When the New York Jets gave up a fifth-round pick to take Santonio Holmes from the Pittsburgh Steelers in April of 2010, many believed they had acquired a receiver with the ability to be one of the best at his position. Two-and-a-half years later, Jets fans are still waiting for Holmes to return to his Pittsburgh form.
Before the discussion of why Holmes will extend the waiting process another season, it is important to identify what exactly I mean by the word “form.”
“Form” could be defined as producing year-end statistics that match a player’s potential.
In this regard, Holmes has been disappointing since coming to New Jersey. He has averaged eight fewer receptions a season and 14 fewer yards per game than he did with the Steelers. Last year was particularly bad. Holmes recorded career lows in yards (41 per game) and yards per catch (12.8). He failed to surpass 100 yards in a single week.
The problem with Holmes, though, is something less tangible. It's more about how he looks from play to play than his end-of-game totals.
Can he consistently beat defenders? Holmes can separate on slants, but what about the sideline and post patterns? Likewise, every receiver should be able to catch the “perfect” passes. Can Holmes bring in the more challenging balls?
With Sanchez and/or Tebow under center, it is imperative that Jets receivers be able to help their quarterbacks. Is he even the go-to option on crucial downs?
The answer to all the above questions appears to be “no.”
Playing in a run-oriented offense will bring down the numbers of even the best receivers in football, which is a big reason why comparisons between Holmes’ end-of-year numbers in Pittsburgh and in New York are unfair.
However, it is not as though Holmes has become forgotten in the Jets’ scheme. He ranks 22nd in targets among wide receivers since the start of the 2010 season, but has been unable to make the most of these looks. Holmes ranks 75th among wideouts with 100 or more targets in reception percentage (52).
How did this happen to someone capable of making the greatest non-Giant, legal play of the last 25 years?
Granted, a “target” does not equal a “bull’s-eye” pass, but one should not blame Mark Sanchez entirely. Holmes has to be able to extend for balls and make the difficult back-shoulder and low-and-away catches that all of the NFL’s best find to be rather natural (this was once his forte).
Another explanation for catching only 52 percent of targets is that the running game prevents Holmes from getting into a rhythm (10-minute debates after holding calls will not make this any easier, but that discussion is for another article).
If Holmes and Sanchez share the blame on the first explanation, this one is almost exclusively on the receiver. I don’t want to mention the never-ending media narrative about Holmes’ personality and dedication, but at least in terms of his on-field focus, it is certainly understandable to bring up the issue. He has to find a way to prevent stretches of ground-and-pound from impacting his success.
Will any of this change going forward? So far, so bad. Holmes caught just three of 11 targets against the Steelers and had a few drops.
There is also a more individual reason to doubt that Holmes will turn things around in 2012—he’s simply a bit slower.
Holmes averaged 16.3 yards per reception with the Steelers but only 13.6 with the Jets. He went from gaining 5.7 yards after the catch in Pittsburgh to tacking on only 4.3 in Jersey. His longest reception in 2011 was 38 yards.
I am not alone in this assessment. ESPN scouts write, “He flashes explosive speed to stretch deep zones but appears to have lost a step.” The fact that Holmes only “flashes” explosive speed ties back in with his seemingly dwindling interest and rhythm in New York’s offense.
Put Holmes’ relentless soap opera with Sanchez aside (I realize that “relentless” soap opera is a bit redundant). Based strictly on game-day performance, a very legitimate case could be made that Holmes is not Sanchez’s top option—or at least not on crucial downs.
In fact, he may not have even been Sanchez’s second option in 2011. Dustin Keller and Plaxico Burress both recorded more first downs than did Holmes.
Unfortunately for Holmes, none of these points have changed from last season to the current one. The New York offense puts a glass ceiling on his statistical line but, more significantly, prevents him from performing well on a play-to-play basis. Holmes has been unable to shatter it because of a combination of declining speed and focus.
Place the blame where you’d like—Holmes, Sanchez, the media, whomever. It does nothing to disguise the fact that Holmes has been unable to achieve his Pittsburgh form. Maybe another team would provide Holmes with more opportunities to succeed, although I’m sure the above issues turn away many would-be suitors.