New York Jets – The Offensive Roster Shuffle

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Due to a shoulder injury it appears that rookie 4th round wide receiver Shaq Evans is going to be headed to the New York Jets IR. This isn’t an overly surprising thing for many who have been following the team, considering the current depth chart and the potential to give a developmental prospect like Evans a “red-shirt” season. Sixth round rookie, Quincy Enunwa is likely headed to the same place, if not the practice squad. The early weeks of camp have opened up a few interesting debates on the New York Jets offensive personnel and who should stick on the final 53 man roster. Let’s take a closer look…

The Jets are going to be a run heavy offense in 2014. Last season they were 5th in the NFL in rushing attempts, despite Chris Ivory being regularly banged up, limited depth behind him and Bilal Powell and Geno Smith’s initial reluctance to run the football. With Chris Johnson in the mix, Geno more apt to run, and Daryl Richardson providing better depth, the number of carries is only going to increase. Yes, the Jets have interior offensive line concerns but they had the same (if not worse) concerns in 2013 and that didn’t stop them from running so frequently.

When the Jets do throw the football, the screen game is going to be a large part of what they do. It is something that plays to one of Geno Smith’s strengths, matches up well with many of their pass catchers and is something Marty Mornhinweg has a history of relying on. The Jets also have a tight end depth chart that features three players, who function more naturally as a receivers than blockers or traditional tight ends. Finally, the addition of Johnson could end up impacting the passing game more than the running game, both because of his potential in the screen game and ability to split out wide.

What this leads back to is something we’ve discussed frequently this off-season, the limited importance of the team’s wide receivers beyond Eric Decker and Jeremy Kerley. Those two will lead the team’s receivers in targets, reps and plays where they are featured as the primary option. Along with them, Jeff Cumberland, Jace Amaro, Chris Johnson and to a lesser extent Zach Sudfeld and Bilal Powell will be active parts in the passing game. Simply put, there isn’t going to be all that many targets or reps left for the receivers behind Decker and Kerley on the depth chart.

With Evans and Enunwa likely out of the mix and Clyde Gates, Michael Campbell and Saalim Hakim more camp fodder than anything else, it leaves three or four spots for David Nelson, Stephen Hill, Jalen Saunders, Jacoby Ford and Greg Salas. Now, I am of that belief that Nelson is a roster lock because of his experience, size, versatility and chemistry with Geno Smith. Despite being 6’5, Nelson actually does his best work in the slot, allowing him to provide depth behind both Decker and Kerley. Hill is also very likely to stick on the roster based on his measurables and the hope that he can be a successful role player as a deep threat. Saunders is going to make the team and be the primary punt returner. He also has a skill set to be groomed behind Kerley and immediately contribute in the screen game.

As backup receivers, there will be limited opportunities for Nelson and Hill. As a backup to the four players in front of him, there will be even less offensive opportunities for Saunders, who could very well have weeks where he plays no more than 5 snaps.

So is there really a need to keep a player like Greg Salas or Jacoby Ford? Ford could be the team’s primary kick returner but is that all he is going to bring? You better be a Pro-Bowl caliber return man if that is your singular job. With the kickoffs moved to the 35 yard line, there are less and less opportunities for kick returners. There could be weeks when the Jets field 2-3 kickoffs and all of them are touchbacks. The role for a return specialist is diminishing. LaGarrette Blount was the Patriots returner last year and is a plodder among plodders. Did it hurt them? No. They decided the kick returner would be somebody who is bringing value at another position. Who is to say the Jets can’t throw somebody like Daryl Richardson, Dexter McDougle or use Saunders situationally mixed in with another player?

As for Salas, I don’t doubt that he looked good in the scrimmage and he flashed at times last season but let’s keep perspective. He has been on four teams since being drafted in 2011 for a reason. If he does make the team as the sixth receiver, would he even be active most weeks? Isn’t there more value in a 4th halfback in a run heavy offense or a 5th safety or an extra corner in a defensive back heavy scheme?

Many Jets fans have “Danny Woodhead syndrome” aka a fear of letting go of a player just to see him become successful elsewhere. Yes, this happened with Woodhead. It also didn’t happen with Joe McKnight, Tim Tebow (Remember how DUMB Bill Belichick was going to make the Jets look for letting him go?), Ryan Spadola and plenty of other players in recent years.

Our site is guilty of this at times too but it is always interesting how so much discussion in the pre-season focuses around players like Ford, Rontez Miles, Ras I-Dowling, Sudfeld, Saunders, Hill and Salas…players who have a ceiling of being bit players on the 2014 roster.

  • KAsh

    Just yesterday, I was reading a critique of a philosopher that said “his analysis is insightful, but I would give a plus to his every minus and a minus to his every plus.” I immediately thought of that sentence when I read this article.

    If the 2013 Jets had the 5th highest number of rush attempts with “Chris Ivory being regularly banged up, limited depth behind him and Bilal Powell,” “Geno Smith’s initial reluctance to run the football,” and “interior offensive line concerns,” most observers would think that the Jets were trying to hide their rookie quarterback that had the lowest rating in the league. Iam so happy the plan was always to be run-heavy. I just thought the Jets’s 31st ranked passing offense was so putrid that you could not watch a game without tasting stomach. Conversely, if Geno took a big step this offseason, his passing options improved, most of the receivers had a year of experience in the system, the offensive line is still shaky on the interior, and his running backs still come with injury concerns, most would think that a WCO coordinator would want his young QB to make more passes and learn how the scheme is meant to run, rather than learn to hand the ball off 30+ times per game.

