

Johnson boosts a beleaguered cornerback group featuring incumbent starters Morris Claiborne and Buster Skrine, holdovers Juston Burris, Darryl Roberts, Xavier Coleman, Rashard Robinson, second-year pros Derrick Jones and Jeremy Clark and 2018 sixth-round pick Parry Nickerson. New York’s pass defense was one of its weakest links in 2017. The Jets were one of three teams to surrender at least 30 touchdown passes and ranked 21st in the NFL with 234 passing yards allowed per game.

Johnson’s arrival gives the Jets a true No. 1 cornerback for the first time since Darrelle Revis’ prime years in his original stint with Gang Green. However, it’s fair to question whether New York has enough talent behind Johnson to make a marked improvement in the passing department.

None of the corners on the Jets roster picked off more than one pass in 2017 and Johnson recorded only two interceptions last season. Claiborne was steady for most of the 2017 season before coming apart down the stretch. Durability is an immense concern and Claiborne was spotted with a cast around his left hand during OTAs. It’s unlikely Claiborne will withstand a full season.

Skrine, the fourth-highest paid player on the team, is incredibly inconsistent. In spurts, he attacks the ball and is a reliable tackler with a torrid motor. At other times, Skrine can’t seem to cover anyone and is a penalty machine. He was flagged 11 times last year in total, with four defensive holding infractions and three defensive pass interference violations.

Outside of those three leaves a relatively unproven group. Nickerson might possess the most potential as Skrine’s eventual replacement as the nickel corner. The Tulane product tied for the fastest 40-yard dash time at the NFL Combine, running it in 4.32 seconds. Nickerson’s detriment is his size, but his six interceptions for the Green Wave serve as evidence that he can make it at the next level.

“Parry Nickerson’s going to be a really solid cornerback,” an NFL Network analyst said on draft day. “I think he’s going to become the starting slot corner for them by 2019.”

The Jets will need Robinson, Burris, Roberts, Coleman, Clark and/or Jones to take a step forward as depth players this season. Burris and Robinson were both graded poorly by Pro Football Focus and constantly struggled throughout the season. Roberts actually received the best grade among Jets corners last season with an average 72.9 mark.

If one or two of these depth corners can step up their play in 2018, then the Jets could have a respectable secondary from top to bottom. Safeties Jamal Adams and Marcus Maye patrolling the last line of defense will certainly help, but New York’s defense can return to prominence if Johnson plays like a top-tier cornerback and gets support from Claiborne, Skrine and the rest.

New York’s edge rushing situation didn’t get much better during the offseason. That means it might be up to the Jets secondary to lock down receivers and buy more time for the pass rushers to do their job. However, it will take more than Johnson to improve the pass defense.

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