The New York Jets’ weakest group might be cornerback, which makes that position interesting as it relates to the 2022 NFL draft.
Featuring names like Tre’Davious White, Stephon Gilmore, J.C. Jackson, Xavien Howard and Byron Jones, the AFC East boasts arguably the best cornerbacks of any division in football.
What’s unfortunate, though, is that none of those top CBs are on the New York Jets. In fact, as it stands right now, Gang Green’s top corner on their roster looks to be second-year player Bryce Hall. The Virginia product has shown flashes of potential, but he can’t be expected to match up well with guys like Stefon Diggs quite yet.
Most people expect Joe Douglas to sign a veteran corner sometime in the coming weeks to fill that role in the short term, but it isn’t hard to see that the roster needs more young studs for fans to get excited about. After all, corner hasn’t been a team strength since the days of Darrelle Revis.
Luckily, the Jets have four picks in the first two rounds of the 2022 NFL draft to rectify their cornerback woes. While this obviously is still very far away—after all, this year’s rookies haven’t even finished up OTAs yet—it’s never too early to start learning some prominent college football names to keep an eye on.
Derek Stingley Jr., LSU
LSU’s Derek Stingley Jr. is the early favorite to be the first corner taken in the 2022 draft. In reality, he’s been the odds-on favorite since his National Championship-winning freshman year. During that magical season, Stingley snagged six interceptions to go with 15 pass deflections.
He was easily the best corner on his team, and probably even in the entire country — as a true freshman. While he took a slight step back as a sophomore, he’s still projected to be a true shutdown defender early on in his NFL career.
Stingley’s ball skills are some of the best you’ll see from a cornerback prospect — he always seems to know exactly where the ball is, and he’s proactive in positioning himself to get a hand on it. Pair that with his ideal size (6-foot-1, 194 pounds) and explosive athleticism, and you’ve got a recipe for NFL success.
CBS Sports analyst Gary Danielson put it best when, following Stingley’s second interception of the day against Georgia, he said, “He’s not a future superstar; he’s a superstar.”
Needless to say, Stingley is an outstanding prospect. But at least right now, the kind of season the Jets would need to have to land a pick high enough to get him just isn’t worth it.
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Kaiir Elam, Florida
It’s hard to imagine anybody but Stingley being the 2022 draft class’s CB1, but expect Florida’s Kaiir Elam to at least be in the conversation.
Elam is a fantastic athlete with great size for the cornerback position at 6-foot-2 and 194 pounds. He has fluid hips and smooth man coverage ability, but possibly his most impressive trait is his short-area burst, which allows for him to make quick recoveries.
Though not quite on Stingley’s level, Elam’s ball skills are a strength, and he has proven himself capable of playing physically and converting at the catch point. He is also more than willing to get physical in the run game which is a quality that NFL teams value greatly in cornerbacks.
Keep a close eye on Elam this college football season as he looks to build on the impressive sophomore campaign that saw him reel in two interceptions and 11 pass deflections. As of now, his draft stock looks to be a little high for where the Jets hope to be picking, but it’s still early.
Ahmad Gardner, Cincinnati
Standing at 6-foot-2 with an even longer wingspan, Cincinnati’s Ahmad Gardner has length similar to that of Rams superstar Jalen Ramsey. A cornerback’s length can provide a huge advantage at the catch point — an advantage that NFL teams covet.
Besides his physical measurements, Gardner is also just straight-up talented, with fluid coverage and quick reaction time. Gardner made first-team all-ACC in each of the past two seasons. In that time, he recorded six interceptions and 12 pass deflections.
Cincinnati’s success in recent years has surprised many, and Gardner is one of the reasons why the school has been overachieving. He’s certainly worth keeping an eye on this season as the draft class’s CB3 race looks wide open behind Stingley and Elam.
As of now, Gardner’s draft stock looks like he could be a good target for the Jets in the first round, assuming they’re picking somewhere in the middle.
Andrew Booth Jr., Clemson
Clemson cornerback Andrew Booth Jr.’s upside is mouthwatering. As of now, he is not one of the more well-known CB names out there, but with Derion Kendrick now out of Death Valley and headed to Georgia, Booth has a tremendous opportunity to seize the role as Clemson’s top cornerback.
While no one can quite touch Stingley when it comes to ball skills, Booth is no slouch in that area. He’s an extremely explosive athlete with the ability to change directions on a dime and his instincts in coverage are phenomenal. Similar to Elam, Booth is also a reliable tackler.
Booth’s frame is compact and he stands at 5-foot-11, which is slightly smaller than ideal, but far from a dealbreaker. He is, however, inexperienced and prone to mistakes. He will often bite on double moves and frequently gives receivers too much space off the line of scrimmage.
Booth is definitely worth watching for Jets fans this season because he truly has a great opportunity to capitalize on the exit of Kendrick. We will just have to see if he’s able to.
Sevyn Banks, Ohio State
It’s no secret that Ohio State has an established pipeline of NFL cornerback talent. Following that trend, Sevyn Banks has a chance to be their next first-round corner.
Banks has a certain swagger and confidence to his game, often seen grinning wide and celebrating big with teammates after making a play. With the culture that the Jets are trying to build under Robert Saleh, a player like this can hold great value in a locker room.
His quick-twitch athleticism should translate well at the next level. The 6-foot-1 corner’s quick on-field movement gives off the illusion that he’s much smaller than he is. On top of that, his coaches dating back to high school rave about his coachability and hunger for knowledge.
Banks did give up a few plays to DeVonta Smith in the National Championship game, but literally, any corner who matched up against Smith did the same, so it’s hard to count that against him. And he did at least look better than now-Ravens corner Shaun Wade did in that game.
Having Robert Saleh as the Jets head coach provides extra reason to be excited about any one of these players, as his ability to develop and maximize the talents of his defensive players is well known. The Jets have one of the least promising cornerback rooms in the NFL right now, so it’s a safe bet that Joe Douglas will be doing his due diligence on all of these guys.