For the Jets, if there is one word taking prominence during and after the 2021 NFL Draft it was (and is) "competition."
"Competition breeds improvement and so there's just going to be a great level of competition," Head Coach Robert Saleh said. He added: "We love the competition."
Perhaps no position group will spearhead that approach more than the team's evolving cadre of cornerbacks. The Jets' pre-draft offseason roster listed six cornerbacks (and one player simply designated as a DB). In the latter rounds of the draft, GM Joe Douglas turned his attention to the defense and drafted three cornerbacks (among five final picks) spread over Round 5 and Round 6.
"On Day 3, you take a flyer on athletes and see what happens in training camp," NFL Network analyst Daniel Jeremiah told Eric Allen and Ethan Greenberg on The Official Jets Podcast. "You remember being in college and going to a gas station to get three scratchees [lottery tickets] to see if you can maybe get five bucks and you can go have some dinner that night.
"That's what this is, glorified lottery tickets. Defensive players on Day 3 have the height, weight and speed, but they don't have it all figured out yet. They really can all run. If I'm the Jets and one of these dudes ends up hitting, that's gravy. They did a nice job taking some shots at competitive kids."
The rookie troika is led by Duke's Michael Carter II (henceforth known as MCII, since the Jets also drafted a UNC running back with the same name), Pitt's Jason Pinnock and Brandin Echols of Kentucky. They join a room of players who evolved over the 2020 season and turned in some strong performances. Bless Austin has started 16 games the past two seasons and the cornerback room includes second-year pros includes Javelin Guidry, Bryce Hall and Lamar Jackson -- a group that gained experience, but will be challenged.
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MCII (5-11, 190), taken No. 154 overall, played in 46 games with the Blue Devils, starting 36 contests and had 24 PBUs as that total tied him for 10th in program history. Last season, Carter started all 11 games and had 41 tackles, 3 TFL and 2 INTs. He finished tied for ninth in the ACC in pass defenses with 10.
"I like Carter II," Jeremiah said.
Saleh told him during their draft day call: "We [have] a plan for you in this defense. Your combination of speed, athleticism, your man coverage ability, your instincts, your smarts, all of it. All of it works in what we do."
He added: "Versatility, that's what we want. Especially in a league where people are dropping. It's almost a war of attrition. To have versatile athletes step into different spots is what we want to be able to do. It's up to us to go out there and develop them."
That could be part of the plan for Pinnock (No. 175; 6-0, 201) and Echols (No. 200; 5-10, 179). Pinnock has grit, length and speed. Saleh said that Pinnock's production is "off the charts." Echols started his collegiate career as a wide receiver before switching to defense.
"You're going to get a cheap starter for four years, which is enormous," Jeremiah said, referring to the financial benefit of having players on rookie contracts. "It helps you round out the rest of the roster. Joe knows this from his time in Baltimore. If you have a team on Day 3 with six picks, one has the odds in their favor. With six shots you're going to come out with a couple of gems. Having those numbers is huge. Showing you can scout and produce players with those picks is huge."
Saleh gets the last word on this: "Whether it's Michael Carter II being able to play that free safety/nickel role, to Echols playing corner and Pinnock, all three of them in the back end, just fantastic additions to be able to come in and compete. And that's all we're asking of them because out of it all ... competition breeds improvement and so there's just going to be a great level of competition in that room and we're excited to see it unfold."