The New York Jets' cornerback saga reigns prominent, as general manager John Idzik looks to ideally build a 53-man roster capable of earning an elusive playoff berth in 2014.
The Jets' secondary was noticeably vulnerable without shutdown cornerback Darrelle Revis last season. While New York had a chance to bring back their former stud defensive player earlier this offseason, Idzik digressed, ultimately forcing the team into a difficult predicament leading up to the draft.
The Jets will be all-in on draft day. They own 12 picks in the 2014 NFL draft, granting hope to Gang Green Nation but must address several crucial areas of need in order to enter minicamp with a team talented enough to win at least nine to 10 games in 2014.
Addressing the void at cornerback should arguably be the Jets' top priority in the first round, although the team remains in dire need of a starting-caliber tight end and additional playmaking receiver.
At No. 18 overall, the Jets are assured of missing out on several highly coveted playmaking talents on offense. At this point of the offseason, it's a moot point to simply state the Jets are going to have a difficult decision in the first round.
Defense has been the root of the Jets' success during the Rex Ryan era, though. They must shore up their secondary, specifically at cornerback, in order to enhance their chances of at least earning a wild-card berth in 2014.
The Jets' ranked 22nd against the pass in terms of yards allowed in 2013. They allowed opposing quarterbacks to complete 58.9 percent of their pass attempts, averaging 247 yards per game, while also tossing 26 touchdown passes. While those numbers aren't entirely dysfunctional, they're not representative of what Ryan wants to accomplish on defense.
To compare, the Jets ranked second against the pass in yards allowed in the previous season, when Revis was still in uniform. They allowed quarterbacks to complete just 53.8 percent of their pass attempts, averaging 190 yards per game, while throwing just 20 touchdowns. Two influencing factors played a big part in determining those numbers: Revis and the fact that New York ranked 26th against the run.
The Jets were extremely more competitive in 2013, despite struggling to some degree against the pass. But they're not going to earn a playoff spot in the upcoming season if they continue to struggle in crucial third-down situations, where they often failed to get off the field in 2013.
While the Jets won't be able to add a Revis-caliber cornerback in the draft, they can certainly greatly improve their secondary. Revis is a rare breed, an irreplaceable brand of player that cannot be duplicated.
Former Michigan State cornerback Darqueze Dennard is arguably the most talented defensive back available in this year's draft. According to Dane Brugler (NFLDraftScout.com via CBSSports.com) and Pete Prisco of CBSSports.com, the Jets will select Dennard with the 18th overall pick.
It would be a logical decision, considering the Jets' blatant need for a starting cornerback opposite Dee Milliner, who took strides toward developing into a reliable player toward the end of last season.
Dennard was perhaps the best shutdown corner at the collegiate level in 2013, totaling 10 passes defended, four interceptions and two forced fumbles for a Spartans defense that ranked as a top defensive team.
Dennard also racked up 62 total tackles, 3.5 of which were for loss. At 5'11'' and 199 pounds, Dennard features an appropriate balance of size and speed. He's not an overwhelmingly physical style of corner, like Ryan likes, but he is instinctive and athletic, according to Nolan Nawrocki of NFL.com.
Which player should the Jets draft in the first round?
Dennard flaunts respectable speed at his position, clocking a 4.51-second 40-yard dash time at the annual scouting combine, according to NFL.com. He was a unanimous first-team All-American selection in 2013, earning the Jim Thorpe Award in the process. While some draft pundits question his durability, Dennard started all 14 games for the Spartans in his final collegiate season.
Dennard fits the Jets' scheme on defense because of his ability to excel in press-man coverage. Opting to draft Dennard over a wide receiver, such as Brandin Cooks or Odell Beckham Jr., could prompt a shower of "Boos" at Radio City Music Hall on May 8, but the Jets desperately need a frontline cornerback.
Dennard is a talented player who could immediately start on the Jets defense. Although upgrading the offense remains an undeniable priority, the Jets win on defense.