After selecting former Louisville defensive back Calvin Pryor in the first round of the 2014 NFL draft, the New York Jets' secondary instantly became more formidable. Pryor, a hard-hitting safety, who leverages his physicality against receivers in open space, perfectly fits head coach Rex Ryan's scheme on defense.
Pryor will provide the Jets with a stopgap in the secondary. He's going to be a difference-maker by preventing big plays downfield. Although Pryor won't make the Jets' secondary a top-tier unit in the NFL on his own, he will greatly improve their collective ability to defend the pass.
The second layer of the Jets defense was noticeably flawed in the wake of trading Pro Bowl cornerback Darrelle Revis in 2013. New York ranked 22nd in passing yards allowed last season, enabling opposing quarterbacks to average 247.0 yards per game. In the season prior, the Jets ranked second against the pass, allowing just 190 passing yards per contest.
For the Jets to reassert themselves as an all-around dominant defensive team in 2014, they must improve against the pass. General manager John Idzik took a big step toward accomplishing that in the draft, but there is work yet to be done.
The Jets do not possess a true starting-caliber free safety on their roster. Antonio Allen, Dawan Landry and Pryor are all touted as strong safeties, which is going force Ryan to mix and match, according to Rich Cimini of ESPNNewYork.com. At the moment, Pryor is charted as the Jets' starting strong safety, per Ourlads.com, while Allen is slotted as the team's starting free safety.
Adding Pryor to the mix immediately increases the Jets' viability on defense. Whether or not the coaching staff is able to effectively employ three strong safeties remains to be seen. The team's precamp depth chart also features four additional safeties who will presumably have a chance to make the team: Jaiquawn Jarrett, Josh Bush, Rontez Miles and Brandon Hardin.
Several mock drafts predicted the Jets would select former Darqueze Dennard in the first round. Even though the team had an opportunity to take Michigan State CB at No. 18 overall, the team's brain trust determined safety to be a more predominant need. CBSSports ranked Pryor as the second-best player at his position, behind Green Bay Packers draft pick Ha Ha Clinton-Dix.
The Jets whiffed at acquiring a top-tier cornerback during the draft and free agency, a decision that will likely hamper the secondary's ability to shutdown No. 1 receivers in 2014. Second-year player Dee Milliner will presumably enter camp as New York's facsimile of a "shutdown" corner. Although Milliner took strides toward becoming the type of player the Jets thought he would be after drafting him with the No. 9 pick in the 2013 draft, Milliner is nowhere near being a finished product.
The former Alabama standout recorded 45 tackles, 15 passes defensed and three interceptions in 12 starts during his rookie season. All three of Milliner's interceptions came in the final two games of the regular season, signifying vast improvement over the first 15 weeks of the 2013 season.
Seven-year veteran CB Dimitri Patterson is the most logical option to start opposite Milliner, but the 30-year-old journeyman has had difficulty remaining healthy over the duration of his career. Patterson was solid for the Miami Dolphins in six games last season, registering six passes defensed, four interceptions and one sack. He's a stereotypical Idzik signing; if he's able to sustain the type of success he enjoyed in a segment of the 2013 season, he'll prove to be one of the biggest steals of the offseason.
But durability is a concern for Patterson, who has played in all 16 games just once during his seven-year career (2010). He started nine games that season, the most he's ever started in one year. The Jets are banking on Patterson to be a difference-maker on defense, but his injury-prone history makes him a big-time question mark.
If Patterson is unable to solidify himself as a starting cornerback, the flood gates open for several players to emerge as potential options. The most intriguing name on the team's short list of possible starting cornerbacks is Darrin Walls, who played well at times for the Jets in 2013. The 25-year-old defensive back recorded 20 tackles and four passes defensed last season.
Which cornerback will start opposite Dee Milliner for the Jets in 2014?
Other potential options at cornerback include Kyle Wilson, the New York's primary nickelback, Ellis Lankster and third-round pick Dex McDougle, who will have a chance to prove worthy of playing time during training camp. CBSSportsraded the Maryland product as a sixth-round pick based in part on a season-ending shoulder injury suffered early in last year. But in 2012 McDougle was one of the most efficient tacklers among defensive backs in the ACC, racking up 71 stops, including three for loss. He also totaled three interceptions and two passes defensed in his junior season.
The Jets face several difficult decisions in regards to establishing roles for each respective defensive back charted on their probable 53-man roster. As OTAs and minicamp approach, the team's brain trust will get their first glimpse at which players standout as capable of manning significant roles on a defense that ranked 11th overall last season.