    And if Mornhinweg includes more run plays, he will not be able to incorporate more screens. You cannot leash your offense to the LoS and expect to move the chains on a consistent basis. You cannot need seven first downs in a row to score and expect to put more points on the board. A traditional WCO replaces run plays with short passes, so the more run plays you include, the higher the proportion of deep passes to short passes in the remaining pass plays. The Jets averaged 4.4 yards per carry and 4.7 yards per attempt on screens, so increasing the role of both in the offense will only extend the time the offense spends on the field and wear down the offensive personnel more, especially the already worn offensive line and running backs.

    Also, I do not understand your confidence behind the tight ends side-by-side with your lack of confidence in the receivers. Both groups have shown little. If anything, the wide receivers have shown more in camp. Cumberland has had the quietest camp a starter can have. Amaro, I pray, will become a great tight end, but he has struggled with the playbook, the speed of the game, learning new duties, and drops. Sudfeld has put on a show, but this was also the story with him last year in the Patriots’s camp; his performance has to translate to the preseason games.

    As for how the pass attempts will break down, we can look at the offense last year. Players switch positions all the time in MM’s offense, but the groupings still hold, as only another tight end will line up in the same spots another tight end does in the same pass play. The Jets attempted 480 passes last year. They targeted:

    tight ends (Winslow, Cumberland, Sudfeld, Reuland) – 97 times, 20.2% of all targets
    running backs (Powell, Ivory, Goodson, Bohanon, Green) – 89 times, 18.5% of all targets
    slot receivers (Kerley, Salas, Obomanu, Cribbs) – 88 times, 18.3% of all targets
    quarterback (Geno Smith) – 1 time, 0.02% of all targets
    outside receivers (Holmes, Nelson, Hill, Gates) – 202 times, 42.1% of all targets

    Even with Johnson sliding Powell (57 targets) down the depth chart, Amaro replacing Winslow (47 targets), and Kerley playing a full sixteen games backed up by a Saunders or Salas, the percentage of targets to outside receivers should decrease to no less than 30%. If the Jets likewise pass 480 times in 2014 – the team was 29th in the number of pass attempts last year, so you can expect this number to rise – that will be 144 targets or twice as many targets as Kerley, the most targeted Jets receiver last year, all to Decker, according to how you see the targets breaking down. Or, more likely, Decker will lead the team in targets, with two or three other outside receivers finishing the season in or just outside the top five of the most targeted Jets receivers.

    As for your argument about kick returners and Blount, I would accept it if Blount was a bad kick returner and the Patriots did fine. But if you list all the kick returners that returned at least ten kicks last year by their average return per kick, Blount would be seventh on the list with 29.1 yards per return. He did more than good. He started the season for the Patriots at kick returner, but then became the first in line to carry the rock. In the weeks he was their bellcow, they rotated their kick returners, with a different player returning kicks each game, the best one returning nine kicks for 23.8 yards per return. Rather than being a plodder, Blount was a very effective kick returner and a highlight of the Patriots’s season. If Richardson turns out to be Blount, then I am all for keeping a useless fourth running back that will only sniff the field to return kicks unless an unexpected injury occurs. (This is the first time in my life I have seen so much concern about injuries with three healthy running backs on the roster, each of which was a bellcow back for parts of last year.)

    I do agree with your last two paragraphs. The fear of letting players go is crazy, and it leads to people hyping players like Boyd, Dowling, and Enunwa, even in lieu of any evidence to them being NFL-capable. But the Jets can reward production and ability, or they can reward potential. And there is also a tendency to be on the cutting edge, with which comes overreaction to small steps. This offense will achieve everything we want it to achieve if it just gets to the level of a typical, middling NFL offense. And it does not have to reinvent the wheel in order for that to happen. I will be happy with plain, boring, and mediocre.

  • john c

    Let me put on my broken record… Ok, Let’s see, which talented position player will we cut, so that Tanner Purdum can be long snapper?!! It boggles my mind that the backup Center (or anyone else who plays a position) can’t do that job.

  • Mike A.

    With all the varying opinions about our offense’s strategies for this year being discussed, does anyone see Mike Vick running the Wildcat for us this year. Seems like a natural to me.

  • glegly

    Ryan Spadola! The next Wayne C! I’m sure Woody could just imagine the stands littered with his jerseys last year. And now…nuthin’. Football’s an amazing sport for situations like that. Football doesn’t have real minor leagues, can’t play pickup football against like talent, you can just work out, stay in shape and wait by the phone. You just have to run the training camp gauntlet every year as a “camp body” and just pray something materializes, most of it out of your control (a friendly coach, a player ahead of you getting injured, etc).

    For every Danny Woodhead, there are countless number of guys who never made it past “camp body.”

    p.s. I don’t know where I’m going with this. Just a fascinating little subplot.

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  • Jeremiah Johnson

    Considering the reports of CJ lining up at WR in addition to RB, it does seem there will not be many targets for WRs other than Decker, Kerley, & Nelson unless 1 of them gets injured. It’ll be interesting to see if CJ can be the big play deep threat that Stephen “jump up, body catch, & fall down” Hill was supposed to be.