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 Fact Or False: The Tweeter’s Choice Edition

Chris Gross weekly Fact or False on the New York Jets answers your submitted questions on the team

Throughout the season, we will periodically poll our Twitter followers for what they want to see addressed in New York Jets Fact Or False. For our inaugural edition of The Tweeter’s Choice, our readers brought the heat. Not one person disappointed with the issues they wanted to read about, which proves we have one of the most, if not the most, knowledgeable fan bases in all of football. Huge shout out to @Crazychimpan, @bleist25, @ItsOasus, @DrewFromJersey, and @Jetsforlife25 for sending in their suggestions this week. Be sure to give each of them a follow on twitter, and be sure to keep a look out all season, as we will certainly run another edition of this in the future. Thanks again, and enjoy!

8 DAYS UNTIL THE PRE-SEASON OPENER. WHERE IS YOUR NEW SHIRT?

The Jets will carry more than 5 RB/FBs going into season. (@Crazychimpman). False.

While five is a great over/under for the number of backs that will be on the active roster come opening day, don’t expect any more or any less. The three guaranteed spots will be Shonn Greene, who will presumably be the starter barring an injury, Joe McKnight, for his Special Teams value will lock him in, regardless of whether or not Bilal Powell gets the nod as the third down back, and John Connor, who established himself as the starting Fullback early in training camp as the team has already decided to waive journeyman Fui Vakapuna.

The next two spots are the intriguing ones. You’d have to think that, with all the talk about Powell, he will make it. However, Powell must truly prove that he is worthy of being a valuable option as a third down back. McKnight isn’t going anywhere, due to his worth on Special Teams, so for the team to carry two backs with strikingly similar skill sets, Powell must go above and beyond what’s asked of him.

Rookie Terrance Ganaway is also a very interesting case. Ganaway was seemingly drafted because he looks to be a perfect situational fit for this season, with the hope that he will develop into a perfect schematic fit long term. He has great experience in the option offense, running for an astounding 1547 yards and 21 touchdowns last season at Baylor, while posting a remarkable 6.2 YPC, which makes him the most logical back in any Tebow package. Ganaway also has tremendous size at about 6’0” 240 lbs, which makes him an ideal fit for the Ground and Pound that New York plans to implement under Tony Sparano. Unless Ganaway really struggles to prove he is not yet NFL ready, he should remain on the roster.

The Jets will likely remain set with these five backs. Unless Powell is written off, it looks very doubtful that New York will look to add a veteran. If Powell does not prove to be worthy of a spot by the time the season begins, the Jets still may remain content with just four backs, while relying on Tim Tebow to be a huge contributor to the run game. The only way I truly see New York adding a veteran is if Powell tails off, and Greene struggles immensely during the pre-season. Otherwise, it looks like the Jets are ready to roll into the season with what is currently on the roster.

Trader Mike will make a move for another RT before camp is over (@bleist25). Fact.

Tannenbaum took a shot swinging a deal with the Panthers for Tackle Jeff Otah, which clearly did not work out due to the former first rounder’s inability to pass a physical. With the Otah trade nullified, New York is back to square one with Wayne Hunter and Austin Howard as the two most logical choices at Right Tackle. Hunter has a serious edge over Howard, who will likely not see a significant down all season. That is a scary thought. Clearly, Mike T is aware of this, as displayed by the failed Otah trade. By now, I’m not sure anyone can argue with the notion that the Jets are not comfortable with the competition they currently have at the Right Tackle position.

The next logical step for Tannenbaum is to look to Free Agency. Many questioned why he hesitated to bring in a veteran during the offseason, but he likely wanted to see how Hunter and the other tackles looked during mini-camps and OTAs. Since Tannenbaum and the rest of the organization were clearly not satisfied, they can now look to add someone like Vernon Carey, who will come at a discount in comparison to what he may have cost them a few months ago.

“Mayhem” will play on more than just passing downs this season (ItsOasus). Fact.

