New York Jets Moving Forward With Offensive Question Marks

It is hard not to feel good about the New York Jets defense this year, or any year where Rex Ryan is the head coach. There has been a few minor changes and they will need a handful of young players to contribute, like Kyle Wilson,  Jamaal Westerman, and Muhammad Wilkerson but on the whole they should be one of the league’s top units again. However, the Jets still have plenty of question marks on the other side of the football, where there could be issues with Mark Sanchez’s supporting cast.

Rob already raised the valid questions about the Jets backfield yesterday and now even more questions surround their group of wide receivers. Derrick Mason still hasn’t signed a contract with the Jets, so at the moment we are a Plaxico Burress rolled ankle away from Patrick Turner starting opposite Santonio Holmes with rookie Jeremy Kerley or journeyman Logan Payne in the slot.

Mason coming on board would add some stability but the guy is 37 years old and Burress will remain a question mark until we start see him producing on the field. I don’t care how good a player like Kerley, Payne, or Scotty McKnight looks in practice, they are all completely unproven at the NFL level and you can’t expect anything out of them until they do it in a regular season game. Do you remember how good Kyle Wilson looked in camp and pre-season last year?

The overall instability of the receivers around Mark Sanchez isn’t a good thing. It now becomes critically important that Santonio Holmes becomes the veteran leader of the group and a reliable safety valve for Sanchez on top of being a big play threat. There should also be a ton more targets going Dustin Keller’s way as he should be the receiver Sanchez is the most comfortable with. He must respond by giving the Jets the Pro-Bowl caliber year he is capable of, talent-wise.

Don’t forget the Jets are also breaking in a new full time right tackle in Wayne Hunter.

If the Jets are going to be back to competing for a Super Bowl, the overwhelming majority of these questions need to be answered “Yes” –

  • Can Mark Sanchez take another step in his development and improve his completion by at least 4-5 percentage points?
  • Can Santonio Holmes give the Jets the production of a true number one receiver for a full year?
  • Can Dustin Keller finally meet his potential for a full year?
  • Is Shonn Greene ready to be a lead back?
  • Can Wayne Hunter make sure there isn’t a substantial drop off from Damien Woody?
  • Can Plaxico Burress stay healthy and produce at a reasonable level for a number two receiver?
  • Can the Jets find a number three receiver, if Derrick Mason walks on them?

New York Jets Need Breakout Season From Keller & Greene

For the past two years the New York Jets have been known for and for a large part, been carried by their defense…these are the type of things that happen when Rex Ryan is your head coach. However, the offense made substantial strides in last year behind quarterback Mark Sanchez, who was supported by one of the best offensive lines in football, a playmaking group of wide receivers and a better than expected season from running back LaDainian Tomlinson.

In year three of Sanchez’s career, with likely changes coming to his group of receivers and Tomlinson now a year older and ready to embrace a third-down role, he will need more production from tight end Dustin Keller and running back Shonn Greene.

In 2010, Greene was a mild disappointment only finishing with 766 rushing yards and 2 touchdowns. However, he never really received the chance to be a lead back on a week to week basis. This will be his year to prove he can carry the load as a number one back and considering his talent, the team’s willingness to run the ball, and the Jets offensive line, there is no reason he can’t run for 1200+ yards. With Tomlinson in a reduced role, Joe McKnight a question mark, and Bilal Powell only a rookie, the Jets need Greene to lead the way on the running game that has been their trademark the past two years.

When they throw ball, Dustin Keller should have the opportunity to become the number two option behind either Santonio Holmes or Braylon Edwards. When he had this chance in weeks 1-4 last year, Keller racked up 19 receptions, 254 yards, and 5 touchdowns. If he could produce at that level for an entire season, he will be the Pro-Bowl tight end, he has the talent to be. Keller struggled to get opportunities once Holmes returned from suspension last season and after week 4 didn’t score a single touchdown the rest of the year.

For the Jets offense to continue to move in the right direction, it is crucial young players like Keller and Greene reach their potential this season when provided with bigger roles.

New York Jets and Plaxico Burress: How Much Sense Does It Make?

