New York Jets – Offensive Versatility Will Be Critical

The New York Jets skill position players on offense need to be versatile to compensate for the team’s lack of overall depth

Similar to the problems with assigning rigid labels on defense, pigeonholing offensive players to one spot is frequently an incorrect assumption. There is increasing fluidity to player’s positions and the New York Jets offense will need that type of versatility to help compensate for their lack of overall depth.

At first glance, it is easy to look at the Jets offense, assume Santonio Holmes will be the full-time flanker, Stephen Hill will be the full-time split end, Jeremy Kerley will play in the slot on third downs and Jeff Cumberland will be starting tight end. Chris Ivory, Mike Goodson, Bilal Powell and Joe McKnight will roll through at halfback and either Tommy Bohanon or Lex Hilliard will be the fullback. Regardless of their depth chart assignments or presumptive positions, Marty Mornhinweg will need more from his limited amount of proven skill position players and will likely be moving them around to maximize their ability.

If healthy and properly motivated, Holmes has the skill set of a number one receiver. He is the only Jets offensive player with a proven history of being a playmaker and having the ability to take over games. Holmes work will not be relegated to a traditional “Z” or flanker role. There isn’t enough talent around him to justify that. Mornhinweg needs to get Holmes in space and play to his strengths in the short to intermediate passing game and ability to run after the catch. Holmes can be slid inside, alongside Kerley to give the Jets a pair of threats up the seam and over the middle of the field. He can also be isolated backside as the split end, where he take advantage of potential one on one match-ups with his route running.

We’ve discussed Kerley’s value and versatility at length here, he has the make-up of a very good slot receiver but is too talented to be relegated to just that role. Kerley can bounce between flanker and split end when working in two receiver sets with Holmes. He also has the versatility to line up in the backfield and be used in similar ways to how the Green Bay Packers use Randall Cobb. Kerley can hurt teams on swing routes, quick screens and occasional pitches from a traditional halfback spot. The key is getting your playmakers the ball in space and Kerley is the team’s second best playmaker behind Holmes as of right now.

Kerley’s skill in the slot can help mask some of the team’s tight end deficiencies. Stephen Hill can help cover up these problems as well, if he develops properly in his second year. Yes, Hill will likely spend the majority of his time working at split end. He has the speed and size to take advantage of being singled up backside, which he frequently will if he is sharing the field with Holmes and Kerley.  Yet, with his size Hill can slide inside to work the seam and some of the traditional routes ran by a tight end. Hill is a willing enough blocker and big enough that you can have a handful of running plays in the playbook for when he moves tight to the formation, so it isn’t a dead tendency giveaway for a pass if he lines up as a flexed tight end or H-Back.

This needed versatility will extend to the running backs. If Joe McKnight wants to stick on the roster, he needs to show a consistent ability to split out as a wide receiver. You can utilize formations with both him and Mike Goodson on the field, if McKnight can line up at split end or in the slot. Goodson will also likely see his share of opportunities (legal situation pending) used from a wideout’s alignment.

Bilal Powell brings valuable depth to the Jets backfield and showed decent hands along with good pass protection skills last season. If the Jets want to get the ball in the flat to their fullback, Powell could be used in a two-back set with Chris Ivory and release on the needed flat or swing route, while providing more speed than a traditional fullback. Tommy Bohanon showed good hands in college but could also see some work at H-Back to help compensate for the team’s lack of depth at tight end.

A limited tight end like Jeff Cumberland can increase his value by splitting out at wide receiver for certain situations. He struggled with these opportunities last year but hopefully improved over the off-season. Even the team’s collection of undrafted wide receivers, who are competing for a roster spot can demonstrate their roster value by showing the the skill-set to play both inside and outside positions in the offense. Tennessee’ Zach Rogers, in particular, showed this ability in college.

The Jets skill position groups still leave something to be desired. Yet, their limitations could partially be made up for by players wearing multiple hats in Marty Mornhinweg’s offense.

Author: Joe Caporoso

Joe Caporoso is the Owner and EIC of Turn On The Jets. His writing has been featured in the New York Times, Huffington Post, MMQB and AdWeek. Caporoso played football his entire life, including four years at Muhlenberg as a wide receiver, where he was arguably the slowest receiver to ever start in school history. He is the VP of Social Media at Whistle Sports

  • Harold

    Good article that gives some good insight into how we can make use of the players we have to cobble together a respectable air attack.

  • KAsh

    My one concern is that such a philosophy works much differently on offense and defense. On defense, regardless of position, the players still have fundamental tasks that, if accomplished, will make a successful stop. The CBs need to break up the pass. The FS needs to read the play and the throw. The front seven need to react to the pressure from the o-line and either stuff the run or sack the QB. And so on.

    On offense, teams need to connect throws or run the ball, ideally without the defense knowing what to expect. This sounds easy, but the paths of routes and timing of QB throws need to be known beforehand by the offense, but not discovered by the defense. Shifting receivers around helps with the latter, but it significantly complicates the former. When the QB is pressured, he is not going to remember the textbook-sized or even the specific subset of plays he runs from a certain formation. He will need to either jettison the ball or have a receiver whose position he orients himself by on every play. The problem with that is this receiver must be sure-handed and that he will be identified and targeted by the defense. Too much shifting around and no QB will be able to memorize all the combinations and intricacies in the offense.

    Another level of complication comes from the WCO. It is easier to shift around players on offense if your QB is given the responsibility of choosing when to throw the ball. But the WCO relies on predetermined timing. Once the QB has taken the specific number of steps, he is supposed to get rid of the ball. Shifting players around will increase the miscues.

    I am not saying that this type of strategy is not possible. But it comes with trade-offs. You would like to have a set foundation before you erect such an offense. The Jets do not have one yet. If all it took to be great at offense was to shift players around, Rex would have thought of it years ago. Instead he went with ground & pound, a style of offense that works out of a simple base to then allow for varying strategies. Shifting players is a chaos stratagem, which seems ideal given our underwhelming offense, but we need to establish a base to work out of, which is the most basic of the winning stratagems.

  • KAsh

    Just happened to come across this and thought it did a much better job of explaining the benefits of simplicity and the dangers of complexity regardless of who we have under center than what I wrote above.

  • KAsh

    I must have been bored today because I kept thinking about this article.

    Anyway, the Jets’ base formation should probably be a standard two receiver set. Santonio Holmes and Kerley on the outside, two tailbacks and a tight end. Given the current roster and presumed starters (Holmes, Kerley, Ivory, RB #2 or FB #1, and whichever TE) this formation would give the most versatility and doable play variations. All of them can catch, can run routes, hopefully the TE can block, and the TBs can pick up blitzes. The combination of Holmes and Kerley will establish the short-passing game of the WCO.

    Then, you can add and subtract players to exploit specific weaknesses. We will definitely see three receiver sets (for which the receivers can change positions on the field) and four receiver sets. I would really love to see a three TB formation. The only thing we do not really have the players for is a two-TE set, unless someone like Bohanon comes in as the H-back.

    The undeveloped receivers and weaker RBs should not be put out of position too often. You do not want to over-complicate their assignments and you want to give them the best chance to succeed. So keep Hill on the outside. Stick Zach Rogers in as a slot receiver, so that he can best exploit the holes in coverage next to the LoS. Don’t have Powell running too many routes or catching too many passes. Let them do what they do best.