The New York Jets depth chart in 2021 features an unknown in the defensive backs, but how does it compare to 2020?
Yesterday, we compared the New York Jets‘ current offensive depth chart to its 2020 counterpart. The Jets look objectively stronger at most positions on that side of the ball, possessing substantially more depth and an improved number of high-upside young pieces.
Now, it’s time to look at the other side of the ball, starting with the backend. Let’s compare the Jets 2021 secondary to what the organization employed heading into training camp 2020.
- June 28, 2021: Bryce Hall, Bless Austin, Jason Pinnock, Brandin Echols, Isaiah Dunn, Lamar Jackson, Corey Ballentine, Justin Hardee, Bennett Jackson, Jordyn Peters, Zane Lewis
- July 1, 2020: Pierre Desir, Bless Austin, Arthur Maulet, Quincy Wilson, Nate Hairston, Bryce Hall, Lamar Jackson, Bennett Jackson, Anthony Cioffi
- Verdict: Even, with slightly lower floor but slightly higher ceiling
The Jets’ outside cornerback group was one of the biggest issues on the roster heading into 2020, and that remains the case today. The Jets did not make any major free-agent additions at the position and did not address the position until the fifth round of the draft.
At the top of the Jets depth chart, it looks like the Jets’ starting duo (if they played a game tomorrow) would be Bryce Hall and Bless Austin, whereas last year it was Austin and Pierre Desir.
I actually think the 2020 duo gets a slight edge over the current one in terms of how it looked entering the season. Obviously, Austin and Desir ended up having atrocious seasons; but going into the year, I think Jets fans and observers were a tad more optimistic about that tandem than they are about this year’s Hall-Austin pairing.
The July 2020 edition of Austin and the present-day version of Hall essentially cancel each other out. Both were late-round rookies who spent most of their rookie season rehabbing a major injury from college and returned late in the year to forge a strong second half that had them entering year No. 2 with supremely intriguing potential. There was a lot of positive hype surrounding Austin last offseason just as there is right now with Hall, so we cannot overlook that.
Austin going into last year and Hall going into this year are about even. That leaves us with 2020 Desir versus 2021 Austin.
Desir has the advantage there. He was coming off of a 2019 season with the Colts in which he was shaky, but not terrible. Back in 2018, he was excellent. All-in-all, he was generally considered a decent starter when he signed with the Jets, as evidenced by the $3.8 million deal price tag he commanded. On the other hand, Austin is entering the 2021 season coming off of a truly bad year (seventh-worst coverage grade at PFF out of the top-80 cornerbacks in snaps played).
The Jets will be hoping that Hall can do what Austin did not and build upon the excellent rookie foundation he set. If he can do that, everything changes for this group. For now, though, Hall still needs to earn his keep, and with a partner in crime who has a very shabby outlook, this starting duo on the outside is a big question mark.
The 2021 group edges 2020 in the upside department.
While the 2020 unit’s depth was led by three fringe-level players who were each in at least their fourth NFL season – Arthur Maulet, Quincy Wilson, and Nate Hairston – the 2021 batch has plenty of moldable pieces of clay. Rookies Jason Pinnock, Brandin Echols, and Isaiah Dunn offer upside that the 2020 unit did not have.
Austin is a worse player right now than Desir was going into last year, but Austin will only be 25 years old this season while Desir was 30 years old in 2020, so there is at least somewhat of a possibility that Austin could improve and recapture some of his rookie-year productivity.
All-in-all, this group’s floor appears a bit lower right now than it did at this point last year, but the ceiling is slightly higher. Regardless, it remains a position of great weakness just as it was 365 days ago.
- June 28, 2021: Javelin Guidry, Michael Carter II, Elijah Campbell
- July 1, 2020: Brian Poole, Shyheim Charter, Javelin Guidry
- Verdict: Downgrade, but the potential is good
I am one of the biggest Brian Poole fans out there. Analytically, he was elite over his two years with the Jets. He allowed 0.75 yards per cover snap out of the slot from 2019-20, the best mark among 36 qualified defensive backs (DBs with 300+ slot snaps) over that span.
