Lack Of Depth at WR, TE Might Ground New York Jets

Brad KurtzbergContributor IMay 25, 2009

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - NOVEMBER 30:  Jerricho Cotchery #89 of the New York Jets runs the ball against the Denver Broncos on November 30, 2008 at Giants Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey.  (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

The New York Jets landed their quarterback of the future in the NFL Draft in Mark Sanchez, but who Sanchez or young veteran Kellen Clemens will throw to remains a major question mark as the club looks forward to the start of training camp.

The only sure thing at wide receiver right now is veteran Jerricho Cotchery. Last season, Cotchery grabbed 71 balls for 858 yards and five touchdowns. Most scouts consider the sixth-year veteran from North Carolina State to be a very good second wide receiver, but a subpar top wideout. With Laveranues Coles moving on to Cincinnati, the Jets need to find another starter at this critical position.

The three leading candidates on the current roster to start opposite Cotchery are Chansi Stuckey, David Clowney and Brad Smith.

Stuckey is a former seventh-round pick who had 32 catches and three touchdowns a year ago. As of now, he would be considered the leading candidate to start opposite Cotchery.

Clowney was signed by the Jets after being released at the end of training camp by the Packers and has appeared in only two NFL games in his career, making one catch.

Smith, a converted college quarterback with just 53 receptions in three seasons with the Jets, has the most athletic ability of the three, but he still needs work on his route running and blocking before he can be considered a starter at the NFL level.

The Jets are expected to bring in at least one experienced wide receiver before the start of training camp in July. At various times during the offseason, Gang Green has been rumored to be interested in ex-Giant Plaxico Burress or Cleveland Browns veteran Braylon Edwards. They remain two of the more promising options for the Jets at the present time.

Burress is a free agent but still has legal issues pending after his arrest last fall for gun possession, and he may face jail time if convicted. He has great size and athletic ability and is familiar with playing in the New York market. While his attitude has been questioned at times, he plays hurt and can be a difference maker if the Jets can keep him on the field. 

As a free agent, the Jets would not have to give up any players on their current roster or any future draft choices to sign Burress.

Edwards has Pro-Bowl talent but dropped too many passes last season due to lapses in concentration. Cleveland’s unsettled quarterback situation didn’t help his numbers in 2008. Despite the subpar year, he still caught 55 passes for 873 yards and three scores, a far cry from the 80-1,289-16 he managed in 2007. 

Edwards has also indicated he wants to stay in Cleveland, though that could change if the right offer was made. The Jets would have to make a trade to secure Edwards’ rights, and no doubt ex-Jets head coach Eric Mangini and Browns General Manager George Kokinis would want at least one high-round draft choice before parting with Edwards. Either player would represent a significant upgrade for the Jets at wide receiver.

The Jets also need to add depth at tight end. Dustin Keller showed some promise as a rookie, making 48 catches for 535 yards and three touchdowns. He does fit in well with Brian Schottenheimer’s offensive system, which often sees him lining up on the outside, away from the line of scrimmage where he can use his size and quickness to get open. 

Keller hit the rookie wall late in the season, however, making only eight receptions for 75 yards in the Jets’ final four games. Brett Favre’s late-season arm troubles certainly didn’t help the rookie’s numbers, and the Jets hope that with a year of NFL play under his belt, Keller will be better prepared for the longer pro season in 2009.  

The other problem facing Keller is his below-average blocking, which hurts the Jets' running game. With an inexperienced quarterback taking over as the starter this season, new Coach Rex Ryan cannot afford to give too much playing time to a tight end who will hold back the running game. 

Keller has been attempting to add some weight to his frame during the offseason to improve his blocking at the point of attack, hopefully without compromising his speed and elusiveness as a receiver. 

The Jets also re-signed veteran Bubba Franks, who joined the team last year after several successful seasons with the Packers. Unfortunately, the 31-year-old University of Miami product has trouble staying healthy. He appeared in only six games for the Jets last season and caught only six passes for 47 yards. At this stage in his career, his usefulness as a pass receiver is minimal.

Franks is a good blocking tight end, but he has a lot of wear on his tires and can’t help the team at all if he can’t stay in the lineup. He hasn’t played in all 16 games in a season since 2004, missing 27 of a possible 64 games during that period. 

Franks now has an injured knee and will miss all of the team’s remaining mini-camps as a result. The Jets hope to have him healthy in time for training camp, but relying on Franks to get through the complete season may be asking too much.

The Jets will have an inexperienced starting quarterback under center in 2009 regardless of whether Sanchez or Clemens gets the nod. 

If the new field general lacks open targets down the field when he goes back to pass, it makes his adjustment to the position that much more difficult. The result could be that the Jets' young quarterback hangs on to the ball too long, takes too many sacks and gets gun shy or even suffers a serious injury. 

Either way, it could impede or even derail the development of a young quarterback, something Gang Green can ill afford if they hope to contend for the playoffs in 2009.