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NY Jets Spotlight: Antonio Cromartie

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Does Odell Beckham Scare Cro?

Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome to the Jets Spotlight.   Here we spotlight one key player for each game of the season, hopefully putting a different player in the spotlight each week. Today's player in the spotlight is cornerback Antonio Cromartie.  Cromartie  is a 31 year old, 6' 2", 210 pound cornerback out of Florida State University.  He was originally drafted by the San Diego Chargers in the first round as the 19th overall selection of the 2006 NFL draft.  Cromartie has been a four time Pro Bowler and one time All Pro selection in his career.

Antonio Cromartie was eased into the lineup in San Diego and did not earn a starting role until his second year.  It was that second year that remains the highlight of his career, as Cromartie led the NFL with 10 interceptions and earned his only All Pro honors in 2007.  His next two years with San Diego were not nearly so successful.  On March 4, 2010, the New York Jets traded a 2011 second round draft pick to the Chargers in exchange for Cromartie.  The Jets added Cromartie to a defensive backfield which already included All Pro cornerback Darrelle  Revis coming off what was arguably one of the greatest single seasons of cornerback play in NFL history.  Adding the former All Pro Cromartie was expected to give the Jets the best cornerback tandem in the NFL, and for a while it may have been just that.  But Revis held out, then was injured for parts of 2010. Revis also suffered a devastating knee injury in 2012 that wiped out nearly his entire 2012 season and effectively ended the first chapter of Revis' Jets career.  Consequently, the Jets had only a limited time to enjoy the fruits of a dynamic Cromartie/Revis tandem, and by the end of the 2013 season both players had moved on to other teams.  After the disastrous 2014 season marked by the complete lack of anything resembling an NFL caliber player at cornerback for much of the season, new Jets GM Mike Maccagnan, on a mission from the Almighty, got the band back together when he re-signed both Revis and Cromartie, albeit somewhat diminished versions of themselves.

After a good 2013 season, Cromartie has struggled in his return to the Jets.  However, he played perhaps his best game of the year last week in Revis' absence, an echo of the 2012 season when Cromartie played substantially better than at any other time in his Jets career after Revis was lost for the season.  Perhaps Cromartie needs the challenge of being the number one guy to bring out the best in him.  Or perhaps it is just a coincidence.  Regardless, if ever there was a time when the Jets needed to see the best in Cromartie, today's game is that time.   Across the line of scrimmage will be Odell Beckham Jr., one of the greatest wide receivers in the game and the Giants' best weapon on offense by a wide margin.  If Cromartie needs to be challenged to bring out his best, he certainly should show up for today's nightmare matchup.

Here are Antonio Cromartie's NFL statistics:

Year

Games

Passes Defended

Interceptions

Tackles

Assists

.

2006

16

5

0

20

4

2007

16

18

10

39

5

2008

16

9

2

60

4

2009

16

10

3

31

2

2010

15

17

3

41

1

2011

16

12

4

36

9

2012

16

13

3

30

5

2013

16

10

3

35

7

2014

16

12

3

46

6

2015

10

8

0

20

3

Antonio Cromartie was once as freakishly fast and athletic as any cornerback in football.  He used those tremendous physical attributes to make up for a somewhat less refined technique as a cornerback.  Now, at the age of 31, and in his 10th NFL season, time and hits have done to Cromartie what they eventually do to every football player.  Cromartie is no longer able to consistently rely on being a superior athlete than his opponent.  As a result Cromartie's play has suffered.  As shown by last week's game Cromartie can still come up with a very good performance on occasion; it's just that those occasions have gotten more scarce as the years have taken their toll.

In today's game Cromartie is most likely to get the lion's share of the cover assignments against Beckham.  Now would be a really nice time to pull another vintage performance out of the hat, because if Cromartie is not at the top of his game, Beckham has gifts that will make opposing cornerbacks pay dearly.  Given that the other outside cornerback position will be manned by some combination of Buster Skrine, Darrin Walls and possibly Dee Milliner, the Jets will likely be in for a very long day if Beckham is not at least somewhat limited in the damage he does.  Under 100 yards receiving and a single touchdown is acceptable, if not inspiring, but if Beckham torches Cromartie for substantially more, and the other cornerback matchups play out, as they very likely will, in the Giants favor, it is difficult to see how the Jets will be able to keep up with the Giants' aerial assault.

If this were 2012 the Jets could have some confidence that Cromartie would be able to fend off a monster performance by Beckham.  In 2015 that is a much dicier proposition, but one the Jets are reduced to wishful thinking about, because there aren't many good alternatives.

No doubt the Jets will send whomever is covering Beckham help for much of the game.  But if the Jets devote too many resources to trying to limit Beckham, the other less than stellar Jets cornerbacks become huge liabilities against the Giants' other weapons.  If Cromartie can limit the Beckham damage without constantly rolling a ton of help his way, then the rest of the Giants'  offense is unlikely to present a formidable challenge for the Jets.  A limited Beckham likely means an excellent shot at a Jets victory.  On the other hand, if youth is served and the uber-talented Beckham makes Cromartie look every bit of his 31+ years, it may well be a long and fruitless day for the Jets.  Likewise, if the only way the Jets can prevent Beckham from a monster performance is by constantly rolling plenty of help to Beckham's side, leaving the other cornerbacks on an island, the secondary Giants' weapons are likely good enough to make the likes of a Walls or Milliner or McDougle or even Skrine pay dearly and often.

Antonio Cromartie has been a star in the NFL.  He has been an All Pro.  He has performed admirably when thrust into the number one cornerback role for the Jets.  Cromartie was brought home to help Revis anchor a revamped Jets secondary and provide the kind of shutdown cornerback coverage mostly missing since their respective departures.  Today's game provides Cromartie the opportunity to turn back the clock and play like it's 2012 again.   In an away game in front of a hometown crowd, Cromartie stands in the spotlight, lining up against a cornerback's nightmare. This is Antonio Cromarties' moment to shine.  This is his time to once again remind people of just how good he can be.  This is the time to bring home a much needed win against the Jets' local rivals.  Cromartie in the spotlight offers a chance to justify the investment the Jets made in him, and a chance to state his case to return to the Jets next year.  Antonio Cromartie has been known to rise to the occasion in the past.  Let's hope he shines bright on Sunday.