New York Jets fans – remember the days of Braylon Edwards, Jerricho Cotchery, Santonio Holmes, and Dustin Keller? Well, this might just be the most talented group of weapons any Jets quarterback has had since Mark Sanchez. After injuries and inconsistent play, both Robby Anderson and Quincy Enunwa are at full strength. The signing of Jamison Crowder allows Enunwa to work fulltime on the outside for the first time since Eric Decker was on the team. At the same time, promising second-year tight end Chris Herndon looks to build on a strong finish to his rookie campaign. This off-season was all about building around Sam Darnold, which has led to many new faces joining the team. Let’s take a look at who Darnold is throwing to in 2019.
2019 New York Jets Preview: Wide Receivers and Tight Ends
The Starters: Robby Anderson (WR1), Quincy Enunwa (WR2), Jamison Crowder (Slot), and Chris Herndon (TE)
New York has a very young and promising group of receivers surrounding Darnold. It begins with former undrafted free agent Robby Anderson. His game has begun to develop into being just a downfield blazer. Even with his struggles through former offensive coordinator Jeremy Bates‘ system, his adjustments led to a stronger route tree. Most importantly though, his connection with Darnold noticeably grew by seasons end. And it looked dangerous.
How does that connection take the next step? It falls onto Enunwa and Crowder. Enunwa, 27, has the build of a running back, the aggression of a tight end and all in a receiver’s body. His skill set moving back on the outside is huge as his ability to make defenders miss allows Anderson to capitalize over the top. Crowder, on the other hand, brings stability and veteran leadership to a young receiver room… even though he is 26. Having spent years as the slot receiver to Kirk Cousins, Crowder has been known for his consistency over the middle of the field. As shifty as he is, the catch rate (67.2 percent) and route running will come up huge on third down conversions for Darnold.
Lastly, the weapon who can bring this offense to the next level is the 2018 fourth-round pick, Chris Herndon. Just like Anderson, Herndon’s connection with Darnold grew as the season wore on. The big pass-catcher is easily their biggest red zone target. If Herndon can become that 2013-14 Julius Thomas or 2015 Martellus Bennett for the Jets, then he will be Mike Maccagnan‘s only true good mid-round player.
The Jets have been held back from injuries and off the field issues before. The most recent examples being in 2015. Eric Decker suffered a season-ending injury and there was the Brandon Marshall–Sheldon Richardson feud splitting the locker room. This group could very well find itself being held back with similar issues. Excluding Anderson, all in this group have missed significant time due to injury. Crowder struggled to stay on the field in 2018. Enunwa missed all of 2017 with a neck injury and parts of 2018 with numerous injuries. Herndon missed time back in college for minor injuries as well.
Additionally, both Anderson and Herndon have had off the field issues recently. Herndon faced a DUI case before even starting his rookie campaign. Anderson has had multiple incidents with the police with speeding charges and was even considered for suspension.
Aside from injuries and off the field issues, what if this group just does not click around Darnold? Anderson very well might just be a speedster. Enunwa could just remain a solid third option with injury concerns. Same with Crowder. Herndon very well just may not be the chosen one who can make tight ends relevant in New York again. As high as the ceiling is for this group, the floor could very well be equally low.
The Backups: Joshua Bellamy (WR) and Trevon Wesco (TE)
Last season, the Jets were deep at the receiver and tight end position. This year not so much. With the starters easily established, the backups jobs are up for grabs. There are two players easily distinguishable from the rest. Veteran Joshua Bellamy. He spent a season with head coach Adam Gase in Chicago, and his experience as a special teamer and receiver will be very useful. As for the backup tight end spot, do-it-all fourth-round pick Trevon Wesco will be the man for the job. At 6’4″ and 274 pounds, his usage as a fullback, receiver, tight end, and ultimately all over the field will come in very handy. He has been viewed similarly by the Jets as the utility player that he was at West Virginia. With strong blocking, he should carve out a role by the end of his rookie season.
The Bubble: Deontay Burnett (WR), Greg Dortch (WR), Quadree Henderson (WR), JJ Jones (WR), Charone Peake (WR), Jeff Smith (WR), Deonte Thompson (WR), Tim White (WR), Daniel Brown (TE), Neal Sterling (TE), and Eric Tomlinson (TE)
At the moment, only four receivers and two tight ends appear as locks on the roster. That will leave at least three spots between the two positions up for grabs. If the Jets want to go the veteran route, then Charone Peake, Deonte Thompson or Quadree Henderson are the guys. Peake is a Maccagnan seventh-round pick who has only been used on special teams in his three seasons. Thompson is entering his seventh and is the most decorated receiver in the group. Henderson has only ever been viewed as a returner in his two year NFL career.
As for going with the young, project players, then Deontay Burnett, Greg Dortch, JJ Jones, Jeff Smith, and Tim White are their options. None of them have the height to separate them from the group, as all are speedsters or slot targets. Burnett is a former USC teammate of Darnold and flashed playmaking ability in 2018 for the Jets after injuries gave him playing time. Dortch is a shifty slot receiver from Wake Forest, with a comparable playing style to Jamison Crowder. Another is undrafted free agent Jeff Smith from Boston College, who has caught the coaches’ attention during OTAs. Jones is a Jets practice squad product who spent time on the roster in 2018. Just like Jones, White is also a practice squad product, but from Baltimore with return experience.
The Jets have their starter, and likely backup established. The third string spot will be up for grabs. Eric Tomlinson is a great blocker and has been used for his 6’6″, 263-pound frame in tight end screen packages before. Neal Sterling is a more general second-option tight end in the passing game. Sterling also started four games in 2018 for Gang Green before ongoing concussion symptoms kept him out extended time. Daniel Brown is the newcomer to the group. He has previously spent time with the Ravens and Bears in which he has flashed his short-yardage ability in his four NFL seasons.
The Bottom Line
With the starters in place, Darnold has been able to build a quick connection with his targets this off-season. With a fully healthy unit, this could be a high-flying offense. The bubble watch is something to monitor all off-season, as each player has a case to make the roster. As for now, it is going to be exciting to see what route coach Gase goes in terms of veterans or youngsters in 2019.
Stay tuned for the next article in the 2019 New York Jets Preview series with interior offensive lineman!