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.