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Let’s take a quick run through the top twelve skill position players potentially at Sam Darnold’s disposal in his rookie season. All of these players won’t make the roster or have large roles but here is what the collection of receivers, running backs and tight ends looks like as of now…
1 – Robby Anderson: The Vertical Threat Who Is More Than A Vertical Threat
Anderson put together a surprisingly productive rookie season as a UDFA in 2016. After that, you could have made the case for him developing into a Mike Wallace type receiver long term but the strides he took in year two showed a higher ceiling. Anderson produced from the slot. He diversified his route tree, added more YAC and dropped less passes. Considering the output of his first two years in the offensive situation he was in, it isn’t crazy to think he could become a taller DeSean Jackson with less ability to run after the catch.
2 – Bilal Powell: The Under Appreciated Back Who Does It All
Powell does everything you need a modern NFL running back to do. He can run between the tackles or outside, catches the football well and is strong in pass protection. Whenever he is given the football, he produces at a level comparable to the top 15 back in the NFL. In 2016, he had the second highest YPA of any back with over 100 carries and of all backs with over 175 carries in 2017, he had the fourth most runs over 20 yards. He will be a young quarterback’s best friend for his ability to pick up blitzers and serve as a reliable pass catching outlet from the backfield.
3 – Quincy Enunwa: The Swiss Army Knife
Enunwa is built like a tight end, carries the football like a running back and can run vertical like a wide receiver. If he is healthy, he could end up being the team’s top skill position player because of his versatility. Early in his career, when he was predominantly playing H-Back, Enunwa had the look of a Delanie Walker type player. In 2016, when asked to play outside the numbers, he had moments when he looked like Brandon Marshall in his prime. While Enunwa is unlikely to mirror Marshall’s production long term, he will bring explosive plays a handful of times throughout the year while spending most of his time doing the dirty work that keeps an offense on schedule.
4 – Isiah Crowell: The Early Down Guy
Newly signed this offseason, Crowell is not a flashy back but has been steadily productive throughout four years with the Cleveland Browns, finishing between 607-952 yards every season with a YPC of 4.2. He is also a competent receiver out of the backfield and has never missed a game in his NFL career. Crowell projects to being the team’s primary ball carrier on early downs and somebody who should be able to compliment Powell in 1A/1B type situation as the lead back depending on the match-up.
5 – Jermaine Kearse: The Veteran
Kearse was more productive in 2017 than anticipated as a throw in from the Sheldon Richardson trade. He doesn’t do anything uniquely special at receiver but has reliable hands and a good feel for finding the soft spot against zone defenses. He isn’t likely to mirror last season’s production with the return of Enunwa and the addition of Terrelle Pryor but should remain a useful target on third downs and a leading veteran presence in the receiver room.
6 – Terrelle Pryor: The Wild Card
Pryor had a massive outlier season in 2016 for the Cleveland Browns, where he cracked 1,000 yards and scored 4 of his 5 career receiving touchdowns. The Jets don’t need him to be a lead receiver. They need him to be a situational, outside the numbers vertical threat and a red-zone target. With a limited package of plays and other legitimate vertical threats around him, Pryor should be able to free himself up for a few big plays in 2018.
7 – Elijah McGuire: The Pass Catching Back
McGuire had some moments during his rookie season and showed flashes of being the receiving back the Jets envisioned when they drafted him in the 6th round of the 2017 NFL Draft. McGuire will be third in the pecking order for carries behind Crowell and Powell but should be utilized in some third down situations as a pass catcher, similar to how Matt Forte was used last season. I’d take the under on 75 carries for him in 2018 but the over on 25 receptions.
8 – Chris Herndon: The Rook’
If healthy, the fourth round rookie walks into a situation conducive to immediate playing time. Herndon has a skill set that should allow him to contribute both as a blocker and pass catcher and roughly approximate what Austin Seferian-Jenkins did for the offense last season.
9 – Eric Tomlinson: The Dirty Work
The Jets best blocking tight end, who held his own when targeted in the passing game last season. Many fans are too quick to write off his roster spot, while not recognizing the value of a capable in-line tight end. Of all the returning players at tight end, Tomlinson had the most reps last season by far and should continue to contribute mostly in early down situations.
10 – Clive Walford: The Boring Veteran
Signed from the Oakland Raiders, Walford showed intriguing potential his first two seasons before being phased out of the Raiders offense last year. A player who is capable in pass protection and can also serve as a decent target in the intermediate passing game, Walford may stick if the Jets are looking for more experience as Herndon gets up to speed.
11 – Thomas Rawls: The Flier
Since a much bigger than expected rookie season in 2015, Rawls has struggled to stay healthy or be productive when healthy. He has a somewhat similar skill set to Crowell but will likely struggle to beat him out for early down carries. Rawls feels like a player who loads up on preseason carries and is then released before week 1 more than anything else but maybe he surprises with a monster preseason.
12 – Chad Hansen: The Sophomore
Hansen leap frogged ArDarius Stewart on the depth chart as a rookie and had some impressive reps in the back half of the season. He will struggle to get targets in year two, unless the Jets decide to trade Kearse but could potentially carve out a niche in third down packages. Hansen has a skill set more conducive to playing outside the numbers than in the slot but there could be an easier path to playing inside, than outside on this year’s team.
- ArDarius Stewart, Jordan Leggett, Neal Sterling, Bucky Hodges, Dmitri Flowers, Lawrence Thomas, Charles Johnson, Andre Roberts, Devin Smith
Stewart has an uphill battle with the receiver depth chart in front of him, same for Johnson, Smith and Roberts…only one of those guys, if any, is likely to stick. Leggett needs a standout camp to stay around after missing his entire rookie season followed by the Jets signing two veterans and drafting a player at his position in a higher round than he was. Hodges was an interesting flier to take who is battling for the third tight end spot. Flowers and Thomas will compete for the starting fullback job.
Photo Credit: NewYorkJets.com