There are plenty of culprits to blame for the Jets’ offensive struggles this season. From the play-calling to the blocking to the quarterback play, there is blame to go around. But the wide receiver position has been one of the biggest black holes on the Jets this season.
As a group, the Jets wide receivers have 98 catches for 1,277 yards and six touchdowns, all near the bottom of the league rankings for receivers. This is how bad those numbers are. Vikings wide receiver Adam Thielen has 85 catches for 1,013 yards and seven touchdowns — himself. His numbers compare favorably with the entire Jets receiving corps.
The lack of production by Jets receivers has been particularly pronounced during their four-game losing streak. Ankle injuries to Robby Anderson and Quincy Enunwa have played a role in the Jets’ struggles, but the healthy receivers are struggling to get separation, making mental mistakes and dropping passes.
“It’s all the way around, inclusive,” Jets coach Todd Bowles said. “If we’re open, either we were getting sacked or we didn’t get open and we had time. It’s all inclusive. It’s just not the position itself. It’s our offense as a whole. We just got to [find] ways to get better in the red zone, find a way to punch the ball in the end zone.”
None of this is helping rookie quarterback Sam Darnold and his development. Darnold played terribly against the Dolphins on Nov. 4 before he was sidelined with a right foot injury, but there have been games this year where he is getting very little help from his supporting cast. Receivers have caused some of his 14 interceptions by dropping passes into defenders’ waiting hands or running poor routes.
A Jets wide receiver has not scored a touchdown since the Oct. 14 win over the Colts. That receiver was Terrelle Pryor, who has not been on the team in a month.
The Jets were counting on their top three receivers being good enough this year to help Darnold through his growing pains. But Enunwa (29 catches, 345 yards, one touchdown), Anderson (21 catches, 346 yards, three touchdowns) and Jermaine Kearse (24 catches, 231 yards, no touchdowns) have been extremely inconsistent. As a group, Jets receivers rank 28th in receptions this year (98) and 27th in yards (1,277).
Improving at wide receiver will be one of many priorities for general manager Mike Maccagnan this offseason. Both Enunwa and Kearse are free agents and Anderson is a restricted free agent. Right now, the best guess is the team brings back Enunwa and Anderson but lets Kearse walk.
That would leave Maccagnan searching for a true No. 1 wide receiver to push Enunwa and Anderson into the Nos. 2 and 3 slots, where they are more suited. The problem is there are not any easy solutions out there.
The Jets will be armed with around $100 million in salary-cap space, but the free-agent class at receiver is underwhelming. Devin Funchess, Kelvin Benjamin, Golden Tate and Donte Moncrief are the top projected free-agent receivers. None of them is what you look for in a No. 1 receiver.
Maccagnan could turn to the NFL draft for help, but there are no receivers projected as top-10 picks in this year’s class. They can cross their fingers that they find one in the later rounds, but Maccagnan has shown no ability to find hidden gems in the draft.
The best bet for Maccagnan may be working the trade market. Talented wide receivers sometimes wear out their welcome with teams or a new coaching staff arrives and does not want to keep a highly paid, veteran receiver as it rebuilds. The Jets have gone down this road a few times before — Braylon Edwards in 2009, Santonio Holmes in 2010 and Brandon Marshall in 2015. Those all turned out to be temporary fixes, but each of those players had a strong start to their time with the Jets.
There is a long list of things to fix for Maccagnan this offseason. Wide receiver needs to be near the top of the list for Darnold’s sake.
Darnold (foot) did not practice again Thursday. He was in uniform but was only a spectator, making it highly unlikely he will play Sunday against the Patriots. The following starters also did not practice: WR Robby Anderson (ankle), safety Marcus Maye (shoulder, thumb), LG James Carpenter (shoulder) and OLB Brandon Copeland (elbow). WR Quincy Enunwa (ankle) was limited. … Patriots QB Tom Brady (knee) was limited for the second straight day.