The New York Jets‘ training camp is just weeks away, yet there are a lot of pieces to fall into place still. The Jets have made a lot of transactions during this offseason, and have had some key pickups in areas that were lacking last season. With injuries being nursed and competition battles fierce, there are a lot of unknowns in the air as we approach July 24.
It’s going to get fierce in Cortland for the Jets’ wide receivers, as there’s a variety of talented players increasing the Jets’ depth in this position. A key free agent acquisition for the Jets is former Denver Bronco Eric Decker. Of course quarterback Peyton Manning makes everyone look good, so it’s really hard to tell how Decker will do in his first season away from the Sheriff, but he is coming off of a career-high season with 87 catches for 1,288 yards. So it’s safe to say Decker will be the go-to guy for the Jets this year at the No. 1 position.
The real question is, who will be at that No. 2 spot opposite of Decker? There’s some viable options, but first let’s explore the probability of Jeremy Kerley. Looking at his production and experience in this system, Kerley looks like a nice fit. Leading the team last season with 43 receptions — 29 of those from the slot according to ESPN Stats & Information — is a clear demonstration of Kerley’s success rate from the slot. Offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg has been known to use players to their strength; for Kerley, his success isn’t necessarily lining up wide left or right, but manning the slot.
Lining up opposite Decker could very likely be Stephen Hill. Hill started the 2013 season as the No. 2 wide out and while he started strong, his production fell off. The Jets’ 2nd round draft pick from 2012 has the size and speed, but he struggles with running routes and dropping balls. It’s a fresh season and this 23 year old proved that he didn’t waste any time this offseason, as he looked much improved with no drops in OTAs. Not only has his skill-set seemed to grow, Hill has also admitted to physical growing over the offseason, now standing at 6-foot-4.
On the other end of the spectrum is veteran David Nelson, who finished last season with 36 catches, 423 yards and two touchdowns. That puts him second on the team for receptions and third in receiving yards. While he is familiar with the playbook and has experience within the system, Nelson simply lacks explosiveness. He is competing with some young bucks who are hungry for the job; if the 27 year old wants to latch on to the No. 2 spot, he’s going to have to blow WR coach Sanjay Lal away.
Unfortunately for fourth round draft pick Shaq Evans, the Jets haven’t been able to evaluate him much and he’s starting out a step behind everyone else, having missed all of OTAs. That’s a long stretch of no football and even worse for Evans, all the other receivers were there and gained from the time he was out.
The other fourth round pick up, Jalen Saunders, has plenty of speed and an evident work ethic, which he proved while with Oklahoma. But what Saunders lacks is size, and it’ll be rather difficult for him to deal with the NFL cornerbacks he’ll be facing for the first time. Expect to see this rookie use this season as a growing period, most likely alternating in the slot with Kerley.
The last and not so far-fetched option is veteran and former Oakland Raider Jacoby Ford. As one of the fastest players in the NFL, Ford could definitely be used in the Jets’ offensive system. Ford’s downfalls have been injuries and inconsistency thus far, so he’s due for a breakout season. His size and route-running abilities have not worked in his favor, but his quickness and experience could give him the edge over at least the rookies.
So there you have it, a breakdown of the depth chart as we start to look at the battle for the No. 2 wideout slot. It’s hard to say who will accompany Decker, but from the looks of it, it will likely be Hill. Plain and simple, Hill has two seasons in the system under his belt; while they may not be good, his explosiveness and size help him stay in the position battle. Only training camp will tell if Hill has indeed grown as a player and is ready to play opposite of Decker.