fee saAs the New York Jets gear up for free agency 2023 to kick off this week, it is time to preview where each position group stands. Whether there is talent already under contract, or New York acquiring players through free agency or the draft, General Manager Joe Douglas looks to build a legitimate contender. That being said, let’s take a look at the Jets defensive backs preview for the 2023 off-season.
New York Jets 2023 Off-Season Previews: Quarterback, Running Back, Wide Receiver, Tight End, Offensive Tackle, Interior Offensive Lineman, Edge Rusher, Defensive Line, Linebacker
New York Jets 2023 Off-Season Preview: Defensive Backs
Jets Under Contract for 2023
The elite cornerback duo of Sauce Gardner and D.J. Reed enter their second year playing together in 2023. While Gardner swept every award possible as a rookie, the fact Reed did not make the Pro Bowl in 2022 is still surprising. Consider Michael Carter II in the slot too, and there may not be a better-starting cornerbacks group in the league.
Depth is where the Jets could see some movement. Pro Bowl specialist Justin Hardee is back, as well as former 2021 sixth-round pick Brandin Echols. Craig James and Jimmy Moreland are likely to compete for a roster spot, with the lone question being Bryce Hall. Set to make just under $3 million, his release would save the team all but $78 thousand against the cap. In the final year of his rookie contract and only 25 years old, maybe New York can receive a return on the trade market. Then again, Hall started 17 games in 2021, deflecting 16 passes, providing plenty of experience in case of injury.
Safety will see the most changes on the entire Jets defense. Already, the team has acquired Chuck Clark from the Baltimore Ravens, adding a versatile starting option at strong safety. With that in mind, it could signal Jordan Whitehead’s release, which would save the Jets over $7 million in cap space. Also under contract are Ashtyn Davis, Will Parks, and Tony Adams. Davis is in a similar position to Hall, as he has faded in the depth chart and New York could save money with his release. New York already re-signed Will Parks back on January 7th, and Tony Adams began to earn defensive reps late last year after primarily being a special teams player.
2023 NFL Free Agency Defensive Back Options
At cornerback, there are not going to be many, if any additions. With both boundary spots, the nickel back, and special team’s ace spot already taken, there are no pressing needs at cornerback. If anything, Joe Douglas would add depth to the position group.
Free safety is where an upgrade is a must. 2022 starter Lamarcus Joyner is a free agent and was a major liability at the position a year ago. In coverage, he gave up an average of 19.9 yards per completion and a 110.6 passer rating. In other words, it will not take much to get an upgrade.
Jessie Bates III has been amongst the best safeties in the league since 2018, and at 26 years old he can spend his prime in Gotham Green. That is, if Joe Douglas bites on a long-term deal to make Bates of the league’s highest-paid safeties. Similarly, Chauncey Gardner-Johnson is another young, playmaking safety that despite a high price tag, may be a top target for New York.
Jimmie Ward is another player to look out for yet again because of his San Francisco 49ers ties to Jets Head Coach Robert Saleh. Ward, the 30th overall pick in the 2014 NFL Draft, has spent his entire career with the 49ers. As he will be 32 years old in 2023, he is not a long-term answer for the position. Nevertheless, Ward would be a significant upgrade over Joyner.
Other experienced free safeties worth considering are Duron Harmon, Rodney McLeod, and Adrian Amos. On the more expensive side, Jordan Poyer is an option, though based on past track record, it is unlikely Douglas overpays for a free safety over 32 years old. There are also a handful of high-upside young safeties available – Julian Love, Juan Thornhill, Terrell Edmunds, and Nasir Adderley.
2023 NFL Draft Defensive Back Options
As previously mentioned, corner is not a priority for the Jets to address this off-season. If the team does add a rookie, it is more likely to come from a late-round draft pick or an undrafted free agent.
At safety, only Tony Adams is under contract beyond the 2023 season. In the draft, the Jets could walk away with another on a rookie contract.
Early in the draft, Alabama’s Brian Branch and Texas A&M’s Antonio Johnson can be immediate starters, although would cost the Jets their first or second-round pick. At the same time, it is a loaded safety class that New York can afford to wait on. For day two, Christopher Smith (Georgia), Sydney Brown (Illinois), Brandon Joseph (Notre Dame), and Ji’Ayir Brown (Penn State) can be day one role players.
Other prospects to note on day three are Jay Ward from LSU, Jason Taylor II of Oklahoma State, and California’s Daniel Scott. Meanwhile, JL Skinner of Boise State remains a wild card in terms of his draft stock. Skinner underwent surgery for a torn pectoral suffered in the pre-draft process that prevented his participation in combine drills. A 6’4” and 209-pound versatile safety, Skinner can go as high as early round two, and as late as the fourth round.
Jets Defensive Back Construction Prediction
Sauce Gardner, D.J. Reed, and Michael Carter II will all return as starters, with Justin Hardee back as the special team’s ace. Brandin Echols enters his third year as the team’s top backup, while Craig James and Jimmy Moreland will compete to make the team. Bryce Hall is a capable starter, but with no path to get playtime, chances are he will be dealt or cut sooner than later. With that in mind, New York is unlikely to make any major additions at cornerback. If any, it will be players signed to minimum deals or an undrafted free agents.
With Chuck Clark coming to town, Jordan Whitehead will be released barring a significant contract restructure. Clark is joined by Will Parks and Tony Adams as the only locks to make it to training camp, as Ashtyn Davis could also find himself as a cap casualty. Over the course of the off-season, expect the Jets to not only sign a starting safety in free agency but also to select one in the 2023 NFL Draft.
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