Looking out at the Jets’ group of offensive players today, the one thing that stood out to me, literally…was the height of the wide receivers and tight ends. No matter how well or how poorly he plays, QB Geno Smith is going to have some substantial targets to throw the ball to.
Let’s start with the newly acquired Eric Decker. Decker is listed at 6′ 3”/214 and plays even bigger. He’s an aggressive receiver who should be playing with a little bit of a chip on his shoulder. The Jets signed Decker to a deal worth $36.25 million dollars, which works out to about fifty cents for every time somebody claimed Decker’s production was a result of having played with Peyton Manning. What some people don’t seem to realize that Eric Decker was a third round draft pick based on an excellent college career. As a senior at Minnesota, Decker produced an eye-popping 750 yds and 5 touchdowns in just eight games. Prior suffering a season-ending foot injury that cut his season short, Decker was sixth in the nation averaging 124.8 YPG trailing the likes of Dez Bryant and A.J. Green. As a rookie in 2010 Decker played sparringly and had only six catches. In his sophomore season however, Decker hauled in 44 balls for 612 yards and 8 touchdowns. These aren’t the type of numbers that will place any receiver among the league’s elite, but let’s not discount the fact that Decker managed to do this with Kyle Orton and Tim Tebow at quarterback. To see Decker’s numbers go from good to great with the addition of Peyton Manning shouldn’t have been a surprise to anyone, but to imply that Decker was only good because of Manning is absurd.
Taking a look at the two players most likely to be across from Decker on the other side, you have third year WR Stephen Hill, and last year’s in-season pick up, David Nelson, listed at 6′ 4” and 6′ 5” respectively.
Hill, of course is known more for his drops than his production. As a rookie, Hill was credited with six drops, one of which likely potentially cost the Jets a win on the road in New England. On a 3rd and 3 play with just over two minutes remaining and the Jets trailing 23-20, Hill let a Mark Sanchez pass bounce off of his chest deep in Patriots territory and fall harmlessly to the ground. Of those six drops however, it’s worth noting that in June of 2013, Seth Walder of the New York Daily News had this to say about Hill regarding his drops as discussed with WR coach Sanjay Lal:
According to ProFootballFocus, Hill had six drops last season, tying him for 38th in the NFL. He only played in 11 games and had fewer receptions (21) than every receiver with at least five drops.
“There were some contested catches that he didn’t make. Some contorting catches that you could see either way,” Lal said. “Great players will make them and he will someday. So first, I contest the drop issue.”
The Daily News looked back at the film, and while there is some gray area, Lal is mostly right. Hill’s four other drops are all borderline at best: two are truly tough calls that probably should not be counted against him, one slipped by a defender before Hill dropped it going to the ground and the fourth was most likely a drop, though again, he had to go to the ground to catch the ball. All were possibly catchable, none as egregious as the New England play.
So while some would question Lal’s statement about Hill’s drops (rightfully so as he has a vested interest in Hill’s success) it’s a good job by Walder to take a look for himself and confirm Lal’s claims. However, once a player earns a label, justified or not, it’s tough to shake. If Hill does end up starting opposite Decker, and starts to play to his potential, teams won’t be able to double team Decker, which is what many experts are expecting at this point.
If Hill doesn’t get the starting job, the next most likely candidate is David Nelson. A Buffalo Bills castoff brought in by GM John Idzik. Nelson played well enough to earn a two year contract extension through next season. The 6′ 5” Nelson developed good chemistry with Geno Smith as the season progressed and he wound up hauling in 36 catches for 423 yards. With a full pre-season to continue working in Marty Mornhinweg’s offense and a solid rapport with Geno Smith to build on, it wouldn’t be surprising to see the veteran win the second wide receiver job.
No matter where Hill and Nelson are listed on the depth chart, the fact remains that it would give the Jets the opportunity to have three wide receivers on the field simultaneously with the shortest one being Decker at 6′ 3”. Add to that the fact that 6’7” Zach Sudfeld is making a strong push to make the final 53-man roster, and the two locks to make the roster at TE are the 6’4” Jeff Cumberland, and 6’5” rookie, Jace Amaro.
Last season, the Jets’ best WR was also their shortest. At 5′ 9”, Jeremy Kerley led the Jets with 43 catches for 523 yards, and 5′ 9” Jalen Saunders is a favorite to land a roster spot as a fourth round pick in this years draft, so not all of the Jets WR’s will tower over opposing DB’s. However, there’s no denying that the mismatches the Jets would be able to create with up to five different targets checking in between 6’3” and 6’7” has the potential to give defensive coordinators fits.