Why Jets Undrafted Cornerback Darrin Walls Should Be Week 1 Starter
All offseason long, the New York Jets have tried to sell their new philosophy of "fair and open competition," where the best players will play and no job is safe, no matter where a player was drafted or how much money he is making.
If the Jets plan on making good on their promise, former undrafted cornerback Darrin Walls should line up opposite Antonio Cromartie against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Week 1.
When Darrin Walls was signed to the Jets' practice squad in late September 2012, he was supposed to be nothing more than an extra practice body after Darrelle Revis was lost for the season.
A year later, and Walls is knocking on the door of a full-time starting gig.
The Notre Dame product actually began to flash with the Jets at the end of last year. When he was finally activated to the 53-man roster, Walls played 82 snaps without giving up a single catch and graded out as the best cornerback on the roster behind Revis and Cromartie, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required).
Now that he has the attention of his coaches, Walls is slowly starting to be looked upon as a serious option at boundary corner. He got a significant amount of snaps opposite Kyle Wilson with the first team against the Giants in place of a nicked-up Cromartie. He gave up just two catches in 66 snaps and defended two passes.
By the end of the preseason, Pro Football Focus (subscription required) rated Walls as the single best cornerback of the preseason—in the entire NFL.
Meanwhile, the two players ahead of him on the depth chart, Kyle Wilson and Dee Milliner—both first-round picks—are tied for 137th out of 148.
Why is Walls playing at such a high level while two first-round picks are struggling in the same spot? Walls is simply playing with better balance and technique and is confident enough to challenge his receivers at the line of scrimmage—and winning.
Balance and Patience
The most impressive part of Walls' game is how disciplined he is when playing press coverage, which is Rex Ryan's preferred style of man coverage in his aggressive, blitz-happy defense.
Many young corners have trouble adjusting to the NFL because of how well-developed the wide receivers' moves are. Too often, they take false steps and start guessing where the receiver is going to be rather than anticipating and reacting.
In this 3rd-and-10 situation, the Jets were set to run a Cover-1 Man Under—a fancy way of saying there is one deep safety with man coverage underneath. In third-down situations, this is Rex Ryan's bread and butter, as he uses the majority of his resources to apply pressure.
The ball was snapped, and the receiver tried to shake Walls with shifty stutter steps. Walls was able to maintain balance by keeping his hips at an angle just over 90 degrees and ready to move in any direction by keeping his feet square to the receiver.
As a result, Walls was able to get a hand on the receiver and pin him to the sideline, eliminating him as a viable target for Eli Manning.
Meanwhile, on Kyle Wilson's side of the field:
While Walls is certainly not the caliber of Darrelle Revis, he is very similar in his movement ability and balance. Like Revis, Walls is excellent at staying low without compromising his position.
Fluidity and Change of Direction
Both of these qualities are held in high regard when it comes to scouting college prospects, which only makes it more mind-boggling that Walls went undrafted.
Once again, Walls was in man coverage on the perimeter. Walls anticipated the go route the receiver ran and stayed stride-for-stride with him along the sideline. His first step was a near 180 degrees, which shows great fluidity that minimizes wasted movement....(continued)
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