Heading into the NFL Draft, the New York Jets two biggest needs were tight end and cornerback. After those two, outside linebacker, safety and wide receiver fell in some order of similar importance. The Jets added their tight end in the second round by stealing Jace Amaro with the 49th pick and added a third and sixth rounder at cornerback (we’ll discuss McDougle and Dixon more in the coming days). However, let’s today focus on their current collection of wide receivers and pass catchers in general…and why this “need” may be overstated.
At the risk of beating a dead horse, we have written at length this offseason about the rejection of the term “#1 receiver” and that trickles down to “#2 receiver…#3 receiver” and so on. It isn’t the actual terms that are necessarily incorrect but the way they are consistently used and framed.
The cookie cutter analysis on the Jets receiver situation is this: Eric Decker isn’t a #1 wide receiver. He is just a high-end #2 receiver that is being miscast. The Jets don’t have a #2 receiver because Jeremy Kerley is just a pretty good #3 receiver. Outside of that, they have a bunch of #4 and #5 receivers.
Again, I’m not sure what the criteria for “#1 receiver” mythical title is but if it is size, speed, touchdowns, yards receiving or any other reasonable wide receiver metric, Eric Decker likely meets it. He is 6’3, runs a 4.5, hasn’t a missed game in three seasons and has 32 touchdowns over those three seasons. As for Kerley, he remains a criminally underrated player who has suffered through generally terrible quarterback play the past two years and still managed to be productive when on the field. He has succeeded in other spots in the formation besides the slot. There is no need to put a number or a qualifier before discussing him, he is just a good NFL receiver.
Now that we have covered that again, let’s look at what the Jets currently have.
Eric Decker is going lead the Jets in reps at receiver and in all likelihood lead them in targets. This is an immense upgrade to last season. As of today, Jeremy Kerley would be the receiver to play the second most reps and see the second most targets amongst receivers. Personally, I don’t find that to be a dire situation. Keep in mind that Jace Amaro is basically an oversized slot receiver who is going to be prominently featured in the passing game, in a role that more resembles a receiver than a traditional tight end. Chris Johnson has averaged 49 receptions per year over the past four seasons. He is going to be a big factor, particularly in the screen and short passing game.
What we saw last year, particularly down the stretch, was that Marty Mornhinweg likes to give three wide receivers the bulk of the reps, with one or two working in through a handful of plays. Over the past four games, here is how the repetitions broke down:
- David Nelson – 223 snaps
- Santonio Holmes – 205 snaps
- Jeremy Kerley – 173 snaps
- Greg Salas – 40 snaps
- Saliim Hakim – 15 snaps
It is worth nothing that Kerley was returning from an injury in the first game of this stretch, so his reps were gradually worked up from 27 to 33 to 59 and then 54 in week 17. Over the last two weeks, when he was 100% healthy, the breakdown looked like this:
- David Nelson – 122 snaps
- Jeremy Kerley – 113 snaps
- Santonio Holmes – 110 snaps
- Greg Salas – 18 snaps
- Saliim Hakim – 4 snaps
So basically, after Decker and Kerley, the Jets are going to be looking for a third wide receiver who can handle a decent chunk of playing time on a week to week basis. However, that level of playing time could be lower than the 37 snaps per game Santonio Holmes played in the final two weeks. The addition of Jace Amaro and Johnson is going to impact the overall use of the receiver position and it wouldn’t be surprising if only two receivers regularly averaged over 30 snaps per game.
When you look at who is battling behind Decker and Kerley, it is going to be one of the most entertaining battles in Jets training camp. Nelson led the team in snaps the past month of the season, caught 14 of 21 targets for 146 yards with 2 touchdowns. Stephen Hill has the measurables but hasn’t put it together yet at the NFL level. Jacoby Ford has shown flashes of explosiveness but hasn’t been able to stay healthy and his roster spot is in jeopardy with the selection of Jalen Saunders.
We are going to dig deeper into the tape on Saunders, Shaq Evans and Quincy Enunwa this offseason but all three bring intriguing skill-sets. Enunwa is more of a project player but Evans and Saunders can be immediate factors offensively for the Jets with strong training camps. Don’t assume that Kerley and Saunders can’t share the field at the same time. Don’t assume that Evans can’t immediately push Nelson or Hill for reps on the outside. Saunders in particular has enough eye-catching talent, route running ability and home run capabilities to immediately demand inclusion in a handful of offensive personnel groups.
Many are frustrated that more of a “name” like Marqise Lee or Martavis Bryant wasn’t added in the NFL Draft. There is a report out there that the Jets tried to move up for Lee but GM John Idzik only confirmed that the Jets did try to move up, without naming a target. Was it for Lee? Probably. But you can understand my hesitance in immediately accepting Ian Rapoport’s claim that is was a “furious effort” when he was convinced, along with Manish Mehta, that the Jets would trade up in the first round for a wide receiver. The basis of that speculation seemed to be nothing, outside of a loose assumption that the Idzik had previously worked with the Titans GM and they could work something out.
Regardless, we don’t know what the cost would have been or how great the effort actually was or if in fact it was 100% for Lee. Personally, I’d prefer Jace Amaro over Marqise at any point in the second round, nevermind getting to stay put for Amaro compared with having to give up picks to go get Lee. Amaro was an equal, if not slightly better prospect than Lee and filled a bigger area of need for the Jets. There is a reason 32 teams passed on Lee in the first round and the receiver starved Browns (post Gordon suspension) passed on him at the top of the second. There are valid questions about his knee and ability to stay healthy/productive at this level.
With Bryant, he was a fourth round player. Do the measurables give him a higher ceiling than Saunders or Evans? Sure. At the same time, he can very well be Stephen Hill 2.0. After seeing Hill struggle, the Jets were likely wary of using one of their fourth round picks on a project receiver, instead electing to wait until the sixth round. In reality, Saunders, Evans and Bryant are all comparable NFL prospects, which is why they were all taken in the same round.
Overall, the Jets have two proven veterans at receiver, with the third spot in the pecking order battling out between a capable veteran, a third year veteran who looks great on paper, and two fourth round picks. Yet, how many times are the Jets going to go with three or four “receivers” and have those 3rd and 4th spots in the formation be some combination of Amaro, Johnson, Jeff Cumberland or Bilal Powell? Probably a good amount. The number of times the Jets have three true “wide receivers” on the field could be a relatively low number in many weeks.