Here is what each key member of the New York Jets cornerback group needs to accomplish once they hit the practice field.
After fostering some of the best cornerback play in football over the second half of 2019, Gregg Williams now has a multitude of toys to play with thanks to the injection of depth added by Joe Douglas. The position is poised to see perhaps the most intense level of competition among any on the Jets roster.
Here is what each cornerback must aim to accomplish before the Jets take the field in Buffalo on September 13.
Pierre Desir – Top the depth chart
As the most experienced outside cornerback on the roster (61 games over six seasons) and possessing starter-quality traits that fit the Jets’ zone-centric defense, Desir has an inside track to the top spot on the depth chart.
Desir had a fantastic 2018 season with the Colts in which he was an elite run defender (second-most run tackles without a miss, 20) and solid in coverage (0.98 yards per cover snap allowed, 73rd percentile among CB). He took a step back in 2019 as he battled a hamstring injury, allowing the eighth-most yards per cover snap among cornerbacks (1.59).
Desir must prove that a return to full health can elevate him back up to his 2018 peaks. While that may be tough as he hits the dreaded age-30 mark on September 8, Desir’s game is built around his length (33″, 93rd percentile among CB), fundamentally-sound tackling, and smarts in zone coverage – traits that should age well.
Bless Austin – Reclaim Gregg Williams’ trust
Austin was enjoying a promising start to his career until Week 16 rolled around. In the first half of the Steelers’ visit to New York, Austin allowed 5-of-5 passing in his direction for 83 yards. The back-breaker was an inexplicable moment in which Austin opened his hips to the outside and allowed a 29-yard touchdown to Diontae Johnson with under 10 seconds to go in the half, showing a severe lack of awareness.
That play landed Austin on the bench for the remainder of the game and the entirety of the Jets’ season finale in Buffalo. I would argue that Williams pulled the trigger too quickly given how well Austin had been playing up until that game, but Williams earned the benefit of the doubt through his strong body of work in 2019.
It’s now up to Austin to reclaim the trust of his hard-nosed defensive coordinator.
Austin’s path to restoring Williams’ faith in him starts with the mental side of the game. If he is going to be trusted as a Week 1 starter, Austin will need to prove that he has learned from his mistakes and developed his situational awareness to a trustworthy level.
Physically, the tools and talent are all there. Austin laid an incredible foundation in 2019. He recorded a 72.8 Pro Football Focus grade against the run (79th percentile among CB) and allowed just 1.00 yard per cover snap (72nd percentile).
Austin was able to play at that strong of a level straight out of the gate despite:
- Coming off of two ACL injuries in college
- Not practicing with the Jets until October
- Getting thrown into his first game action only a few weeks after his first practice
- Debuting amidst a highly unfavorable situation – messy cornerback situation lacking chemistry and zero edge pressure to make his job easier
All of those obstacles were thrown on top of the simple fact that Austin was, well, a rookie. First-year cornerbacks are generally burnt toast.
That wasn’t the case with Austin. It is flat-out staggering how the sixth-round pick’s numbers compared to his rookie peers in 2019: