Between now and preseason, we’re breaking down the Jets’ undrafted rookies. However, we’re going to deviate from that for the next week or so, as we review some of the veteran additions the Jets have made since training camp began, continuing today with former Titans and Bears safety Dane Cruikshank.
The 28-year old Cruikshank has started four games in his NFL career, all in 2021, and racked up 66 tackles and an interception. However, he’s probably better known as a special teamer.
Cruikshank began his collegiate career at the JUCO level, playing for Citrus College in 2013. He caught four passes for 147 yards and a touchdown, returned three kickoff for 103 yards and had five tackles and a forced fumble as he played a variety of roles in his first season.
In 2014, he moved to defense full-time and racked up 45 tackles, a tackle for loss, four pass breakups and an interception. He then headed to Arizona as a three-star JUCO recruit.
After redshirting the 2015 season, Cruikshank played a year at cornerback before moving to safety. He had some struggles at cornerback but did rack up 60 tackles, seven pass breakups and two interceptions. He fared better at safety with 75 tackles and three interceptions.
After a good performance at the scouting combine, Cruikshank was drafted in the fifth round of the 2018 draft by the Tennessee Titans and did a good job in his first two seasons, mostly in a special teams role.
In 2020, he only played in two games due to injuries and he had only played 58 regular season defensive snaps as he entered his fourth NFL season. However, in 2021 he got more chances to play and started four games. He ended the year with 43 tackles, a pass defensed and a forced fumble.
In 2022, Cruikshank moved on to Chicago where he was back in a special teams role and again missed time due to injuries. The Jets signed him early on in training camp - perhaps due to rookie Jarrick Bernard-Converse starting off on the PUP list.
Now let’s take a look at what Cruikshank brings to the table, divided into categories.
Cruikshank lacks ideal size and length and has small hands but he performed well at the scouting combine with above average numbers for speed (4.41 in the 40-yard dash), strength (25 bench press reps), explosiveness and in the three cone drill. His short shuttle was slightly below average.
Cruikshank played a variety of positions during his college career, including as an outside cornerback. In his redshirt senior year, he played the “Spur” position which is a hybrid safety/linebacker role. He hasn’t played much as a deep safety.
Cruikshank struggled as a cornerback in 2016, although his experience at that position could benefit him now he’s a full-time safety. He gave up 14 yards per catch and eight touchdowns as a cornerback but these numbers reduced to below 10 yards per catch and only two touchdowns in 2017.
As you can see, his footwork and balance likely isn’t consistent enough to handle a full-time cornerback role.
As a result, Cruikshank hasn’t been employed much in off-man or bump and run style coverage, although he does flash the speed to turn and run with his man on downfield routes. Instead Tennessee used him most effectively in a press coverage role near the line.
He’s lined up deep at times, but even though he has good range, he doesn’t seem to be well-suited to a single-high or center field role.
When he has been targeted in regular season and preseason action, Cruikshank’s coverage numbers haven’t been too bad, with most of the longest plays he’s given up coming on short passes.
Cruikshank had some good production at Arizona with 12 pass breakups in two seasons but he only has a couple of pass breakups at the NFL level. His closing speed and timing seem pretty good though.
At the NFL level, his only interception came on a Hail Mary pass on what turned out to be his only defensive snap in the 2020 season.
He did intercept another pass, jumping in front of a receiver on a pass over the middle, but this was negated by a flag.
Cruikshank is a willing tackler and has had some good production and a few highlight reel hits where he shows good closing speed.
He has good range and the ability to break down in space to stay in front of a ball carrier who cuts back.
Although he doesn’t have a massive tackle radius, he takes good angles to the football and shows good technique to bring ball carriers down.
He hasn’t missed many tackles at the NFL level although there were a couple, including a 36-yarder against the Colts and the play shown below, where he allowed his man to get away for a decent gain.
As you’d expect from someone who played a hybrid linebacker role, Cruikshank contributes well in run support and is willing to come up into the box.
He probably lacks the size to play a full-time box role against NFL-sized offensive players though.
Cruikshank is a big hitter and shows a willingness to take on blocks or get in front of a ball carrier.
The best way he demonstrates his physicality is in press coverage. He has had some impressive moments against some of the league’s better tight ends in terms of slowing them up at the line and staying tight on them in coverage.
As a cornerback, he was a little grabby, and ended up with nine pass interference penalties in 2016 alone. At the NFL level, he has had one defensive holding penalty and one pass interference penalty, although the latter was a spot foul for a 43-yard gain.
Cruikshank was used as a blitzer a handful of times per game in his last season with the Wildcats and, although he only had one sack, he was quite effective at generating pressure.
He’s barely ever blitzed at the NFL level, but on this play he showed excellent physicality to knock the blocking back off his spot.
Cruikshank is a proven special teams contributor over the course of his NFL career, often retaining a roster spot for those duties alone.
He has played on every single unit, including as a primary gunner, which could be relevant with Brandin Echols suspended to start the season. Cruikshank racked up 14 special teams tackles in his first two seasons as he did an impressive job of blowing up returns and downing punts close to the goal line.
In addition, he’s blocked well on return units, rushed kicks and operated as a vice on the punt return unit. He had two huge plays for the Titans; a 66-yard touchdown catch on a fake punt and a blocked field goal that was returned for a score.
He has also had five special teams penalties in his career, three while blocking and the other two for going out of bounds on a punt and illegal touching.
The book on Cruikshank is that he can be prone to lapses and blown assignments in coverage, which limits the variety of ways NFL teams might be prepared to use him.
Here’s an excellent job of reading and reacting by Cruikshank, who blows up the tight end screen for a loss, though.
He had one penalty for defensive offside at the NFL level.
Cruikshank is a player who has shown a good work ethic and was named as a team captain in his final season at Arizona. He’s obviously shown desire and determination to make it this far via the JUCO route and his versatility and willingness to contribute on special teams speak to his team-first attitude.
There was one incident in college which enraged his coaches and called into question his maturity, although it was obviously a learning process for him. Having intercepted a pass, he was on his way to return it for a touchdown but ended up getting called for a taunting penalty that negated the score.
Cruikshank has had multiple knee, hamstring and groin issues over the course of his career. He missed three games with a knee injury as a rookie and has been placed on injured reserve four times in the past three seasons, although he’s presumably now healthy again and none of these issues have been particularly serious.
For most of his career, Cruikshank has been a special teamer that has barely had a role on defense, but some of his film from the 2021 season in which he played over 400 snaps perhaps indicates that he could be a viable dime safety who you would employ against teams with tight ends who are a threat in the passing game and get him to play press coverage against them.
Within this role, he’s had good results against the likes of George Kittle and Mark Andrews. With that said, though, having displayed his abilities to do this, he was signed by Chicago the following season and then never saw the field on defense.
During the course of his career, Cruikshank has been teammates with current Jets Corey Davis, Tim Boyle, Isaiah Mack and Adam Pankey.
This looks like a potentially useful pick-up for the Jets. Cruikshank is not really a viable option to start on a team that is hoping to contend but, as noted, he might be a useful situational piece.
Even if he isn’t, what he brings to the table on special teams alone might be worthy of a roster spot. With Will Parks gone, he’s a better special teamer than Ashtyn Davis and with Bernard-Converse on the PUP list for who knows how long, that might give him a clear path to the 53-man roster.