Last April, Jets GM Joe Douglas used a fifth-round pick to address the cornerback position. With 10 selections this spring, including five in the first three rounds, Douglas will have the opportunity to target a cornerback early in the 2021 NFL Draft.
Virginia product Bryce Hall, who dropped to the Green & White on Day 3 after sustaining a serious ankle injury his senior season, logged 547 snaps (48.1%) of the 2020 total on defense. He started seven games down the stretch his rookie campaign, amassing 36 tackles, 3 PDs and 1 INT. Hall and Bless Austin, who had 16 starts in 2019-20 and finished third on the club with 63 tackles last season in addition to 4 pass defenses, are long-limbed DBs who play with an edge and could be quality system fits under Head Coach Robert Saleh and defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich.
The Jets haven't selected a cornerback in top three rounds since 2014 (Dexter McDougle: Round 3, Maryland) and haven't taken a corner in Round 1 since 2013 (Dee Milliner: Round 1, Alabama).
Top of the Class
Patrick Surtain II (6-2, 208) Alabama
A three-year starter for the Crimson Tide and the SEC Defensive Player of the Year last season, Surtain had an impressive Pro Day while posting a 4.42 second 40-yard dash and totaling 18 reps of 225 pounds on the bench press. Surtain was so solid as a junior that he was targeted only 48 times and allowed 21 completions for 273 combined yards. Experienced Jets fans remember Surtain's father, who was a three-time Pro Bowl selection from 2002-4 with the Miami Dolphins.
NFL Media's Bucky Brooks said of Surtain II: "Surtain is a polished cover corner with rock-solid fundamentals and exceptional instincts. He plays the game like a savvy vet, and his overall consistency in coverage is a testament to his diligent work on the practice field and in the film room."
Jaycee Horn (6-1, 205) South Carolina
While Surtain could be the first defensive player selected on draft weekend, Horn has declared that he's the best defensive player in the draft. Horn certainly didn't disappoint at his Pro Day, turning in a sub-4.4 (4.37) in the 40-yard dash and racking up 19 reps of 225 pounds on the bench. Horn, the son of former NFL Pro Bowl wideout Joe Horn, had 2 INTs and 6 pass breakups for the Gamecocks before electing to opt out in November. In 30 games on the collegiate level, Horn had 23 pass defenses, 101 tackles and 3 sacks.
NFL Network's Daniel Jeremiah said of the South Carolina DB: "Horn is a big, physical cornerback with plenty of speed and instincts. He's physical with his hands to consistently re-route in press coverage. He is fluid when he opens up and can run/stay in phase with vertical routes. His short-area quickness is good for a big cornerback."
Caleb Farley (6-2, 207) Virginia Tech
The former Hokies' former standout became college football's first opt-out last year due to the coronavirusCOVID-19 pandemic. After having lost his mother Robin died of cancer, Farley didn't want to risk getting the virus and transmitting it to his father. Following a back procedure in late March, Farley didn't work out at Virginia Tech's Pro Day. The former all-state quarterback in North Carolina led the ACC with 16 passes defended in 2019 and had 4 INTs in 11 games.
"The sky's the limit for Caleb," said Virginia Tech Head Coach Justin Fuente who added, "You're talking about a really long athlete who can absolutely fly. I think he's only going to continue to get better as he continues to get more work at the position."
Asante Samuel Jr. (5-11, 192) Florida State
Last season, Samuel became the third Seminole since 2000 with at least 3 INTs and 2 FR in the same season. In 2019, Samuel was the only Power 5 defender with 14 pass breakups and more than 45 tackles. His position flexibility could lift Samuel into the bottom of the first round.
"I've been playing outside all my life," Samuel told reporters this spring. "I played nickel some time my sophomore and freshman year, but at the end of the day I make my plays on the outside. I feel like I'm a dominant corner on the outside."
Samuel's father played 11 seasons in the NFL with the Patriots, the Eagles, and the Falcons.
See the Top Cornerbacks in the 2021 NFL Draft Based on Rankings Provided by The Athletic's Dane Brugler
Best of the Rest
Gregg Newsome II ( 6-1, 190), Northwestern
In 21 games at Northwestern, Newsome was credited with 25 pass defenses and 71 tackles. He was an All-Big Ten performer last season after collecting a team-high 10 pass breakups. His length is intriguing and many pundits think his skill set will transition well to all cover schemes. Newsome flashed the burners at his Pro Day, posting a 4.38 in the 40-yard dash.
Elijah Molden (5-9, 192) Washington
A special teams standout in his early days with the Huskies, Molden appeared in 44 games at Washington and had 153 tackles, 5 INTs, 25 PDs, 4 FF and 2 FR. Scouts will have to determine if the instinctive DB has the play speed (4.58 in 40-yard dash) and length to continue to be productive on the next level.The son of former eight-year NFL corner Alex Molden, blessed with great leadership traits, he could always be on the field whether it be defense or special teams.
"I'd probably say that nickel-free hybrid position, like a Tyrann Mathieu type. It's an emerging position in the league," Molden told The Athletic in February. "I'll play anywhere. I'll play wherever a team needs me. I'll play outside, I'll play boundary, I'll play in the post, all that stuff.
Day 3 Diamond
Benjamin St-Juste (6-3, 202) Minnesota
The No. 1 overall player in Québec, St-Juste attended Cegep du Vieux Montréal. He began his college career at Michigan before transferring to the Golden Gophers. In two seasons at Minnesota, St-Juste appeared in 18 games and had 59 tackles and 13 pass defenses. He's a long-limbed athlete who posted a 4.51 in the 40-yard dash at his Pro Day and will probably fit into the project category for a club.