After acquiring three wide receivers in the NFL Draft, the New York Jets’ receiving core is now loaded with potential and mediocre talent. However, with so many receivers on the roster determining the depth chart is a huge challenge for the coaches.
After releasing Santonio Holmes, the only incumbent wide outs from last season are Jeremy Kerley, Stephen Hill, David Nelson, Clyde Gates, Greg Salas, Michael Campbell, and Hakim Saalim. The Jets have also acquired Eric Decker and Jacoby Ford in free agency, along with Jalen Saunders, Shaquelle Evans, and Quincy Enunwa through the NFL Draft.
This leaves the Jets’ with 12 wide receivers on the roster, although it is highly unlikely that all of them will make the roster. For the ones that do make the roster, they will compete for several positions on the depth chart that are up for grabs. Although in the end it will be Rex Ryan’s decision, here are EWB’s predictions for the wide receiver depth chart in 2014.
Wide Receiver #1: Eric Decker
After splurging in free agency to sign the best available receiver, it is impossible to imagine anyone on the roster passing Decker on the depth chart. Eric Decker has proven that he is extremely talented in his time at Denver, racking up 216 receptions for 2,964 yards and 32 touchdowns in the past three seasons (one of which he had Kyle Orton/Tim Tebow as his quarterback). If Decker can make Tim Tebow look like a playoff-caliber quarterback, he can definitely help Geno Smith.
Wide Receiver #2: Shaquelle Evans
This may raise a lot of questions, but it certainly makes sense. Shaq Evans, a 4th round draft pick this year, has all the attributes required to be a successful wide receiver. Evans has phenomenal route running, allowing him to get open fairly easily. Also, Shaq can manage to make exceptional catches in traffic, fighting for the ball and beating out defenders.
His main opponent will be Stephen Hill, who has struggled on the field in his short career with the Jets. Despite his blazing speed, Hill has trouble catching the football and the drop-prone receiver has caused frustration for the Jets. Rex Ryan is very high on Shaquelle Evans, so it is very possible that Evans surpasses Hill on the depth chart.
Slot Receiver: Jeremy Kerley
Kerley has led the New York Jets in both receptions and receiving yards for the past two years, and he has established himself as an integral part of the Jets offense. Kerley’s size makes it difficult for him to play wide receiver on the outside, so playing from the slot is perfect for him.
The only real competition to his job is rookie Jalen Saunders, Oklahoma wide receiver drafted in the 4th round. However, Kerley has better hands, route running, and more experience than Saunders, and Kerley is also the overall better receiver. Fans should still expect Kerley to be highly productive in 2014 despite the acquisitions of new receivers.
Backup Wide Receiver #1: Stephen Hill
Since drafting Stephen Hill in the 2nd round of the 2012 draft instead of Alston Jeffrey, the Jets have had to suffer the repercussions of their decision. In 2013, Hill was unable to play in 4 games due to injury, and in those games he was only able to catch 40% of passes thrown his way.
However, Stephen Hill is still young, and his athleticism and potential is enough to ensure him decent playing time. Although Shaq Evans may have beat out Hill for the starting job, it may change throughout the season. Despite Stephen Hill being listed as a backup, he should still have the opportunity to make plays and prove himself.
Backup Wide Receiver #2: David Nelson
In 2013, David Nelson made his first appearance for the Jets 4 games into the season. From that point on, he accumulated 36 receptions for 423 yards and 2 touchdowns, an exceptional season for being just the 4th receiver on the depth chart.
Nelson should maintain his roster spot, and his experience and recent success should earn him a place as a backup wide receiver. Although newly signed Jacoby Ford will compete with Nelson for this spot, David Nelson’s experience and familiarity with the system along with his talent will be enough to beat out Ford.
Backup Slot Receiver: Jalen Saunders
After drafting Saunders in the 4th Round, the Jets have had big plans for Saunders. However, the majority of these plans revolve around him as a returned instead of a wide receiver. Saunders is fast, agile, and a great run blocker, although his lack of consistency catching the football and his extremely small frame (5’9″, 164 pounds) may prevent him from being beneficial as a receiver.
However, Saunders talent and potential combined with his speed will be enough to ensure him a spot on the depth chart as a backup slot receiver. The only competitors to his job are Greg Salas and Saalim Hakim, although Saunders sound have no problem beating out both of these incumbent wide receivers.
Other Wide Receivers that will make roster: Jacoby Ford
Although Ford may not have a set role on the depth chart, he will still be a presence on the field for the Jets. Whether Ford comes in as a returned or a receiver when needed, Ford’s speed and experience will be enough to secure him a roster spot.
Practice Squad: Quincy Enunwa
Despite Enunwa’s unique combination of size and speed, he still lacks the necessary tools needed to succeed as a wide receiver at the professional level. In his 4-year career at Nebraska, Enunwa would constantly drop easy passes, and when being heavily contested he would rarely be able to bring in the catch. Also, at Nebraska Enunwa learned a limited route tree, and even with that he still struggled in making crisp routes.
On the other hand, the Jets would not have drafted Enunwa if they did not see potential in him. By placing him on the practice squad, he will have a chance to develop as a wide receiver without having to occupy a roster spot.
Wide Receivers who will be cut: Greg Salas, Clyde Gates, Hakim Saalim
The biggest surprise here is Gates, although when one compares his production on the field to everyone else on the roster, it is understandable. Gates’ career has declined in recent years, and after drafting three wide receivers it is very unlikely that any of these players make the 53-man roster.