Post-draft analysis: Cornerbacks

Jacksonville Jaguars cornerback A.J. Bouye (21) dives to break up a fourth quarter pass intended for Pittsburgh Steelers receiver Antonio Brown (84) during an NFL game Sunday, November 18, 2018 in Jacksonville, Fla. (Rick Wilson via AP)
Jacksonville Jaguars cornerback A.J. Bouye (21) dives to break up a fourth quarter pass intended for Pittsburgh Steelers receiver Antonio Brown (84) during an NFL game Sunday, November 18, 2018 in Jacksonville, Fla. (Rick Wilson via AP)

JACKSONVILLE – Senior writer John Oehser and senior correspondent Brian Sexton examine the cornerback position in this post-2019 NFL Draft look at the Jaguars’ roster…

Position: Cornerback (11).

Projected starters: Jalen Ramsey, A.J. Bouye.

Others: D.J. Hayden, Quenton Meeks, Tre Herndon, Breon Borders, Tae Hayes, Picasso Nelson, Saivion Smith, Brandon Watson, Jocquez Kalili.

Arrivals: Hayes (undrafted collegiate free agent), Nelson (undrafted collegiate free agent), Smith (undrafted collegiate free agent), Watson (collegiate undrafted free agent), Kalili (undrafted collegiate free agent).

Departures: Tyler Patmon (unrestricted free agent).

Offseason breakdown: The Jaguars were comparatively and expectedly quiet at this position of strength in the offseason, not addressing the position in unrestricted free agency or the 2019 NFL Draft. They allowed Patmon to become an unrestricted free agent and signed Hayes, Nelson, Smith, Watson and Kalili as undrafted collegiate free agents shortly after the draft.

Oehser analysis: This likely will be one of the Jaguars’ two strongest positions in 2019. How strong will it be compared to the rest of the NFL? The answer could define a lot about the Jaguars’ ’19 season, because much about the Jaguars’ defense – and indeed the entire team – could depend on Bouye. When Bouye during his first season with the Jaguars in 2017 played at or near the level of Ramsey, the team had the NFL’s best cornerback tandem, the defense was elite and the team followed an AFC South title with a run to the AFC Championship Game. The Jaguars that season were second in the NFL in interceptions and sacks, and a big reason for both statistics was the Jaguars had a rarity in the modern NFL – a pair of corners with lockdown coverage ability. Ramsey, despite an uncharacteristically difficult game in Indianapolis in November, was close to his first-team All-Pro level of ’17 much of last season. Bouye, a second-team All-Pro selection in 2017, was still very good in ’18 but didn’t match his ‘17 level – and the result was a less-suffocating feel to the pass defense. Hayden played very well much of the season after missing six games with a toe injury. The three players form one of the NFL’s best corner trios – perhaps the best, period – and the group gives the Jaguars’ defense the potential to be turnover-centric if the pass rush is effective. The unknown here is depth. Beyond the top three, there isn’t a drafted player in the cornerback room. Meeks and Herndon played well enough last season as rookies after signing as undrafted free agents that the Jaguars didn’t use free-agent or draft equity on this position, but there’s a lot of untested youth beyond that.

Sexton analysis: We were talking a year ago about the best cornerback tandem in football, with Ramsey and Bouye so good in 2017 that there really wasn’t another duo close to their performance level. This year we’re talking about the NFL’s best cornerback – and wondering if Bouye can get back to where he was when 2017 ended. You don’t have to be an “expert” to know they don’t come any better than Ramsey, who was put on this earth to stare down the NFL’s best receivers and quarterbacks. Bigger than most linebackers, longer than most NBA shooting guards, faster than most receivers and more competitive than anyone I can think of, he played at an All-Pro level last season despite not making the All-Pro team. He’s the best in the NFL. As for Bouye, he was off last year and just didn’t seem the same guy on or off the field. Bouye went undrafted because he didn’t have Ramsey’s measurables, then blossomed into one of the NFL’s highest-paid corners because his competitiveness blended with a tireless worth ethic and took his game to heights few expected. If Bouye is motivated to return to his place among the game’s top corners – and there’s no reason he shouldn’t be – this duo will be the league’s best again. It was tough to gauge the addition of Hayden last year; while he was very good, a lingering toe injury cost him the heart of the season. The corners could be a Murderers’ Row for opposing quarterbacks if Hayden stays on the field; he’s smooth, quick and tough – and has an innate understanding of what a quarterback wants to do. When Hayden was out last season, undrafted rookies Herndon and Meeks took turns filling in. Both are guys with the length and agility to turn and run with bigger receivers, and both have ball skills that make you notice. Meeks turned in a memorable performance in relief of Bouye at cornerback in London and should have made a big splash with a couple of interceptions, but instead left with an injury that cost him plenty of time. Both of those young guys are highly thought of by coaches and could write a “Bouye-esqe” story of their own. This is every bit as talented a group as the defensive line. If Bouye is back ... watch out.

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