AFC East Cornerback Rooms
In my last post on the NFL AFC East, we looked at the “arms race” for receiver. Most NFL teams primarily use speed-focused personal 11 packages, 29 franchisees out of 32 Not less!
Unless you’re Greg Roman or Kyle Shanahan, the league’s generic game plan is to pitch first and ask questions later. Only one franchise has a Derrick Henry lurking in their backfield, so everyone needs more than 3 fighter jets to compete.
The rules of nature and as Newton’s third law declares, “to every action there is an equal and opposite reaction”. When the competition can field multiple quick pass catchers, defensive coordinators and front office staff stay awake in search of the antidote: elite corners.
Thanks to 7/7 and increased receiver salaries, in truth probably congratulations, most college football athletes aspire to be the next Randy Moss. Find and develop the next Bailey Field or Jalen Ramsey is much more difficult and time consuming. Having a list that can line up 3 above average cornerbacks simultaneously is like finding the “golden fleece”. Some teams seem on the verge of achieving this.
In your second AFC East breakdown, let’s illustrate these cornerbacks: depth, course success, and rookie potential.
- = limit reached $ US rounded
- R = 2021 recruit
Leslie Frazier, Buffalo Dc
Levi Wallace (1.7), Tre’Davious White (6.8), Taron Johnson (2.4), Dane Jackson (0.8), Rachad Wildgoose R (0.7), Oliahjah Griffin R (0.7 ), Cameron Lewis (0.8), Nick McCloud R (0.7)
Total of station group = 8
Total position group cap (approx) = 14.6
RPS = 2
By the end of the 2020 regular season, PFF had ranked the Buffalo high school 9th in the league, dropping from 7th a year earlier. This includes the safety game (your next article) that Buffalo excels at that also relies on pressure before seven. In the void, this piece begins and ends with White.
White ended the 2020 campaign with a PFF score of 74.5 and three interceptions. He’s easily one of the top five corners in the league and more than capable of keeping up with the best wide men in the business. Its ceiling is still on a ladder.
Behind White is perhaps the shallowest depth on the Bills’ list. I was honestly surprised that Beane didn’t look for a CB (in a deep draft class) to partner with White. This means that one (or both) McDermott is sold on Wallace’s ceiling or is looking to focus on QB pressure as the defense identity rather than locking corners. When you have Hyde and Poyer, the latter makes a lot of sense.
The Buffalo Draft weekend yielded the trio of Wildgoose, Griffin and McCloud. Wildgoose picked in the 6th round is a 3 year old badger with solid production. He has recovered from an exceptional right shoulder injury but has an uphill battle to make this list.
Griffin and McCloud are both UDFAs. Of the two, USC Griffin has shown the most potential and could work his way to 53 or PS with special teams skills. In short, Buffalo could be seriously exposed against 10 and 11 looks from the staff or in an injury crisis. Will Beane make more moves?
Josh Boyer, Miami Dc
Xavien Howard (13.5), Byron Jones (16), Jason McCourty (1), Justin Coleman (2.3), Noah Igbinoghene (2.6), Nik Needham (0.9), Tino Ellis (0, 7), Jamal Perry (0.9), Terrell Bonds (0.8), Jaytlin Askew R (0.7)
Total of station group = 10
Total position group cap (approx) = 39.4
RPS = 1
As with the receiving room, Miami spends (a lot) more than its division rivals in Cornerback. In a pass-happy league, that makes reasonable sense. If Grier can navigate the Politics of Howard contract and Howard attacks 2021 with the same commitment as last season, this unit is golden. Howard plays as a Cheshire Cat committing Grand Theft Cream, with the corresponding loot.
Byron receives far too much criticism for his “box” numbers and is an exceptional teammate, leader and athlete. The addition of Coleman and McCourty was a very savvy move by Grier and will help control complacency and injuries.
The plot in this piece is Igbinoghene. His talent and athleticism are out of the ordinary (exactly the kind of athlete coveted by Grier and Flores). The 1st round choice is perfectly justified in a regime that is willing to live and die on the hill of “write and develop” principles. For this to work, Noah has to work his way through meaningful snapshots and show some of that inherent talent this year.
Bill Belichick has more magic to come
New England Patriots
Stephon Gilmore (16), JC Jackson (3.4), Jalen Mills (4.5), Joejuan Williams (1.8), Justin Bethel (1.9), Michael Jackson (0.8), Dee Virgin (0 , 9), D’Angelo Ross (0.7)
Total of station group = 8
Total position group ceiling (approximately) = 30
RPS = SO
Stephon Gilmore is the third of a trio of Elite corners lurking in the fields of the AFC East. DPOY two seasons ago, Gilmore was rated poor 61 by PFF in 2020. Much is being said about his impending demise, but sleep on Gilmore at your expense. If Belichick doesn’t move him for assets, expect a return to dominance this year. The Patriots’ defense is a very different beast in 21 and Stephon has tremendous insight and skill.
