Commentary

Jets get sticky in defensive backfield

Wilson combines with Revis, Cromartie to form formidable backfield trio

Updated: April 25, 2010, 1:02 AM ET
By Rich Cimini | Special to ESPNNewYork.com

The New York Jets took an unusual approach to the first round of the NFL draft. For a change, they didn't do anything. They just waited ... and waited ... until Boise State's Kyle Wilson, whom they rated as the most physically skilled cornerback, fell to them Thursday night with the 29th pick.

Sometimes you get lucky. And sometimes you benefit from another team's indecision. If it weren't for a heated debate in the Browns' war room -- yes, the Browns -- things might have turned out differently for the Jets and Wilson.

Picking seventh overall, the Browns narrowed their choice to two cornerbacks, Wilson and Florida's Joe Haden. It apparently was a tough call because, according to a league source, the discussion became rather intense. Why is it that former Jets coach Eric Mangini, who gifted his former team the pick last year that brought Mark Sanchez to New York, always winds up playing a role in the Jets' draft?

[+] EnlargeKyle Wilson
Jed Jacobsohn/Getty ImagesKyle Wilson's freefall became Rex Ryan and the Jets' windfall on Thursday.

Anyway, the Browns chose Haden. At that moment, in the Jets' draft room, Rex Ryan began to hope.

"We're looking at that board and I'm just saying, 'Hang in there, hang in there,'" Ryan said. "That's exactly what happened."

Surprisingly, Wilson, an upbeat, chatty kid from Piscataway, N.J., lasted another 22 picks, nearly falling out of the first round. This was a prospect widely projected as a top-20 talent. More than a few teams rated him as the top corner in the draft, but he wound up being the fourth corner off the board -- after Haden, Alabama's Kareem Jackson and Rutgers' Devin McCourty.

In an offseason in which they have been forced to make their own breaks because of free-agency restrictions in an uncapped year, the Jets simply let the draft come to them. As a result, they have, on paper, a premier cornerback trio: All-Pro Darrelle Revis on one side, former Charger Pro Bowler Antonio Cromartie on the other and Wilson in the slot.

Ryan, wasting no time, named Wilson the starting nickel back. He's also a terrific punt returner and, unless something crazy happens, he'll wrest that job from Jim (Nine Yards and a Cloud of Dust) Leonhard. But that's just a bonus; Wilson's real value is at cornerback.

In the AFC East, which features the Patriots' always-dangerous spread passing attack and the Dolphins' new receiving stud, Brandon Marshall, a deep secondary is critical. The Jets owned the No. 1 pass defense last season, but they did it with smoke, mirrors and Revis. Now they have three corners that can play Ryan's in-your-face, man-to-man scheme -- assuming Wilson is the real deal and Cromartie can recapture his pre-2009 form.

"The board and the need aligned," said GM Mike Tannenbaum, explaining the Wilson pick. "That's the dream scenario."

How pumped is Ryan? As he and Tannenbaum settled into their chairs at the post-draft news conference, a high-pitched sound -- feedback -- came from a radio reporter's microphone. After an awkward pause, Ryan cracked, "I think those were the receivers, crying."

The receivers that will line up against the Jets' revamped secondary, he meant.

Wilson (5-10, 194) is strong, fast and instinctive. At the scouting combine, he bench pressed 225 pounds 25 times, unusually high for a cornerback. He has the best feet and hips of any corner in the draft, according to Jets scouts. He's durable, works hard and shows leadership. At Boise State, he ran summer practices when the coaches weren't around. He's known as a trash talker, which means he'll fit right in with the rest of Ryan's crew.

He definitely passes the smell test. If Wilson has a shortcoming, it's that he didn't face a high level of competition on a consistent basis, but he raised his stock at the Senior Bowl, where he battled top receivers.

"That," said Joey Clinkscales, the Jets' vice president of college scouting, "was really special for him."

Said Wilson: "I think the Senior Bowl clarified some competition questions ... I think that maybe opened some people's eyes, some of the skeptics who didn't believe I was playing against top-flight competition."

The Jets chose Wilson over two highly regarded pass rushers, TCU's Jerry Hughes and Texas' Sergio Kindle. You hate to pass on a good edge rusher, but the Jets evidently believe an aging Jason Taylor -- Fireman Ed's new best buddy -- can upgrade that area.

It's risky, for sure, but the Jets made the right call. If you don't think so, all you have to do is go back to the AFC Championship game in Indianapolis, where Peyton Manning shredded Dwight Lowery, Lito Sheppard and Drew Coleman.

"Clearly," Ryan said, "that was an issue."

Not anymore.

Rich Cimini is a contributor to ESPNNewYork.com.

Rich Cimini

ESPN New York Jets reporter

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