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Breaking down the Jets wide receivers ahead of training camp

EAST RUTHERFORD, NEW JERSEY - DECEMBER 03: Chad Hansen #16 of the New York Jets celebrates after teammate Jermaine Kearse #10 made a one handed catch for the first down against the Kansas City Chiefs on December 03, 2017 at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey.The New York Jets defeated the Kansas City Chiefs 38-31. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
EAST RUTHERFORD, NEW JERSEY - DECEMBER 03: Chad Hansen #16 of the New York Jets celebrates after teammate Jermaine Kearse #10 made a one handed catch for the first down against the Kansas City Chiefs on December 03, 2017 at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey.The New York Jets defeated the Kansas City Chiefs 38-31. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

The New York Jets wide receiver corps managed to overachieve in 2017 and with a crowded but talented group leading the pack, expectations are certainly higher as the team moves into 2018.

Don’t look now but the New York Jets could have a pretty good group of wide receivers at their disposal heading into the new NFL season. In fact, there’s an argument to be made that, if all goes according to plan, they could have the most talented wide receiver corps in the entire AFC East. Perhaps this says more about the state of the wide receivers in the AFC East, but let’s be optimists here.

Of course, however, this is the world of sports we’re talking about. And everything won’t go according to plan. That being said, the Jets should feel significantly more comfortable with their receivers heading into 2018 than they did last year.

The team has ample depth and returns their top two targets in Robby Anderson and Jermaine Kearse, who both topped 800 receiving yards last year. Terrelle Pryor joins the team after a tumultuous, injury-riddled season in Washington, but the former Cleveland Brown does have a 1,000-yard campaign under his belt.

Perhaps the biggest X-factor is the return of Quincy Enunwa who missed all of last season with a neck injury. It wasn’t long ago that Enunwa was viewed as one of the top young receivers in the league so Jets fans are certainly eager for his return to the gridiron.

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Throw in second-year receivers Chad Hansen and ArDarius Stewart and the Jets could have one of the deeper wide receiver groups in the entire NFL. The one thing they’re missing is a standout, true No. 1 receiver. The team hopes that one of their roster members will indeed emerge as that legitimate superstar that the Jets are desperately in need of.

That man could very well be Robby Anderson who has shown that he’s more than a simple “one-trick pony” deep threat. Anderson broke out in 2017, finishing the season with 941 yards on 63 catches and would have undoubtedly topped the 1,000-yard mark had Josh McCown not had his season ended prematurely by a broken left hand.

The former undrafted free agent out of Temple displayed a new edge to his game last year and really refined his abilities as a receiver. He always had the top-end speed to be a deep threat but his improvement as an overall football player shined through in 2017.

Anderson clearly worked out the kinks in his footwork and became a more physical receiver at the snap of the ball. He used a quick first step and battled with his hands to get a good release on opposing cornerbacks which allowed him to get open deep more often than not.

Catching the football also seemed to come more naturally to Anderson in 2017 and his hands were evidently stronger than they had been in the past which allowed him to make more contested catches than at any other point in his career.

If Anderson can stay out of trouble off the field, he could be in line for a career year in 2018. His off-the-field concerns have been well-documented and our very own Rhonda Schmidt did a great job of detailing his issues and emphasizing that it is imperative that he corrects his behavior.

There is still time and everyone deserves a chance to grow and mature. If he can do just that, Anderson could very well have a Pro Bowl caliber season in 2018 and be that No. 1 receiver the Jets know he can be.

Elsewhere, the aforementioned Kearse is coming off a solid season in which he posted career highs in receptions, receiving yards, and touchdowns. The former Seattle Seahawk is a reliable No. 2 receiver who has good hands and has shown to be a dependable option in the shallow-to-intermediate passing game.

Kearse’s playing time may be challenged this year, however, with the addition of Terrelle Pryor and the potential emergence of second-year receiver Chad Hansen who should both contend for more snaps on the outside.

Pryor is the only current Jets receiver to have posted 1,000 receiving yards in a season and it’s easy to forget that he did that with five different quarterbacks throwing him the ball. In fact, the state of the Browns QB room in 2016 was so desolate that Pryor himself was actually called upon to play a little quarterback for the first time since his days as an Oakland Raider.

