Turn back the clock to 2008 and compare the two New York Jets’ rosters. Aside from offensive linemen Nick Mangold, D’Brickashaw Ferguson and Brandon Moore, the only other starter that is still on the Jets roster is tight end Dustin Keller.
That same year the Jets used their second pick in the NFL Draft (30th overall) to draft Keller out of Purdue. What made Keller such a nice addition at tight end was that he was quick and could catch. When you put most linebackers against Keller, it is hard for them to defend him. He can blow by linebackers and his athleticism allows him to make great plays.
During Mark Sanchez’s first two years, Keller was expected to have breakout seasons. It was known that he was on the rise, but he just did not have that one great season yet.
In those first two years, he and Mark Sanchez had a bread and butter type of chemistry, especially when it cam to play-action passes. If the Jets needed a big first down, they faked the run, ran a bootleg to the outside and Sanchez would dump it off to Keller for an easy 10-15 yard gain.
Last year, the bootleg’s worked but offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer ran less of the play-action passes. Luckily for Keller, his receiving numbers increased. He finished the season as Sanchez’s favorite receiver; being targeted 116 times with 65 receptions for 815 yards and five touchdowns.
I expect the Sanchez-Keller relationship to carry over into the 2012 season. In terms of on the field performance, expect to see a more aggressive Keller. After this year, he and the Jets will undergo contract negotiations and I am sure that Keller will want to prove to the Jets that his great season in 2011 was not a fluke and that he can do it year in and year out.
Also benefiting Keller is the addition of Tony Sparano. Granted, Sparano's addition is beneficial to everyone on the team since Schottenheimer helped no one. The Jets want to get back to the ground and pound this season, something they could not do last year when they noticed their run game was not as dominant as it once was.
If the running game gets off to a good start, which it is expected to, it will help set up the play-action passes that Sanchez and Keller love and are so good with. When it comes to those plays, they are usually high percentage because Keller runs his routes so well and Sanchez has the ability to make an accurate throw, which is exactly what Sparano is planning for the offense.
Sparano’s view for the offense will be to run methodical, use high percentage plays that will get the offense to move the ball downfield and score, while controlling the clock and then allowing the defense to handle the rest.
While Keller has a lot going his way, I do not see the exact same statistical production in 2012 that he had in 2011. Sanchez relied on him a lot during the season, and I’m sure teams have picked up on that and will be designing schemes to defend against Keller.
Sanchez will also be looking to distribute the ball a little more, especially with a guy like Stephen Hill who is a big and fast deep threat, and cry-baby Santonio Holmes who will throw a fit if he does not get the ball enough.
With that, the decline in Keller’s stats will not be horrible, only a few receptions and a small loss in yardage. He will still play well and be a significant factor on offense.
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