Where do the New York Jets’ cornerbacks rank in 5 important facets of the position?
The New York Jets came into the 2021 season with plenty of new faces, leading them to second in the NFL in snaps played by rookies. In particular, the cornerback room was a point of emphasis for letting young guys get their shot at starting.
Heading into the season, head coach Robert Saleh and the Jets ignored conventional wisdom and opted to give his rookie cornerbacks every opportunity to prove their worth. The room of Bryce Hall (2nd year) and Brandin Echols (6th-round pick) started on the outside with Michael Carter II (5th-round pick) holding down the slot. The lack of experience was a prime concern for fans.
Now that the 2021 season is finally over, I’m going to dive into the performance of these three starters. What were their strengths? What were their weaknesses? Where does the unit need the most help in 2022?
My analysis aims to provide insight into five key questions:
- Are they breaking up passes?
- How many yards are they giving up?
- How often are they being targeted?
- Are they making tackles?
- Are they creating interceptions when thrown at?
I’ll address how they compare to one another, but also where they rank compared to cornerbacks across the rest of the league. To evaluate these questions, I’ve compiled data from Pro Football Focus and pinpointed these five statistics to help answer the above questions:
- Forced Incompletion Rate
- Yards Allowed per Coverage Snap
- Targets per Coverage Snap
- Missed Tackle Rate in Passing Game
- Interceptions per Target
With that out of the way, let’s dive into the numbers.
Are they breaking up passes?
The league average among qualified cornerbacks for forced incompletion rate was 9.6%. Bryce Hall posted a stellar mark of 18.3% over 17 games, good for fifth-best in the league and 91% above the mean. Brandin Echols, over 14 games, posted a decent mark of 8.2%, falling 14.5% below the mean. Lastly, Michael Carter II put up the lowest number of the three with a rate of just 5.1% over 15 games, sitting at 46.8% below the mean.
— PFF (@PFF) January 6, 2022
Bryce Hall takes the cake with ease after forcing the second-most incompletions among cornerbacks this season with 17. The next step for him, as you will see later on, is turning PBUs into INTs.
Overall, the Jets’ starters landed at every end of the spectrum. From the fantastic numbers by Hall to the opposite in Carter, and Echols falling in about the middle, consistency is left to be desired for now.
How many yards are they giving up?
The next piece is yards allowed per coverage snap. The league average among qualifiers was 1.13.
Hall posted a solid effort of 1.0 yard allowed per cover snap. Carter came in second out of the three at 1.3 yards, then Echols followed with 1.4 yards. Those marks ranked 11.2% below, 15.4% above, and 24.3% above the mean respectively.
Bryce Hall continues his better-than-average play through the first two metrics; however, Carter and Echols deserve their due respect. For rookies drafted on the third day of the NFL draft, they held their own despite being a part of a league-worst overall defense.
How often are they being targeted?
Targets are a very important factor to consider when evaluating a corner. The sample size of targets that a cornerback faces is a crucial piece of context that tells us how much we can trust the other numbers we see. The league average for targets per cover snap was 0.142 targets.
Both Carter and Echols were targeted at rates of 0.17 and 0.16 targets per cover snap respectively. Hall was targeted at a rate of 0.14 targets per cover snap. These were 19.5% above, 12.5% above, and 1.6% below the mean respectively.
Given that the Jets walked out on Sundays with this young cornerback group, it makes sense the rookies are getting targeted more. On paper, this was the biggest weakness on the defense, and teams clearly worked to exploit it as best they could.
Are they making tackles?
This one might seem a bit… obvious, but the Jets have struggled with making tackles.
The cornerbacks were not a part of those woes in 2021, though – at least when it came to wrapping up in the passing game.
Hall continues to be a strong tackler. He had zero missed tackles in the passing game in 2021.
Compared to a league average of 10.6%, Echols thrived as he posted a missed tackle rate of just 5.4% in the passing game; that’s 49.1% below the mean. Carter also came in below the mean, under by 12.3%, with a missed tackle rate of 9.3% in the passing game.
Echols and Carter proved to be solid tacklers, helping negate some of the issues they may present in coverage. It’s an important part of the position; even if you can’t win the 50/50 plays in the air, you can still limit damage after the catch with good tackling. That was a much-needed skill for New York this past season given how poor the tackling was overall for the defensive unit.
