Debunking The “#1″ Wide Receiver Myth

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The New York Jets need wide receivers. More broadly, the New York Jets need pass catchers. They need tight ends. They could use a running back who could be a factor in the passing game. This isn’t news to anybody who watched the team last season, or the season before…or the season before that.

The quarterback play has been substandard. Nobody can argue that. Yet, the reality is the Jets likely starter in 2014 is a second year quarterback, who finished 2013 relatively strong but needs some targets. The Jets cannot afford to burden him with a bottom three group of wide receivers and tight ends…again.

A term that has been frequently thrown around this offseason, to the point of inducing nausea is NUMBER ONE RECEIVER! Similar to ELITE QUARTERBACK, it is term that really means nothing. It is an adjective put in front of a position and it is an adjective that doesn’t have a concrete meaning.

Today Riley Cooper got paid a 5 year, 25 million dollar contract. Was he overpaid? Probably. Cooper is an average NFL receiver who had two monster midseason outlier games in 2013 that inflated his statistics. However, he fits well in Chip Kelly’s offense. He blocks. He can get down the field as a backside split end and has good height. There isn’t a NFL offense he’d more productive in than the Eagles. The move made sense for both sides.

The pay grade of Cooper’s contract has many freaking out about what other free agent receivers could receive. Golden Tate is likely to receive a couple of million more as Joel Corry outlined for us here and that makes sense since he is a superior player, who also brings special teams value. Players like Emmanuel Sanders, James Jones and Julian Edelman should receive comparable money to Cooper, while the value of a contract for Hakeem Nicks or Jeremy Maclin (in the unlikely case he hits the open market) remain up in the air because of injury and/or attitude concerns. Everybody is quick to say the “Jets cannot pay X for X player because he isn’t a number one receiver” or that guy is “just a number two!” or “we don’t need another guy like that, we have Jeremy Kerley.”

Please stop.

The Jets need more NFL talent at the wide receiver position. You are allowed to have more than one or two competent receivers on your roster. Nobody is a bigger fan of Jeremy Kerley than myself but the presence of him doesn’t stop you from adding ANY type of player. As we have said frequently here, Kerley lines up all over the formation, like many other players available.

The team’s current depth chart is Kerley, David Nelson and Stephen Hill. You’d be doing your offense and quarterback a major disservice by counting on Hill for anything in 2014. Kerley is a good NFL receiver, who thrives on third downs. Nelson is a capable NFL receiver. However, you have to do MUCH better than running out an offense that relies on the Kerley/Nelson duo to play 50+ snaps per game.

Yes, the NFL Draft is loaded with talent at receiver. It doesn’t mean you sit out free agency at the position. You want the flexibility to take the best player available with the 18th overall pick. If you sit out free agency at receiver and the board breaks for you to take another position at 18…then what? You are relying on a mid-round pick or two to become immediate major contributors.

Simply put, that shouldn’t be a risk the Jets are willing take with a young quarterback and a team that should have playoff expectations after this offseason.

Golden Tate. James Jones. Julian Edelman. Andre Roberts. Jeremy Maclin. All these names and other names that could come available are going to have question marks associated with them. Are they going to be “overpaid”? You should have no problem paying Tate 7 million per year or Edelman or Jones 4/5 million per year because they immediately improve your roster and give you a player who can play 50+ snaps every single week at a higher rate than any receiver the team has trotted out the past two seasons.

Collect talent. Sort out the roles later. Give your offense a chance to succeed in 2014. Don’t get caught in trying to pigeonhole receivers into fictitious roles when receivers are frequently moved all over the place and have interchangeable roles.

NUMBER ONE receivers don’t grow on trees. If the Jets draft a receiver at #18, there is no guarantee they develop into a 90 reception, 1300 yard, 10 touchdown per year type player.

Did Seattle have a NUMBER ONE receiver? How about New England? San Francisco? Carolina? What about Baltimore the year before? What is the cut off for this mythical title? At what reception number or reception yardage total does a player earn the title?

The Jets have the assets necessary to obtain the talent they need at pass catching positions this offseason. Now is time to act.

We’ve discussed the different options at length this offseason but haven’t broken out many into individual articles, outside of Emmanuel Sanders. In the next day, we are going publish evaluations of Tate, Jones, Roberts and then hopefully a few other players before free agency opens.

