The Curious Case of the New York Jets’ Dustin Keller


Dec. 2, 2012; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; New York Jets tight end Dustin Keller (81) celebrates on the field against the Arizona Cardinals during the first half at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Debby Wong-USA TODAY Sports

Dustin Keller. It’s a name that stirs a lot of debate around the fanbase, and with good reason. He is an unrestricted free agent, and the Jets have to make a big decision on this guy. He has been a major part of this team since he was drafted, and you can make a good argument for either side of the coin, to keep him or let him walk.

As a full time player, Dustin Keller improved every year he was healthy. His peak was 2011, when he put up 65 catches for 815 yards and 5 TDs. He was a favorite target of Brett Favre in 2008, prompting Brett to wish he got to play with Dustin earlier in his career. We know how fast he moved up the comfortability ladder with Mark Sanchez. Mark feels about him the way Linus feels about his blue blanket. He is is best friend off the field, and his most trusted receiver on it.

Even though Dustin didn’t play much in 2012, when he did play, he was effective. He was targeted 36 times, and did record 28 receptions, catching over 77% of the balls thrown his way. When healthy, he may not be Antonio Gates or Rob Gronkowski, but he is an effective pass-catching tight end.

However, coming out of the 2012 season, his durability has to come into question. It wouldn’t be such a question if he had to go on injured reserve, but that is not what happened. Instead, he suffered a pulled hamstring in the preseason, and was never really ever to recover from it. He played a bit, but never got to full strength. There were several weeks that he tried to prepare, was “hopeful” to play, but his status went backwards each day.

In short, the argument can be made that Dustin Keller is soft. You need a tough guy for that position, and Keller did a lot to show that he wasn’t that tough guy. A pulled hamstring should not affect an entire season. Many fans feel that the Jets can get away with Jeff Cumberland, and others, filling in the receiving responsibilities.

However, there is an “X-Factor” here, that must come into the equation as part of the decision making process.  This factor is a new influence arriving in 2013, that puts a premium on a pass-catching tight end.  Well, maybe we should call him an “M-Factor”.

Oct 28, 2012; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia Eagles offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg talks with quarterback Michael Vick (7) during the fourth quarter against the Atlanta Falcons at Lincoln Financial Field. The Falcons defeated the Eagles 30-17. Mandatory Credit: Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

Marty Mornhinweg and his new offensive system is a major part of the equation. We have talked a lot about how the system is a “West Coast” system, but what we haven’t talked about is the influence of the tight end.

It’s a major influence. Consider these stats from Marty’s Eagles years (2006-2012):

-In 2006, TE LJ Smith had the second most catches on the team (50), for 611 yards and 5 TDs.

-In 2009, Brent Celek led the team with 76 receptions, and 8 TDs.  He was second on the team with 971 receiving yards.

-In 2010, Celek posted 511 yards and 4 TDs receiving.

-In 2011, Celek was second in receptions with 62, 3rd in receiving yards with 811, and tied for the TD lead with 5.

-Celek was second on the team in receptions with 57 and receiving yards with 684 in 2012.

The tight end is a major part of the scheme that Marty Mornhinweg runs.  Dustin Keller might just be the guy to fit right in with the scheme.  Who knows?  If Keller is healthy again, he might take that next step to elite tight end under Marty’s tutelage.

The case could be made to keep Dustin Keller, that he is worth the investment.

Where do I fall on this situation? I am honestly not sure. Keller will command a decent amount of money, which will make keeping him difficult. But, I don’t know if the answers, either in house or not, are quite as good as he is. That is, if he is healthy of course.