Wide receiver has been the biggest weakness for the New York Jets over the last two seasons, and the team’s highest priority this offseason was to rebuild the position. That process began with decision to release Santonio Holmes and was followed by the big signing of Eric Decker, the consensus top receiver on the free agent market. That was a good first step, but the Jets need to continue to improve their receiving corps in the draft.
We’ll start with Decker, who is coming off two wildly productive seasons in the Denver Broncos’ high octane offense with Peyton Manning as his quarterback. Obviously Decker’s production will take a noticeable dip in coming to the Jets, but that doesn’t necessarily mean he won’t be worth the money. Decker may not be a true No. 1 receiver, but he is a still a physical presence with excellent hands who commands the defense’s attention. His presence will give Geno Smith or Michael Vick a reliable target, and he should be a huge boost to the Jets’ red zone offense.
The other sure thing at wideout for the Jets is slot receiver Jeremy Kerley, who has led the team in receptions and yards each of the last two seasons. Kerley is quick and a very good route runner, and he was Smith’s favorite target last season. Kerley missed some time with injury last year, but he is one of the better slot receivers in the NFL when healthy and figures to be an integral part of the Jets’ offense this season.
Unfortunately, things start to get very messy after Decker and Kerley. The Jets still have David Nelson and Stephen Hill, and they recently signed speedster Jacoby Ford. Add in Clyde Gates and Greg Salas, and the competition at receiver in training camp is going to be heated. Nelson was a surprising contributor last season, and the Jets should absolutely bring him back. Ford adds a deep threat and kick return ability, and his presence will likely push Gates out of the picture at some point. Hill is a flat out bust, but the team doesn’t want to give up on him yet. They should just cut him, but he’ll get one more shot in camp. Finally, Salas is a long shot at best.
All of those players are role players however, meaning the Jets still need land a starting caliber receiver with one of their first two picks. Marqise Lee, Brandin Cooks and Odell Beckham are the likely options in the first round, while Jordan Matthews and Davante Adams are among the second round contenders. Lee and Cooks are the best fits in my opinion, because they are the most polished route runners with the best hands. They would also be a nice complement across from the physical Decker. Beckham is the best athlete of the bunch, while Matthews and Adams are bigger receivers who are similar to Decker. No matter what route they go, any of the projected first and second round receivers in this draft would be immediate starters for the Jets.
Given that the Jets have 12 draft picks, including nine on Day 3, it seems very plausible that they will grab another receiver late. If they do, expect the Jets to target speed receivers. That was something they lacked last season, and given how injury prone Ford is, it would make sense for the Jets to make sure they have another option.
Jets fans want to see the team take a receiver in the first round, and it is looking like they will get their wish. Right now it is very close between Lee, Cooks and Beckham, but there is no doubt that any of the three would be an upgrade. If the Jets can land an impact player in the draft and Decker lives up to his contract, they will have taken huge strides towards fixing their 31st ranked passing attack. A lack of weapons will not be an excuse for the Jets’ quarterbacks this season, and an improved receiving corps could help the Jets make a playoff push.