March 11th is coming…

27 thoughts on “Debunking The “#1″ Wide Receiver Myth

  1. I agree that the way some people classify players is ridiculous. Fans hear “#1 receiver” and each starts to imagine his own version of Footballman whose superpower is winning games. You bring up a good point when comparing #1 receivers and elite quarterbacks: I think the fanbases that have those players are the only ones who know that they have limits just like all people. Detroit has Megatron (and a #1 pick at QB) and they can never get into the playoffs. Atlanta has Julio and they fell apart this year. Green and the Bengals were bullied in their loss in the Wildcard round. Likewise, Peyton got embarassed in the Super Bowl, Brady got embarassed in the AFC championship game, Brees got embarassed, twice, in Seattle, while Rodgers’s Packers were once again dismantled on their sacred home turf. You ever think a fanbase like the one for the Broncos bitches about how having an elite d-line would let them “dominate the opponents at the LoS and win games, just like the Jets!” One elite player or unit does not guarantee wins or even putting up a good fight.

    The one thing I disagree with you on is the solution. You have to look at the strengths of the people you sign and make sure they do not overlap too much. Take Chicago: Marshall and Jeffries have very similar strengths. A third player similar to them will not have the same impact as would a different player, even one of comparatively lesser skill. The Patriots had Edelman for years and he never saw the light of day thanks to Welker. The Jets have Kerley; how many receivers that excel at short and intermediate crossing routes and exploit soft spots in zone coverage can the offense incorporate? Even two such receivers, while possible, would require a significant gameplan to use them at the same time.

    And if Rex and Marty want an unpredictable offense, they need receivers who have as many different strengths as possible. Look at the Eagles over the last few years: no two receivers had the exact same skill set. Their backups were more like sub package personnel than backups. If applied to the current Jets, this means that you are not going to bump Hill off the roster without a player that does the things Hill was supposed to do. That means a Nicks or Britt in FA or an Evans, Moncrief, or Coleman in the draft (Jordan Matthews and Robinson might also be able to fill Hill’s role).

    Compile talent, but make sure it complements itself. You need as many people as possible contributing in as many combinations as possible, and to reduce the number of receivers just watching from the bench.

  2. @Kash

    We need dudes that can catch passes. Stop overthinking… pointlessly.

    Jeffries and Marshall do have the same skillset, and so does the #3 reciever Martellus Bennett. All three are big bodied high point pass catchers. They all opperate fine in the exact same offense.

    Chicago didnt think… gee we have brandon marshall, why do we need Alshon. They took the dude they thought would be the best player. Not the best player for the offense they schemed (they had a different coach anyway), but the best player.

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  6. I agree with Anthony; time to stop overthinking things and get people in here that can catch the ball. When your top WR is Jeremy Kerley at 43 Rec for 523 yards and 3 TD’s, that is flat out PATHETIC!!! You have teams in the NFL whose #3 WR has better numbers than that.

    You could argue with the Jets that even if they were to sign 2 FA WR’s, they should still draft one in the 1st or 2nd round of the NFL Draft. That is how bad their WR corp is.

    And just think folks, we could have had Alshon Jeffrey, but passed on him for the lovely Stephen “2nd round BUST” Hill!

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  9. I like James Jones.

    He can start right away, and i bet he would come. He is tough and has a wide skill set. He’ll probably cost 5 mill a year, just like Cooper. Maybe a little less since he never had the big numbers behind Nelson and Cobb in Green Bay.

    I think he will take one look at our roster of WRs and say “now here is a chance for me to be on the field every play”.

    I am hoping to have a WR corps of”

    Kelvin Benjamin
    James Jones
    Kerley
    Nelson

    And Hill has one training camp left to prove he can play, or he is gone!

  10. @Anthony

    You are right, except Bennett is a tight end and by the very nature of the position has a different skill set than Marshall and Jeffries. Tight ends see much less space and more bodies than outside receivers like Marshall and Jeffries ever will. So Bennett can work the seams and the middle of the field, while Marshall and Jeffries are mostly outside guys. Other than be big and catch passes, Bennett has very little in common with Marshall and Jeffries.

  11. They should bring in Sydney Rice and Maclin, over pay for Maclin. They have the money. Draft a WR with 1st round also. I love Odel Beckham Jr or Brandon Cooks. Productive WR. don’t want to draft a wr with all the potential ala hill and never gets there. I want good football players.

  12. Jets either need two 6’7 TE’s or one 6’7′ TE and Jordan Matthews or cooks. Or they can get TE and WR in Free Agency and trade up several picks for Javedon Clowney and people will come to just watch the NYJ WALL STREET defense scare teams into loses.

  13. When I hear ‘#1 WR’, I simply think of a player the opposing team needs to game plan for. Any team can use one of them, but you don’t know you have one, until you do.

    Joe, I see your point about upgrading the talent pool. However, I am just in the camp of ‘bigger is better’. If we could get Tate on similar contract to the one Cooper signed, I’d sign up for that. I’m just leary of overpaying for average players. In Tate’s case, the punt returning is intriguing.

