Dating back to October of last season, it has been a rocky road for the New York Jets wide receiver corps. Going into the 2011 season, expectations were high for with Derrick Mason, Santonio Holmes and Plaxico Burress.
Unfortunately for the Jets, the team became divided in early October when rumors began to spread of a mutiny in the Jets locker room following their Week 5 loss to the New England Patriots.
It was rumored (via NY Daily News) that the three receivers listed earlier individually went to Rex Ryan over the course of four weeks at the beginning of the season to complain about offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer. The main culprit in the Jets’ eyes was veteran Derrick Mason.
Following the whole debacle, the Jets shipped Mason off to Houston where he joined a playoff team, but did not get the Super Bowl ring he set out for at the beginning of the season.
All was quiet for the Jets' receivers following the Mason deal as Jeremy Kerley effectively took over Mason's role. But, in January, the biggest blow hit when Santonio Holmes and right tackle Wayne Hunter got into an argument in the huddle during the fourth quarter of the Jets’ Week 17 game against the Miami Dolphins. Holmes and Hunter’s actions put an even brighter spotlight on the Jets locker room. It became unclear whether the team would be able to bounce back.
Entering the offseason, the Jets needed to do some rebuilding. They knew Burress was most likely not returning and they were thin at wide receiver. Through the draft, they rebuilt a bit by snagging Georgia Tech’s Stephen Hill, a 6’4” receiver who will be the big target in the red zone for the Jets. They later added former Raiders receiver Chaz Schillens, another great mixture of height and speed.
As for how the individual receivers are going to perform this season, let’s start with the oldest veteran, Santonio Holmes. Since joining the Jets, Holmes’ numbers have been in a decline. Last year, his numbers dropped from 52 receptions, 746 yards and six touchdowns in only 12 games to 51 receptions, 654 yards and eight touchdowns in 16 games.
The Week 17 game in which he argued with Hunter was also the first game Holmes was held without a catch in years. Santonio’s stats may decrease once again this year. The problem for him is that even though he and Mark Sanchez may have rebuilt their relationship off the field, Dustin Keller is still Sanchez’s favorite guy to throw to on the field.
With the addition of Tony Sparano at offensive coordinator, the Jets are going to be looking to work the "ground-and-pound" scheme a lot more than they did last year. With an increased emphasis on the running game, look for the play-action to reemerge.
When the Jets have Sanchez run a play-action pass, he usually hits Dustin Keller for a sizable gain. While Santonio Holmes is the No. 1 guy on the depth chart, he may not be the Jets' top receiver in 2012.
Next up is Jeremy Kerley, who will most likely be No. 2 on the Jets' depth chart. Kerley is now entering his second season with New York. This will be Kerley’s first full season starting at slot receiver. He is a receiver that is quick in his cuts and can hang on to the football; he is like the Jets’ Wes Welker. Kerley knows how to come up big on third down and has been a great addition from the very start.
I see a slight bump in his stats, due to the added experience of the mini-camps and OTAs. In addition, Kerley will benefit from another training camp and a full-time job.
Look for rookie Stephen Hill to fill the Jets' third receiver role. During this year’s draft, the Jets traded up in the second round to have their pick at the slew of wide receivers still available. They came out with Stephen Hill, who was all smiles that night.
The addition of Hill was great for the Jets; it adds a big and fast receiver to the roster who could be a mainstay on the team for years to come. Before adding Hill, the Jets had trouble finding a consistent big target to throw to in the red zone.
They dabbled with Braylon Edwards and Plaxico Burress for a while, but in the end those two stints did not work out.
Hill will not be the next Calvin Johnson (even though he has the size to be). He will produce about like Burress did last year. That is only because he is a rookie and will need to get acclimated to the NFL and everything that goes with it. In the future, Hill will be powerful receiver who produces big numbers.
After Hill, Chaz Schillens and Patrick Turner are in the mix.
Entering preseason, these two will be fighting for the fourth receiver slot. While both will find themselves on the field at certain points during the season, one of these two will be seeing the bench a lot more than the other.
Based on age and speed, I foresee Chaz Schillens beating out Turner. While Turner has been on the Jets since being drafted in 2009, he has seen plenty of the bench. Schillens has one more year of experience than Turner and is a faster guy, which should give him the edge over Turner.
When it comes to their production level, do not expect these guys to be fantasy sleepers that will have a breakout season. They will contribute when the Jets need them to, but that will not be very often.
Considering how last season ended and how the Jets entered this offseason with their receiver group as mangled as it was, they did a great job of rebuilding in seven months. This group of receivers may not be the best in the league, or even in the division, but they will produce when the Jets need them to and they have a great group of young guys for years to come.
2012 Stat Predictions:
48 Receptions, 670 Yards, Five Touchdowns
35 Receptions, 400 Yards, Two Touchdowns
41 Receptions, 650 Yards, Five Touchdowns
15 Receptions, 250 Yards, One Touchdown
10 Receptions, 175 Yards, One Touchdown
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