Since wide receiver Plaxico Burresswas released from prison today, the speculation is obviously swirling about which teams will pursue him. The New York Jets have frequently been mentioned as a potential landing place for Burress, considering Braylon Edwards, Santonio Holmes, and Brad Smith are all free agents, and the organization’s propensity to sign big name players.

The Jets initial focus is going to be bringing their own guys back, with Santonio Holmes likely being the top priority. The only way I see them getting in the mix for Burress, is if Braylon Edwards leaves via free agency, which is a pretty good possibility. The decision at that point will likely come to down to focusing their efforts on Burress or Randy Moss.

We all know the effort issues that come with the Moss, along with the questions about whether he is finished. Burress is going to be 34 years old this August and hasn’t played football since November 2008. You have to think for at least a season or two, Burress will absolutely be on his best behavior and be supremely motivated after his time in jail. The bottom line is that there is a risk associated with both of them but considering their talent…a cheap, short contract could make that risk worth it.

Burress wouldn’t have to be a number one receiver on the Jets. He would have favorable match-ups thanks to playing opposite Santonio Holmes and having Dustin Keller and Jerricho Cotchery working in the slot. If Braylon Edwards leaves, he could provide the needed big target over the middle and in the red-zone for Mark Sanchez.

The Philadelphia Eagles and St. Louis Rams are also supposed to be heavily in the mix for Burress. However, I wouldn’t rule the Jets out. This is a team that likes making a splash and signing Burress would do just that, while filling a need if free agency ends up breaking the way most of us expect it to.

Reviewing Mike Tannenbaum’s Draft Picks

Most New York Jets fans are appropriately big supporters of General Manager Mike Tannenbaum, his aggressive nature has kept off-seasons entertaining and helped shape the Jets into one of the league’s best teams. With the NFL Draft rapidly approaching, let’s take a look at every selection Tannenbaum has made since taking over as GM in 2006 —

2006

  • Round 1, Pick 4 – D’Brickashaw Ferguson
  • Round 1, Pick 29 – Nick Mangold
  • Round 2, Pick 49 – Kellen Clemens
  • Round 3, Pick 76 – Anthony Schlegel
  • Round 3, Pick 97 – Eric Smith
  • Round 4, Pick 103 – Brad Smith
  • Round 4, Pick 117 – Leon Washington
  • Round 5, Pick 150 – Jason Pociask
  • Round 6, Pick 189 – Drew Coleman
  • Round 7, Pick 220 – Titus Adams

This was one hell of a draft for Tannenbaum to start his career with. It was a bold move to take two offensive lineman in the first round for a first-time GM, especially deciding to pass on quarterback Matt Leinart, who would have been an extremely popular (but in hindsight an extremely stupid) selection. Ferguson and Mangold have developed into the foundation of the Jets offensive line and are both Pro-Bowl caliber players.

Yes, Kellen Clemens never panned out and the highlight of Anthony Schlegel’s career was muffing an onside kick, but he compensated for it by getting Eric Smith, Brad Smith, Leon Washington, and Drew Coleman in later rounds, who all turned into major contributors on playoff teams.

2007

  • Round 1, Pick 14 – Darrelle Revis
  • Round 2, Pick 47 – David Harris
  • Round 6, Pick 177 – Jacob Bender
  • Round 7, Pick 235 – Chansi Stuckey

Another terrific draft for Tannenbaum who traded up to get Darrelle Revis, who is now the consensus best corner in football and David Harris who is a Pro-Bowl caliber inside linebacker. Bender never amounted to anything but Stuckey turned into a quality player who was an important part of the Braylon Edwards trade.

2008

  • Round 1, Pick 6 – Vernon Gholston
  • Round 1, Pick 30 – Dustin Keller
  • Round 4, Pick 113 – Dwight Lowery
  • Round 5, Pick 162 – Erik Ainge
  • Round 6, Pick 171 – Marcus Henry
  • Round 7, Pick 211 – Nate Garner

Without question Tannenbaum’s worst draft and probably worst overall few days as the Jets GM. Gholston was a complete bust, Ainge had serious drug problems and was suspended multiple times, Henry and Garner never played a regular season snap for the team. Dustin Keller has obviously been an important part of the offense and Lowery has been a serviceable role player but the Gholston pick hurts.

