To start off, arguably the biggest hole on the roster for the 2021 New York Jets is defensive back. In 2020, the Jets had a lot of injuries and young guys had to step up. Players like Bless Austin and Bryce Hall saw a lot of playing time, and understandably, there were some struggles.
Going into the 2021 NFL Draft, the Jets made it clear that they want to fill that hole as quickly as they can. They invested five late round picks in defensive backs, including Jason Pinnock from Pittsburgh, Michael Carter II from Duke and Brandin Echols from Kentucky. They also drafted Hamsah Nasirildeen from Florida State and Jamien Sherwood from Auburn, but they will both likely play linebacker for the Jets. That being said, here is the New York Jets Position Preview Series #8: Defensive Backs.
As mentioned before, this group has very, very, very little experience, especially amongst the cornerbacks. The oldest player in that group is Justin Hardee at 27 years old, but he was brought in as a Special Teams ace. Behind him, Corey Ballentine is 25 years old, but he has never played up to the standard of a starting caliber NFL defensive back.
Bless Austin is 24 years old, and every other defensive back on the roster who hasn’t been mentioned is younger than him. Hall played a lot towards the end of the season, but he struggled with consistency. Austin’s case is essentially the same, but he has shown a little bit more for Jets fans to be excited about.
Many fans thought they would see the team go after some of the available veterans, such as Steven Nelson or Richard Sherman, but it seems as though the front office is content with riding with the group they have. Whether or not this is the right decision remains to be seen, but fans might have felt better with a veteran presence in the defensive back room. Former Jets corner Brian Poole was another option for the Jets, but he recently signed with the New Orleans Saints.
An Underrated Offseason Addition
Despite not doing much in terms of bringing in veteran defensive backs, the Jets did make one of the more sneaky good signings of free agency. This move was bringing in Safety/Nickel corner LaMarcus Joyner from the Raiders on a one-year, $3 million deal. Not only does Joyner bring in a nasty attitude, matched by his play on the field, but it brings a veteran presence. Joyner was one of the better safeties in the NFL during his time with the Los Angeles Rams, but his career somewhat derailed with the Las Vegas Raiders.
With this deal the Jets found good value, with no downside and unlimited upside, something fans should be excited about. They didn’t overpay Joyner, who goes into this season at age 30. The contract only lasts one year so they won’t have to be locked into paying him should he play poorly. He can also be used in multiple spots, such as Free Safety opposite Marcus Maye or in the slot or nickel. In sum, Joyner brings exceptional value in terms of financials, versatility and upside.
What to Expect
Jets fans should expect a young group to be exactly that: a young group. There will be plenty of mistakes, plenty of blown coverages, but they won’t break the game open. In fact, Robert Saleh’s defense limits the pressure on the defensive backs, so most of that will be on the defensive line to create pressure up front. Essentially, all these guys have to do is play good enough coverage for 3-4 seconds.
Marcus Maye is also in a contract year, but his play will likely stay consistent. The 2020 New York Jets Team MVP is currently in a contract dispute, but both sides have good reasoning for not budging. The Jets don’t want to pay an aging player at a non-premium position. Maye feels that he should get paid like one of the better players in the league at his position. It is a similar situation to that of Jamal Adams, but this time it doesn’t feel as bad-blooded. Whether the two sides can come to an agreement is yet to be seen and unpredictable, but expect Joe Douglas to focus heavily on improving the defensive back unit for the next couple of years regardless.