Last week, the Jets claimed cornerback Corey Ballentine off waivers from the New York Giants and he was in uniform for them in Sunday’s game, although he didn’t play. Today, we’re going to take an in-depth look at his strengths and weaknesses.
The 24-year old is listed at 5’11” and 196 pounds and was a sixth round pick out of Washburn last season. Ballentine, the 2018 Cliff Harris Award winner, has made four starts in his first two seasons and registered 42 tackles, two pass break-ups and a quarterback hit while also contributing on special teams.
Ballentine was a late developer in high school, where he was undersized and ended up almost quitting football before his freshman season after enrolling at Washburn.
He eventually played in 46 games over four seasons, during which time he racked up 186 tackles, four forced fumbles and five interceptions, and also starred on the track. Ballentine emerged as a top special teams contributor in his sophomore year and then developed into a full-time starter on defense over the course of that season.
In his senior year in 2018, Ballentine showed playmaking ability with three interceptions, two forced fumbles and three blocked kicks and was the recipient of the Cliff Harris Award, given to the best small school defender in the nation. Former Jets Pierre Desir, Connor Harris and Marqui Christian have all won this award and current Jet Nathan Shepherd was Division II’s top vote-getter in 2017.
After being invited to the Senior Bowl, Ballentine performed well at the Scouting Combine and was a projected late round pick. The Giants selected him in the sixth round but he suffered an immediate setback when he was injured in a shooting incident that weekend.
He was healthy in time for training camp and ended up playing in 13 games for the Giants as a rookie, though. During the first half of the year he only really contributed on special teams but he was the team’s main nickelback in the second half of the season.
Ballentine began 2020 as a starter on the outside but was benched after the first two games and barely played on defense after that.
The Jets claimed Ballentine over a week ago and he was active for Sunday’s game against the Chargers but did not get into the game, even on special teams.
Let’s move onto some more in-depth analysis of what Ballentine brings to the table, based on in-depth research and film study.
Ballentine has average size but decent length and all of his workout numbers at the 2019 combine were above average at worst. His broad jump (135”) was the best at his position and his vertical (39.5”) was in the top five. He also ran a 4.47 in the 40-yard dash and posted good strength and agility numbers.
As noted, Ballentine was a sprinter in college and he reportedly impressed scouts with his speed during Senior Bowl week.
As noted, Ballentine has played both on the outside and in the slot while with the Giants. While he started off 2020 on the outside, he filled in at the slot cornerback position in his last appearance before being waived.
Ballentine has struggled over his first seasons, during which he’s been beaten for five touchdowns and is yet to intercept a pass.
Watching his film, Ballentine usually seems to have good feet, balance and hip flexibility and looks to have a basic technical foundation.
However, he has issues with anticipating routes and this is where he can problems because he will have a false step, be thrown slightly off balance or even get turned completely around because he lacks the composure and confidence in his technique to stay on top of his man.
Much of this might be because he’s still adjusting to playing in space in the slot which he didn’t do as often when he was in college and perhaps he’ll be more comfortable on the outside where he has the boundary to his outside shoulder and safety support to his inside.
The Bears went after Ballentine hard in their 2019 matchup with the Giants, to the tune of 12 catches for almost 200 yards and a touchdown. It seemed like they had identified that he struggled to recover on routes with a sharp break and exploited this for multiple big gains.
To his credit, there’s only been two other games in Ballentine’s career where he gave up a play of over 20 yards, so he’s generally done a decent job of not getting beaten over the top. When he anticipates the route well, he can mirror the receiver effectively.
So far, Ballentine hasn’t managed to get his hands on many balls as he has just two passes defensed in regular season action and no interceptions.
However, he did intercept five passes in college and has intercepted multiple passes in practice with the Giants. He also had this pick in preseason, on which he did a good job of getting his head turned early to locate the ball.
Ballentine shows good closing speed on film so he will be capable of exploiting any bad mistakes.
Ballentine has good toughness and is competitive at the catch point, but could still work to become more physical in terms of disrupting his man’s route.
He has played press coverage at times, but doesn’t always get a clean jam at the line of scrimmage.
