The 2012 season was not a fun time to be a fan of the New York Jets. Part of the reason was a lack of offensive firepower, stemming from a Lisfranc injury that took wide receiver Santonio Holmes out of action in Week 4.
In order to avoid reliving that season, the Jets may need some receivers to step up.
Holmes continues to rehab the injury as he sits out of the preseason. All the Jets can do is hope that the most proven pass-catching threat on the roster is ready to go when the games matter. The problem is, there's some doubt as to whether that will happen.
"Right now, I can't run," Holmes said roughly a week ago.
He's making progress since then, it seems, according to Manish Mehta of the New York Daily News:
Holmes' quickness, route-running and hands are assets that the Jets will need to replace in the meantime, but who are the players most equipped to help ease the pain of his absence?
The Jets drafted Hill in the second round of the 2012 draft not because he was a finished product but for his immense upside. His size (6'4", 215 pounds) and speed (4.36-second 40-yard dash) are ideal for an "X" receiver to stretch the field on the outside. The Jets are hoping he can use those tangibles to take strides toward reaching his potential in 2013.
He had his moments in 2012:
For long stretches of time, though, it was clear that Hill was a work in progress. He had drops resulting from poor concentration and poor technique (letting the ball get to his body), and he ran sloppy routes.
In fact, he dropped over 20 percent of the catchable balls thrown his way, according to ProFootballFocus.com, a website that tracks every play in every game (membership required.)
Perhaps it's unfair to judge Hill's rookie season too harshly; after all, he should never have been thrust into the starting lineup, even as a No. 2 receiver. But he shouldered that burden when Holmes went down because the Jets didn't adequately stock the cupboards with depth at the position.
ESPN New York recently called Hill "the most improved player on the team." While Hill's not going to suddenly morph into the shifty route-runner underneath that Holmes is, and while his hands are less than reliable at this stage, his athletic ability gives him the potential to be a big-time weapon if he can improve his fundamentals.
If you're looking for a receiver with a similar skill set to Holmes, Kerley is your guy.
There were concerns that Kerley wasn't big enough to succeed in the NFL, but he is dispelling those notions. Kerley broke out in his second year by recording 56 receptions for 827 yards, leading the Jets in both categories. He was one of the most sure-handed receivers in the game last year, dropping just four of 60 catchable passes thrown in his direction (6.7 percent drop rate).
Kerley also proved last year that he is a slick route-runner, as evidenced on this 26-yard reception on 3rd-and-7 against the New England Patriots.
He ran a deep post, but the way he ran it showed his ability to create separation. He broke outside off the line of scrimmage to avoid contact with Patriots cornerback Kyle Arrington.
Once he had Arrington in the trail technique, he knew the defensive back would react to his movements. Thus, when he made a subtle fake back inside, the cornerback followed his movements, and was caught off-guard when Kerley broke back toward the sideline on the post.
The difference between Kerley and Holmes is that the former runs most of his routes from the slot. According to PFF, Kerley ran 71.2 percent of his routes from the slot in 2012. From 2010 through 2011, Holmes ran 22.2 percent of his routes from the slot.
Regardless of alignment, if the Jets are looking for a reliable possession receiver to replace Holmes' consistency, Kerley could be the one that gives it to them.
Jeff Cumberland/Kellen Winslow
In the past, this spot may have been filled by Dustin Keller. But the tight end bolted for the Miami Dolphins as a free agent this past offseason. Keller was Sanchez's favorite target in the passing game since the quarterback entered the league in 2009.
The Jets will have to get the targets elsewhere, but there's no guarantee they would have been able to rely on Keller anyway. He was injured for half of the 2012 season, and on Saturday, he landed on injured reserve with a torn ACL, MCL and PCL suffered against the Houston Texans, according to ESPN's Adam Schefter.
Jeff Cumberland was asked to step up at tight end when Keller was absent during the 2012 season, and although he was unimpressive in that stretch, he has really come on strong this preseason with two receptions for 49 yards and two touchdowns—the only two scores Sanchez has thrown this preseason.
Kellen Winslow, on the other hand, was largely out of football in 2012, except for one game with the Patriots, in which he recorded one reception for 12 yards against the Baltimore Ravens. Winslow has had his moments in the preseason, proving he still has the ability to get open underneath and to make difficult catches in traffic.
Neither Cumberland nor Winslow is going to line up wide and win matchups on the outside like Holmes did, but one of them might emerge as a reliable underneath target.
Mark Sanchez/Geno Smith
Saved the most important for last.
It definitely didn't help that the Jets had no reliable target consistently available for Sanchez in the passing game last year, but ultimately, the struggles of the 2012 season fall mainly on consistently bad play at the game's most important position.
Whether we can expect any better at the position without a change being made is another discussion entirely. Sanchez has been up and down for his entire career, with flashes of brilliance followed by costly mistakes throughout. In a way, his preseason performance against the Jacksonville Jaguars was a microcosm of his career.
Regardless of who's the quarterback, the turnovers must be kept to a minimum with an offense that lacks its most explosive playmaker.
Erik Frenz is also a Patriots/AFC East writer for Boston.com. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained firsthand or via team news releases.
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