The New York Jets entered this season with huge question marks surrounding their receiving corps. It is filled mostly with young players with very little experience, as well as oft-injured veteran TE Kellen Winslow and star receiver Santonio Holmes, returning from a foot injury that cost him the majority of last season.
In their Week 1 victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the Jets received varied results from their pass catchers. Overall, the passing game was surprisingly effective, but the individual performances were far more inconsistent. Injuries played a role, as Holmes is still working his way back, and Jeremy Kerley and Jeff Cumberland each left the game for a period of time.
Starting with the good, the clear standout was Winslow. He showed his former team just how good he can be, catching 7 passes for 79 yards and a touchdown. Included in that were several first downs, as well as the crucial 25 yard reception with less than 30 seconds left that helped to set up the game winning field goal. Winslow was clearly Geno Smith’s favorite target, and his emergence was a huge boost to the offense. If he can continue to perform at or near this level, his signing will prove to be one of the steals of the offseason.
Kerley also turned in a solid performance, as did second year man Stephen Hill. Hill was the most targeted receiver, and he ended the day with 6 catches for 39 yards. The problem with that, of course, is the noticeable lack of explosive plays. Hill is a burner and is supposed to be a big play threat, but that didn’t show itself at all on Sunday.
Kerley was his usual effective self out of the slot, catching 3 balls for 45 yards despite missing most of the third quarter. Unfortunately, he sustained a concussion, and he will miss Thursday night’s contest with the rival New England Patriots.
Moving to the bad, Holmes was completely ineffective. There are several reasons for this, beginning with his health. He is working into game shape, and he has had very little practice time with Smith. Additionally, he was shadowed by Darrelle Revis when he was in the game, which will ruin just about any receiver’s day. However, the Jets need Holmes to emerge as their leading receiver and be a reliable option for Smith. This should come in time, but the Jets need it ASAP.
With Kerley out for Thursday’s game, young wideouts Clyde Gates and Ryan Spadola will have a chance to step up. Spadola will likely get a lot of work in the slot, while speedster Gates will play outside when the team moves Holmes to the slot. A healthy Cumberland should make a big difference as well. He was very good in preseason, and he and Winslow could become a formidable tight end duo, allowing the Jets to compensate for the lack of a slot receiver.
The Jets were looking for playmakers all summer, and they still have more questions than answers. While Sunday’s performance was generally encouraging, the receiving corps will have to step their game up if the Jets want to keep winning.