The Jets revamped their downtrodden WR group this offseason by adding a bona fide No. 1 WR in Brandon Marshall, allowing Eric Decker to slide into the upper tier of No. 2 WRs around the league. The duo gives the Jets one of the better one-two punches at the WR position in the league, and for the first time in a long time, legit weaponry for whoever is deemed the QB. The most interesting battle on the offense, should be for the No. 3 WR spot, because this has a major impact on the team, and the surrounding cast. The Jets new offensive coordinator, Chan Gailey, loves to spread out the field, and play a high amount of snaps with three or more WRs on the field, alas the 3rd WR spot can almost be considered a starter. The two main contestants in this race are Jeremy Kerley and rookie Devin Smith. Let’s examine each of their cases:
The fifth year WR has been one of the few bright spots on offense for the past four years, and received a contract extension last year, making him the third highest paid receiver on the team as of now. Kerley, however is coming off a down year, with the stats barely beating out his rookie year numbers on a per game basis. On the other hand, the Jets haven’t surrounded Kerley with much talent around him, thus negating the chance for open spaces in which No. 3 WRs usually thrive. The Jets lack of ability to beat man coverage, stemming from a lack of talent at the top two spots, meant there were more safeties and linebackers around the middle of the field, which is Kerley’s area of expertise. If the Jets can get other teams to respect Marshall and Decker, then the middle of the field opens up, and causes more open space for the slants and out routes that Kerley thrives on.
- Veteran connection- The Jets will be working in a new WR in Brandon Marshall, so if the QB is Geno Smith, then he’s already learning the preferences of one new WR. It might behoove the team to let Kerley start at the No. 3 spot as a familiar face and someone Geno Smith might already have a connection with from the last two years.
- New found opportunities- The middle of the field can’t be nearly as crowded as it used to be in past years, causing more open space in the middle, and Kerley thrives in these routes.
- Money- Teams usually don’t like to admit that they want to bench a guy making good money, even though Kerley’s salary isn’t outrageous, it is still in line with what No. 3 type WRs would make. For example, Michael Crabtree makes slightly more money this year.
- Prior Production- Kerley has shown himself to be productive on the NFL level, something which can’t be said of Smith, and that experience can only help out at the start of the season. He’s faced NFL level cornerbacks, and is probably more advanced at reading the defense.
- New OC- The Chan Gailey offense does have up tempo variants, that cause the QB to read the defense at the line and adjust plays, thus having someone proven like Kerley can go a long way in terms of execution of the offense and dissection of the defense.
- Lack of Speed- Kerley doesn’t posses top end speed, and thus the opposing defense doesn’t have to shade a safety to his side. He is a horizontal player, that relies on quick change of direction skills to create space. With Marshall and Decker being more possession type receivers than pure burners, this offense would be missing a true speed threat.
- Production Dip- Kerley has seen his production dip for two straight years, coinciding with the years in which Geno Smith has been the starter. Considering part of the issue with Geno Smith has been going over the middle, and not seeing backside help defenders, this could mean the incumbent QB’s abilities don’t match up well with Kerley’s talent.
The rookie out of OSU is widely regarded as one of the best deep pass trackers to come out of the draft, and provides an element of speed and ability to catch the ball, that hasn’t been seen for years with the Jets. You can watch game tape of Devin Smith here, and see how he has done against some good competition.
Positives: (Based on tapes and scouting reports)
- Very Good Hands- If you watch the tapes, you’ll see that he catches with his hands, and almost always is looking to move after the catch. Even though his size isn’t big, he plays above his size with an excellent vertical jump, and exquisite timing on his jumps.
- Speed In Spades- You know scouts think you are fast on tape, when a 4.42 forty yard dash was seen as disappointing. Smith consistently shows the ability to fly by defenders and create havoc for safeties.
- System Fit- Smith is coming from a spread offense, so the transition to another spread offense isn’t going to be as drastic, unlike a West Coast system that relies on exemplary timing between the QB and the WR.
- Roster Fit- As mentioned earlier, Marshall and Decker are more possession receivers than speed burners, so having a WR like Smith changes the dynamics for the opposing defenses. They have to move the safety over to protect against the deep pass, or have whoever is covering Smith play off coverage, and leave easier slants and out routes.
- Dynamic Ability- If you look at his measurables, they are very similar to Odell Beckham Jr’s measurables. They have similar height, similar forty yard dash times, similar verticals, and similar broad jumps. Beckham was faster in the 20 yard shuttle, and slightly faster in the 3 cone drill. Don’t get it wrong, Beckham is the better prospect, but the physical abilities aren’t that far off, and the whole NFL saw what Odell could do last year. They are also similar in the fact that their college stats were limited because of the system in which they played in, and the preferences of their coaches.
- Route Tree- Smith did not run the full route tree in college, and was mostly used on vertical routes in college, so his ability to run the full route tree can’t be seen on tape. While Smith says, he can run all the routes, it’s still to be seen in game film.
- Rookie- With last year being out of the norm, rookie WRs rarely make a huge impact because there is a big adjustment from CBs in the Big Ten to the NFL, where you can no longer get by on just physical gifts. While the recent onslaught of rookie stars clouds the minds of fans, the odds are against him having a breakout first year.
The Jets, for once, have a good problem on their hands, since they have two good players vying for what is essentially a starting role in the new system. It’ll also be an interesting study in the new regime’s connections to the old regime, as Kerley is the veteran that was resigned by the old regime, and drafted by an older regime. Smith is the handpicked draft pick from the new regime, that fits all the needs of the team, thus it’ll be interesting to see how loyal they remain to the veteran in Kerley, or if they want to implement the rookie in his place. The competition should be fascinating as the established veteran goes against the dynamic rookie. Most likely, Kerley starts off the year as the No. 3 WR as Smith gets his feet wet as the No. 4, and then takes over the spot later in the year, similar to Martavis Bryant from last year for the Steelers.