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.