New York Jets – On The Underrated Skill Position Group

Joe Caporoso on perception vs. reality of the New York Jets skill position players…

ESPN’s Bill Barnwell recently ranked all of the offensive “arsenals” in the NFL from 32-1. The New York Jets came in last with the following commentary: 

Former undrafted free-agent wide receiver Robby Anderson leads the way, but the secondary targets are low-ceiling veterans such as Jermaine Kearse and Terrelle Pryor. General manager Mike Maccagnan let Austin Seferian-Jenkins leave, but the duo of former Raiders backup Clive Walford and fourth-round pick Chris Herndon form the majority of one of the league’s worst tight end depth charts. The move to spend $4 million per year on anonymous Browns back Isaiah Crowell doesn’t move the needle. The Jets will be investing in skill-position talent next offseason.

Barnwell (a quality writer who generally has sound research to back his work) is not out of step with other NFL commentators about the Jets. We have previously discussed Mike Clay ranking the Jets roster as the worst in the NFL (he has them with the 30th best group of receivers and 26th best group of running backs). Graham Barfield at Fantasy Guru shared a since deleted tweet of Family Guy characters projectile vomiting to describe the Jets receiver group. New York radio host Anita Marks has also recently questioned the team’s collection of skill position players. A common talking point around this team all offseason has been they have no weapons for Sam Darnold (or whoever plays quarterback).

While nobody is going to argue the Jets have a top tier collection of skill position players, there is a disconnect between perception and reality when looking at the talent and depth of this group.

Let’s look at Barnwell’s analysis since it the most recent. Anderson being a UDFA is not relevant at this point as he heads into the third year of his NFL career. He is 25 years old with 32 games under his belt and despite being burdened with a collection Bryce Petty, Ryan Fitzpatrick and Josh McCown starts across those games, has managed 1,528 yards and 9 touchdowns. More specifically, he is coming off a 941 yard season where he increased his touchdown total from 2 to 7. Anderson led all NFL receivers in touchdown receptions over 20 yards, was in the top ten in total catches over 20 yards and had the 6th highest yards per catch of all receivers in the league with at least 60 receptions. Finally, he had more yards and receptions than any receiver in his draft class outside of Michael Thomas and Tyreek Hill. Undrafted or not, Anderson is one of the most productive young vertical threats in the NFL, despite mediocre play under center.

Barnwell also curiously decided to only mention Jermaine Kearse and Terrelle Pryor when discussing other receivers on the team, ignoring 26 year old Quincy Enunwa who will be 100% for training camp this year after missing 2017 due to a neck injury. Enunwa had 857 yards receiving in 2016 with a combination of Ryan Fitzpatrick and Bryce Petty throwing to him, with a 14.8 YPC (comparable to Anderson’s 14.9 YPC last season). Enunwa had the top deep ball catch rate via PFF in the NFL his last season. He is also a versatile player who functioned as the team’s H-Back/tight end during 2015, when the team had a top ten offense.

Before digging any deeper, the Jets have a starting duo of receivers 26 or younger, 6’2 or taller, 4.4 or faster who have both had 850+ yard seasons with bottom 5 quarterbacks throwing to them. As for depth, Jermaine Kearse is still only 28 years old and is coming off the most productive season of his career, also exceeding 800 yards with the McCown/Petty combination throwing to him. Pryor is coming off a disastrous season in Washington but is only 2 years removed from passing 1,000 yards with McCown throwing to him in Cleveland. Are Kearse and Pryor quality starters at this stage of their career? No, but the Jets offense won’t ask them to be more than third and fourth options. It is hard to find many other teams who have receivers with their recent production in those depth chart slots.

Within the AFC East alone, realities like this exist:

Despite having better known names, Miami’s top three receivers (Kenny Stills, Danny Amendola and DeVante Parker) combined for 9 touchdowns last year compared to the 12 produced by Anderson and Kearse.

At running back, Barwell focuses on the Jets signing of Isaiah Crowell to a 4 million dollar per year deal. The reality is the Jets signed him to a gloried one year contract. The other reality is that Bilal Powell is still on the roster and the team’s best overall back. Generally ignored by the national media because he has been on the Jets since 2011 (and they have been bad), Powell has been one of the league’s more productive backs on a per touch basis over the past three seasons.

In 2016, he had the league’s second highest YPC (5.5) for all backs with over 100 carries. In 2017, he was 4th in the NFL on rushes over 20 yards among all backs with at least 175 carries and finished first in PFF’s Breakaway Percentage. The last four times he has received 19+ carries, his rushing totals were 145, 122, 163 and 145 yards, respectively. For all backs with at least 300 carries over the past two years, Powell ranks second in YPC (4.83) and Crowell ranks 8th (4.47).

This isn’t the league’s flashiest duo but again, staying just within the AFC East, New England will not have a back on their roster who topped 383 rushing yards last season. The Jets will have two backs who topped 770 yards. Miami will be counting on a 35 year old Frank Gore coming off the worst season of his career and Buffalo, who unquestionably has the best back in the division in LeSean McCoy, could now be dealing with questions around his availability due to potential pending legal issues. Even external to the division, realities like this exist:

As for depth, the Jets have second year back Elijah McGuire who had 492 offensive yards and 2 touchdowns last season and Thomas Rawls on a minimum contract, two years removed from a 830 yard season with a 5.6 YPC.

At tight end, the Jets are bare on paper. They will be counting on veterans Eric Tomlinson and Clive Walford as blockers and two rookies, Chris Herndon and Jordan Legget (basically a rookie after missing all of 2017) as pass catchers. This is a similar situation to Miami’s depth chart but it is definitely in the discussion as the worst (or most unproven) in the league along with Dallas and Denver. It is worth noting that there is a good chance Enunwa will take on some tight end responsibilities, similar to how he did in 2015 lowering the urgency for the Jets to add bodies at this position.

The Jets collection of skill position players is more lowly regarded than they should be. Similar to why they are frequently still pinned as the worst overall roster, being bad for a prolonged period of time impacts perception. The Jets are 10-23 over the past two seasons, most national correspondents are not spending much time watching or analyzing teams at that level, particularly when they have such an apathetic, boring quarterback situation. This is how players like Bilal Powell and Quincy Enunwa get completely looked over or scoffed at because their names don’t pop like more well known “weapons” and it is how a player like Anderson, coming off such an impressive season considering the circumstances around him, gets written off as just a UDFA.

Taking a step back and removing the “LOLJETS” from the analysis, they have four receivers who are 6’1+ and have a season with 800+ yards and 4+ touchdowns since 2016. They are actually the only team in the NFL to have four receivers with a 800+ yard season on their resume, period. At running back, they have one player who has exceeded 1,100 offensive yards the past two seasons and another who has exceeded 950 offensive yards the past two seasons, both of whom are top ten in yards per carries among all backs with over 300 touches in that time span. Every receiver and back mentioned above is younger than 30 years old. This isn’t a top ten unit but acting like it is an unmitigated disaster is misguided.

Author: Joe Caporoso

Joe Caporoso is the Owner and EIC of Turn On The Jets. His writing has been featured in the New York Times, Huffington Post, MMQB and AdWeek. Caporoso played football his entire life, including four years at Muhlenberg as a wide receiver, where he was arguably the slowest receiver to ever start in school history. He is the EVP of Content at Whistle Sports