Now there’s no denying that the former Ohio State standout had an absolute disaster of a season with the Redskins last year. Injuries played a major part and may have derailed the campaign before it could really get going. Pryor suffered an ankle injury in Week 2 and clearly wasn’t himself for the remainder of his time playing in the nation’s capital.

If he could stay healthy, Pryor has the potential to regain his 2016 form and be a borderline Pro Bowl receiver in his first year with Gang Green. However, there will be no shortage of competition and if the team’s younger talent performs well during training camp and the preseason, Pryor could find himself as one of the surprise roster cuts as the Jets continue their quest for youth.

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The man who could prove to be the biggest threat to Pryor’s playing time is none other than last year’s 4th-round selection, Chad Hansen. Hansen steadily rose up the depth chart last season and gained additional offensive snaps as the year went on. He showed great hands and the ability to run polished routes which should certainly give him an edge over other young receivers on the team.

The California talent has reportedly impressed thus far in OTAs and if he can continue this trend going into training camp, there’s no reason why he can’t take over the fourth wide receiver spot and earn substantial playing time in 2018.

The return of Quincy Enunwa certainly has Jets fans excited and the former 6th-round pick will be looking to pick up right where he left off after a neck injury forced him to miss all of last season coming off a breakout 2016 campaign. Provided he’s healthy, Enunwa should step right in and be an important piece of the Jets offensive puzzle when the season kicks off.

Before his 2017 injury, Enunwa displayed his versatility as a player as well as his improved ability as a receiver. His route running had improved substantially and his excellent run blocking led to the team using him as a hybrid tight end/H-back at times. The former Nebraska Cornhusker should prove very valuable to Jeremy Bates’ offense and his positional flexibility will allow him to fill various different roles in his comeback campaign.

The remainder of the Jets receiving corps will have to fight for and earn every offensive snap this year and that fight will continue once training camp gets underway.

Much like his fellow 2017 draftee, Chad Hansen, second-year man ArDarius Stewart will have a lot to prove in 2018. Stewart showed ample playmaking ability during his time in Alabama but appeared lost at times as a rookie. Last year’s 3rd-round pick was unable to become a regular part of the offense at any point and appeared overmatched much of the time he was on the field.

Stewart still has plenty of potential but it will take a strong showing from him in training camp and the preseason to avoid being buried on the depth chart. Especially with at least five players already ahead of him at the moment.

Former 2nd-round selection Devin Smith enters training camp on the outside looking in and it may take a stellar effort or some untimely injuries to open up a roster spot for the snakebitten receiver. Injuries have written the story of Smith’s NFL career and after two consecutive season-ending torn ACL’s, the writing may, unfortunately, be on the wall for his Jets tenure.

The same could potentially be said for 2016 7th-round pick Charone Peake who enters training camp buried on the depth chart following a season-ending ankle injury last fall. Peake’s best chance at making the roster may be via his special team’s contributions but it may take more than that to solidify himself a roster spot.

Two players who could also use special teams as a means of making the final 53-man roster are veterans Lucky Whitehead and Andre Roberts. Both Whitehead and Roberts will be competing for kick/punt return responsibilities and will look to use that as a way of securing a roster spot. However, there’s no guarantee that either makes the roster as they will be challenged by the likes of rookie running back Trenton Cannon and second-year back Elijah McGuire.

The Jets opted to bring in a couple other veteran receivers in Charles Johnson and Tre McBride, although neither should be considered strong candidates to make the team. Johnson is a physical receiver who showed some promise during his time in Minnesota but the Grand Valley State product will face an uphill battle with the Jets. The same goes for McBride who did manage to start three games for the Chicago Bears last season, but only has 10 career catches to show for it.

Finally, the team signed one undrafted rookie in BYU’s Jonah Trinnaman. Trinnaman should be considered a major longshot to make the roster, but the speedy wideout shouldn’t be entirely counted out. He has been described as a “freakish” athlete and speed can go a long way in at least getting you noticed in the NFL.

Perhaps he even bears a resemblance to another Jets wide receiver who flashed his uncanny speed as an undrafted rookie. I hear that worked out pretty well for the so-called longshot that was Robby Anderson.

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‘Competition’ is the best word to describe the Jets wide receiver corps as training camp approaches. And with as much competition as there currently is, each player must strive to make the most of every opportunity they receive.

After all, a wasted opportunity is the greatest tragedy in all of sports.