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Scouting Jets cornerback Pierre Desir

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Carolina Panthers v Indianapolis Colts Photo by Justin Casterline/Getty Images

With the offseason underway, we’ve been taking an in-depth look at each of the Jets’ new signings. We continue with a look at cornerback Pierre Desir.

The 29-year old is listed at 6’1” and 198 pounds and was a fourth round pick out of Lindenwood in 2014. He started seven games in two years with the Browns but then was released by three different teams before ending up with the Colts. Over the past three seasons, Desir has made 29 starts and recorded the first five interceptions of his career.

Background

Desir was born in Haiti but moved to Missouri when he was young and, having taken up football, was an all-state defensive back in high school.

He headed to play college football at Washburn, where - after red-shirting his first year - he earned first-team all-MIAA honors in 2009 and second-team honors in 2010. Desir was among the Division II leaders with seven interceptions and 13 passes defensed in 2009.

After the 2010 season, Desir opted to transfer to Lindenwood be closer to his family and sat out the 2011 season. Over the next two years, he was a Division II all-American, leading the nation with nine interceptions in 2012 and adding 18 passes defensed. Despite being targeted less in 2013, he still had four interceptions and 12 passes defensed and won the Cliff Harris Award for the best small school defensive player in the nation.

Desir earned a combine invite and also was invited to participate in the senior bowl after performing well at the East West Shrine Game. He was eventually selected by the Browns in the fourth round of the 2014 draft.

As a rookie, Desir was mostly a healthy scratch but eventually played in five games, starting one. He had nine tackles and two passes defensed. In his second season, he started six games and had 37 passes defensed and five passes defensed.

In 2016 he was released in final cuts by the Browns. After a short stint with the Chargers during which he recorded three tackles in five games, Desir was released again and ended up the season on Seattle’s practice squad.

Having signed a futures deal with Seattle after the 2017 season, he got released in final cuts but the Colts claimed him and he finally started to establish himself in Indianapolis. Desir started in six of his nine appearances and had 32 tackles, seven passes defensed and the first interception of his career.

2018 was a breakout season for Desir, who played in every game, starting 12. He had a career-high 79 tackles to go along with eight passes defensed and one interception. He signed a three-year, $22.5 million extension after the season.

In 2019, Desir set career highs with three interceptions and 11 passes defensed. However, he was banged up throughout the year as he got beaten for five touchdowns and allowed a quarterback rating of over 100 when targeted.

The Colts opted to release him just one year into his three-year deal, so the Jets pounced and offered him a one-year deal worth a maximum of $5.5 million.

Let’s move onto some more in-depth analysis of what Desir brings to the table, based on in-depth research and film study.

Measurables/Athleticism

Desir’s combine workout was a mixed bag. His 4.59 in the 40-yard dash was disappointing and he had a poor short shuttle and bench press. However, his broad jump was the second-best by anyone at the 2014 combine and his three cone drill and long shuttle were good.

Usage

Desir has primarily played on the outside, although he did have one game in 2017 where he was forced to play in the slot and didn’t give up a catch. He gave up a few first downs from the slot in 2019, though.

His skill set might lend himself to a switch to safety later in his career and the Browns gave him some reps at the position in preseason in 2016.

Coverage skills

Desir is considered to be a cornerback who is at his best in zone coverage, which explains why he had a break-out year when the Colts hired Matt Eberflus as their defensive coordinator before the 2018 season because those are the schemes he favors.

Over the second half of the season, Desir did an excellent job in match-ups with Corey Davis (twice), Amari Cooper and DeAndre Hopkins (twice), holding them below their usual output in all five games and gaining confidence from his success.

Desir has good technique and looks smooth coming in and out of his transitions. On this play he changes direction instantly to break on the ball:

Although he didn’t play as well in 2019, that wasn’t just because he was banged up. Some of his least effective performance or worst plays came because he was exposed in man coverage situations, which is not his strength. For example, against the Chiefs, Eberflus surprised Patrick Mahomes with a man-heavy scheme and the Colts ended up with a shock win. However, Desir had struggled, giving up a season-high 109 yards on five catches.

He also got beaten for a couple of long catches by Hopkins later in the year, including this one, which highlights the fact that he may lack the speed to recover and stay with a faster receiver on a vertical route if that receiver can get a step on him:

He shows a good ability to close on the ball, which he does here after showing good physicality to disrupt Hopkins’ route:

Ball skills

Desir has put up some excellent numbers in terms of interceptions and pass break-ups over the years, although obviously when he was playing at a lower level he was putting up better numbers than he has in the NFL.

When dropping into coverage, he’s at his best when he can play off and keep everything in front of him so he can locate the ball and make a play on it. When he has a chance to do this, he goes after it aggressively:

Another thing Desir has a real knack for is prying the ball away from receivers if they catch it away from their frame. He uses his outstanding length well to get his hands to the ball to knock it loose.

