Much of the summer for the New York Jets has revolved around who the starting quarterback is going to be this season: incumbent Mark Sanchez or rookie Geno Smith. But there’s another issue that the Jets have been slow to address that could be just as important as their starting quarterback: who are their offensive playmakers going to be? As much as Sanchez was blamed for the team’s struggles last season, his struggles can be blamed in part on a lack of quality skill players at his disposal. Without an improved group of backs and receivers, it may not matter who the Jets put at quarterback in 2013.
To their credit, the Jets were pro-active in trying to improve their backfield after losing last year’s leading rusher Shonn Greene in free agency to the Tennessee Titans. The Jets made a trade for Chris Ivory, an under-rated and under-utilized back who is still young enough for his best years to still be ahead of him, if he’s in the right situation and given an opportunity to play regularly.
New York intends to give Ivory that opportunity and make him the starter, hoping that he can take the reigns of a running game that was at least serviceable last season. Meanwhile, Mike Goodson, who they acquired in free agency, will be used as the third-down back, with Bilal Powell and Joe McKnight there to provide depth. With rookie fullback Tommy Bohanon added to the backfield, the Jets should feel good about having at least an average running game this season.
The wide receiver position is where the Jets should be concerned, especially since they didn’t do anything during the draft or in free agency to improve at that position after just one receiver, Jeremy Kerley, caught over 30 passes last year. Kerley led the team with 827 receiving yards last season, and having such a mediocre leading receiver is not something that can’t repeat itself, regardless of who’s under center for the Jets. The Jets are holding out hope that Santonio Holmes will be able to return from the injury that kept him out for most of last season and be back to 100%, but if that doesn’t happen, the team will find itself in the same position they were in last year when Holmes went down, except now they’ll also be without tight end Dustin Keller, who left for Miami in free agency.
Even if Holmes is healthy, and close to the player he was at the start of last season, there isn’t much help around him. Kerley and the always-disappointing Stephen Hill are New York’s top options other than Holmes, which doesn’t exactly inspire confidence in that unit. There are a slew of young receivers that the Jets will take a look at during training camp, such as Vidal Hazelton, Zach Rogers, Ryan Spadola, and Marcus Davis, but the Jets shouldn’t expect to get too much out of that group. The corps of receivers is so pitiful that the signing of tight end Kellen Winslow may have been the most promising move the Jets made this offseason to bring in a potential receiving target for their quarterbacks, and while Winslow may be the most talented tight end the team has, he’s getting old and is far from a guarantee to be a productive player for them.
While the attention in Jets training camp will all be on the quarterbacks, it’ll be important to remember that the group of receivers those quarterbacks will be throwing to is as thin and unreliable as it gets around the NFL. The Jets should be able to run the ball, which will take some of the pressure of Sanchez and Smith as their quarterback battle moves into the preseason, but the Jets are at a loss for offensive playmakers in the passing game, and that’s bound to make life difficult for whichever quarterback wins the starting job. Considering the lack of quality receivers on the Jets’ roster, it may not even matter who’s playing quarterback this year.