One of the most important positions on the field is a number one cornerback. Having a lockdown corner to stop an opponents’ top receiver is an absolute game changer. A lockdown cornerback is the second most important position on the defensive side of the football and one that rarely sees elite players hit the market. To an extent the 2021 free agent class will be no different. Two future Hall of Fame corners will hit the market, in Arizona Cardinals Patrick Peterson and San Francisco 49ers Richard Sherman. But neither are the shutdown player they once were, and the New York Jets cannot afford to overpay for an ageing corner. Unfortunately, there is no young and elite corner that will be available in free agency for the Jets to sign. And while the team may draft one early, it does not help the fact the Jets already have a very inexperienced cornerback room. So, what young and established starting cornerback with high-upside could the team go after in free agency? From William Jackson III to Shaquill Griffin, here are some options.
New York Jets Must Add a High-Upside Cornerback in Free Agency
William Jackson III
Drafted in the first round of the 2016 NFL Draft, William Jackson III has had a great run with the Cincinnati Bengals. In a part-time role as a rookie, Jackson III looked like a future shutdown corner, posting a 90.2 overall grade per PFF. Once entering the starting lineup full-time in 2017, Jackson III established himself merely as a reliable number one, though not that next-level type player. Since the start of 2017, he has played in 42 games, starting in 41 of them with two interceptions and 25 deflections. Only recently turning 28-years-old, Jackson III will command a modest contract, but one that will be in the Jets range.
Ronald Darby has finally stayed healthy this season for the Washington Football Team and is enjoying a breakout year. The 26-year-old has played a major role in their fourth-ranked defense, with 12 deflections and 48 tackles. He even has a 76.7 overall grade from PFF, which ties him for the tenth best of all cornerbacks. Before coming to Washington, Darby was traded from the Buffalo Bills to the Philadelphia Eagles in 2018, a move that happened under Jets General Manager Joe Douglas’ tenure as the team’s Vice President of Player Personnel. Of course, Darby’s injury history is a concern, having never played a full season. But Darby has proved he can be a very good boundary corner.
This past season, the Jets took a chance on Pierre Desir, hoping he can rebound after a down year in 2019. Sadly, it did not work out. But maybe it can with Seattle Seahawks Shaquill Griffin. A third-round pick in 2017, Griffin has essentially been a starting corner since day one, with 50 starts in 54 career games. The 25-year-old cornerback has taken a step back this season after a Pro Bowl campaign in 2019. His 63.2 grade ranks 48th out of 126 qualifying corners, though, even then is an improvement over the Jets current starters. In his career, Griffin has five interceptions with 45 deflections, proving to be an excellent starting cornerback. Who knows if the Seahawks will let Griffin walk, but if he is available, he will be a name to watch for the Jets.
Since being drafted in 2017 in the second round, Chidobe Awuzie has been one of the Dallas Cowboys better defenders. Like Griffin, Awuzie has taken a step back after a 2019 season where he ranked 21st among all cornerbacks. He is fantastic in run defense, though his coverage is the worst it has been his entire career. Certainly, Dallas poor defense as a whole has not helped matters. Nevertheless, Awuzie has 41 starts to his name, with four interceptions and 35 deflections in his career. Only 25-years-old, Awuzie offers a quality starting corner and one that with better safety play could return to his 2019 form.
The uber-versatile Tory Hill has been a very underrated cornerback around the league throughout his time with the Los Angeles Rams. Undrafted out of Oregon in 2015, the 29-year-old is capable of playing inside or out. A full-time starter for the first time, Hill has two interceptions and eight deflections and has totalled 68 tackles in 2020. Given his age and only having started 36 of 70 career games will make Hill a cheaper option.
Another former Eagles-Douglas connection, Sidney Jones was a high-upside draft pick in the second round of the 2017 draft. After battling injuries, Jones was cut, and has been quietly making an impact for the Jacksonville Jaguars. He has played in nine games, making six starts, with two interceptions, one forced fumble, and nine deflections. Jones fits the bill, being the type of young player Douglas would take a chance on.
Last Word on New York Jets Must Add a High-Upside Cornerback in Free Agency
Blessuan Austin is a 2019 sixth-round pick with 14 starts to his name. Bryce Hall is a 2020 fifth-round pick who has only appeared in five games, making four starts. And Corey Ballentine is a former sixth-round pick who the Jets picked up off of waivers just weeks ago. These three are the only cornerbacks currently under contract for the Jets next season. Given the team’s recent track record with ageing cornerbacks, the team cannot hand out a big contract to a cornerback. That being said, the Jets must add a high-upside and established young cornerback to lead their inexperienced unit. The likes of Shaquill Griffin or Sidney Jones would be a major asset to an otherwise depleted defense.