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Point/Counterpoint: What Position Do the Jets Need to Trade For?

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Rich MacLeod and Smackdad debate what the Jets need more: A wide receiver or a cornerback.

Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Every week this season Rich MacLeod and another Gang Green Nation writer will go head-to-head on a hot topic regarding the New York Jets. It's up to you to decide who's right.

Wide Receiver

By: Rich MacLeod

Now I'm not refuting that the Jets secondary is a position of weakness—it is—however, it is not the biggest problem facing this team. Many have criticized general manager John Idzik for not being active enough in the cornerback market this offseason, and injuries to Dee Milliner and a season-ender for rookie Dexter McDougle haven't helped either, but the Jets aren't losing these games due to their defense.

It may surprise you, but the Jets actually rank 10th in the NFL against the pass, allowing 228 passing yards per game in the first four games of the season. And that's with teams knowing they're not going to be able to run on this Jets team, who rank #1 overall in that category.

The reason the Jets are losing games, and this comes to the surprise of no one, is their offense and specifically their passing attack. New York ranks second in the NFL in rushing yards per game (151.2) but are all the way down at 21st overall in passing yards (215 per game). A lot of the onus here can be put on Geno Smith. He's struggled, there's no doubt, and this isn't even an attempt to take the blame off of him, but the second year quarterback could still use some help. In four games, the Jets have failed to score 20 points or more in three of them (19, 19, 17). Their season high in points in a game? 24 in a loss to the Packers.

Eric Decker, the team's number one receiver, has been banged up all season. Jeremy Kerley is your 2nd option, with David Nelson, now injured, being your third. After that, the Jets have the ultimate enigma in Greg Salas and Walter Powell as their next options at receiver. And past that? Chris Owusu and T.J. Graham. Not exactly a potent position for this team.

The Kids Are (Not) All Right: Gang Green took three receivers in the 2014 NFL Draft in Jalen Saunders, Shaquelle Evans and Quincy Enunwa. Saunders showed little in his first four career games, which included a pair of muffed punts, and was subsequently released after being a healthy scratch in Week 4, Evans was placed on injured reserve before ever seeing game action and Enunwa is currently on the practice roster and was arrested on domestic violence charges earlier in September, a subject all too familiar in the NFL these days.

New York desperately needs a play maker on offense whether that comes in the form of a speedy home run threat similar to a Percy Harvin or a physical mismatch, namely in the red zone, a la Vincent Jackson. There's no knowing what, if any, wide receivers will be made available prior to the Week 8 trade deadline.

The NFL, unlike other sports, is routinely quiet when it comes to the trade deadline, but that doesn't mean moves don't happen. The Jets themselves made a splash in the 2009 season, acquiring Braylon Edwards, a dynamic receiver at the time, for rookie quarterback Mark Sanchez. Edwards unquestionably made an impact Gang Green in his two seasons in New York.

The Jets aren't scoring, especially in the red zone this season. That's the biggest reason why they're losing games and have a 1-3 record a quarter into the campaign. Getting their hands on a play making wide receiver could change this teams fortunes dramatically.


Cornerback

By: Smackdad

Before we get into the arguments about which need is greater, I think we can all agree that the Jets have pretty big needs at both wide receiver and cornerback, as well as some other positions. Outside of the defensive line and perhaps running back, it is difficult to identify too many positions where the Jets are not in need of some substantial upgrades. So if we argue that the need at cornerback is greater than the need at wide receiver, or vice versa, this is not to say that the other need doesn't exist or isn't very urgent. It's entirely possible to have multiple urgent needs.

Given the needs of the Jets, which need is greatest? It seems to me the need is pretty clearly greatest at cornerback. What is the evidence supporting that position? Let's get to it.

Since September 1 the Jets have signed and/or released the following cornerbacks to or from either the active roster or the practice squad:

Date

CB

53 Man Roster

Practice Squad

9/01

Phillip Adams

Signed

9/01

LeQuan Lewis

Signed

9/01

Ellis Lankster

Released

9/11

Leon McFadden

Released

9/12

Ellis Lankster

Signed

9/23

Ellis Lankster

Released

9/23

Brandon Smith

Signed

9/24

LeQuan Lewis

Signed

9/24

Marcus Williams

Signed

9/29

LeQuan Lewis

Released

9/30

Brandon Smith

Released

9/30

LeQuan Lewis

Signed

That's 12 separate transactions at the cornerback position in a single month, including multiple guys who have been going up and down between releases and signings like yo-yos. It would appear from this record that the Jets are pretty desperate to find somebody who can competently man the position.

Now compare this to the record at wide receiver:

Date

WR

53 Man Roster

Practice Squad

9/01

Walter Powell

Signed

9/29

Jalen Saunders

Released

9/29

Chris Owusu

Signed

9/29

T.J. Graham

Signed

It's pretty clear from this record that the Jets have been much more desperate and thus much more active in trying to plug the holes at cornerback than they have been at wide receiver. This isn't definitive evidence that the need is greater at cornerback than at wide receiver, just suggestive. We'll continue to build our case.