On this play, Desir has safety support to the inside so is able to play the ball the whole way and he actually rips the ball away for an interception:

Desir obviously has good hands, having racked up 25 interceptions in college. However, he has dropped a few potential picks at the NFL level.

Tackling

Desir is regarded as a good tackler, but he was prone to mistakes in 2019, missing more than he had in the rest of his career put together. Here was one particularly bad example:

This was probably one of the biggest factors that was affected by the fact he wasn’t 100 percent healthy since it was never an issue in the past.

Althought Desir isn’t a big hitter he did force two fumbles in 2018 and closes well on ball carriers in space.

Physicality

Aside from being competitive in terms of knocking the ball out, Desir goes after the ball aggressively. However, there are times when a receiver can outmuscle him at the top of his route if he isn’t able to get his head turned in time:

He’s comfortable in off-coverage, though, and seems to be at his best when playing catch technique. This enables his to use his length to keep the receiver in front of him as he breaks off the line so he can see the ball and make a play on it. He is physical in these situations, making contact within five yards and extending his arms without grabbing or pushing off.

Desir has also been used in press coverage at times, but he’s not as effective at this. On this example, note how he backs up slightly rather than being the aggressor with the jam. This causes him to get his hands up too late to slow the receiver’s release:

In his career, Desir has never had more than four penalties in a season. All of his penalties have been in coverage, as he’s had six holding penaltes and the rest have been for pass interference, illegal contact or illegal use of the hands. He does play it close to the vest at times with how much contact he makes off the line.

Run defense

At times, Desir can be guilty of being too passive in the running game. He has a tendency to play over-conservatively, as if concentrating on keeping outside contain rather than fighting off the block because he doesn’t want to risk getting caught on the inside. This can lead to some big cutback lanes.

He did step his production against the run over the last couple of years. Here was one play where he crashed down and got in on the stop on fourth down:

Blitzing

Desir has only blitzed a few times in his career, although he did have a strip-sack in preseason a few years ago:

Special teams

In the 2016 preseason, Desir showed some special teams potential with three tackles in kick coverage:

However, that’s really the only time in his pro career that he’s had any production on special teams. It’s rare for a cornerback not to get any reps in the gunner role but his relative lack of straight line speed is probably the reason for this.

Desir has played the vice role at times though and has had two special teams penalties in his career, both for holding.

In high school and college, Desir had some success as a kick and punt returner but hasn’t tried this at the pro level.

Instincts/Intelligence

One of Desir’s best attributes has been his instincts when playing zone coverage. He has good positioning, anticipates well and reacts quickly.

It’s rare that he makes a mistake when playing zone but there was one long touchdown last year where he passed off DeAndre Hopkins to the deep safety who wasn’t in position to pick him up. That may have been the safety’s fault though.

There are times where he can be fixated on his coverage assignment and late to react to a running play or misdirection.

Attitude

Desir is regarded as having a humble attitude, a team-first approach and a strong work ethic. He has two children and has had a determined, confident and mature attitude throughout his career.

He was the Colts’ nominee for the Walter Payton Man of the Year award in the 2019 season.

Injuries

Desir has only been on injured reserve once in his career after a late-season shoulder/pectoral injury in 2017.

In 2019, Desir was banged up throughout the year and that presumably had an impact on his performance. He initially had a bone bruise, but then missed four games with a hamstring injury and was limited by a groin issue near the end of the season.

Scheme Fit

As noted, Desir is at his best when playing in zone coverages or when he has safety support. Gregg Williams has favored man-to-man coverages with a single-high safety in the past but had success with a system primarily based on Cover-2 zone coverages with the Jets over the second half of last year.

Desir comes from the same system as Nate Hairston and Arthur Maulet and the way those two were used by Williams could give us a clue as to his intentions in the upcoming season. Maulet had success as a starter on the outside when the Jets moved to more zone coverages, while Hairston fell down the depth chart.

Predictably, while Desir had his best ever season after the switch to a zone-based system with new defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus in 2018, Hairston - who is better off in man coverage - struggled more than he had in the previous season. That’s why he ended up with the Jets in the first place, so it would be ironic if they now became more of a zone-based team and he was no longer a fit for them either.

There’s a connection between the Colts and the Jets’ front office as assistant general manager Rex Hogan was their vice president of player personnel in 2017 and 2018. Other players that have come to the Jets from the Colts who would have been teammates of Desir include Ross Travis, Henry Anderson and Tarell Basham. He has also been a teammate of George Fant.

Conclusions

Desir is a talented player and there are legitimate reasons why he didn’t play as well in 2019 as he had in 2018.

However, while he’s been able to hold up well against some good players, he generally is at his best when he has safety support and isn’t really the kind of player you’d ideally want to leave on an island, so the Jets will have to ensure they use him in such a way that will maximize his abilities.

Either way, Desir is a good addition to the secondary, who should provide them with an upgrade. Unless they invest in another veteran, the Jets will have to hope that one of their young corners, perhaps including whoever they draft in April, will be able to hold down the other side.