Most importantly, I believe Poole’s film mostly backed that up. It’s puzzling to me why the NFL has been so down on him. He earned a measly one-year deal after a great 2019 season, and after a shortened but similarly excellent 2020 season, he remains a free agent as of today.
Competing to replace Poole are a couple of youngsters in Javelin Guidry and Michael Carter II. Guidry will turn 23 in August. Carter II turned 22 in March. Another rookie to keep an eye on is Echols, who can play both inside and out and did exactly that at OTAs and mandatory minicamp.
These two players provide a surprisingly positive outlook for a pair of young guys who were not highly regarded in the draft and have combined for two NFL starts. Guidry played very well in his limited time on the field near the end of his rookie season. Carter II was widely regarded as one of the team’s most impressive defenders in OTAs and minicamp.
It is hard to argue that the Jets did not downgrade at this position, as Poole gave them two years of top-notch production and they will be replacing him with a player who is a complete unknown. With that being said, Guidry and Carter II are promising prospects who have checked every one of the very few boxes they have been asked to check in their short careers, so the Jets might be okay here even if they fail to replicate what Poole accomplished.
- June 28, 2021: Marcus Maye, Lamarcus Joyner, Ashtyn Davis, Sharrod Neasman, J.T. Hassell, Jordyn Peters, Saquan Hampton
- July 1, 2020 (pre-Adams trade): Jamal Adams, Marcus Maye, Ashtyn Davis, Matthias Farley
- July 25, 2020 (post-Adams trade): Marcus Maye, Bradley McDougald, Ashtyn Davis, Matthias Farley
- Verdict: Downgrade vs. July 1, upgrade vs. post-Adams trade
At this time last year, Jamal Adams was still a Jet.
Adams had something special going with Marcus Maye. Through a compilation of various statistics, I ranked Adams and Maye as the NFL’s third-best safety duo in 2019.
There is zero debate that the Jets’ safety unit is not as good today as it was with Adams (the overall health of the franchise with and without Adams is another story). It makes more sense to compare today’s unit to the post-Adams trade group.
Both units feature Marcus Maye as the top dog and Ashtyn Davis as the third safety. The primary difference is the starter alongside Maye. Last year, it was Bradley McDougald, and this year, it’s Lamarcus Joyner.
I would give Joyner the advantage here, but we have to remember that McDougald was a highly-praised addition who most believed would have a good season. He was a solid starter over his six-year career entering the 2020 season and seemed like a solid fit with Maye.
While the energy around McDougald was largely positive going into last year, I think it is fair to say that Joyner’s resume is better. Joyner is coming off of two shaky seasons with the Raiders, but he was playing out of position at slot cornerback. In his only two seasons as a safety – back in 2017-18 with Rams – Joyner performed at an elite level. McDougald was generally a good player at his peak, but he never flirted with elite status.
It is also worth noting that McDougald entered the 2020 season coming off of a 2019 season in which he took a steep decline, posting a career-worst 62.8 overall grade at PFF that represented an 11.9-point drop from the previous season. That dip turned out to be a sign of things to come.
The Jets also have a more positive outlook at the third and fourth spots on their safety depth chart than they did last year.
Going into 2020, Ashtyn Davis was a third-round rookie with raw fundamentals, so nobody knew what to expect from him. Today, Davis can be looked at as a versatile chess piece who can effectively handle a number of roles around the line of scrimmage.
Matthias Farley was the Jets’ fourth safety last season. He entered the year as a career backup who only had one season of starting experience, which was a woeful 2017 campaign with the Colts in which he allowed the seventh-most yards into his coverage (457) and had the fifth-most missed tackles (15) among all safeties.
Sharrod Neasman projects to be the Jets’ No. 4 safety as of right now. Neasman logged extensive experience as a backup safety with the Falcons and generally performed at a league-average level when Atlanta needed him to replace an injured starter.
This unit appeared to be in pretty good shape last year even without Adams, but it does look fairly stronger today.