    The more I look at the FA WRs out there, the more I wouldn’t mind them giving a big 1yr deal for Nicks. Yes, he’s had 2 down years. However, he has had big prodution years. He’s a big target and he’d have something to prove.

  14. The #1 or #2 thing does matter in terms of value. Decker is a huge upgrade but I’m not giving him #1 money.

    With this lack of depth on the roster I’d gladly take 2 or 3 “#2′s” as long as it’s for a reasonable price.

  15. Thanks for reading everybody and I appreciate the comments.

    @Lidman: There is certainly something to “you can’t teach size” but part of why I like Tate and Beckham Jr is they play substantially bigger than their size in many ways. I honestly think Cooper is a very average NFL WR who had a few big games in an otherwise quiet career. He fits well in Philly’s O so they paid him. Made sense for both sides. As for Nicks, there is plenty of talent there but ultimately I think he goes somewhere more WR friendly on a year “show me” deal before trying to cash out.

    @Richard: Rice is very risky with his injury history. I also don’t think Maclin is going to hit the open market.

    @Dave: I like Jones as well and at 3-5M per year, think he’d be a strong signing. I’m not a huge fan of Benjamin. He is just too raw right now.

    @Kash – I agree having roles in mind is important but I do think a player like Tate or Jones can bring value to multiple spots in the Jets offense (tate also brings ST value)

  16. Thanks for reading everybody and I appreciate the comments.

    @Lidman: There is certainly something to “you can’t teach size” but part of why I like Tate and Beckham Jr is they play substantially bigger than their size in many ways. I honestly think Cooper is a very average NFL WR who had a few big games in an otherwise quiet career. He fits well in Philly’s O so they paid him. Made sense for both sides. As for Nicks, there is plenty of talent there but ultimately I think he goes somewhere more WR friendly on a year “show me” deal before trying to cash out.

    @Richard: Rice is very risky with his injury history. I also don’t think Maclin is going to hit the open market.

    @Dave: I like Jones as well and at 3-5M per year, think he’d be a strong signing. I’m not a huge fan of Benjamin. He is just too raw right now.

    @Kash – I agree having roles in mind is important but I do think a player like Tate or Jones can bring value to multiple spots in the Jets offense (tate also brings ST value)

  17. Joe

    I love the phrase ‘plays substantially bigger than his size in many ways’. I know he’s made some nice highlight reel catches, getting the ball at it’s apex. But, is he really playing ‘bigger’ there? Is he beating guys bigger than he is (Charles Barkley led the NBA in rebounding, and he’s under 6’5″-that’s ‘playing bigger than you are’, IMO). I remember the great catch he made vs NYJ, against Kyle Wilson last year. Wilson had great coverage (of course didn’t find the ball), but Tate is taller than Wilson-do we consider that ‘plyaing bigger’? I’m not being sarcastic, just asking how you define that.

    Here is something I found interesting: did you know (as per PFF) he only gained 69yds, last year, on passes thrown between 10-19 yards down the field? If he’s playing ‘bigger’ you’d think he’d be doing a lot of work in that area. That said, he had 41 1st downs, on only 64 catches, which is a high percentage. He’s obviously very dangerous with the ball in his hands too.

    I’m very interested to see how the market values him. I will say, I’m not as negative on him as I was originally. His punt return skills would be a big plus for this team. My only concern is we wind up paying a good player more than he’s worth (ala David Harris).

  18. Thank you. There are a lot of FA receivers available this year. Many of them are unknowns. I agree we should stock pile receivers in FA, and the draft, and let them fight it out in camp. I like Tate, but he seems to be the only sure thing right now. No one knows were the next great receiver is going to come from. Is Steve Smith a #1 receiver? Victor Cruz. I know the scouting reports on them said they definitely were not. Some guys have been working all off season on improving, and some like Nicks, and Holmes have not.

  19. Thank you. There are a lot of FA receivers available this year. Many of them are unknowns. I agree we should stock pile receivers in FA, and the draft, and let them fight it out in camp. I like Tate, but he seems to be the only sure thing right now. No one knows were the next great receiver is going to come from. Is Steve Smith a #1 receiver? Victor Cruz. I know the scouting reports on them said they definitely were not. Some guys have been working all off season on improving, and some like Nicks, and Holmes have not.

  20. Stephen Hill plays smaller than he his. That means he doesn’t fight for the ball at it’s high point, or come back for it. He can’t beat a jam cleanly, or use his body to shield defenders. He also tips off DBs as to when the ball is coming. The opposite of that would be playing bigger than you are.

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