Are they creating interceptions when thrown at?
Lastly, the flashiest part of a cornerback’s job: interceptions.
The 2021 Jets struggled heavily at intercepting passes. It took until Week 8 against the Bengals for the Jets to get their first, coming off a great tip and catch from defensive lineman Shaq Lawson. It wasn’t until Week 15 at the Miami Dolphins that the first pick of the season by a Jets’ corner came on a pick-six from Brandin Echols.
— NFL (@NFL) December 19, 2021
Both Bryce Hall and Michael Carter II finished with zero interceptions. Hall has been excellent at deflecting passes as we talked about, but learning to take the ball away can elevate his game and status tremendously.
As a rookie, Echols finished with a mark of 0.027 interceptions per target. This ranks 33.8% above the league average of 0.02. Echols showed that his athleticism allows him to make plays and create turnovers, just like the break he made to take one to the house against the Dolphins. The Jets will need more of that to help get the defense off the field and give the young offense a chance to prosper in 2022.
How do the Jets’ starters stack up against the rest of the NFL?
To help avoid too much analysis paralysis, below are some scatterplots ranking qualifying cornerbacks from around the league. With this, you’ll be able to see where the Jets’ starters fall when stacked up against the best of the league.
I only considered data from cornerbacks who played in 10+ games in the 2021 season, with an additional minimum of 433 coverage snaps played. That leaves us with 64 qualifiers.
To start, let’s examine a plot of targets per cover snap versus yards per cover snap, but just the Jets’ starters.
The blue dashed line represents the league average for targets per cover snap, and the green dashed line represents the league average for yards per cover snap.
Echols and Carter fall above league average for both. Hall is about average in terms of targets, but slightly below average in terms of yards per cover snap.
Now here’s the same plot with the rest of the NFL’s qualifiers plotted.
To point out some notable comparisons, Bryce Hall posted about the same yards per cover snap in 2021 as the Rams’ Jalen Ramsey, while Echols and Carter both came in with lower yards per cover snap than the Saints’ Marshon Lattimore.
This is not to say one is better than the other, but the young guys are in some good company to begin their careers.
Forced Interception Rate vs. Interceptions per Target
Now let’s look at the Jets’ starters in terms of forced incompletion rate vs interceptions per target.
In the end, Brandin Echols took care of the turnovers for the corners. Michael Carter and Bryce Hall both ended 2021 without an interception. Echols even ranked above the league average in interceptions per target, a very promising start for the rookie.
What’s is most evident is the lack of ability to create interceptions in the current cornerback room. There is room for improvement across the board here, but to bet on the current guys to make that leap is risky. Echols flashed, but two interceptions is certainly less than ideal.
Where can the Jets’ cornerback room improve the most for 2022?
At the end of the day, it all comes back to creating turnovers and getting off of the field. Bryce Hall looks to have blossomed into a true NFL starter on the outside, but his ceiling is only so high until he learns to create takeaways.
Brandin Echols flashed plenty and fizzled plenty in his rookie season. His athletic gifts are apparent, and he has shown strong instincts as a playmaker for this secondary. Look for Echols to compete in camp for a starting job on the outside.
Michael Carter II showed promise early on, but still left plenty of room for improvement. The Jets’ staff has seemed to love Carter II ever since draft day, and it looks like he will continue to be developed as the starting slot corner for the foreseeable future.
With the assets that general manager Joe Douglas and company have heading into 2022, the room could use both a veteran presence and a good ball-hawking corner. The current players have shown enough that a ball-hawking addition could make the group a difficult one to throw at.
J.C. Jackson of the New England Patriots will be a hot name on the free-agent market. Jackson has had 22 interceptions and 22 pass break-ups over the past three seasons. He would come in and immediately be the No. 1 cornerback for the Jets, taking some load off of the young guys’ shoulders as a proven vet.
Whether Douglas finds someone in the draft he likes, or whether he backs up the Brinks truck in free agency for a proven veteran like Jackson, the cornerback room feels like it’s one piece away from being something fans can no longer stress over. The young potential is there, and only time will tell how these players grow into their NFL careers.