By Kristian Dyer
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If given time, it could very well be true that Jets cornerback Antonio Cromartie – as he asserted two weeks ago – could become the second best wide receiver on their roster. But perhaps he should work on solidifying his role as the team’s second best cornerback.
The idea of Cromartie at wide receiver is intriguing. After all, he boasts good size at 6’2 and 210 pounds and has freakishly intriguing numbers to go with that. His wingspan is 6’7 and he ran a more than solid 4.38 time in the 40 at the NFL Combine in 2006.
Those are the types of measurables that made NFL scouts drool at his athleticism but instead of playing wide receiver, Cromartie was drafted as a cornerback. He’s had limited success at the position, making one catch last season in a Week 2 blowout win over Jacksonville but Cromartie has potential at the position given his long stride coupled with his natural abilities. There’s lots of potential there.
Problem is that he also has potential at cornerback – unrealized potential.
Outside of the 2007 season with the Chargers when he led the league in interceptions and was voted into the Pro Bowl, Cromartie has been an inconsistent pro. He’s never realized the athletic potential that his DNA holds outside of that one season. This despite the fact that he played on a Jets defense that has consistently been a top five unit in the league over his last three years in New York.
Cromartie is talented enough that he’s been a game-changer at kick returner and last year’s dabble on offense showed that he has the talent to be a legit NFL wide receiver. While he likely isn’t the second best wide receiver on the team as he claims, there is no doubt that he possesses the skill set to excel at the position.
But outside of 2007, he’s never excelled at cornerback for 16 games so why distract Cromartie from his first position?
The Jets seem bent on rolling out Cromartie this weekend against the Giants but it might be a foolish idea.
He hasn’t proven to be the ideal cornerback for the Jets scheme given that the Jets ask of their cornerbacks to press at the line of scrimmage and jam their targets. Cromartie, despite the blessings of his frame, shies away from this type of contact and has never been one to take to this style. He needs to play more physically and he must improve his coverage against smaller, faster receivers who he can’t keep up with due to his long strides. And none of that even begins to talk about his poor tackling form, which leaves everything to be desired.
So why Cromartie at wide receiver? It is to appease a player who mentally and emotionally seems to check out of games? Is it the Jets outthinking themselves again by trying to be too clever or hand a player too much responsibility, as they did last season with quarterback Mark Sanchez? The idea is intriguing but Cromartie the cornerback must be the priority over Cromartie the wide receiver.
He must develop in the secondary before he can begin to think about playing on offense. A player prone to mental mistakes can’t afford the distraction that being a cornerback and a wide receiver would bring. It just doesn’t make sense.
The truth is that Cromartie’s body of work to date hasn’t shown someone who has mastered his present skill. If the Jets want him to be a wide receiver, then he needs to make the switch full-time and focus solely on being on offense. But allowing him to dabble in both offense and defense means taking him away from reps that can further his development at cornerback.
And that’s where Cromartie is right now, he’s developing as a cornerback. Taking him away from that focus likely means that he will forever be developing and never become the established player his skill-set suggests he can become.
Kristian R. Dyer covers the NFL and college football for Metro New York and contributes to Yahoo!Sports as well as WFAN. He can be followed @KristianRDyer
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