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There has been a fair amount of movement at the cornerback position in the AFC East this offseason. With Terrell Owens now in the division, it is an opportune time to more closely examine those comings and goings and the overall state of the cornerback position with each team.
The Bills added Drayton Florence, who was abused repeatedly in Jacksonville last year, to their cornerback corps in free agency. While they could use a draft pick on the position, surely it will not be a prominent selection even though they did lose Jabari Greer, who signed with the Saints after playing very well for the Bills last season.
The reason for optimism at this position mostly has to do with the emergence of last year's first-round selection, Leodis McKelvin. Coming from a small school like Troy, it understandably took some time for this ultra-talented young man to acclimate himself to the league. But the best appears to be in front of McKelvin and we should expect production going forward that warrants Pro Bowl consideration.
Terrence McGee remains the starter opposite McKelvin. He is reliable, tough and a playmaker. For depth along with Florence, there is hope for youngsters Reggie Corner and Ashton Youboty. Either player could easily unseat Florence as the first corner off the bench. However, it should be noted that the Bills desperately need to add one more prominent pass-rusher up front to further give this group of corners an even better chance to succeed.
The Dolphins have a considerable need at cornerback and this could potentially be a much more potent defense overall with a true No. 1 corner on the roster. Although it went very much under the radar, Andre Goodman put together an excellent season for the Dolphins in 2008 -- but he has moved on to Denver. Will Allen is a little better than a middle-of-the-road starter, but clearly is the best player in this group. Nate Jones was serviceable last year and exceeded expectations overall. But with Owens now in the division and the ever-dangerous Patriots group of wideouts, it is a stretch to think that Jones can be counted on as an every-down starter. Former first-round selection Jason Allen has improved under this coaching staff, but he remains a cornerback/free safety tweener and just a depth player at this point -- though he is capable of surprising.
To help bolster this unit, the Dolphins did recently sign Eric Green, although his performance in Arizona made him expendable to the Cardinals. More help is needed -- but getting ahold of a true No. 1 cornerback isn't easy to accomplish.
Cornerback was clearly a huge weakness for the Patriots in 2008, but it also should be noted that New England's pass rush was nowhere near its usual standards. With an extreme wealth of early draft picks and Adalius Thomas returning from injury, the pass rush will be improved. But Asante Samuel was missed last year. While they didn't add anyone in Samuel's class, New England is much better at the position now than when the season ended.
Shawn Springs played at a high level last year, though the Redskins, who released him, apparently disagree with that assessment. Of course, he isn't a long-term answer, but he could make a smooth transition to free safety at some point, much as Rod Woodson did late in his career. Springs is a tremendous signing and his presence should be especially beneficial to a pair of cornerbacks from New England's 2008 draft class, Terrence Wheatley and Jonathan Wilhite, who should learn from his professionalism. Wheatley and Wilhite are undersized, but both have the feistiness and short-area burst that Bill Belichick covets. Both should be better in their sophomore seasons.
While Springs played at a high level in 2008, the same cannot be said of fellow cornerback signee Leigh Bodden. His play began to slide during his final season in Cleveland and it didn't get any better with the lowly Lions. However, Bodden has all the physical abilities that you look for in the position and had stints of excellent play with the Browns. To his credit, Bodden has never had a consistently strong pass rush at his disposal either. This foursome shows promise and when you mix in Ellis Hobbs, who has been up and down throughout his Patriots career, it is clear that what was possibly New England's greatest need when last season ended has now become more than adequate, especially considering the pass rush is due to improve dramatically.
It once looked as though the Patriots would be forced to draft a cornerback high, but now they have positioned themselves to grab one if they feel that specific player presents excellent value or to pass on the position altogether if no one suits their fancy.
Rex Ryan is an aggressive defensive playcaller who will challenge his cornerbacks in man-to-man coverage. He also stresses pressure on the quarterback, and few defensive minds are his equal in creating consistent heat on the quarterback, which obviously makes cornerbacks' coverage responsibility easier. Ryan does have a great one in the making in Darrelle Revis. While recently acquired Lito Sheppard is a big-name corner and he certainly performed well at times during his career with the Eagles, it would be a mistake to etch him in as a clear-cut starter opposite Revis. There was no shame in being relegated to the bench behind Sheldon Brown and Samuel in Philadelphia, but Sheppard gives up plenty of big plays and will be tested. The No. 2 cornerback in this defense is sure to see an awful lot of attention, as opposing offensive coordinators have wised up in trying to thro
w in Revis' direction. The Jets do have Dwight Lowery, who showed some playmaking ability as a rookie, but he isn't ideally suited to what Ryan asks from this position and would be better off in a predominantly Cover 2 scheme.
With the Patriots as the team to beat in the AFC East, the Jets need to find one more cornerback to push and compete with Sheppard. Don't be surprised if the Jets pull the trigger on a cover man with one of their first two draft picks. Vontae Davis' potential as a man-to-man corner could be too enticing to pass up in the first round.
Scouts Inc. watches games, breaks down film and studies football from all angles for ESPN.com.