The New York Jets have been a fantasy football wasteland the past few years. Can things improve in 2014? Let’s take a quick look at their prominent skill position players and what reasonable expectations for production should be:
1. Eric Decker - Decker should lead the Jets in overall and redzone targets. He won’t match his production in Denver from 2013 (87 receptions, 1,288 yards, 11 touchdowns) but is the team’s likely leader in receptions, receiving yards and receiving touchdowns. Decker has inaccurately been called many things this offseason from “NOT A NUMBER ONE RECEIVER, BRO” to a “possession receiver” to “Brian Hartline” (they are both white, so why not?). The reality is that he is a top 25 player at his position and will be an immense upgrade at one starter spot for the Jets over what they had in 2013.
Last season, Jeremy Kerley led the team in receptions with 43, along with 523 yards and 3 touchdowns, an incredibly low number for a team’s leading receiver. Kerley actually missed four full games and the better part of two others due to injury. Nobody surpassed him because everybody was basically hurt at some point of the season for an extended stretch of games. Decker hasn’t missed a game in three seasons.
Looking at Kerley’s 43 receptions and keeping in mind that Decker is likely to play 16 games instead of roughly 11, is a better overall receiver than Kerley and will have a better supporting cast than Kerley did in 2013, it is fair to project a 65-75 reception type season for him. He averaged 14.8 yards per catch last season, which is probably unrealistic to expect away from Manning and the Denver offense, so if that number drops roughly a yard, he should be somewhere in the 950-1,025 yardage range. As for touchdowns, I think 6-8 would be a fair expectation.
2. Chris Johnson – I do think Chris Ivory will ultimately lead the Jets in carries and be the guy closing games out in the 4th quarter. However, Johnson is a safer bet from a fantasy and overall production perspective. Ivory has major durability concerns and is more likely to play in 12-14 games than a full 16. Johnson, on the other hand hasn’t missed game in five seasons. Beyond that, Ivory is a nonfactor in the passing game, while Johnson should be among the Jets top 3 or 4 most targeted players. Over the past three years, he has averaged 45 receptions per season and caught 4 touchdown passes in 2013. Ivory also hasn’t proven to be a consistent threat to pile up touchdowns, with only 11 throughout his four year career. Johnson had 10 total touchdowns last season and six apiece in 2012 and 2011.
3. Chris Ivory – Most of this was covered above but Ivory’s inability to be a regular factor in the passing game and stay healthy hurts any projection for his offensive production. Ivory could very well have a handful of 20+ carry, 100 yard+ games but with how much consistency can he do it? Last season he had 9 or less carries in six games (out of fifteen total played). He is the Jets most talented pure runner so the potential is there for a big season in a run heavy offense but as of today, I’d keep him behind Johnson.
4. Jace Amaro – The opportunity will be there for Amaro to develop into the team’s second target behind Decker. Jeremy Kerely is a safer bet to be second on the team in receptions but Amaro’s redzone and big play potential puts him higher on this list. Marty Mornhinweg loves getting his tight ends involved in the passing game and consistently tried to feature Jeff Cumberland last season. This season, the Jets de facto base personnel is likely to feature both Amaro and Cumberland but Amaro should quickly become a more featured part of the passing attack. It is hard to project stats for a rookie but Amaro could be a guy who grabs 5-7 touchdowns and hauls in around 50 passes.
5. Jeremy Kerley – The team’s second best wide receiver by a decent margin. Kerley is an underrated player who has remained regularly productive despite an abysmal supporting cast and inconsistent quarterback play. He should rack up somewhere around 50-55 receptions but isn’t much of a factor in the redzone. If he stays around his career yards per catch, he should finish with 650-680 yards.
6. Jeff Cumberland – The coaching staff remains high on Cumberland’s potential, demonstrated by how many plays were designed for him throughout last season and the quickness with which a new contract was put together for him this offseason. When people throw out the generally insufferable “WHO WILL BE THE #2 WIDE RECEIVER” question, the most proper answer is some hybrid of Kerley and Cumberland (assuming you are classifying Amaro as the lead tight end, despite him actually being more of an oversized slot receiver). At least in the beginning of the year, Cumberland should see a good chunk of reps and be fifth in line for targets after Decker, Amaro, Kerley and Johnson. He has nice size, so he remains a threat in the redzone.
7. Jalen Saunders/Stephen Hill/David Nelson/Bilal Powell – Hard to put these guys in any type of order. Powell’s usage will likely vary weekly depending on how run heavy the game plan is, Chris Ivory’s health and how effective Johnson is proving to be in the screen game. Saunders is a lock to make the final 53 and is the most polished of any rookie receiver on the team. It will be very interesting to see how Marty Mornhinweg integrates his skill set in the offense, where he could be a major factor in the screen and short passing game immediately. He is also likely to be the team’s primary returner. We know the book on Hill…dominates the Bills once per year, doesn’t do much else, the measurables are there but he hasn’t shown enough consistency or improvement yet. Nelson isn’t a flashy name but is a quality depth player who has a 60+ reception season under his belt and led the team in receptions, targets, and receiving touchdowns over the final four games in 2013.
Geno Smith/Mike Vick: If Smith is the starter (as we anticipate he will be) and you project out his stats from the final four games of 2013, when he was much improved you get: 272/464, 3,160 yards passing, 16 touchdowns, 8 interceptions, 744 rushing yards, 12 rushing touchdowns. The rushing numbers are head turning but unlikely to project out to being that high. Yet, the passing numbers could be better with another year in the offense and the addition of Decker, Amaro and Johnson. Smith is likely to be undrafted in most leagues as people wait and see how he starts out 2014. If Vick wins the job or takes over at some point during the season, he should remain the usual boom/bust quarterback he’s been the past few seasons. In seven games in 2013, Vick had 1,215 yards passing, five touchdowns, three interceptions, 306 rushing yards and and two rushing touchdowns.