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Over the next month or so, we're going to be reviewing some of the top draft prospects at each position to try and assess some potential candidates that the Jets will show interest in. We continue today with a look at the 2019 safety class.
Jets Needs: Safety
When the Jets used their first two picks on safeties in 2017, that made it unlikely the safety position would be considered a draft priority for the next few years, especially since Jamal Adams and Marcus Maye had such impressive rookie seasons. However, while Adams went from strength to strength in 2018, Maye had multiple injury issues, missing 10 starts.
If the team is concerned over Maye's durability, they make seek to bring in more depth at the position so they have options if he gets hurt again. In addition, new defensive coordinator Gregg Williams might have interest in running some three-safety formations, which could lead to them targeting players with versatility, or coverage abilities for a potential sub-package role.
Beyond the two starters, the Jets don't currently have any other safeties on their roster following Tuesday's release of Terrence Brooks. Three players who started games at safety last year - Rontez Miles, Doug Middleton and Darryl Roberts - are out of contract. They also have two inexperienced youngsters - Jeremy Clark and Brandon Bryant - whose rights they control as exclusive rights free agents.
2019 Draft: Safeties
With their starters already in place at the safety position, the Jets are virtually certain to look to use their picks on the first two days to fill some other holes. This should take them out of the mix for the top handful of prospects, unless someone unexpectedly slides between now and the draft.
The main names to know are Deionte Thompson from Alabama, Nasir Adderley from Delaware and Mississippi State's Johnathan Abram, but none of these are on the same level Adams was as a draft prospect.
A safety that could contribute from the slot in nickel packages would be a useful find, as the Jets could get him on the field at the same time as Maye and Adams. One candidate could be Juan Thornhill from Virginia, who played a versatile role in 2018, having primarily lined up as an outside cornerback in the previous two years. He posted outstanding coverage numbers in 2018, including five interceptions.
Fresno State's Mike Bell also posted good coverage numbers, as did Jaquan Johnson from Miami and Taylor Rapp from Washington. Rapp played plenty of reps as a deep safety, but also showed good instincts and an ability to come up into the box and limit the yardage after the catch on short passes over the last few years. He also showcased some playmaking ability with four sacks and three fumble recoveries this year. As things stand, he's probably the least likely of the trio to drop to day three though.
Something else that would bring useful value is an ability to contribute on special teams, especially if the likes of Miles and Brooks don't return in 2019. Bell was also good on special teams as was Chauncey Gardner-Johnson. Gardner-Johnson, who was a teammate of Maye's in his freshman year at Florida, has some experience as a gunner on punts, while Bell was productive throughout his career on kick-off coverage units.
Some other potential day three picks include Lukas Denis from Boston College, Darnell Savage from Maryland and Marquise Blair from Utah. However, in each case, their stock seems to be rising as we head towards the scouting combine.
A couple of productive late-round sleepers who could represent value picks in the late rounds are Andrew Wingard from Wyoming and Malik Gant from Marshall. Gant had 89 tackles in his junior year and 95 in his senior year, including two interceptions. Wingard's production was down in his senior year but he racked up 454 tackles and 10 interceptions in his collegiate career overall. They'll both need to prove their athletic ability at the combine.
While the Jets are highly unlikely to consider any of the safeties that figure to be drafted in the first three rounds, they could show interest in any safety that drops into day three, especially the later rounds. They'll be on the lookout for value and upside with versatility, coverage skills and special teams potential being the main attributes they'll covet most.