New York Jets Training Camp Preview: Wide Receivers

David Aitken with a training camp preview of the New York Jets wide receivers…

David Aitken continues his training camp of the 2017 New York Jets with a look at the wide receiver position. Here is last week’s look at running back…

Projected Depth Chart/Starters

  1. Quincy Enunwa
  2. Robby Anderson
  3. Charone Peake
  4. ArDarius Stewart
  5. Chad Hansen
  6. Jalin Marshall

What a difference a year makes. The Jets are not long removed from a passing offense that was carried by two accomplished league veterans in their primes. With both Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker now suiting up in other uniforms, the group’s most established player is 25-year-old Quincy Enunwa.

Quincy Enunwa, for now at least, remains the Jets’ best kept secret. The losses of Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker will put pressure on Enunwa to be the sole focus of defensive coordinators in 2017, but even in the presence of Marshall and Decker (for a few games) Enunwa was the team’s most productive and efficient target in 2016. According to PFF’s statistics, Enunwa saw 22 less targets than Marshall yet out-gained him in yardage, touchdowns and reception efficiency. He was both a menace after the catch (6.2 yards-after-catch average) and one of the league’s best deep ball receivers, hauling in 80% of his deep pass targets. He did however have troubles with drops, with PFF crediting him with 12 – an alarmingly high number on 99 targets. 

Enunwa has the athletic profile of a receiver with #1 potential. He measured out of college impressively across the board, and is in an elite category when it comes to being a height/weight/speed specimen. Through three years there has been steady improvement and he’s met the challenge of increased roles each season. If you’re going to be optimistic about one offensive player on the Jets establishing themselves as a legitimate cornerstone of this rebuild, Enunwa is the guy. But while he may have out-produced Marshall, it was Marshall who led the team in target share, and still carried a reputation even if his production wasn’t matching prior heights. Enunwa’s challenge now is to be the man that can handle the lion’s share of targets and the attention that comes with it.

Another player where there’s reason for optimism is second-year UDFA Robby Anderson. Anderson stood head and shoulders above better known fellow rookies Charone Peake and Jalin Marshall and made a case for early playing time with his ability to stretch the field otherwise sorely lacking on the Jets offense. While a lot of his highlights are really him just getting open vertically and being under or overthrown (including beating Richard Sherman last September), Anderson would eventually be the sole beneficiary of Bryce Petty’s 10-year-old-playing-Madden style of quarterbacking. Petty used Anderson as a crutch and chucked the ball down field to Anderson often whether it was a good idea or not. This destroyed Anderson’s efficiency metrics but also led to some highlight plays and examples of what kind of player he could be. Anderson needs to get stronger and prove trustworthy on more of the route tree, but there’s already value in being a complementary home run threat who can win 50-50’s.

Charone Peake is the group’s wildcard. A former five star recruit for wide receiver factory Clemson, a glutton of injuries derailed his ability to produce at a younger age, putting together just one solid but unspectacular season his final year at the program. He possesses above average size for the position and has great athleticism for that size. If he can continue to stay on the field, the tools are there for another productive wideout.

Maccagnan went back-to-back in rounds three and four last April to add two more receivers to the mix. Alabama’s ArDarius Stewart comes into the league a little old (24 in December), but comes off as tough, versatile and dangerous after the catch. The idea with Stewart is that what he lacks in conventional production as a receiver can be made up for in a niche slot role that involves short passes and extended handoff type plays. Despite being selected a round later, California’s Chad Hansen seems more likely to one day develop into a full-time player, producing well in a more traditional capacity his final year in the Pac 12. Hansen will enter the league inexperienced as an NFL level route runner, but showed innate contested catch skills and created well after the catch in college.

Jalin Marshall was a hot name in training camp last year but a roster spot isn’t guaranteed and doesn’t even feel completely under his control. Perhaps a victim of the early hype last year, he was overwhelmed by special teams returner responsibilities and now faces direct competition from ArDarius Stewart for a similar role on offense. Marshall will also miss the first four games due to a PED suspension, so securing a roster spot will require standing out significantly from the pack.

Position Group Strength:

There is a lot of optimism regarding the wide receiver group and some of it is warranted, but at the same time there shouldn’t be sight lost on the fact that the Jets are sorely lacking proven starters heading into the year. There is a potential premier talent in Quincy Enunwa, but the word potential is key here. He played in the shadow of Brandon Marshall most of 2016, and now must replace him. 

Robby Anderson is now penciled in as a starter after a rookie season where he was mostly just a niche deep threat. The rest of the group, while all candidates to contribute, have proven nothing at the NFL level and aren’t carrying a blue-chip prospect label into their rookie seasons or second years. Things could look a lot different at the end of the 2017 season, but this won’t be graded on a curve. There’s reason to be optimistic and a group of young players worth playing, but that’s something altogether different than actually having a good group of players.

Best Case Scenario: Quincy Enunwa takes another step forward and performs as the team’s top target, Robby Anderson hits stride as a complementary deep threat #2 and the cast behind them shows off strength in numbers as they find a productive niche.  

Prediction: The quarterback situation muddies the ability to accurately assess where the group is at, but Quincy Enunwa remains the source of everything good the passing offense accomplishes. Robby Anderson is productive but goes through hot/cold streaks and his starting credentials will be a source of debate. Stewart will be the more productive of the two rookies in a niche slot role as Charone Peake is preferred over Chad Hansen.

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Photo Credit: NewYorkJets.com