New York Jets: Make or Break Year For Dustin Keller

This is a make or break year for New York Jets tight end Dustin Keller

New York Jets tight end Dustin Keller is entering the most crucial season of his NFL career. The team has understandably held off on giving him a large contract extension, instead choosing to wait and see how he produces in Tony Sparano’s offense. Through four years, Keller has been good but has never truly broke out in the way many around the team expect him to. This season, more than ever the Jets need the Pro-Bowl season that he has personally declared is on the way.

It doesn’t take an expert to see that the Jets are lacking proven offensive playmakers heading into this season, particularly in the passing game. Beyond that, Mark Sanchez is yet to have an opportunity to work with two of his top three receivers, Santonio Holmes and Jeremy Kerley, this pre-season because of his injuries. Without question, Keller is the receiver he is most comfortable with and should see a ton of passes coming his way all season.

Keller has never been able to sustain productivity throughout his career. The four seasons are marked by stretches of All-Pro caliber play followed by weeks of inactivity. The productivity tends to occur early in the season and then tail off throughout the year.

Last season, Keller caught 16 passes for 249 yards 2 touchdowns in the Jets first three games. Over the next six games, he only collected 15 receptions for 224 yards and o touchdowns. He improved slightly down the stretch but not much, finishing the season with only 5 touchdowns and 12.5 yards per reception. In 2010, it was the same story. He caught 5 touchdowns in the Jets first 4 games and then didn’t catch one the rest of the season. He also saw a gaudy early season yards per catch average drop off to 12.5 by the end of the year.

Keller needs to improve his consistency, his red-zone production and downfield playmaking ability. All of these issues don’t fall solely on him. It is fair to place blame on Brian Schottenheimer’s horizontal passing attack and perplexing game plans. It is also fair to blame Mark Sanchez for his occasional struggles.

Regardless, the top priority of the Jets passing game this year should be keeping Keller involved on a weekly basis and getting him the ball inside the 20 yard line. His yards per catch should improve thanks to Tony Sparano’s scheme. Anthony Fasano averaged 13.5 yards per catch and 14.1 yards per catch the past two years respectively and he is substantially less athletic and versatile than Keller.

It can’t be used as an excuse that defenses are keying on Keller. Santonio Holmes is enough of a threat on the outside to keep double teams away from Keller in most situations, nevermind if Stephen Hill develops into a viable deep threat. Keller needs to be moved around the formation to get matched up on defensive backs who he can take advantage of with his size, particularly in the red-zone. If he is seeing coverage from linebackers, the Jets have to get him down the seam where Mark Sanchez throws the ball particularly well.

The Jets can’t afford to have Keller go 5 straight weeks with less than 3 receptions. The Jets can’t afford Keller to have another 5 touchdown season. It is time to expand his route tree beyond bootlegs. Creativity will be needed because he is without question the team’s second best all around receiver and their most versatile weapon in the passing game.

New York Jets: Where Does Dustin Keller Fit In The New Offense?

Where is Dustin Keller going to fit into Tony Sparano’s offense?

There has been some minor speculation this off-season about the potential of Dustin Keller being traded. Yet, it remains more likely he will remain on the New York Jets roster next season as an integral part of their offense. The question is, how will Tony Sparano use a tight end who is not much of a blocker and has a skill set more suited to being a wide receiver?

First off, the Jets are going to add a blocking tight end after parting ways with Matthew Mulligan (better known as “Holding. Number 82”). If Anthony Fasano gets cut, which seems like a strong possibility, look for the Jets to add him. Fasano or whatever blocking tight end is added is going to have a large role on the offense as a key part of the running game.

Keller is likely to see less reps in the traditional tight end spot. Look for Sparano to have him help fill the gaping hole the Jets currently have at split end by using him both as a H-Back and putting him out wide.

We have discussed the possibility of adding Robert Meachem, Pierre Garcon or Laurent Robinson here. Unfortunately, those three remain fairly long shots. Garcon is likely headed back to Indianapolis, where the Colts have prioritized him over Reggie Wayne. Robinson and Meachem will both be sought after by many teams. Are the Jets and their Ground and Pound approach really going to spend big money on a wide receiver in the free agent market? Beyond that, couldn’t you see them having reservations about coming into this offense, especially with both coming from wide-open passing attacks?

I think it is more likely the Jets will spend a 3rd or 4th round pick on a wide receiver with some size and groom him for the starting spot opposite Santonio Holmes. For the upcoming year, Keller could spend a chunk of reps at receiver, along with Jeremy Kerley taking some reps on the outside, while the rookie is working up to speed.

Tony Sparano is going to look at Dustin Keller and see more of a wide receiver than a tight end, so anticipate him being used that way and for the Jets to spend more money on a free agent tight end than a free agent wide receiver.