2009

  • Round 1, Pick 5 – Mark Sanchez
  • Round 3, Pick 65 – Shonn Greene
  • Round 6, Pick 193 – Matt Slauson

Two more trade ups that have paid early dividends for the Jets. Say what you want about Mark Sanchez, he certainly has looked the part of the franchise quarterback the Jets drafted him to be by winning four road playoff games in his first two years. Greene was a disappointment in year two but his terrific playoff stretch in his rookie year helped carry the Jets to the AFC Championship Game. Matt Slauson is now the starting left guard and was steady in that role last year.

2010

  • Round 1, Pick 29 – Kyle Wilson
  • Round 2, Pick 61 – Vladimir Ducasse
  • Round 4, Pick 112 – Joe McKnight
  • Round 5, Pick 139 – John Conner

The jury is still very much out on this draft class but the early returns weren’t very good. Wilson struggled heavily his rookie year and barely contributed. Ducasse was beat out by Matt Slauson for the left guard spot and will now compete to be the starting right tackle. McKnight showed up to camp out of shape and didn’t give any meaningful reps all season. Conner showed potential and will be the starting fullback this season.

Is Dustin Keller A Top Ten Tight End In The NFL?

ESPN continued their positional power rankings today, by ranking the top ten tight ends in the league. Dustin Keller of the New York Jets ended up coming in at number 12, only a few votes away from cracking the top ten, which looked like this —

  1. Jason Witten
  2. Antonio Gates
  3. Dallas Clark
  4. Vernon Davis
  5. Chris Cooley
  6. Tony Gonzalez
  7. Kellen Winslow Jr.
  8. Mercedes Lewis
  9. Brandon Pettigrew
  10. Jermichael Finley

What are your thoughts, besides why the hell isn’t Antonio Gates number one? Personally, I would have a hard time arguing for Keller to crack this list and think number 12 is an appropriate spot for him.

Keller is yet to have a breakout year in his three NFL seasons. Last year was his best, as he finished with 55 receptions, 687 yards, 5 touchdowns. There was a brief period over a three game span early in the year when Keller looked ready to jump to an elite tight end, pulling in 5 touchdowns and 241 yards between week two and week four. However, after Santonio Holmes returned from suspension Keller quieted down and didn’t score a touchdown or record a 100 yard game the rest of the season.

Despite flashes of brilliance and the elite athleticism that made him a first round pick, he hasn’t been consistent enough to merit top ten status. He has also been somewhat held back by the Jets breaking in a rookie quarterback and operating a run heavy offense. It will be interesting to see if they open things up more and one of their receivers doesn’t return in free agency, if Keller can make the leap to a consensus top ten player at his position in the league.

Dustin Keller Needs To Take Next Step In 2011

One of the reasons there shouldn’t be much of a panic if Braylon Edwards leaves the New York Jets via free agency is because of tight end Dustin Keller. I am not one of the people who is optimistic about Edwards returning because every indication is that Santonio Holmes is a higher priority and I doubt the Jets will find a way to afford both this off-season.

Even though I agree with the decision to keep Holmes over Edwards, I am still aware of how productive Edwards was for the offense last season. Yet, Keller has the ability to compensate for his absence.

A common argument for keeping Edwards over Holmes is his size and ability to create match-up problems with smaller corners. Keller is athletic enough to flex out as a wide receiver and take advantage of those same corners, which we have seen over the past three seasons. He is 6 foot 2, 250 pounds and despite his improvements in blocking, still has the ability to be more of a wide receiver than a true tight end for this offense.

During Holmes suspension last year, when Keller was given a bigger role in the offense he responded with 19 receptions and five touchdowns in four games. Let’s see what he can if he spends a whole season as the Jets number two option in the passing game behind Holmes and as their primary target in the red-zone because of his size.

Keller is coming off his best career season, leading the team in receptions. There is no reason not to be confident that he will keep growing and developing with Mark Sanchez. The physical ability to be a Pro-Bowl tight end is there, now all he needs is the opportunities in the passing game.

