By Chris Pine
It appears to most onlookers that heading into the 2009 season the New York Jets neglected to properly address one of the team’s most obvious deficiencies: wide receiver. The inability to obtain a reliable number one wide receiver leaves the general impression that the Jets will be content with scouring the waiver wire and a free agency wasteland in hopes of finding an undiscovered talent to fortify their pass catching options.
I think the answer to improving the passing game is right under the collective noses of Rex Ryan, Brian schottenheimer, and Mike Tannenbaum. I believe that the big game receiver for the New York Jets is…wait for it… hiding in plain sight.
Without the need for closer scrutiny the Jets have a very pedestrian group of receivers; solid players who may be fundamentally sound, but are also in no way consistent playmakers. With rookie quarterback Mark Sanchez being the most likely signal caller come September 13th, pedestrian is not going to cut the mustard.
Side note: why is mustard a literary reference to quality? We cut the mustard, we are up to mustard, we are keen as mustard…I don’t get it. Yet this was the first thing that popped into mind. Was mustard a rare delicacy that only the best of the master chefs used? Could a Google search have answered my question and therefore spared you from reading about my confusion with mustard? Probably…but I digress.
Let’s take a moment to look at the most notable members of the receiving corps as currently constructed:
First, there is the reliable Jerricho Cotchery, who is the team’s de facto number one receiver. Now I like Cotchery; he has shown some flashes of brilliance but he has yet to show that he can be a reliable week-to-week threat that can force opposing defenses to scribble furiously on the sidelines as they try to contain him. Even in Cotchery’s breakout 2007 season he only found the end zone twice. Last year the former member of the Wolfpack took a step back in production, although a shoulder injury and inconsistency from the feeble old quarterback, who will remain nameless, probably contributed to Cotchery’s drop-off. In this Jet fan’s opinion, Jerricho Cotchery will be a superior complementary receiver, but he will never be among the elite number one receivers in the game.
The Jets also have the versatile Brad Smith in the mix, but their dreams of turning him into a full-time wide receiver seem bleak at best. Smith may be nice for a direct snap here and there, or a trick play, but other than that, I don’t feel that the Jets can rely on him to fill the void.
The only other two notables are David Clowney and Chansi Stuckey. Both have had injuries and both basically untested at the pro level. Jets fans love players who put on a show during the pre-season or in a game or two regardless of injuries or circumstances. A month before the NFL draft Jet fans were split on which future hall of fame quarterback , Brett Ratliff or Kellen Clemens, would be throwing passes to 2009 MVP David Clowny. Being a Jets fan is to be the victim of one big tease after another. I think that Tantalus’ true punishment from the gods was to be a Jet fans for all eternity.
The frightening state of the Jets receivers has brought about rumors of interest in quite possibly the dumbest player I have ever seen in the NFL; Plaxico Burress. Nothing would make me angrier than having to root for this clown all year. I think I would rather have my teeth pulled out through the top of my head. Thankfully though, it sounds as if NFL commissioner Roger Goodell is looking to make an example of Burress which would spare me from that fate.
So, in summation, all the Jets have are maybes and hopefully. Not good. Or is it? Who says your most explosive offensive pass receiver has to be lining up on the outside? Who says they have to have a WR next to their name on the stat sheet? The Jets have a budding superstar in their midst that was woefully underused by the previous head coach; that player is none other than tight end Dustin Keller.
Dustin Keller possesses elite athleticism for a tight end. That can’t be argued. He also has excellent hands and route running capabilities. Why Keller wasn’t given more looks during the beginning and end of the 2008 season is beyond me. Keller has the ability to line-up as a tight end, slot receiver, and even as a traditional wide receiver. The former Boilermaker has the tools to become a dangerous offensive weapon for the Jets, and beyond that, can make players around him better simply by changing the way opposing defenses line up against him. He can open up opportunities for Cotchery, Clowney, or Stuckey.
Mark Sanchez would be wise to spend some time and build a rapport with Keller as soon as possible. The idea of years of a successful on-the-field relationship between Mark Sanchez and Dustin Keller makes my head spin. Additionally, the idea of a successful 2009 season thanks to Mark Sanchez and Dustin Keller makes me hopeful that I won’t be wasting my Sunday afternoons on another losing campaign by the New York Jets, and now that I am married, who knows how many Sundays in front of the TV I have left. Is it just me or do all wives have an innate ability to require their husbands assistance or presence at a family event most frequently during the game without fail?
Dustin Keller can become an elite player in the NFL, and has the tools to do so, yet most coaches seem to prefer tight end that has superior blocking skills. If the Jets focus on the running game, Keller can lose playing time to Bubba Franks. I dare any Jet fan to think about the prospect of Franks on the field and Keller on the bench for long periods of time without feeling nauseous.
Hopefully the Jets are planning on giving the starting job at tight end to Dustin Keller, giving him the playing time he needs to hone his skills and build relationships with the players around him. A pass catching tight end with above average speed can only benefit a football team with more questions than answers regarding their wide receivers. Who knows, maybe Jet fans will be in for a pleasant surprise, it would be nice for a change.