Aaron “Mayhem” Maybin is already earning high praise from the media and coaching staff in the early stages of training camp. He has reportedly bulked up to 240+ pounds, which will help him greatly against the run. Calvin Pace will likely remain on one side of the field for the majority of downs, however the other side is open for competition. While most expect Bryan Thomas to retain the spot opposite Pace which he occupied prior to his season ending injury last year, there is a good chance we could see him in a limited role this season. While he has had success setting the edge on run-downs in the past, the praise Maybin has been receiving for his added size and relentless motor could propel him into an increased role to play a surplus of downs in a variety of spots on the outside. His versatility will be a huge weapon for Rex Ryan and Mike Pettine this season. Expect them to utilize that to the fullest extent.

Ricky Sapp will have more sacks than Calvin Pace this season (@DrewFromJersey). False.

Although Sapp has very exciting potential, he has still yet to record a sack at the NFL level. While he could very well break that trend this season, I wouldn’t give him an edge over the seasoned veteran that is Calvin Pace, even if he is entering the twilight of his career. Since joining the Jets, Pace has gotten to the Quarterback a total of 26 times. Sure, his sack total has decreased each year since 2009, however his experience, along with the amount of reps he will receive should make him good for at least 4 sacks, if healthy. Sapp, on the other hand, may still be able to compile 2-3, but will likely be used far less. Additionally, players with very little experience in real NFL game situations, unless tremendously talented, tend to compile more QB hurries and knockdowns, rather than actual sacks. Timing is everything on getting to the Quarterback before he gets rid of the ball, and it will likely take a full season of game experience before Sapp gets used to executing his moves just at the right time.

Early Camp Star Ellis Lankster will become a serious playmaker and collect at least 3 Interceptions as a shutdown nickel-guy this year (Jetsforlife25). False.

Lankster’s progress is extremely encouraging for New York thus far. With a serious question mark heading into training camp as to who would assume the role of the fourth cornerback, Lankster has provided a breath of fresh air for coaches and fans. However, he has played in just 17 total games over the course of his career, and has yet to register an interception. Additionally, the amount of reps he gets will likely be very limited. The Jets have a surplus of defensive backs including three excellent corners in All-World Darrelle Revis, Antonio Cromartie, and Kyle Wilson, whom many believe is on his way to becoming a very good corner in this league, as well as the Safeties Yeremiah Bell, LaRon Landry, and Rookie Josh Bush, who is realistically the best cover Safety on the roster. For Lankster, it will all come down to scheme. His inexperience will have some, but not much, effect on his ability to become a playmaker.

However, if the Jets choose to put out more packages of Revis, Cromartie, Wilson, and two safeties, which seems like the most logical approach, other than third and long scenarios, Lankster may not get the amount of snaps necessary to truly establish himself as a serious playmaker, while compiling 3 interceptions. As well as Lankster has been playing, it is unlikely he will beat out Wilson for reps as the third CB. You’d like to think with improved Defensive Line and Safety play, New York will not see a surplus of third and long scenarios this season. However, if these positions fail to live up to their potential, then all bets are off.

Josh Baker is the 2nd best TE on the roster (DrewFromJersey). Fact.

Baker wins the spot as New York’s second best TE, somewhat by default. Jeff Cumberland has great potential, and has showed flashes of solid play in the past, but he has participated in just 4 career contests. Baker, on the other hand, saw action in 11 games last season, while hauling in 3 balls for 27 yards, including a touchdown on Christmas Eve against the Giants. Hayden Smith is very intriguing, but as a guy who has never played a down of football in his life, he certainly does not have the edge over his competition just yet. The key for whoever becomes the second Tight End this season will be their ability to block. Unfortunately for New York, not one of them has truly proved to be able to do that, so it will be very interesting to see how this plays out.

Josh Bush will struggle in a forced role as the Jets only true cover safety (Jetsforlife25). False.

The fact that Bush will be forced into a role as the only true cover safety on the roster will actually benefit him. Prior to becoming a safety at Wake Forest, Bush was a corner, and has been noted for his cover abilities throughout his career. Last season, Bush had a team best 6 interceptions earning him First-Team All ACC accolades, as well as a spot as a third teamer on the All-American squad. Bush has sub 4.5 40 speed, and under the tutelage of savvy veterans like Landry, Bell, and Revis, he should fit nicely in a center field type role for the Jets. Sure, he will have his growing pains, but Bush will ultimately succeed more often than not this season.

