DBs: Jenkins, Davis Corner the Market

This is the second in a series of position-by-position stories on the NFL Draft by newyorkjets.com.  

Entering the 2009 off-season, the Jets were set at two positions in their secondary.

"We've got a free safety — Kerry Rhodes — who's a ballhawk and to me the best corner — Darrelle Revis — in football," head coach Rex Ryan told reporters at his introductory news conference.

With the foundation in place, Ryan and general manager Mike Tannenbaum used the NFL's trading/free agency period to add to the defensive backfield. On the last day of February, the Green & White acquired a partner for Revis in Lito Sheppard. For a pair of undisclosed draft picks, the Jets got a 27-year-old who's already appeared in two Pro Bowls.

"Most superheroes need wing men, but I think we're two superheroes who can work together and make that secondary one of the best," Sheppard said, "not to mention Kerry Rhodes and those other guys on the back end. It's going to be great."

Then hours later, the Jets inked Ravens S Jim Leonhard up to a deal. The 5'8", 186-pound Leonhard, who started 13 times for Ryan last season in Baltimore, has great knowledge of this new defensive system and figures to be the DB commander. Former Jets head coach Eric Mangini inked "Big Play Abe" Elam to an offer sheet in Cleveland and the Jets decided to match, keeping Elam in New York. And Eric Smith is also set for a fourth NFL season.

It will be interesting to see how the Jets approach nickel and dime situations with Dwight Lowery, who started 10 games as a rookie, and Drew Coleman, a quick corner entering his fourth pro season. When opponents go to a three-wide set, the Jets might opt to move Revis inside and insert Lowery outside. Perhaps Ryan might want to get Revis outside against four-wide attacks and get Coleman inside?

But you can never have enough quality defensive backs in today's pass-happy NFL. The Steelers and Cardinals combined for 73 pass attempts and just 27 runs in Super Bowl XLIII. And the Jets play in an AFC Eastern Division that features a number of tremendous receivers, including Randy Moss, Terrell Owens, Wes Welker and Lee Evans.

The Jets, who own six selections overall and three picks in the first 76 in the draft, figure to add at least one to their current group.

Big Two in the Big Ten

We can almost assure you that a Big Ten cornerback will be the first DB selected in the 2009 draft. Malcolm Jenkins and Vontae Davisare running neck-and-neck for the top slot.

The 6'1", 208-pound Jenkins, a Piscataway HS product from here in New Jersey, was a two-time All-American and three-time All-Big Ten first-team pick for the Buckeyes. After posting unofficial times of 4.55 and 4.53 in the 40 at the Indianapolis combine, Jenkins was clocked from 4.47 to 4.52 at Ohio State's pro day. He views himself as an elite corner and doesn't want to teams to think of him as a free safety.

"I've been more comfortable at corner," said Jenkins before the combine. "That's where I've been playing my last four years. I'm confident I can make some plays there."

Jenkins totaled 11 interceptions over the past three seasons. Most pundits think he'll excel in a system that favors Cover-2 over man.

In terms of true athleticism, not many players in the entire class can match Illinois' Davis. Vontae, the younger brother of San Francisco 49ers TE Vernon Davis, posted a 4.49 in the 40 at Indy and also put up 225 pounds on the bench an impressive 25 times.

The 5'11", 203-pound Davis is a physical presence who led all Big Ten corners with 78 tackles last season. He also picked up seven interceptions during his three-year collegiate career but some people have questioned his maturity.

"Everybody's going to find a negative," said Davis in Indy last month. "That's why I'm here at the combine, so I can show these coaches that I am a good person and I have a good personality."

Alphonso Smithwill likely be the third corner selected on draft weekend, but he could prove to be a steal. Scouts don't love Smith's size, but the 5'9", 193-pounder is quick and instinctive and did nothing but produce at Wake Forest.

"I think out of all the defensive backs, I've had the most productive career. Twenty-one career interceptions," he said. "I've made plays from freshman year to sophomore year to junior year to senior year."

His 21 picks established an ACC record and then he reportedly had a strong week of practice at the Senior Bowl. But many teams will project Smith, who isn't a burner, as a prototypical nickel back who could help in the return game as well.

Foes Avoided UConn's Butler

Interceptions were not as easy to come by for Connecticut's Darius Butler. The 5'10", 183-pounder didn't have one in 2008 after getting four each in his freshman and sophomore campaigns and two as a junior. But teams just didn't throw in Butler's direction very often and he was still named an all-conference first-team selection.

Butler, who is the cousin of Ravens running back Willis McGahee, has good feet and his 43" vertical at Indy was impressive.

Over his final two playing seasons at Vanderbilt, D.J. Moore intercepted 12 passes. A back-to-back All-SEC first-team performer, the 5'9", 192-pound Moore helped the Commodores get their first bowl win in 55 years. He really did everything at VU — rushing, receiving and return duties on punts and kickoffs.

Then there's the interesting case of Ohio State's Donald Washington. He lost his starting job as a senior, but he's an amazing athlete. His jaw-dropping 45" vertical and 11'3" broad jump were the top marks for any prospects at the combine. Someone will fall in love with those numbers and take a chance on a guy who started 32 times and had two career picks for the Bucks.

When the conversation shifts to safeties, the name Louis Delmas comes to the forefront. Delmas (5'11", 202) is a physical force who finished with 111 tackles last season. If you see a headshot of Delmas, the hair and the thick upper body remind you of Colts S Bob Sanders.

"He's got a lot of range," says NFL.com's Mike Mayock of the "Western Michigan Missile." "What I like about him is his toughness. He's an aggressive run-support safety."

After intercepting eight passes and totaling 115 tackles in 2007, Missouri's William Moore had just one INT his senior season to go along with 70 stops. At 6'0", 221-pounds, Moore returned four of his 11 career picks into the end zone.

The University of Oregon will miss the steady presence in their backfield as Patrick Chung departs for the pros. Chung, who averaged 105 stops the past two seasons, finished as the school's fourth all-time leading tackler with 384 stops. He was a four-year starter who plays a physical brand of football and finished with 9 INTs.

Other Notables

Emanuel Cook, S, South Carolina; Michael Hamlin, S, Clemson; Victor "Macho" Harris, CB Virginia Tech; Rashad Johnson, S, Alabama; Sean Smith, DB, Utah.

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