When talking about chemistry in football, one does not intend to conjure images of beakers, Bunsen burners, and covalent bonds. It is another kind of bond that is being addressed, the kind that is exemplified by the relationship between a quarterback and his favorite target. The New York Jets may have lucked out when drafting Geno Smith because of the rapid rapport that he seems to have developed with New York’s top targets.
Chemistry between a quarterback and wide receiver is developed on a myriad of levels. Timing between the two is key and reliant on the receiver’s route running and the quarterback’s field vision. Timing can only develop through extended reps on the practice field and extra hours in the film room. This supplemental time spent together helps create solid communication and an understanding of related hot routes and audibles.
Despite all the tangibles involved, chemistry between a quarterback and wide receiver is hard to quantify. Yet, we see proof of its existence year in and year out.
One noteworthy example would be Tom Terrific’s chemistry with wideout Deion Branch. Branch was drafted in 2002 by the Pats and developed immediate chemistry with a young Tom Brady. They would go on to put up solid numbers over four years (326 receptions, 2,744 yards, and 14 touchdowns) and win two Super Bowls together. Troy Brown, another of Brady’s chemistry buddies, once said of he, Sanders, and Brady’s relationship:
“We would get thousands of reps, all the time in the offseason. We’d work together on walkthroughs and discuss what he needed on a certain route. He would tell you things like, ‘You should be here,’ or, ‘I don’t want you to look up until the ball is in the air.’ Those are the type of things we would discuss.”
It is that kind of communication and repetition that builds strong chemistry between a passer and pass catcher. The chemistry that the two showed became even more evident when Branch disappeared in Seattle (catching just under 50% of his targets), only to revive his career with Brady in 2010.
Another clear example of quarterback-wide receiver chemistry is the short lived union between Kyle Orton and Brandon Lloyd. The two spent a year together in Chicago before heading to Denver as part of the Cutler trade. However, they were never able to stay on the field together for more than 11 games until 2010, when both exploded onto the scene. Lloyd lead the league with 1,448 yards and hauled in double digit touchdowns (11) for the first, and last, time in his career so far. Orton, similarly, had a great year as he put together only his second +3,000 yard season in his then five year career. Neither of them have yet to approach that level of production since their parting in 2011.
Just last year, Michael Crabtree broke out, hit the 1,105 yard mark and hauled in 9 touchdowns. Crabtree, even in that same 2012 campaign, did not produce nearly that well with Alex Smith tossing him the rock. Only after Kaepernick got the start did Crabtree start to flash, consistently, what made him the 10th overall pick in 2009. The proof of their chemistry is in the pudding: before the two hooked up, Crabtree had five 90+ yard games in 53 starts with Smith. After? Crabtree immediately broke the 90+ yard plateau in six out of eleven games (including playoffs) with Kaepernick.
Now, its clear that quarterback-wide receiver chemistry exists but how does that apply to the New York Jets?
The Jets have experienced quarterback-wide receiver chemistry in the recent past with Mark Sanchez and Braylon Edwards. Edwards put up great numbers with the then-titled “Sanchise”. They both had a clear understanding of what the other wanted and spent tons of extra time honing their craft together (it didn’t hurt that Edwards could contort to catch poorly thrown Sanchez ducks). Could we experience more of the same in the near future?
Many (including our very own Connor Rogers) have made note of Geno Smith’s chemistry with the Jets receiving corps. It seems that the rookie passer has taken a liking to Jeremy Kerley, Stephen Hill, and Clyde Gates in extended reps together. While natural improvement in these young, raw receivers is part of the reason for their solid camp, their chemistry with Smith is apparent and accounts for a great deal of it.
Hill worked out with Smith in Florida following Sanchez’s annual Jets West camp and put in a ton of extra work with the rookie during the off season. Hill’s chemistry with Smith, in particular, is important for the franchise because both were early round draft picks and are expected to be major parts of the Jets offense for years to come. If working together can make the two of them blossom that much quicker, than their chemistry may have serious consequences for the quarterback competition that is raging in Florham Park.