By Glenn Naughton
With the Jets having recently wrapped up their off-season minicamp, much of the focus regarding their skill players on offense has centered around newcomers Brandon Marshall and speedy rookie Devin Smith.
Marshall, acquired in a trade with the Chicago Bears back in March, and Smith, chosen in the second-round of this year’s draft with the 37th overall selection, will each offer a valuable skill-set in 2015 that the Jets hope will open up opportunities for other players to make an impact.
Marshall with his red zone presence (15 RZ TD’s in last 20 games) and Smith’s world class speed should make life a little bit easier on a couple of offensive players who struggled last season.
Slot receiver Jeremy Kerley and tight end Jeff Cumberland both saw significant drops in production last season as quarterbacks Geno Smith and Michael Vick failed to throw the ball well with any degree of consistency.
Cumberland, somewhat of an enigma for the Jets since making the team as an undrafted free agent back in 2010 out of the University of Illinois where he played wide receiver, has been inconsistent at best.
Making the transition from college receiver to NFL tight end was a timely endeavor but one that the Jets hoped would pay off in the long run, as Cumberland’s size/speed ratio proved too enticing to pass up as the 6′ 5” TE was clocked in the forty-yard dash at 4.45 during his NFL combine performance.
Despite having the measurables, Cumberland has struggled to break out as a playmaker while the Jets offense has sputtered for the better part of a decade with some of the worst QB play in the NFL. With head coach Todd Bowles recently referring to Cumberland as “the first-team tight end” as second-year player Jace Amaro will be used in more of an H-back role, one can’t help but wonder if this will finally be the year Cumberland becomes the type of player who other teams have to account for.
Kerley on the other hand, has shown the ability to make plays when given the opportunity, hauling in 56 passes for 827 yards just two seasons ago during his sophomore campaign when an injury-riddled receiving corps led to an increased role for the TCU product.
He would see those numbers dip to 43 catches for just 523 yards during Geno Smith’s rookie year in 2013, but his 15 receptions over last four weeks of the season gave some observers the impression that some chemistry was beginning to build between the two.
Smith relied heavily on Kerley at a time when he was playing some of his best football as the Jets closed out the season winning three of their final four games. During that time, Kerley was targeted 29 times, a number that represented 40% of his total targets on the season by the time the season came to an end.
However, that trend wouldn’t last long. Smith threw Kerley’s way 24 times, resulting in 15 receptions in Gang Green’s first three games of 2014. From weeks 4-17 however, Kerley played a total of 13 games and registered 3 or fewer catches in all but one, a week 11 38-3 blowout loss at the hands of the Bills when he pulled down five passes from Smith. For the most part, Kerley was essentially ignored on a struggling Jets offense.
With the arrival of a new offensive coordinator in Chan Gailey and an improved quarterback situation with Smith being pushed by veteran Ryan Fitzpatrick, Jets fans will wait and see if Kerley can get back to being the player he was in 2012 when he put up over 800 yards, and if Cumberland, who may be entering a “make or break” season in New York, can finally blossom in to another playmaker on what should be a much improved offense in 2015.