12 Pack of Jets Off-Season Thoughts – Edition #5

Over the hump – Are you surprised that in the slowest part of the NFL calendar year, Rex Ryan has managed to make two Super Bowl guarantees for the Jets in the past two weeks? I know I’m not. Rex is going to be Rex. The big talk, the confidence, the swagger…all of that isn’t going to stop anytime soon. He was a half away from the Super Bowl in 2009 and a series away from it last season. What is it going to take for the Jets to get over the hump?

It certainly wouldn’t hurt to win the division and get a home playoff game as a start. The Jets are going to need Mark Sanchez to keep improving, the defense to get younger and faster, and certain players on offense like Dustin Keller and Shonn Greene to take their game to the next level. I am scared of this team turning into the Philadelphia Eagles of the AFC. I can’t stomach any more Championship Game losses.

CSI – I have mixed feelings about Ryan and Mike Tannenbaum appearing on CSI: New York. It is nice they performed so well on Hard Knocks that they have made the step to standard cable. However, it was a bad omen when Eric Mangini appeared on a certain popular television show.

Mr. T – Considering this off-season is going to be unlike anything the NFL has seen in awhile, I am glad Mike Tannenbaum is steering the ship on the Jets personnel and salary cap decisions. The guy has always shown an ability to be creative and work around difficult situations. I don’t know when this CBA madness is going to be settled but I know the Jets will be prepared for whatever arises in the coming months.

#81 – An issue that is frequently being ignored when people talk about either Braylon Edwards or Santonio Holmes leaving or the importance of keeping them both, is how Dustin Keller is more than capable of picking up the production of whomever leaves the team. Don’t forget in the four games last season when Holmes was suspended, Keller had 19 receptions, 254 yards, and 5 touchdowns. This is a major reason I have argued for bringing Antonio Cromartie back before bringing both receivers back.

Rumors – There has been some chatter about both Vernon Gholston and Jason Taylor being released before March 4th. I don’t think any of us expect either back next year, so the sooner the better I suppose. The Jets still need to find a long term replacement for Bryan Thomas and a guy who can provide some type of consistent pass rush.

Better Every Day – As you have been able to see AJ has kicked off our NFL Draft coverage with an in-depth look at a couple of potential prospects for the Jets in the first round. If there are any specific prospects you would like to see covered, don’t hesitate to e-mail me at JCaporoso@gmail.com and we’ll see what we can do. Also another shout out is needed to Randy Yaws for designing our new banner, which is a major improvement over our old one (sorry, Fanball). Finally, I hope you are enjoying the occasional linkage to my work at SB Nation and Gunaxin, which steps outside the world of the Jets and NFL from time to time.

Winning Them Over – A player who wasn’t very popular with fans prior to the 2010 season but who they now seem to be desperately clinging to, is wide receiver Braylon Edwards. Despite his early season DUI, Edwards won the fan base over with his tough and consistent play throughout the entire year. His numbers don’t jump off the page but if you watched every Jets snap this year, you know how well he played. I hope Mike Tannenbaum can work magic and get him back on the team alongside Santonio Holmes.

Defensive Questions – Regardless of what their end of the year numbers were, it felt like the Jets defense took a step back in 2010. We saw what they were capable of against the Colts and Patriots in the playoffs but they need to play at that level more consistently. It is going to be up to Rex Ryan and Mike Pettine to continue to break their own tendencies and mix up the Jets defensive approach more frequently. Beyond that, Mike Tannenbaum needs to find a couple of players who can contribute immediately to the defense and players like Kyle Wilson need to grow up fast.

Easy Dealings – David Harris signed his franchise tender without any resistance as expected. He never complained about his contract last year and never made an issue of it during the season or in the past few weeks. I hope the Jets do the right thing and eventually give him the long term deal he deserves.

BT – Even though the Jets do need a long term replacement for him and more of a pass rush. Bryan Thomas did put together a pretty good overall year in 2010. He led the team in sacks with 6 and fits well in the scheme. He isn’t a flashy guy but don’t underestimate his value.

Holding My Breath – What is the over/under on number of days until the next scandal involving a Jets player or coach occurs?