TOJ’s Top 50 New York Jets Countdown: 40-50

Turn On The Jets counts down the top 50 New York Jets currently on the roster, starting with numbers 40-50

Frustrated and confused after seeing the NFL’s Top 100 player list? TOJ was as well. Due to that, we have decided to rank the current New York Jets on the roster from 50 all the way down to 1. Along the way, we will be classifying the players into the following five categories:

  • Bottom of the Roster (strictly a depth and developmental player)
  • Middle Class (Situational player, spot starter)
  • Quality Starter (Capable starting player)
  • Red Chip (Swiping this term from Michael Lombardi, an above average stater/borderline Pro-Bowler)
  • Blue Chip (Another swipe from Lombardi, an elite player at his position)

Just missed

  • Tanner Purdum – Long snapper goes 53 on a 53 man roster.
  • Nick Folk – On the thought that Josh Brown will win the kicking battle
  • Hayden Smith – Practice squad bound in TOJ’s opinion
  • Garret McIntyre – Started at times last year…won’t make team this year
  • Austin Howard – Went with Stephon Heyer over him as primary backup at tackle

BOTTOM OF THE ROSTER

50. TJ Conley, Punter – An average punter at best, who will likely be challenged at some point in training camp by a  free agent signing. He is no better than 50/50 to make the roster at this point and if he does, must be more consistent than he was in 2010.

49. Vladimir Ducasse, Guard/Tackle – Ducasse was easily beat out for the starting guard position in 2009 and when called into duty as a reserve tackle last season looked completely overwhelmed. At this point, it looks like his ceiling is a swing backup at guard and tackle…fairly disappointing for a 2nd round pick.

48. Bilal Powell, Running Back – Looked plodding and mediocre in both the pre-season and when given an opportunity in the regular season in 2010. It wouldn’t be a shock to anybody if rookie Terrance Ganaway beat him out on the depth chart this year.

47. Antonio Allen, Safety – A good value pick for the Jets in the seventh round this season. Allen will have a tough time seeing the field in 2012 with LaRon Landry, Yeremiah Bell and Eric Smith in front of him on the depth chart. However, he has the skill set to project to being the team’s long term strong safety.

46. Terrance Ganaway, Running Back – An intriguing sixth round pick from this year’s draft. A power runner, with experience in the option, which could get him some looks when Tim Tebow is under center. With a strong pre-season, could work himself into getting some weekly carries behind Shonn Greene.

45. Greg McElroy, Quarterback – Showed promise in the pre-season and has the intangibles to be a capable NFL backup. He looks to be a poor man’s Chad Pennington, with limited arm strength but very high intelligence and good decision making skills.

44. Josh Baker, Tight End/H-Back – Worked his way on to the field at the end of last season as a H-Back and finished with 3 receptions and a touchdown against the Giants. Baker is a natural pass catcher, who is versatile enough to line up at tight end, H-Back, and fullback. It will be interesting to see if he sticks on the roster and how Tony Sparano uses him, if he does.

43. Josh Bush, Safety – A sixth round pick who is the only natural free safety that projects to make the Jets roster. Defensive Backs coach Dennis Thurman has already pegged Bush as the team’s fourth safety, which means he should get on the field in certain packages.

42. Ellis Lankster, Corner – A special teams player last year, who now appears poised to take over the fourth cornerback role on defense. In Rex Ryan’s scheme that will get him on the field a decent amount of time. The Jets clearly have faith in him for now, as they haven’t signed free agents like Drew Coleman or Chris Johnson who could have easily filled the fourth corner role.

41. Caleb Schlauderaff, Guard – The Jets traded for him last pre-season and Mike Tannenbaum randomly loves mentioning him all the time in press conferences as a developing player. He projects to being the top backup at guard and center

40. Ricky Sapp, Linebacker/Defensive End – Added to the practice squad last season, he has impressed this off-season and could be a factor in pass rushing situations. Sapp was a fifth round pick of the Eagles in 2010.

Check back tomorrow for our Friday 12 pack and for players 30-40