In 2015 the Jets' starters at defensive back included Darrelle Revis and Antonio Cromartie at outside cornerbacks, Buster Skrine in the slot, and Calvin Pryor and Marcus Gilchrist at safety. The primary backups were Marcus Williams, Darrin Walls and Dexter McDougle at cornerback and Rontez Miles and Dion Bailey at safety. The defensive backs did a creditable job. Revis, though he had clearly lost a step from his peak years, was still an excellent cover corner. Cromartie struggled mightily on the other side through the first half of the season before rebounding and playing fairly well over the second half. Marcus Williams was an interception machine as the primary dime cornerback, but he struggled badly with his tackling. Skrine was up and down in the slot, shining some games and struggling badly in others. Backup cornerbacks McDougle and Walls were mostly bad, though McDougle did have at least one decent game subbing in for Skrine in the slot.
At safety Pryor developed nicely into a budding star, providing big hits and mostly solid play with few glaring errors. Gilchrist was solid at free safety, though not particularly great. Bailey and Miles both flashed a bit in limited roles. Together the defensive backs combined for 12 interceptions, 6 fumble recoveries and 2 forced fumbles, a nice change from the recent Jets teams that struggled to make big plays on defense. They also combined to hold opposing offenses to a 79 passer rating, good for the 6th best mark in the NFL, and hold opposing offenses to a 57% completion percentage, the best mark in the NFL.
The 2016 Jets team will feature Revis once again as top dog at outside cornerback, Skrine again in the slot, with some work on the outside as well, and Pryor and Gilchrist at the two starting safety positions. The only changes will come at the second outside cornerback position and among the backups. The second outside cornerback position appears to be a battle among Marcus Williams, Dee Milliner and possibly Dexter McDougle and Justin Burris. These players have alternated looking anywhere from mediocre to incompetent in the preseason. How the 2016 Jets stack up against the 2015 Jets in the defensive backfield will largely hinge on whether anyone can step up and provide solid pay at the second outside cornerback position.
Revis is another year older, and thus is a likely candidate for some age related decline. However, Revis' wrist injury negatively impacted his play through much of the 2015 season, suggesting that with a return to health we may see improved play on the Island. Pryor is entering his third season and should still be on an upward trajectory. He should be somewhat better in 2016, perhaps adding a dynamic pass rush aspect to his game. Gilchrist and Skrine are too old to project much improvement and too young for age related decline. Mark them down as about the same as 2015, although Skrine might struggle if he takes too many snaps on the outside, where he is just a bit too small. That leaves the four way battle for the second outside cornerback postion. Cromartie was far from great there in 2015, though over the second half he played fairly well. Unless somebody steps up quickly it would appear that play at the second outside cornerback position is in for a decline from 2015 levels. The offseason favorite, Marcus Williams, has struggled badly in the preseason against better competition at the #2 wide receiver position. Milliner and Burris haven't shown much more, and McDougle has been largely missing due to injuries. Mark the second outside cornerback position as worse in 2016.
Unlike some positions, the defensive back backups usually get some significant roles. Last year those roles went to Walls, Williams, McDougle, Bailey and Miles. This year Walls is gone. Bailey might not make the team. Some combination of Dee Milliner, Dexter McDougle, and rookie Juston Burris will likely back up Williams, Skrine and Revis, assuming Williams retains his rather shaky hold on the starting second outside cornerback position. Though this year's backup group is shaky at best, it does not look to be any worse than last year's unit. The loss of Walls is hardly a devastating blow. In addition, Miles should still be on the upswing, and whoever grabs the last backup safety position, if it isn't the return of Bailey, will have to beat out Bailey to take the job. Call the defensive backups better in 2016.
That leaves us with Revis about the same, with any age related decline offset by a likely return to full health. Skrine and Gilchrist should also be about the same. Pryor should be better, the second outside cornerback should be worse, and the backups should be a bit better. Overall that looks like pretty much a wash to me, so I'm going with about the same, with a slight bias in the better direction if Revis was hurt worse than we thought last year.
What about you? What do you think? Will the Jets' defensive backfield be better, worse or about the same in 2016?