This is the third in a series of position-by-position stories on the NFL Draft by newyorkjets.com.
The early March trade for Antonio Cromartie might have convinced many Jets watchers that their team would now want to turn its draft focus — especially its 29th-pick-of-the-draft focus — away from cornerback and toward other positions.
But as general manager Mike Tannenbaum likes to recall Ravens GM Ozzie Newsome telling him about Rex Ryan some 15 months ago, "You're going to hire a really good coach, and all he wants is corners."
"The ink wasn't even dry on this trade and Rex wanted to know who the next corner was that we were going to get," Tannenbaum said of the Cromartie deal with San Diego. "Depth at corner is something that's paramount to Rex and the way he and Mike Pettine want to play defense."
Similarly, the Jets wouldn't seem to have a high-round need at safety: Kerry Rhodes out, Brodney Pool in, Jim Leonhard, Eric Smith and James Ihedigbo still here.
Yet as Mr. T has said, filling the holes before the draft gives the Jets flexibility during the draft, and it doesn't always take positions off the green table. The best that can be said about the corners and safeties below is that some will be gone if the Jets stay at 29, many will be available and one or two could wind up in green and white. Or not.
Berry vs. Thomas
Two of the biggest DB names that will be announced quickly once the first prime time first round in NFL draft history is held April 22 are both underclassmen and both UT safeties — Earl Thomas of Texas and Eric Berry of Tennessee.
Which one is better? That's a debate in itself. Mike Mayock of NFL Network says Thomas is the draft's most instinctive safety. But NFLN's Charlie Casserly says Berry might be the best player at his position in this draft.
Thomas effectively jumped routes and showed great ball skills as a Longhorn and doesn't avoid contact. But his size of 5'10" and 208 has some worried that he may not be able to do jack in the box at the NFL level. A few mock drafts suggest he could end up as a corner due to the size.
Berry, meanwhile, has OK size (6'0", 211) but plays bigger than those measurables and his leadership and athleticism lift him into the top half of everyone's draft. At the combine he turned in a 4.47 in the 40, just off of Taylor Mays' time (see below) and his 10'10" broad jump and 43.0" vertical were both the best figures for safeties and in the top three for all combine participants.
Most mock drafts we've surveyed have Berry going higher, consistently in the top 10, often to Cleveland at No. 7, as in the mock of Clark Judge of CBSSports.com. Thomas can pop up anywhere from Jacksonville at No. 10 to Tennessee at 16 to Dallas at 27.
Corners Running Fast and Deep
Joe Haden is likely to start the run on pure corners. The muscular Florida Gator was a mystery man at the combine, the mystery being why the All-American ran a 4.57-second 40, raising the proverbial red flag. The reason: a sore back. Haden showed he was back when he turned in mid-4.4s at the Gators' pro day.
Kyle Wilson (5'10", 194) has average size, but he shows great ball skills and durability, can return kicks, and his athleticism is off the corner charts, at least as shown by his 225-pound bench press — he put the 225-pound bar up 25 times when no other corner at the combine did more than 20 reps.
Rex Ryan was excited about getting Jamaal Westerman from "our back yard" at Rutgers as a free agent last year. How might he feel about Devin McCourty, the Scarlet Knights' 5'11", 193-pound CB who starred in high school at St. Joseph Regional in Montvale, just up the road from the Meadowlands, and whose twin brother is Jason McCourty, who played for the Titans against the Jets in Game 3 last season?
Devin, another who had differing combine 40 times (officially 4.48, unofficially 4.34), said last week he had some five visits set up, including the Cowboys — the team whose jersey he wore growing up — and the Jets.
Patrick Robinson (5'11", 190) perhaps answered some concerns about his speed when he burned to a 4.38 in the 40 at Florida State's March 18 pro day and may be working his way into the first round. Underclassman Kareem Jackson (5'10", 196) from Alabama has great confidence and aggressiveness but some durability issues. Chris Cook (6'2", 212) has outstanding size and his 11'0" broad jump was the best of the combine.
Back to Safety with Mays
Former Mark Sanchez teammates at Southern Cal will be well-represented in this draft. Two who did well at last Wednesday's USC pro day, attended by the Jets plus all 31 other NFL teams, were S Taylor Mays and CB Kevin Thomas.
Mays (6'3", 223) is a physical specimen who turned in one of the most-talked-about combine 40s. NFL Network's first report was that he cranked a 4.24 that would've tied Titans RB Chris Johnson's time for the fastest since 2000. All seven hand-held times had Mays in the low 4.3s. But the official electronic time pegged him at 4.43. "I don't care if it's 4.24, 4.28, 4.3," said draft guru Mike Mayock, "it's just flying."
Thomas (6'0", 189) is one of those guys who adds to the depth the corner class below the top four or five. But at his pro day Thomas repeated his 40 combine time at 4.47 seconds, really impressed in his position drills, and could be a CB on the rise.
Nate Allen, S, South Florida; Morgan Burnett, S, Georgia Tech; Perrish Cox, Oklahoma State; Brandon Ghee, CB, Wake Forest; Dominique Franks, CB, Oklahoma; Major Wright, S, Florida.