The Jets currently have eight wide receivers on the active roster compared to four cornerbacks and one safety turned cornerback. Even if Nelson ends up on injured reserve the Jets still will have seven wide receivers and five cornerbacks. Seven wide receivers is a ridiculous number, particularly for a team that emphasizes the run. Seven wide receivers guarantees some will be inactive every Sunday, because no run oriented team will use seven wide receivers in a game, even if two are return specialists. In contrast, as long as Rex Ryan is the coach, cornerbacks will always be crucial to his defensive schemes. The Jets have only five cornerbacks on the roster, and one, Dee Milliner, is always injured, meaning the Jets have been limited to four cornerbacks on game day most weeks. If even one goes down in a game, the Jets will be down to three cornerbacks and won't even be able to run standard dime coverage packages without bringing in yet another safety to do a cornerback's job. Clearly there is a major roster imbalance right now, with excess spots being taken up by back of the roster wide receivers who won't even be active on game day, while the defense is hamstrung by a lack of bodies at the cornerback position.

Still not convinced? That's OK, we're just now getting to the real crux of the matter, and that's quality at each position. First let's look at the quality available at cornerback.

For most of the year the Jets have started career backup Darrin Walls and converted safety Antonio Allen at the two outside cornerback positions. That sounds pretty bad on paper, but of course it's possible guys can step up when called upon and exceed expectations. So how has the Jets pass defense held up with these guys? Not so good it turns out. In terms of quarterback rating against the team, the Jets currently rank 6th worst in the NFL at a whopping 104. That quarterback rating is good enough for Hall of Fame induction if achieved over the course of a career. The Jets are also 2nd worst in the NFL in passing TDs allowed with 9, trailing only the Eagles at 10. The Jets are 4th worst in TD % allowed, and tied for worst in the NFL with the Saints in interceptions and interception percentage with zero. No matter how you slice it the Jets cornerbacks have been getting shredded. Yes, the safeties and linebackers have contributed to the mess, but the cornerbacks are the first line of defense, and anybody who has seen the Jets cornerbacks play knows they have been inadequate in the extreme.

Of course, the supposed number one cornerback has been missing due to injury and is on track to return this Sunday, so things could turn around quickly, right? Well, maybe, but I wouldn't bet on it. First, Milliner has been injury prone both in college and in the pros, so there is a good chance he won't be back for long. Second, and perhaps more importantly, it is highly questionable just how much Milliner adds to the equation even when healthy. Dee spent a large majority of his rookie year being burnt on a weekly basis. He was among the worst starting cornerbacks in the NFL last year. Yes, he had a mini run at the end of the year where he seemed to turn the corner. But coming into camp this year he was healthy and still getting burned on a daily basis by the Jets' less than awesome wide receivers. In the brief glimpses we have had of Dee in 2014 he has at times looked decent and at other times looked horrible. Counting on Milliner to solidify the defensive backfield might pan out, but it is pretty likely that it won't, whether due to injury or just plain poor play. If Milliner pans out the Jets still have one gaping hole at the other cornerback position and a couple of safeties who are below average in providing a last line of defense to cover up for any inadequacies. If Milliner doesn't pan out the Jets have no competent cornerbacks and a couple of safeties who are poor in pass coverage. Either way the Jets have huge inadequacies in the defensive backfield which a proven cornerback would go a long way toward solving. Contrast that with the situation at wide receiver.

At wide receiver the Jets have one proven upper tier player in Decker, a guy with multiple 1000 yard seasons on his resume. The Jets also have Jeremy Kerley, a proven slot receiver who, while hardly elite, is a proven NFL quality receiver who has some playmaking ability. Other than that the Jets are thin at the position, but Greg Salas looked decent subbing in for the injured Nelson last week and might actually prove to be an upgrade there. More importantly the Jets tight ends have quietly performed reasonably well so far this year, having combined for 20 catches and 222 yards in the first 4 games. That's on track for 80 catches and 888 yards from the tight end position, competent if not earth shattering numbers that will likely rise as Amaro takes on a more prominent role. Now I know we're talking about wide receivers, not tight ends, but the point here is that in the receiving game you can to some extent substitute tight ends for wide receivers if your tight ends are decent, thus mitigating any need at the wide receiver position. Contrast this with the situation at cornerback, where you can't really substitute other guys at other positions very well, Antonio Allen notwithstanding.

In summary, though both needs are pretty big, the need at cornerback is greater than the need at wide receiver. The Jets themselves have scrambled like crazy trying to fill the need at cornerback, while pretty much leaving wide receiver alone, indicating they see a bigger need at cornerback. The roster is currently imbalanced in favor of wide receivers to the detriment of cornerbacks, even though Rex has historically carried a lot of cornerbacks. The cornerback position is so bare the Jets have been forced to play a converted safety there. The cornerbacks have been getting torched at a rate at or near the worst in the NFL. There currently isn't a single proven starting caliber cornerback on the entire roster. Contrast that with the wide receiver position, which has at least two proven starting caliber receivers in Decker and Kerley. Finally, the quietly decent play at tight end can help to compensate for any deficiencies at wide receiver, as the Jets can choose to go to more two tight end sets if a third reliable wide receiver can't be found. In contrast, there really are no other players on the Jets' roster who can compensate for the deficiencies at cornerback, and in fact the Jets are dangerously close to not even being able to field a standard dime package in pass coverage. The needs at both positions are pretty apparent, but there is little doubt the need at cornerback is greater than the need at wide receiver.