It is not a mystery that the New York Jets struggled at the wide receiver position in 2013. Their problems in the passing game were a unit wide failure. Geno Smith was inconsistent and inaccurate. The offensive line struggled in pass protection and had ugly growing pains from Brian Winters. At tight end, they received mediocre overall play. However, the play of the receivers seemed to be an accurate barometer for the overall production of the passing game.
NOTE: Don’t miss part two of my Jets offseason breakdown with Dom Cosentino of NJ.com right here. In case you missed it, here is part one.
In the final month of the season, when the offense made immense strides, it was Jeremy Kerley, David Nelson and Santonio Holmes playing the overwhelming bulk of the reps at receiver. Basically, Marty Mornhinweg cut his receiver rotation down to three rolled them through as the primary option depending on the play or circumstance. While nobody would mistake Kerley, Nelson and a banged up Holmes as an elite top three at receiver. They are all at least average to above average NFL players, capable of running consistent routes and making plays that should be made. This helped Geno Smith in a big way.
The four weeks prior to that, when the Jets offense was a train wreck was another story. In week 13, it was Stephen Hill, David Nelson and Greg Salas playing the bulk of the reps. In week 12, it was Santonio Holmes, Greg Salas and David Nelson. In week 11, it was Hill, Nelson and Holmes. In week 9, it was Nelson, Salas and Hill. Basically an alternating, mishmash that included two players not fit to play major reps (Hill and Salas). As you can imagine, it isn’t easy to develop rhythm in the passing game with such inconsistency week to week.
This problem was present at times in the first half of the season as well. The blowout loss to the Titans? Ben Obomanu played 40 snaps, the third most of any player after barley playing at all prior to that. In the frustrating week 2 loss to the Patriots? Two of the three top players to get reps at receiver were Clyde Gates and Stephen Hill. Ryan Spadola was also getting rotational action. Again, there was no consistency.
This brings us to the importance of signing a very good, very durable NFL receiver like Eric Decker this offseason. You can bog yourself down in the fruitless task of assigning an arbitrary number to his position “HIGH END NUMBER TWO TYPE” or just recognize he immediately becomes the team’s best overall receiver and is a critical building block to improve the positional group.
Let’s look at a few quick examples of where Decker can help the Jets, when he becomes the primary target on a pass play. I’m aware these are one off plays but they are meant to emphasize a larger trend in both Decker’s game and the player he is being compared to.
Early in the season, the Jets tried to make Stephen Hill a focal point of their passing game. In particular, he was designed to be a critical part of the game plan in week two against the New England Patriots. Jeremy Kerley was out with an injury. Santonio Holmes was less than 100% and playing on a short week.
Here on 3rd and 2, Marty Mornhinweg, hides Hill in the slot, has him throw a quick chip block and then release to the flat. The hope is that since he is 6 foot 4, 215 pounds and has top end speed, he can make one man miss or simply bull over the corner to get the first down. He gets left one on one with Kyle Arrington, who is an average corner at best and is 5 foot 10, 190 pounds. The Jets didn’t get the first down here and had to punt.
Despite being a large receiver at 6 foot 3, 217 pounds, Decker has shown a good ability to run after the catch. The Jets currently don’t have a receiver with size who can consistently rack up YAC. When running with the football Decker has a nice combination of physicality and elusiveness.
In the previously mentioned Jets/Patriots game, both Stephen Hill and Clyde Gates struggled on their targets throughout the first three quarters. To start the fourth, the Jets designed a play for Ryan Spadola, who failed to come up with this pass when a Patriots defender swatted at the ball after his initial catch.
Now before you freak out about comparing Spadola and Decker, the point is that most Jets receivers struggled last season coming up with tough catches when there was contact involved from a defender. The Spadola play serves as an example of plays that Hill, Gates, Jeff Cumberland (when lined up at receiver) and even Santonio Holmes failed to make regularly last season. Decker does a nice job of leveraging his size and being strong with the football to secure a catch.
One last ongoing problem for Jets receivers, and in particular Stephen Hill (and I keep comparing Hill and Decker because they are roughly the same size) is not attacking the football at the highest point.
Notice below how Decker extends his arms above his head, instead of out from his chest. Peyton Manning got a break here because the Colts defensive back misplayed the football but Decker was able to take advantage by attacking the ball properly and not alligator arming it.
The simple reality of having Decker be the primary target on a high number of passes that were directed to Stephen Hill or Santonio Holmes last season is an immediate upgrade and a difference maker for the Jets offense. Their passing game will be further boosted if Jeremy Kerley and David Nelson can stay healthy and involved as the players receiving the bulk of the reps alongside Decker, unless the Jets add another piece in the early rounds of the NFL Draft, which would further improve their depth and options.