He had some big hits in college and shows some ability to fight off blocks. However, he hasn’t always been able to get off blocks effectively at the pro level, perhaps suggesting he needs to add some more strength.
So far, Ballentine hasn’t displayed a tendency to grab and actually only has one defensive penalty in his first two seasons. This was a crucial one though, because it set up a touchdown to send the game against Washington to overtime.
He did have another pass interference penalty on a deep throw in preseason last year, although this was initially ruled as a clean pass breakup before being overturned by the replay booth - something which rarely happened once the season was underway and is now no longer possible.
Ballentine shows some signs of being an effective tackler, even on plays where he has to extend beyond his frame.
He hasn’t missed many tackles in his first two seasons because he generally breaks down quite well, although he can have lapses at times.
Ballentine had some big hits in college, including a spectacular one in the flat that sent the receiver’s helmet flying. He had four forced fumbles with Washburn.
Ballentine was a willing run defender in college, racking up a total of 10 tackles for loss. However, he’s only been in on the tackle on a couple of running plays during his career so far.
Ballentine hasn’t blitzed much at the pro level and only had 0.5 sacks in his college career. However, he shows a promisingly ability to get to the quarterback on this rush.
Ironically it might be his ability as a kickoff returner that benefits him here in terms of anticipating and hitting an open lane at speed.
Ballentine had plenty of experience as a kickoff returner in college and had some decent success in his rookie year as he averaged 25.6 yards per return which would have placed him in sixth in the NFL had he attempted enough to qualify. This was his longest runback.
He’s also contributed on kickoff coverage units, as a vice on the punt unit and as a punt gunner. Within these roles, he showed some development this season, racking up four tackles in the last five games before he was waived.
In college, Ballentine also blocked four kicks (all of them on field goals) and fielded one punt as a return man.
Pat Shurmur praised Ballentine for being smart and instinctive and he’s also been known to have good attention to detail, ask the right questions and have a desire to improve.
However, while he does seem to know his role and hasn’t blown many assignments, he played in a very basic system in college and is still learning how to anticipate what his man is going to do and translating that to the correct techniques in terms of his transitions.
On his film there are some plays where he diagnoses a play well and closes down the ball carrier quickly but there are also a few plays where he is initially in a good position in coverage only to lose his man at the end of a play.
The aforementioned willingness to improve and dedication towards hard work stood out with the Giants, especially since they have had a few defensive backs with questionable attitudes.
The shooting incident, which took place at a party last April, is not viewed as a red flag character-wise because it sounds like he was just in the wrong place at the wrong time. His college roommate was sadly killed in the incident and his mental toughness in overcoming his grief at that loss has been widely praised.
Ballentine’s gunshot wound disrupted his first offseason slightly but he was healthy again in time for camp. The injury was to one of his glutes.
As a rookie, Ballentine missed two games due to concussion in the middle of the season and then another due to a second concussion later in the year.
He had a minor back injury at the end of the season but didn’t miss any time and hasn’t had any injury issues since then.
As noted, he played 46 games at Washburn, so injuries obviously weren’t an issue for him in college.
The Jets have mostly targeted players who can excel in zone-based coverage schemes over the last few seasons, but Ballentine comes from more of a man coverage background.
This is interesting because it may signal the Jets have an intention to shift away from the zone-based system, whether or not Gregg Williams is still the defensive coordinator in 2021. However, they may still view him as a scheme fit due to his ability to react and close.
Alternatively, maybe the main reason they got him is just because they need to improve their kick return unit. There’s no reason why he can’t provide an immediate upgrade in that role.
Ballentine struggled with the Giants in his first two seasons and wasn’t particularly popular with the fans but you get the sense he was thrust into a role in the slot before he was completely ready and never really got a chance to find his feet in the starting lineup.
There are some raw elements to his game but these all appear to be things that could be fixable and he’s apparently a coachable player who could respond well to the right kind of advice.
Any midseason waiver claim is worth a shot, especially if it’s a young player with untapped potential. With the luxury of being first in the waiver priority, it makes sense for the Jets to explore anyone who comes up, even if it’s with an immediate eye on special teams help and a more extended look in camp next season.