Like the backfield, new general manager Mike Maccagnan needed just one offseason to build the New York Jets’ receiving corps into a strong unit for 2015. In previous seasons, names such as Santonio Holmes, David Nelson, Stephen Hill, and Chaz Schilens fell off the map during their time with Gang Green. As a result, they are now considered to be some of the many contributions to the downfall of Mark Sanchez’s career in New York. After the departures of Jerricho Cotchery and Braylon Edwards, it’s quite obvious that the Jets’ receiving core has never been as productive as it was back then. However, this year, the lack of production may finally come to a pleasant halt.
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To kickoff the 2015 offseason, the Jets traded their 5th-round pick for Brandon Marshall. What makes this move very special is the fact that New York hasn’t had a playmaker of Marshall’s caliber since Santana Moss or even Keyshawn Johnson. Holmes and Edwards of course could be looked at as No. 1 receivers a few years ago, but neither were top-10 guys that can change an entire offense.
Marshall has strung together an incredible career that is good enough to potentially get him in the Pro Football Hall of Fame some day. In his nine seasons, he has received for over 1,000 yards in all but two of them. One of them was his rookie year and the other came last season due to his injury in Week 14 that kept him sidelined for the final three games. If Marshall can stay healthy and continue to bring his tremendous athleticism to the table, he will make life for quarterback Geno Smith a lot less stressful.
Dec 28, 2014; Miami Gardens, FL, USA; New York Jets wide receiver
(87) runs for a touchdown during the second half against the Miami Dolphins at Sun Life Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports
Eric Decker and Jeremy Kerley are two other receivers that make this unit very talented, but they must step up in 2015. Both of these guys had mediocre campaigns last year filled with inconsistency. Decker finished the season with 962 yards and just 5 touchdowns as the No. 1 receiver on the team. Of course injuries nagged him throughout the beginning of the year and the quarterback play was poor, but a No. 1 receiver needs to produce more than he did.
Thankfully, new offensive coordinator Chan Gailey’s spread approach can bring Decker’s 2014 numbers up in 2015. The Jets will be airing the ball out much more than they did under Marty Mornhinweg, so the receivers will benefit from the new offense right off the bat. On top of that, and most importantly, Marshall’s presence should take a lot of weight off Decker’s shoulders as well.
Last year, Kerley finished with only 409 yards and one touchdown. As a slot receiver that played in all 16 games, he without a doubt underachieved. According to ProFootballFocus.com, he ranked 55th out of 78 receivers who played at least 50% of snaps last season. He received an overall grade of -4.2 and a -9.7 as a pass catcher. Those are two grades that must improve in 2015, especially with 2nd-round pick Devin Smith breathing down his neck for the No. 3 spot on the depth chart.
Nov 24, 2014; Detroit, MI, USA; New York Jets wide receiver Jeremy Kerley (11) against the Buffalo Bills at Ford Field. Mandatory Credit: Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports
On the positive side, he did rank tied for 7th as a blocker with a +3.0 grade amongst that same group of receivers. The two guys he tied with were Jarvis Landry of the Dolphins and Riley Cooper of the Eagles. What Gang Green is mainly looking for out of the TCU alumna is for him to get on the same page with his quarterback. In 2014, he caught only 38 of the 75 passes thrown his way. If Smith and Kerley can connect more often on shorter passes such as drags and screens, he might finally step up to be the true slot receiver in this core.
Devin Smith’s role this season will be a bit limited simply because he is not a polished route-runner. In his career at Ohio State, he predominately ran streaks/go-routes to take the top off the defense. Last year, he averaged over 26 yards per catch making scouts and many coaches label him as the best deep threat in the draft class. However, Gailey will have to develop him into more of a slot receiver in order to get the full potential out of him.
Smith’s game needs to become much less one-dimensional in the NFL. Even speedsters like DeSean Jackson and Steve Smith had to work out of the slot before developing into elite, versatile receivers who can play on the inside and out. Overall, the former Buckeye may not stand out in 2015, but what he will do is pose himself as a vertical threat whenever he is on the field.
Oct 26, 2014; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; New York Jets wide receiver Saalim Hakim (15) stands on the sideline during the fourth quarter against the Buffalo Bills at MetLife Stadium. Buffalo Bills defeated New York Jets 43-23. Mandatory Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports
Chris Owusu, T.J. Graham, Saalim Hakim, DeVier Posey, Shaq Evans, Jonathon Rumph, Quincy Enunwa and Walt Powell round out the rest of the Jets’ receiving core. Rumph, Powell, Enunwa and Evans are unfortunately guys who may get cut when September hits. The other four will be battling it out for the final two spots in the unit to give New York depth.
Hakim has been with Gang Green for two seasons primarily as a weapon on special teams and trick plays, while Owusu and Graham played with the Bills before joining the Jets in 2014. Posey’s experience as a member of the Texans may help him get a spot, but he seems to be the least likely out of these four to make the cut. Nonetheless, any two of these players will give the Jets depth and youth that any team in this league would love to have.
As one of the strongest units on the team, this receiving corps may be the one Gang Green has been looking for these past few years. With experience in Marshall, Decker, and Kerley along with a promising youngster in Smith, this group can be very successful if everyone stays healthy.