Weekend Video Clips – Glad this isn’t our quarterback edition

Turn On The Jets 2010/2011 Report Cards – Dustin Keller

Today we continue our series of evaluating how each player on the Jets performed this past season, along with looking forward to what their role on the team will be next year…up today, tight end Dustin Keller

Stat Line – 55 receptions, 687 yards, 5 touchdowns

Playoff Stat Line – 14 receptions, 121 yards

Best Moment – I am going with Keller’s game clinching touchdown against the Patriots in week 2, which gave them a 28-14 lead late in the fourth quarter. Keller had completely dominated the New England secondary all afternoon and his touchdown was an exclamation point on a terrific game.

Best Game – It is too hard to pick between these two but he looked like a legitimate All-Pro in back to back weeks against New England and Miami early in the season. Between week two and three, Keller pulled in 7 receptions for 115 yards and a touchdown against the Patriots and then followed with 6 receptions for 98 yards and two touchdowns against the Dolphins.

Overall Evaluation – Keller was a beast for the first month of the season, with five touchdowns in the Jets first four games. However, when Santonio Holmes returned from suspension his role in the offense was marginalized and he never scored the rest of the season. He still had an occasional productive game but only went over 50 yards in three other regular season games. Keller has improved each season in his short career which is a good sign and has become a much more capable blocker. (B+)

Future – There is a very good chance that either Santonio Holmes or Braylon Edwards won’t return in 2011, which should open up more opportunities for Keller in the passing game. If he continues to progress at the rate he has been, he should receive a long term deal from the team following the 2011 season. It has helped Mark Sanchez’s development to have a reliable pass catching tight end that he has good chemistry with. It remains to be seen whether Keller can ever take the next step towards being a Pro-Bowl caliber player for an entire season.

Nice Defense Buffalo

12 Pack of Jets Off-Season Thoughts – Edition #4

Yes, the 12 pack is back to kick off your long weekend. Read it, learn it, love it…and then buy some tickets off our TiqIQ widget on the side.

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1. Cro A No Go? – Look at that rhyming…I have been surprised by how many Jets fans want to keep Braylon Edwards over Antonio Cromartie (based on the assumption Santonio Holmes will be brought back before both of them). I wouldn’t argue that Edwards had a better year than Cromartie or that he is even a better player. However, Jerricho Cotchery and Dustin Keller are capable of taking on bigger roles in the Jets passing game, which isn’t what drives their offense in the first place. Kyle Wilson and Drew Coleman aren’t capable (at least yet) of taking on bigger roles in man to man coverage, which is the driving force of the Jets defense.

2. Won’t Bury Him Yet – I don’t buy any line of thinking that believes last season demonstrated Shonn Greene can’t be a lead back. Perhaps I am being stubborn but I think he was victimized by a slow start and a surprisingly good year from LaDainian Tomlinson. He only received more than 20 carries, one time all season. Can we see what this guy can do with 20 carries in the three or four straight weeks?

3. Sanchez in 2011 – What are realistic expectations for Mark Sanchez as he enters his third year in the NFL and third year in this offensive system? I think he needs to get over 20 touchdowns, while keeping his interceptions in the 9-11 range. However, the key is to get his completion percentage up to or right below 60 percent…also it will be important for him avoid 17 year olds.

4. Hard Knocks Follow Up – There is no way the Jets aren’t repeating on Hard Knocks right?

5. Can’t See It – Even with the uncertainty surrounding the CBA, I can’t see a scenario where the Jets get Nnamdi Asomugha to join their team. You can’t expect him to take that type of a pay cut to come to New York. Beyond that, I am not sure how much sense it makes to have the two highest paid corners in the league on your team because it will cause neglect at other positions…then again, the Jets might be able to survive with me rushing the passer with those two guys in coverage. Keep in mind Vernon Gholston still doesn’t have more NFL sacks than TOJ.

