Though the Jets only signed cornerback Ras-I Dowling to the practice squad Wednesday, it could turn out to be a key transaction. The team has already had success with a couple of other midseason pickups and Dowling has all the makings of becoming a steal.
Dowling has been plagued by injuries throughout his young career, which led the New England Patriots to release him in August. The team had high hopes for him and he even took reps with the starters during training camp. But he couldn’t stay on the field and the Pats decided it was time to let him go.
During his time with the Patriots, Dowling appeared in a total of just nine games and ended both his seasons in New England on injured reserve. Drafted with the first pick of the second round in 2011, he had first round potential coming out of the University of Virginia. Not surprisingly, injuries cut his final college season short and hurt his draft stock. It’s even believed that he struggled to get through his pre-draft pro day, dealing with leg issues.
Cornerback has been a position of weakness for Gang Green, which is why taking a chance on Dowling makes sense. While trading Darrelle Revis netted the Jets a potential Rookie of the Year candidate in defensive lineman Sheldon Richardson, it has left a giant hole in the defensive backfield.
The Jets haven’t gotten much out of veteran corner Antonio Cromartie this season. He’s struggled mightily in man coverage, an area where Revis thrived, and has been beaten more than a few times for big plays while giving up multiple touchdowns. Whether age is catching up to him or he’s just not 100-percent healthy, he is yet to look like the Cromartie of old.
Highly touted cornerback Dee Milliner hasn’t shown that he’s quite ready to be a starter in his first year as a pro, having already been benched due to poor play. He’s also missed some time with constant health problems of his own and is starting to gain a reputation as being fragile. Darrin Walls was inserted into the starting lineup in place of Milliner but didn’t do much to seize the starting job.
Few players in the league celebrate a big defensive play better than Kyle Wilson and his finger wag, but he doesn’t make enough of them to warrant an increase in playing time.
Thrifty general manager John Idzik has already seen positive returns on the free agent market this month, and his patchwork efforts to improve the roster on the fly have proven worthwhile thus far.
Like Dowling, wide receiver David Nelson and return specialist Josh Cribbs had previously scared teams off with injury concerns before signing with the Jets in recent weeks.
Since joining the team in early October, Nelson has appeared in three games and hauled in seven receptions for 100 yards. After seeing limited action at first, Nelson was on the field for 65 snaps last Sunday against the Patriots and could continue to see his role progress in the coming weeks.
Despite playing in just one game, Cribbs looks to be the missing piece for a struggling special teams unit. Without knowing much of the playbook, he even got in on the action on offense, gaining 14 yards on three carries out of the wildcat formation.
So much is made out of how good the team’s front seven is yet the defense continues to be hamstrung by their cornerbacks. If Dowling can stay healthy, and it’s a big if, he could go a long way in bolstering a vulnerable position.
Given his history, there’s a chance Dowling gets injured and never even sees the field as a member of the Jets. But for the mere price of a practice squad roster spot, it’s certainly worth the little risk involved in acquiring a player who possesses so much talent.