Eric Decker is on his way out. Whether the New York Jets will be able to coax a team to trade any assets for him is doubtful, now that the world knows Decker will be cut if no trade is negotiated. Whenever Decker is officially removed from the roster, he’ll just be the latest in a string of changes to the Jets’ wide receiver depth chart.
Brandon Marshall was the first to go. Former second-round draft pick Devin Smith, undrafted free agent Brisly Estime and free agent acquisition Quinton Patton all hit injured reserve within weeks of one another. And Steve Smith Sr. is not walking through that door.
Where does that leave the Jets’ group of pass-catchers? Quincy Enunwa had a career year in 2016, grabbing 58 balls for 857 yards and four scores, so it’s safe to assume he’ll be thrust into the WR1 role. But no other receiver on the roster has more than 600 career receiving yards. It’s a crapshoot from there, but there is promising young talent to be found.
Here are four Jets wide receivers to watch as the depth chart gets straightened out this summer, and why they might find some semblance of success on a 2017 Jets team bound for very little of it.
1. Robby Anderson
The jury is literally out on Anderson, who was arrested May 8 for an altercation at a Miami music festival. His preliminary court hearing for one felony and one misdemeanor charge was June 6, ironically the same day the Decker news broke. This is a guy who emerged from a crowd of youngsters last year to have a season as surprisingly good as Enunwa’s. Anderson made the team as an undrafted free agent from Temple and gained 587 yards and scored twice as the Jets’ third-best receiver in 2016 (while Decker was hurt). Just last week, Brandon Marshall opined Anderson can be a no. 1 receiver for an NFL team, but he “needs to turn it around,” alluding to his arrest. It’s almost unimaginable, but if Enunwa were to suffer an injury, Anderson might have to be.
2. ArDarius Stewart
We were all so innocent back in April when the Jets chose to spend third- and fourth-round picks on wide receivers after an aggressive amount of trading back. Other needs seemed more pressing then, but shortly after the draft, it was revealed that Devin Smith re-tore his ACL and would miss the 2017 season. Stewart could fill the role that was always meant for the injury-riddled Smith. At 5-11, he won’t match up well with the best and most physical NFL corners, but he can do damage in the slot. Scouts appreciate his “takeoff” at the start of a play and his speed in general. With no obvious locks on the depth chart after Enunwa, rookies like Stewart can compete for serious playing time on this team.
3. Chad Hansen
As I was saying about Stewart, there’s opportunity here for Hansen as well. Somebody is sure to conjecture that Hansen can replace Decker as the possession receiver playing opposite the WR1. After all, Decker wasn’t just the most experienced receiver the Jets had, but at 6-foot-3, also one of their tallest, and Hansen is listed on the Jets’ roster as 6-foot-2. But Hansen is not a Decker clone. In fact, scouts see him as more of a deep threat. He’s got play speed comparable to Stewart but with fewer concerns about catching ability, and he’s three inches taller than his draft class counterpart. NFL.com’s Lance Zierlein wrote that with his combination of size, speed and hands, Hansen “has a chance to become a WR2” – it’s just surprising how quickly that chance presented itself, thanks to the team that drafted him.
4. Charone Peake
Peake was selected in the seventh round of the 2016 draft, but he struggled to stand out last season with undrafted free agents Anderson and Jalin Marshall competing for attention, as well as Jeremy Ross at the time. I give Peake the edge over Marshall going forward for a couple of reasons. For one, it’s back to height: I personally prefer taller receivers when possible, and Peake (6-foot-2) has four inches on Marshall (5-foot-10). Besides that, Marshall was primarily hailed for his return ability last offseason, but he never broke a big return in the regular season and fumbled both on special teams and on offense. Peake only caught 19 balls on 35 targets in 2016, but he still played in more games and got more looks and receptions than Marshall. He has shown explosiveness and big-catch ability in practice and preseason games. Ultimately, it could be now or never for the Clemson product to prove his worth as an option for whichever quarterback will be throwing him the ball.