This offseason, the Jets knew they had a deficiency at cornerback, but it wasn't their top priority. GM Joe Douglas was focused on improving his offensive line, and five new players added to that group followed. He also found the time to bolster his linebacking corps with a couple new faces and some re-signings.
At corner, he did make an upgrade as Pierre Desir joined Gregg Williams' defense as a presumptive starter given his veteran status. But, with Trumaine Johnson and Darryl Roberts both gone, who will be starting opposite Desir is still a big question.
The NFL Draft is in a couple of weeks, and there are some intriguing prospects who might be able to fill that role. But with other needs -- the offensive line is still a point to upgrade as well as wide receiver -- will the Jets be able to draft someone with starting-caliber talent?
That's why it's time for the Jets to start putting some more faith in someone they took a shot on last season believing he may one day turn into a starter: Bless Austin.
Austin was drafted with the Jets' final pick in the sixth round in 2019, a longshot selection coming out of Rutgers. He had two torn ACLs in college that plummeted his draft stock, but many believed had that not happened that he could've projected as a first-round talent.
One of those optimists is SNY NFL analyst Ray Lucas, a former Rutgers alum who got to see Austin play throughout his college career.
"This kid -- I said it the first time I saw him -- I said he was going to play on Sundays and some people looked at me like I was crazy," he told SNY back when Austin was getting his first shot at starting due to injuries to the Jets' secondary midway through the season. "Let me tell you why: the guy had a first-round grade. But his injury -- who has the luck to blow your knee out twice? It's insane."
At that time, Austin was sporting a 87.5 Pro Football Focus grade after allowing eight receptions for 84 yards on the season (five games). His final two games of the year, though, weren't Austin's best efforts with Williams actually benching him for allowing a long touchdown against the Steelers in Week 16. Might seem a little harsh, but Williams definitely knows what he's doing after making something out of nothing last season with a broken defense.
In his small sample size, he did allow a 92.7 passer rating on 37 targets, according to Pro Football Focus, with a 62.2 completion percentage as well. Those aren't the numbers he wants to see, but again, Austin was thrown into the mix in his rookie season to make a name for himself. Austin still showed in his seven games and six starts that he was a player who could use his long arms and speed to match up with NFL receivers.
Some positive stats were his 25 tackles, four passes defended and a forced fumble. Also worth noting: the Jets won five of the seven games he played. A little bit of that can be credited to Austin and Arthur Maulet -- who re-signed and will be competing for that other starting job with him -- playing solid as replacement corners.
So, while the Jets might draft a corner in the mid-to-later rounds in this year's draft, Austin already has a year in Williams' system. He also has that drive, or chip on his shoulder, because he has been doubted due to his injuries. That gives him an edge during a camp battle, which includes another re-signee in Nate Hairston, too.
When given the opportunity to prove his worth, Austin did step up. It wasn't perfect, but it showed flashes of a starting-caliber corner.
Unless the Jets somehow find a more viable option, they should head into training camp with the mindset of giving Austin some more first-team reps. He may impress enough to line up opposite Desir come Week 1.