As we continue to project the New York Jets’ final roster, we reach the tumultuous position of wide receiver. As the team nears their final preseason game, one could argue that only three roster spots have been completely locked down. There is a lot to play for over the next week, and it will be a very interesting competition to watch.
Starters: Eric Decker, Jeremy Kerley
Reserves: David Nelson, Jalen Saunders, Stephen Hill, Clyde Gates
We’ll begin with the obvious, as Decker is going to start and be the team’s No. 1 target, which is exactly what they signed him to do. He has 5 catches for 46 yards and 1 touchdown in two games this preseason, and he has shown some good chemistry with Geno Smith. Decker won’t put up numbers like he did with the Denver Broncos, but the Jets are very excited about what he will do for their passing game.
Kerley will also start and be the No. 2 receiver, though he will spend the majority of his time in the slot. Kerley has led the team in receptions and receiving yards the last two seasons, and although that trend figures to end with Decker and Jace Amaro in town, there is no doubt Kerley will be a significant part of the Jets’ passing attack.
Things get a little more interesting after the starters, but the smart money is on Nelson and Saunders making the team. Nelson is all but locked in, as Smith trusts him and was a solid player for the Jets last season. Nelson has 4 catches for 39 yards in the preseason, and his reliable hands and knack for converting third downs will get him on the roster. Nelson is a solid possession receiver, and every team needs one of those.
Saunders is a fourth round draft pick who has missed the last two games after suffering a seizure, but all reports indicate that he is doing well medically, and his return to practice backs that up. It certainly wouldn’t hurt to have a good game against the Philadelphia Eagles, but the odds of the Jets cutting a fourth round pick seem slim.
This is where things get really messy. With Shaq Evans out for the season and Jacoby Ford already cut, the Jets are left with Hill, Gates, Greg Salas and Saalim Hakim fighting for what will likely be two spots. Based on preseason performance, Salas and Gates are the obvious choices. They have been by far the two best players of the group, with Salas having 4 receptions for 53 yards and a TD while Gates has caught 5 balls for 74 yards and a score.
However, these decisions are not made just on preseason performance. Hill is a former second round pick, and despite Jets’ fans animosity towards him, he has the highest ceiling of the group. Perhaps the biggest knock against Hill is that he doesn’t play special teams, very rare for a fifth wideout. On the other hand, Hakim’s impact as a special teams player is crucial, and Rex Ryan recently referred to him as the team’s No. 1 kick returner.
Realistically, Hill is going to make the team. He has the best track record of any of the options and his lofty draft status secures his spot. Salas probably won’t, simply because it doesn’t make sense to carry three slot receivers. That isn’t fair, but that’s the way things go sometimes. The last spot comes down to Gates and Hakim, and the Jets should choose Gates because the two are similar talents as returners but Gates is the better receiver.
It will be interesting to see how playing time and performance shakes out in the final preseason games, and bottom of the depth chart will come down to the wire. However, once the real games start, it is up to Decker, Kerley and Nelson to be the playmakers. Wide receiver remains a concern for the Jets, but they are in better shape this year than last season.