Opposite Gilmore, JC Jackson flourished as a UDFA in a talented ball hawk perimeter corner. Jalen Mills provides Belichick with the “Swiss Army Knife” snapshot from Philly in free agency. He played around 200 snaps in several positions last year, but I’m afraid he’s more of a jack-of-all-trades, master of nothing than one-of-a-kind versatility.
Depth is provided by Williams. He has yet to find his way and has mainly contributed to special teams. We imagine this to be a character clash with Belichick as he had the opportunity at the start of 2020 to be a healthy scratch at the end of the season. Will a full offseason bring clarity and progress for the second round pick?
The room is completed by Bethel, a companion who has not started a match for 4 years. Ross, Jackson and Virgin are just camp corps and will struggle to see playing time.
With McCourty’s presence at security and Dugger’s planned development, the lack of depth at the corner at least has some solid reassurance. Belichick’s retooling of the top seven, including the return of Hightower, surely means the offensive coordinators are fully focused on maintaining their quarterback and finding the light of day in the running game.
Jeff Ulbrich, DC Jets
New York Jets
Blessuan Austin (0.9), Bryce Hall (0.9), Corey Ballentine (0.9), Justin Hardee (2.2), Jason Pinnock R (0.7), Michael Carter II R (0.7) , Bennett Jackson (0.9), Lamar Jackson (0.8), Zane Lewis (0.7), Isaiah Dunn R (0.7), Brandin Echols (0.7), Javelin Guidry (0.8), Zane Lewis (0.7)
Total of station group = 13
Total position group cap (approx) = 11.6
RPS = 3
Rome was not built in a day and the Jets will not be rebuilt off season. Douglas started in the 2019 Draft with Cal ‘Bears Ashtyn Davis and Virginia’s Bryce Hall. Getting heavy with trenches, skill positions, QBs and passers, Douglas used the 2021 offseason to build upside down and add game changers. That left little guarantees for high school.
Douglas chose to disperse the remaining secondary players in the 5th and 6th rounds. Taking on Duke’s Michael Carter II, small but smooth and fast, he thinks he will compete in the Nickel. Jason Pinnock is once a Pittsburgh wide receiver whose advantage is all athletic. It may take him a season to develop Corner’s skills, but he projects himself as a grassroots special team right from the start.
Nasirildeen is worth mentioning as he looks to me like an 186 draft steal. Although he is a Safety in the now failing Florida state empire and deals with injuries, the Jets rank him. like LB. It deserves a mention here because it has a real chance of being a big shot taker over time. Aligning with a variety of secondary positions, it can comfortably handle TEs and Blitzes. He just might become Ulbrich’s best friend if his character freezes.
Hall and Austin are expected to start on the perimeter in Week 1. Hall started to settle into his role in the second half of the season, showing good conscience and ball skills. A strong off-season schedule with much better training should make him a solid Corner 1, but expect a few hiccups against the best in the league.
Hall fought mightily in 2020, the whole unit and team, in general, were set up to fail in a toxic and unprofessional calamity. He has a chance this year with a strong seven front that generates pressure and a better safety game through growth and training. That said, look for some huge upheaval in this room in the next offseason and quite possibly a top-ten draft pick catching one of the top three prospects around the corner.
As the AFC collectively grows its roster of talent, Miami has a clear and distinct advantage when it comes to cornerbacks. Graham Alexander, Miami high school coach, built a unit with the California Bears that earned the nickname “The Takers”. With a wait for less blitz dependent pressure, this unit will gain a national buzz and overwhelm mainstream highlight reels.
The mandatory sentence in every AFC East analysis needs to be reworked again, don’t sleep on the Patriots. With the chemistry of Belichick, Gilmore and McCourty, New England will appear and prematurely age the offensive coordinators.
The bills are so comprehensive in the other groups that the lack of depth in Corner should be alleviated. Beane is a proactive GM who will strike before Week 8 with a trade or maneuver to solidify the unit. Buffalo is ready, so don’t hesitate.
The future looks bright for New York, but a lot has to happen over the next 10 months to pave the way for a Cornerback overhaul. The organization and its fan base are (rightfully) all eyes for Wilson. This year we can expect their defense to be on display and give up their fair share of big plays, but Ulbrich and Saleh are serious about winning back the opposition’s respect. Let the game begin. Meet me @CJephgrave at Instagram andTwitter
Nfl: Gilmore, Howard and White. The three best cornerbacks of the Afc East.
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