The Jets landscape in the cornerbacks room has improved since the end of the 2021 season with the addition of free-agent signing D.J. Reed. Bryce Hall, Brandin Echols and Michael Carter II, the starters last season, return after showing improvement. HC Robert Saleh said that their next step is going from getting their hands on the ball to keeping hold of it.
GM Joe Douglas has not selected a cornerback earlier than the fifth round in his two drafts with the Green & White, but that could change next week as early as pick No. 4. If the Jets elect to go in that direction, they could select the first corner in the draft with prospects like Ahmad "Sauce" Gardner out of Cincinnati, who has 9 interceptions in three seasons, or LSU's Derek Stingley Jr., who has NFL bloodlines and a historic 2019 season.
But Douglas could elect to add to the room later in the draft because this year's class has a deep group, especially in the first two days of the draft.
Top of the Class
Ahmad "Sauce" Gardner (6-2, 190), Cincinnati -- Neal Gardner is set to be the first player from Cincinnati since 1971 to be selected in the first round. Gardner, the AAC Defensive Player of the Year and a consensus All-American in 2021, had 40 tackles, 4.5 TFL, 3 sacks, 3 interceptions and 7 PDs. He's drawn comparisons to former Jets CB Antonio Cromartie because of his length and playing style. His nickname, Sauce, was given to him by a youth football coach when he was 6 years old. Gardner could be the first corner off the board on the first day of the draft with his combination of production (9 INT, 27 PDs in 37 games) and traits (4.41 40-yard dash).
Derek Stingley Jr. (6-0, 190), LSU -- Stingley is an interesting case because of his decline in production over his three years in Baton Rouge. He was a consensus All-American as a freshman in 2019, lining up against WRs Ja'Marr Chase and Justin Jefferson with Joe Burrow under center. He had 6 INTs and 21 PDs that season and combined for 5 PDs and 0 INTs in his final two seasons at LSU. He was a first-team All-American in 2020 and missed the final nine games in 2021 with a Lisfranc injury. Stingley has NFL bloodlines -- his father played 24 seasons in semi-pro and arena football leagues (10 as a player, 14 as a coach). His grandfather was drafted No. 19 overall in 1973 by the Patriots.
Best of the Rest
Trent McDuffie (5-10, 193), Washington -- McDuffie was a first-team All-Pac 12 in 2021 even though his stats don't jump off the page. He had 10 PDs and 3 INT in 26 starts over three seasons, but offenses avoid him, according to Dane Brugler of The Athletic. McDuffie chose to go to Washington over the likes of Alabama, LSU and Michigan, and he started for three seasons for the Huskies.
Andrew Booth (6-0, 194), Clemson -- Booth started two seasons for the Tigers and was named first-team All-ACC in 2021. He has good size and was a five-star recruit out of Archer High School in Georgia. He was the No. 2 CB in the 2019 class behind Stingley and the No. 3 recruit in Georgia. In 35 games (15 starts), Booth totaled 70 tackles 5.5 TFL, 1 sack, 14 PDs and 5 INT. He didn't test at the Combine or his Pro Day because of a quad strain and underwent hernia surgery near the end of March.
Kaiir Elam (6-1, 191), Florida -- Elam has NFL bloodlines -- his father, Abe, played safety with the Jets from 2007-8. His uncle, Matt, also went to Florida and was drafted by the Ravens in the first round in 2013. Elam put himself on the map after a good freshman season in 2019 with 3 interceptions and 7 PDs, earning SEC All-Freshman honors. He then earned first-team All-SEC honors in 2020, leading the Gators with 2 interceptions and 13 pass defenses. He has good speed and ran a 4.39 40-yard dash at the Combine.
Day 3 Diamond
Jaylen Watson (6-2, 197), Washington State -- Watson has one of the best stories regardless of position. He began his college career at Ventura College in California where he had 8 interceptions in two seasons and earned junior college All-America honors. He chose to sign with USC in 2019, but didn't qualify to play because of his grades, so he moved home to Augusta, GA, and worked at a Wendy's with his mom while he worked on his academics. Six A's later, he ended up in Pullman, WA, playing for the Cougars. He started all 15 games he appeared in over his two seasons at Washington State, totaling 44 tackles, 2 TFL, 7 PDs and 2 INT. The Jets coached Watson at the Senior Bowl in January.