6. On the Other Hand – I am starting to warm to the idea of Plaxico Burress getting a one year deal from the Jets if Braylon Edwards leaves via free agency. I would much rather take a shot on Plax (no pun intended) than Terrell Owens or Chad Ochocinco. Burress will come on the cheap and should be on best behavior for at least one year. The guy is also a proven winner and clutch player, something TO and Ocho aren’t. Another thought…what about Randy Moss? Only if you could get him on the cheap and on a one year deal (doubtful) but you have to think that guy has a ton of regret for forcing his way out of New England and would love a shot to play them twice in one year.

7. Breather For Basketball – You may have noticed a few basketball links here in the past week and that is going to continue in the coming months. I cover the NBA (primarily the Knicks) for SB Nation at times and have free reign to write about whatever I want at Gunaxin, so keep an eye out for a few non-NFL related links. If you don’t approve, just don’t click on them. I can promise there will never be a shortage of Jets material here.

8. Good Luck to the Big Man – There was some press this week about Kris Jenkins rehab and all you can do is wish him the best. The Jets are obviously going to require a major pay cut from him, which hopefully he will agree to considering the past two years. It would be a tremendous story and boost to the Jets defensive line if Jenkins could return to anywhere near his 2008 form.

9. Playmakers – The only way the Jets are going to become an elite defense in the NFL is if they start creating more sacks and turnovers. A playmaking safety wouldn’t hurt but I don’t know where the Jets are going to find one. It is too bad Kerry Rhodes decided to stop being a good football player after the 2006 and 2007 season.

10. Tip of the Hat – Nick Mangold and D’Brickashaw Ferguson for starting every single game since the Jets drafted them both in the first round before the 2006 season.

11. Not News – It is no longer a news story when Rex Ryan guarantees the Jets are going win the Super Bowl.

12. Weekend Video Clips – Cromartie Edition

Antonio Cromartie Not Coming Back in 2011?

Mike Lombardi of the NFL Network reported last night the New York Jets are planning to not resign cornerback Antonio Cromartie and will instead focus on bringing back both Santonio Holmes and Braylon Edwards. This report hasn’t been contradicted strongly by any of the beat writers, with ESPN’s Rich Cimini saying by reading the “tea leaves” of Mike Tannenbaum’s end of the year press conference, it makes sense. Manish Mehta of the Daily News said a decision hasn’t been reached yet/ Mark Cannizzaro of the New York Post wrote today Cromartie returning is still an option but the Jets will focus on getting their three wide receivers back first.

Personally, I would think Santonio Holmes would be the top priority now after taking care of David Harris with the franchise tag. After him, Cromartie should be the next priority and I still have a hard time believing the Jets are going to focus on Braylon Edwards or Brad Smith before him.

Why?

Nobody is saying Braylon Edwards wasn’t very good for the Jets last year and that Smith isn’t a valuable weapon. However, it isn’t a question of those players. It is a question of who is going to have an increased role if they leave via free agency.

The Jets can survive on offense without Edwards and Smith. Jerricho Cotchery is capable of being a starting receiver and Dustin Keller can be very productive with an enhanced role, as we saw last year before Santonio Holmes returned from suspension. Smith is a nice gadget player, who the Jets should still be able to bring back with Cromartie if Edwards leaves but either way their offense can survive without him and yes, so could their special teams.

If Cromartie leaves, are the Jets really prepared to hand the starting cornerback job to Kyle Wilson? Did he do anything last year to make you believe he can handle that role? Rex Ryan has consistently and profusely expressed his love for cornerbacks and considering the Jets aggressive man to man scheme, I can’t see them putting Wilson and Drew Coleman opposite Darrelle Revis and hoping for the best.

The decision to bring Edwards and Smith back before worrying about Cromartie or potentially letting him walk would signal a shift in the Jets philosophy. It would indicate they are embracing a more offensive approach and that they are going to rely more on their passing attack in 2011. If you are going to spend that type of money at receiver, it means you are expecting Mark Sanchez to be able to lead a more wide open, aggressive offense. I don’t necessarily think this is a bad thing because look at the last two Super Bowl champions and how they won. However, the Jets defense is going to suffer. They still lack a pass rush to compensate for weaknesses at the number two and three corner spot.

I will believe a Rex Ryan led team bringing back three receivers before one cornerback, when I see it.