Members of the New York Jets have varying levels of importance when it comes to the team’s success this upcoming season. The Jets could be ok if Dee Milliner doesn’t play lights out from Day 1 because they had a highly ranked pass defense with Kyle Wilson playing corner opposite Antonio Cromartie. If David Harris doesn’t bounce back from a subpar 2012 it will hurt less if Mo Wilkerson and Quinton Coples don’t consistently put pressure on the QB. Some would say Mark Sanchez and/or Geno Smith need be nothing more than glorified game manager and the offense can stil be successful if Chris Ivory produces. However, two Jets who absolutely have to deliver because of question marks surrounding the wide receiver position are Jeremy Kerley and Stephen Hill.
Kerley, a 5th round draft pick in 2011, had 56 catches for 827 yards and 2 touchdowns last season. Hill, a 2nd round pick last season, had 21 catches for 252 yards and 3 touchdowns. Due to the injury to Santonio Holmes last year, and his concerning prognosis for this season, Kerley becomes the de facto number one receiver. Hill, if healthy from his knee surgery that cost him five games last season, will line up opposite Kerley and be a vertical threat in Marty Morningwheg’s offense. Holmes’s injury coupled with the lack of depth behind the Jets top three receivers, make it evident that the Jets are depending alot of their passing offense’s success on the shoulders of a 2nd round pick and a 5th round pick, respectively Let’s take a look at notable, and comparable, 2nd and 3rd day draft choices from 2003 to 2013 to see how they did at receiver, and see if that can help us gauge whether the Jets are smart or foolish to expect prolonged success from Kerley and Hill.
Notable WRs drafted in 2nd-5th rounds
Anquan Boldin, 2nd round, 2003: Big and physical target. Five 1,000 yard seasons, Super Bowl champion, appeared to have lost a step during the regular season in 2012-2013, but stepped up game in the playoffs and was huge reason Baltimore won Super Bowl.
Brandon Lloyd, 4th round, 2003: Best season was in Denver in 2010, where he caught 77 catches for 1440 yards and 11 touchdowns. He has battled some injuries throughout career, missing 32 games and only playing 16 games 4 times in 9 seasons.
Jerricho Cotchery, 4th round, 2003: drafted primarily as a punt returner by the Jets, put together three straight 70+ catch, 800+ yard seasons, eventually became the team’s slot WR, and then eventually their #1 WR, where he posted career highs of 82 catches for 1130 yards and 2 TDs.
Vincent Jackson, 2nd round, 2004: played sparingly his first two seasons before seeing an increase in playing time and has now posted 50+ catches, 1000+ yards, and 7+ touchdowns in 4 of the last 5 seasons.
Greg Jennings, 2nd round, 2006: 2 Pro Bowls, 5 straight 50+ catch, 900+ yards, 4+ touchdown seasons until injuries hampered him last year.
Sidney Rice, 2nd round, 2007: Best season was with Breet Favre at QB, as he posted career highs in catches (83), yards (1512), and touchdowns (8). Hasn’t duplicated that success since, but did have 50 catches for 748 yards and 7 touchdowns last year with Seattle.
Jordy Nelson, 2nd round, 2008: Had 68 catches for 1263 yards and 15 TDs in 2011 as he stepped into a starting role while Donald Driver battled injuries. Battled injuries himself last year, as he missed four games.
Mike Wallace, 3rd round, 2009: 1 Pro Bowl appearance, three straight seasons with 60+ catches, 800+ yards, and 8+ touchdowns, played in 63 out of a possible 64 games in his career.
Golden Tate, 2nd round, 2010: career highs of 45 catches and 688 yards last year while playing primarily in the slot for Seattle.
Torrey Smith, 2nd round, 2011: Back to back seasons of at least 45 receptions, 800 yards and 7 touchdowns. Led the league in yards per reception in 2012.
Randall Cobb, 2nd round, 2011: 80 catches for 954 yards and 8 touchdowns last year as Cobb became the Packers’s primary slot receiver while Jordy Nelson transitioned to the Split End.
What This Means for the Jets
Many teams have been able to strike gold with their second and third day draft picks in regards to wide receivers. For example, the Packers drafted a very good WR in Greg Jennings, currently in Minnesota, and were able to compensate for his departure by drafting Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb. The Steelers prepared for the eventual retirement of Hines Ward by drafting Mike Wallace. Anquan Boldin had success in Baltimore, but Baltimore was able to draft his replacement (Torrey Smith) in the second round in 2011. The good teams are able to draft and develop their own WRs. Not listed above were Ben Hartline, Eric Decker, and Julian Edelman, who have had varying levels of success in the NFL after being drafted in the second and third days of the draft.
The Jets have a player in Kerley who merits some comparison to Randall Cobb on this list: both ran 40s in the 4.46-4.56 range, and Kerley has a 1 inch advantage on their vertical leaps. Both were drafted with high expectations on special teams; one scout said that Cobb “does not possesses great top-end speed and not overly elusive in the open field” and the same scout said that Kerley “lacks the top end speed to stretch the field at the next level.” They both excel in space, and are able to be lined up all over the field to exploit mismatches. Last year, with arguably the worst QB play in the entire league, Kerley was able to produce. Therefore, it isn’t foolish for the Jets to depend on Kerley and expect prolonged success if healthy.
Stephen Hill is another matter. The player he compares to the most on this list is Sidney Rice. Hill has about 15 more pounds on Rice, and out ran Rice’s 40 time by .15 (4.36 for Hill, 4.51 for Rice). Both have 39.5 verticals, and both have battled knee injuries. Both have struggled with consistency. With the potential emergence of one of he Jets UDFAs or maybe the signing off a veteran at the end of preseason, Hill needs to show strides in training camp. At this point, he hasn’t shown enough to expect production at the level the Jets will need.