With the NFL Draft less than a month away is time to start identifying players that could be a good fit for the New York Jets. Recently draft analyst Ron Pickett took the time to answer some questions about this year's cornerback class. For those of you that are not familiar with Ron, Mr. Pickett is a high school football coach and speed/agility trainer than has been doing extensive work in scouting and game film analysis.
Tyson Rauch: Before we go into this year's rookie class what was your evaluation of Dee Milliner's performance in 2013? Do you think he will take his game to the next level in 2014?
Ron Pickett: Milliner certainly had an inconsistent rookie season, but that's expected. The hardest thing for a rookie corner to learn is the difference in speed and physicality of wide receivers in college and the NFL. It took him some time to learn the cushion (separation between him and the receiver), but it all seemed to click in the final three or four games. No question the addition of Ed Reed as a mentor helped Milliner get better and understand NFL coverage. Milliner will be fine in 2014. Dee will have some ups and downs, but ultimately, with a full healthy offseason, Milliner will be improved in his second year.
TR: In terms of depth how would you rank this year's cornerback class?
RP: After the top 5 cornerbacks in this draft, I think there is a big dropoff in terms of readiness to play right away and development. Darqueze Dennard, Kyle Fuller, Justin Gilbert, Jason Verrett, and Bradley Roby are the top five, but after that there are a lot of guys who need significant development before starting in the NFL.
TR: Many of the experts have Justin Gilbert as the best corner in this year's draft. What is your evaluation on Gilbert?
RP: Gilbert, physically looks the part. He is big strong and explosive. Justin is fluid and has very quick hip turns. Gilbert has great ball skills and really likes being in press coverage and using his size to be physical. The concerns I have with Justin Gilbert is that he is very grabby in man coverage which will lead to flags in the NFL. He tends to be too aggressive on wide receivers, leaving him susceptible to double moves. There's no doubt he has the body and frame to be a cornerback in the NFL, but I feel his skill set would make him a dynamic safety in this league. Gilbert has similar traits to Kansas City Chiefs' safety Eric Berry. Justin won't play safety, at first, in the NFL, but a team with a smart defensive coordinator may end up moving him to that position a few years into his career.
TR: Darqueze Dennard has become a player that has been linked to the Jets in the first round. Your thoughts on Dennard?
RP: Dennard is the most sound corner in the draft. He is not afraid to tackle, he shows a great ability to press and run with a receiver, and also makes plays on the ball. His coverage skills are textbook, and his long arms no doubt help in coverage. Dennard is incredibly good at the "click-and-close", meaning he stays calm in his backpedal, plant his foot, maintain balance and explode in front of a wide receiver to make a play. Similar to Gilbert, Dennard is a bit grabby, but that could be improved. Antonio Cromartie has had a successful career being "grabby." Some scouts are concerned about his durability after a double hernia surgery, but it shouldn't be a major issue. Dennard will draw some flags as a rookie and he may struggle, but he is the most polished corner at this point and there's no doubt he'll be a solid corner in this league once he adjusts his game to fit the NFL style.
TR: Bradley Roby and Jason Verrett have been mentioned as cornerbacks that could make an impact. Do you see either of these guys being a fit in Rex Ryan's system?
RP: Roby is a man corner who struggled this year against elite wide receivers such as Allen Robinson, Jared Abbrederis and Cody Latimer. The thing that enamors scouts about Roby is his ability to click-and-close.Often Roby backed off in coverage, though, because he was worried about getting beat and gave up a lot of underneath routes. He's also relatively small and could be overmatched by bigger, more physical wide receivers. Roby could be a fit with the Jets, only if they have time to develop him, add some size, and teach him proper technique.
Verrett is my favorite cornerback to scout. He is even smaller than Roby, but you would never know by the way he plays the game. Scouts are always looking for guys who compete and Verrett plays with a chip on his shoulder. Jason is such a fluid moving athlete who has incredible timing and break on the ball. He's such a smart corner and very sound in coverage. Oftentimes, he baited QBs into throwing a ball into a window that wasn't really there and he made plays on the ball. Jason is not the best at being able to shed blocks and takes blocks on with a high pad level, which is easily corrected, but may take time. The team who drafts Verrett will have a big decision to make: Is he a #2 compliment cornerback or is he better off as a slot defender because of his size. Verrett also had a shoulder injury recently that concerns some teams because of the history of small injuries in his career. I'm not so concerned by it after seeing Dee Milliner make it through an entire season without missing extensive time. I have Verrett as my fourth best cornerback behind Dennard, Fuller, and Gilbert.
TR: Are there are sleeper candidates in this class?
RP: There are a couple of guys who, with some development, could become solid corners in the NFL. A couple of guys that come to mind are Florida's Louchiez Purifoy, Rice's Philip Gaines(who has impressed all offseason), Florida's Marcus Roberson and the guy I really like who's climbing the boards is Pierre Desir from Lindenwood. Desor is a small school kid who opened eyes at the Senior Bowl. He's underrated as an athlete and with some work could be a consistent cornerback at the next level. Another name you'll hear a lot of is Antone Exum from Virginia Tech. He'll be a late round pick and most likely move to safety. Exum has been open about moving to safety and he could be a very good ball hawk free safety.
TR: Do you think that the New York Jets would get good value by selecting a cornerback in the first round?
RP: I think there are a few positions in this year's draft where the talent level falls off after the first few players. Cornerback is certainly one of them. I think the Jets would definitely get good value selecting a corner in the first round. Dennard would be my first choice, but he could very well go to Detroit at 10 or Pittsburgh at 15. The next best fit for the Jets is Kyle Fuller from Virginia Tech in my opinion over Gilbert. Fuller is more sound in coverage, he's an experienced player, and has tremendous balance, explosion, and ball skills. Bottom line is if the Jets decide to go corner in the first round, fans shouldn't be upset. It is a need for the team and it's not a deep draft in terms of ready-to-play corners. If they want to rely on Dmitri Patterson to hold the position for the year, or at least hold the position until he gets injured, then the Jets may explore developmental cornerbacks in the mid-rounds.
TR: Ron, thank you for sharing your tremendous insight on the cornerback class.
If you would like to talk about the draft or anything Jets you can contact Ron Pickett on Twitter: Pickett_Ron