Depth in the defensive backfield is critical. That’s why the Jets decided to draft Pitt corner Jason Pinnock in the fifth round.
The Jets went all defense with their final six picks of this year’s NFL Draft, a move contrary to their four offensive selections to commence the annual event.
Some could start and assume noteworthy roles down the road; others may be depth pieces and not much more.
So where does fifth-round cornerback Jason Pinnock stand?
The state of the two outside CB spots
The pair of starting outside cornerback roles for this New York Jets defense may be somewhat clear, but not entirely.
What do I mean by this?
Well, Bryce Hall and Bless Austin are likely the favorites to assume those roles, but they’re not the most secure options at the moment. That’s why the Jets could’ve brought in a veteran cornerback via free agency or at least drafted one in the back end of the first round (remember, they owned the No. 23 overall pick before trading up to No. 14 and drafting Alijah Vera-Tucker).
Hall and Austin aren’t confirmed be the most reliable options.
But does that mean Jason Pinnock can beat either one out for a starting role?
The answer is, very likely, a “no.”
Pinnock is young, inexperienced, and raw — it’s not like he was one of the top cornerbacks on the board heading into the 2021 draft.
He’ll need to be coached; the speed of the NFL is much different than that of the college game, and you could argue that concept is most realized in the secondary. Pinnock will need time to develop before he can assume any starting role on the outside.
It’s not clear how long the process will take, but it’s unlikely to be a swift job.
Pinnock spent more time at outside cornerback than in the slot during his 2020 season at Pitt, and by a wide margin.
But that doesn’t mean the Jets can’t utilize him in the slot while he potentially develops into something more for this defense.
Fielding someone like Pinnock in this specific role would remind me of what the Giants did last year with then-rookie Darnay Holmes.
The 2020 fourth-rounder out of UCLA was more of an outside cornerback in college but needed to make the switch to the slot at the professional level. The Giants entered the 2020 campaign with other corners possessing more experience for the outside — there was likely a superior comfort level with throwing Holmes in the slot (now Big Blue could certainly keep him there in 2021).
I’m not saying Pinnock will start in the slot (this is a role that might go to Javelin Guidry), but working at this position could be a step in his overall development as an NFL defensive back.
One issue, however, is Pinnock’s physicality (or lack thereof). This position requires a great deal of that quality, and in four years at Pitt (30 total games), Jason averaged just 1.8 total tackles per game.
Pinnock’s competition; nickel/dime package assistance
The Jets employ two alternative cornerbacks who happened to be 2021 draft picks — sixth-rounder Brandin Echols and fifth-rounder Michael Carter II (the latter may see some safety reps). Both will be training camp/preseason competitors of Pinnock. So will Corey Ballentine, who’s mainly struggled since entering the league as a 2019 sixth-rounder of the Giants.
While free-agent pickup Justin Hardee figures to be more of a special teams weapon, second-year man Lamar Jackson is also expected to at least see reps in the training camp/preseason portion of the year.
But each of these potential reserve defensive backs have something crucial in common: they provide depth. And with the unclear long-term statuses of both Bryce Hall and Bless Austin, the Jets will absolutely need to employ reliable depth in this area of the field.
Expect a number of these individuals, including Pinnock, to possibly rotate onto the field when Robert Saleh and Jeff Ulbrich utilize nickel or dime packages.