For what seems like years, draft analysts have agreed that wide receiver was the New York Jets' biggest need in the 2014 draft. Team officials' attendance at various pro days and workouts supports that view.
Free agency has changed that. The Jets' primary draft need has shifted from wide receiver to starting cornerback. It's a consequence of what they did and did not do during the league year's first couple of weeks.
- The Jets did begin to upgrade the receiving corps by signing Eric Decker.
- They did solidify the quarterback position by signing Michael Vick, a legitimate competitor and mentor for Geno Smith.
- They did not re-sign Antonio Cromartie after releasing him on salary-cap grounds. Cromartie signed with the Arizona Cardinals.
- They did not sign a prominent free-agent cornerback such as Vontae Davis, Darrelle Revis or Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie.
If the Jets began the season today, their starting cornerbacks would be second-year player Dee Milliner and either Kyle Wilson or Darrin Walls. Wilson and Walls should both have roles in 2014 but would have to upgrade their play to be starters on a Rex Ryan defense where a cornerback's role is to provide man-to-man coverage.
So don't be surprised if the Jets' first-round pick is a defensive player for the seventh time in eight years. That's because of the good and bad news about the 2014 draft.
The good news is that the draft is rich in cornerbacks. Six of NFL.com's top 73 prospects are cornerbacks. Drafttek.com includes seven cornerbacks in its top 59 prospects and 10 cornerbacks in its top 99.
Here's the bad news: The Jets are one of 11 teams who number cornerback as one of their top three needs. If they want an elite prospect, they need to strike quickly. They have a better chance of getting a top receiver in the second round than they have of getting a cornerback.
These rankings consider the following factors:
- Ability to play man-to-man: Rex Ryan's defensive schemes assume that cornerbacks can shut down receivers on their own. That frees safeties to either pressure the quarterback or engage in other coverage responsibilities such as tight ends or pattern-running backs.
- Size: Wide receivers are getting bigger. Cornerbacks such as 6'3", 195-pound Richard Sherman are becoming trendy. The biggest shortcoming among the leading prospects may be their relative lack of height.
- Turnovers: The Jets' minus-14 turnover ratio placed 30th in the NFL. While Geno Smith's 25 turnovers were the major factor, the defense could do better than 2013's 13 interceptions and two recovered fumbles.
- Health: While injuries are part of football, loss of a half-season or more because of injury won't help a player's cause.
- Attitude: Players' contributions to team morale and locker-room harmony play a role in their selection. Otherwise, DeSean Jackson's potential acquisition wouldn't cause such controversy. He might not even be available.
There's a good chance that the No. 1 player on this list will be gone by the time the Jets select. But at least four players in this top-10 list have a good shot at earning an NFL starting job. Let's meet them.