Heading into the offseason, wide receiver was by far the biggest concern for the New York Jets. They made a few moves to address the position, but it remains to be seen if they have done enough to give Geno Smith or Michael Vick the weapons needed to succeed. The Jets have a ton of receivers in camp, and there are very few sure things. This will be one of the most interesting competitions to watch this summer.
Starters: Eric Decker, Jeremy Kerley
Reserves: David Nelson, Shaq Evans, Jalen Saunders, Jacoby Ford
I’m projecting the Jets to carry six receivers, if only because they have so many young players worth developing. You’ll note that Stephen Hill and Quincy Enunwa are absent from this list, along with several other veterans who will be in camp. To be very clear, Decker and Kerley are the only two players whose roster spots are guaranteed. That level of competition will hopefully bring out the best in everyone.
The Jets gave Decker a big contract to come in and give them the playmaker they needed. You can argue all day about whether or not Decker is a “true No. 1” receiver (he’s not), but the fact is that he will be the Jets’ No. 1. Decker was wildly productive for the Denver Broncos, but changing from their offense and Peyton Manning to the Jets’ offense and Smith/Vick will certainly cause his stats to decline. However, if Decker can provide a productive threat on the outside that keeps defenses honest, particularly in the red zone, the Jets will be perfectly happy with their investment.
Kerley has led the Jets in yards and receptions each of the last two seasons, and he is a solid slot receiver. He could work on the outside some more this season, and he will also be in the slot if the Jets use a two tight end set as their base offense, as many observers expect they will. Nelson was a surprising contributor last season, but his route running, reliable hands, and consistency on third down should get him on the roster.
After Nelson, things get very interesting. Saunders and Evans were both fourth round picks, and they should have a good shot at making the team. Saunders is diminutive slot receiver who has the speed to turn routine catches into big plays. The Jets will find a way to get him on the field, and he should make an immediate impact as a return man. Evans is a more traditional receiver, and he has the ability to provide both a downfield threat and red zone target. The Jets need someone like that badly, and Evans could emerge as a key contributor this season. Enunwa, a sixth round pick, simply isn’t ready yet. The Jets will likely try to develop him on the practice squad.
The battle for the final spot should come down to Ford and Hill, two burners who struggle with just about everything else. Hill has been a massive disappointment as a second round pick two years ago, and one would hope the Jets won’t give him any more free passes. Ford is extremely injury prone and has gotten less productive every year he’s been in the NFL. The reality is whichever of these players makes the team will only be asked to occasionally stretch the field, and in Ford’s case, return kicks.
Other players in camp include Michael Campbell, Clyde Gates, Greg Salas, Videl Hazelton and Saalim Hakim, though it is hard to believe that any of those players will seriously factor in for a final roster spot. Salas and Campbell have the best shot, as Salas showed a bit of promise last season and Campbell is a special teams ace. However, given the talent ahead of them, these five players simply face too much competition.
The Jets desperately need huge improvement from their wide receivers this season, and they believe that their offseason additions will give them the players they need to succeed in the passing game. Decker’s performance is absolutely vital for this group, as is Kerley’s continued development. If the Jets get those things and one of the reserves emerges as a key contributor, they should be able to give Smith and Vick the help they need to be successful.