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Scouting Jets cornerback Brian Poole

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NFL: Arizona Cardinals at Atlanta Falcons Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

With the new league year underway, we’re going to break down each of the Jets’ new additions in detail. We continue today with former Atlanta Falcons cornerback Brian Poole.

The 26-year old Poole is listed at 5’9” and 213 pounds and was undrafted out of Florida in 2016. In three seasons with the Falcons, Poole has started 21 games and racked up 198 tackles, five sacks, four interceptions and 20 passes defensed in regular season action. He’s also started four postseason games. The Jets signed Poole to a one-year deal earlier this month.

Background

Poole was recruited for Florida by Will Muschamp, although he didn’t play much in his freshman year. His role increased over the next three years and he set career highs with 45 tackles and four interceptions in his junior year. While his production slipped in his senior year, Poole did record five forced fumbles to lead the SEC. Penn State defensive end Carl Nassib was the only player in the nation with more than that.

Poole was rated as a potential late-round pick and boosted his stock with a 99-yard pick six in the East West Shrine Game. However, following an underwhelming set of pro day numbers, he went undrafted. He chose to sign with the Falcons over a few other teams due to his relationship with head coach Dan Quinn, who was on Florida’s defensive staff when Poole was recruited.

Poole had a good camp and preseason, making the Falcons’ opening day roster and defensive rotation as the nickel back. He eventually started nine games and recorded 59 tackles, 10 pass break-ups and an interception as the Falcons went all the way to the Super Bowl.

In his second season, Poole only started three times but was still a major contributor with 63 tackles and four pass break-ups as the Falcons again went to the postseason.

Last year saw Poole rack up career highs in tackles (74), sacks (three) and interceptions (three), as he again started nine games.

Poole became just the 10th cornerback to have a season with 70 tackles, three sacks and three interceptions in NFL history and the first since 2004. In fact, only 10 players at any position have achieved this over the past five seasons.

The Falcons opted not to sign Poole to a restricted free agent tender and let him hit the open market, where the Jets were able to sign him to a one-year deal worth a reported $2 million with $1.5 million more in potential incentives.

Now let’s take a look at what Poole brings to the table, divided into categories.

Measurables/Athleticism

Poole is short and lacks length but is well-built with a strong frame. He ran a 4.5 in the 40-yard dash at his pro day but the rest of his workout numbers were below average across the board.

His vertical jump was only 29 inches and this has shown up on film at times as he can be susceptible to jump balls and fade routes.

Usage

Poole has mostly played in the slot at the NFL level but did also move to strong safety for a few games due to injuries. In college, he played outside and inside, as well as at both safety positions.

The book on Poole is that his lack of size could be a problem if he tried to move to safety full time, but this versatility could be useful even if his primary role is in the slot.

Coverage skills

Poole’s coverage numbers have been acceptable over the course of his career. In fact, his quarterback rating when targeted has been exactly the same as Buster Skrine’s over the course of their respective careers.

The slot cornerback position is a thankless task, which will see even the better players at that position giving up catches to the top possession receivers in the league. Poole has surrendered a catch rate of 73 percent and actually gave up the highest catch rate in the NFL in 2017, although he was outside the bottom 30 in his other two years. He has only given up 10.4 yards per catch which stacks up well with other slot corners. He was actually 9th in the NFL in that category in his rookie year.

Poole hasn’t given up a lot of big plays over the course of his career. He’s been beaten for nine touchdowns in total and has only given up one 40-yard play in regular season action:

One memorable clutch play from Poole’s career so far was against the Lions when it looked like Golden Tate had scored the winning touchdown, only for the replay booth to rule that he had been stopped short of the line, preserving the Falcons’ win:

Ball skills

Poole has been productive at making plays on the ball, as shown by his six interceptions in college and four interceptions and 20 passes defensed at the pro level. He also tipped a pass that was intercepted and returned for a touchdown by his teammate.

He shows good closing speed and anticipation, as well as having the timing to deflect passes or knock it away from his man as he’s trying to secure the catch:

Poole also displays an ability to stay with his man and then get his head turned to locate and track the ball, doing a good job here on a route the Jets got killed on all last year:

Run defense

With his high tackle numbers, Poole obviously contributes in run defense and on short passes. He displays a willingness to stick his nose in there, but also does a good job of reading and avoiding blockers without abandoning his contain responsibilities:

Tackling

Poole brings with him a reputation of being a big hitter and his highlight reels include plenty of examples of him firing up his teammates by jacking someone up or stopping them in their tracks.

Here’s a good example of a solid open field stop to prevent the ball carrier from getting to the first down marker:

As you might expect with Poole’s hard hitting style, he can be prone to missing tackles at times, as he’s averaged 12 per season:

Blitzing

Poole has been extremely productive as a blitzer, generating pressure on approximately one in every three pass rushes and generating five sacks and 11 quarterback hits officially.

Using him in this fashion gives Poole another opportunity to show off his hard-hitting style:

Physicality

Poole is a very physical player who, as mentioned, is known for being a hard hitter and will jam receivers in press coverage and disrupt them when running routes.

In his three seasons, Poole has 17 defensive penalties. That doesn’t sound like much, given that Skrine once had 16 in one season, but Skrine only gave up just over eight per season in his four years as a Jet.

Poole can get a bit grabby sometimes, as eight of his 17 penalties have been for defensive holding, but he’s only been called for illegal contact once and pass interference three times - although one was a 42-yard penalty. He has had a couple of personal fouls for unnecessary roughness and one for roughing the passer.

Special teams

Poole’s has an ideal skill-set for special teams, and has made some contributions over the course of his career so far:

However, he’s yet to fully establish himself in any particular role on special teams and has been prone to holding penalties with seven in his three seasons.

Instincts/Intelligence

Poole is regarded as a smart player with a good football IQ. You see evidence of this in how quickly he diagnoses and reacts to short passes.

He hasn’t been involved in many mental errors over the course of his career, which could be part of the reason the Jets sought him out to replace Skrine. However, there was one play where he blew a coverage:

Attitude

Poole is an energetic player whose style is likely to make him popular among his teammates. Off-the-field, he’s considered to have good work ethic and commitment.

His on-field recklessness can land him in trouble sometimes, as he was ejected for targeting in a college game once and he’s been fined on a few occasions for illegal hits at the NFL level. He also started a couple of brawls with big hits on Aaron Rodgers and Jameis Winston, although in each case the hit was arguably clean:

Injuries

Poole was out for a month with a collarbone injury in his sophomore year but otherwise didn’t have many issues in college, although he did get knocked out of the Shrine Game.

He’s only missed one game in his NFL career, due to a lower back injury, although he was listed with ankle, thumb and toe injuries last season.

Scheme Fit

Poole is a player who is experienced and equally effective in man or zone coverage, so should fit into Gregg Williams’ defense in a slot role or even as emergency cover at safety.

He is a former teammate and close friend of current Jets starting safety Marcus Maye, which could help to smooth the transition.

Conclusions

The big question many fans would have been asking when the Jets signed Poole was whether he’d be an upgrade over Buster Skrine. Over the past few years, their contributions have been on a similar level, although Poole’s first three seasons have been much better than Skrine’s were, so perhaps he is going to continue to get better.

It’s a low-cost, short-term deal for the Jets, who may be hoping for Parry Nickerson to make strides this year to challenge and perhaps even beat out Poole before the year is over. However, Poole’s versatility and competitiveness should make him a useful addition to the roster and there’s a strong chance he’ll make enough of a contribution that they’ll want to retain him at the end of his one-year deal.