Everyone knows the list of the Jets’ 2008 offseason acquisitions by now.
Brett Favre. Alan Faneca. Kris Jenkins. They are all household names, all perennial Pro Bowlers, perhaps all even future Hall of Famers (at least in the case of Favre, who is a lock, and Faneca).
But, during the Jets’ recent stretch of strong play, another new face has had as much of an impact as any of the above players. He is Dustin Keller, the No. 30 overall pick in the 2008 NFL Draft who has taken no time whatsoever to make the starting tight end job his own.
Over the Jets’ past three games, Keller has emerged as a consistent receiving threat, totaling 20 receptions for 236 yards and one touchdown during that span.
Sunday’s game against the Titans was by far Keller’s worst of the three statistically, as he had only 42 receiving yards on six catches. But his performance far exceeded what showed up in the stat book.
On each of the Jets’ first three scoring drives, Keller had a third-and-short reception that gave his offense a first down. He also drew a pass interference penalty on a third-and-five in Tennessee territory.
Keller’s performance is no longer a surprise. He has proven himself as a legitimate threat every time the Jets need to pick up short yardage. His wide frame, shifty route-running, strength catching the ball, and ability to gain yards after the catch all combine to make him one of the best tight ends in the league, even in his first season.
In Sunday’s game, Keller appeared to be simply unstoppable. He would run four or five yards down the field, make a quick cut to his right or left (sometimes after making one direction or the other) while opening up to Favre, and haul in a crucial reception whenever one was needed.
Keller has developed a good rapport with Favre, who likes to use the middle of the field and historically has always looked to his tight end as a prominent receiving option. Keller follows in the footsteps Mark Chmura and Bubba Franks, tight ends who made their careers by providing Favre with a big, easy, and reliable target.
And he isn’t just filling an important role for Favre, either. Keller is the tight end the Jets have been looking for since they drafted Anthony Becht in the first round a decade ago. Many players—most recently Doug Jolley, for whom the Jets traded a first-round pick to the Raiders a couple years ago—and Chris Baker have looked the answer for a short period of time, only to fail to live up to expectations.
This time, it looks as if the Jets have finally solved their tight end problem for good, and it’s paying huge dividends in 2008.