Secret Superstar: Jeremy Kerley
Every NFL team searches for a Secret Superstar on their roster, but it may be even more important to the New York Jets to find that guy. After two disappointing seasons they are starting a rebuilding process with a new general manager in charge. Their roster doesn’t have many top quality players — maybe just two or three — but they have some promising youngsters that could be in that range next season.
The one who stands out as our Secret Superstar is Jeremy Kerley. The third-year player has come all the way from being drafted as a punt returner to becoming the Jets’ leading receiver in 2012. His improvement has been noticeable and now he looks ready to take a bigger role. In an offense lacking playmakers all over the field, Kerley should be valuable, and if he can play to his potential the Jets will solve one of their most important issues.
Behind the Vets
Coming out of TCU, Kerley was more valued as a return specialist than as a receiver. His quick feet and lateral agility made him a touchdown threat on almost every punt or kickoff he caught, but he didn’t produce a lot in a college offense led by Andy Dalton. Projected as a pure slot receiver in the NFL, Kerley was drafted by the Jets in the fifth round in 2011 to grow behind the veteran players they had signed in that offseason — Plaxico Burress and Derrick Mason.
So the plan was for Kerley to be on special teams as punt returner while he improved his technique at wide receiver. And that’s how it was going on for the first four games of the season — the rookie receiver played 16 snaps and was targeted just once. However, that changed suddenly when Derrick Mason was traded to the Texans after the Patriots’ game in Week 5. Actually, the switch in the depth chart happened before that game. Kerley took Mason’s role, played 20 snaps, had three receptions and scored his first NFL touchdown in Foxboro.
Not many fifth-rounders get a chance like Kerley did when the Jets got rid of Mason. The staff trusted him as the slot receiver and the former Horned Frog didn’t waste that opportunity. He played 320 snaps, over 75% of them were in the slot, and he was targeted 33 times and picked up 1.35 Yards per Route Run. Although the Jets’ passing offense wasn’t very good that year, Kerley did enough to earn his spot on the roster for the next season.
The Jets brought in some new faces in the 2012 offseason — they signed Chaz Schilens and Clyde Gates and drafted Stephen Hill, but Kerley kept the lead for the starting slot position as the new players fought to start opposite Santonio Holmes.
The season couldn’t have started better for Kerley. He had four catches for 45 yards and two touchdowns, one of them on a punt return, versus Buffalo in Week 1. He looked very comfortable and in the next two games showed his explosiveness with 140 receiving yards on four catches. But again, for the second year in a row, Kerley was forced to change his role when Holmes was injured in Week 4. He had to take over some of Holmes’ snaps on the outside while also continuing as the starting slot receiver. In the first four games Kerley played 86% of his snaps in the slot, from Week 5 that percentage fell to 56%.
Like in 2011, Kerley took advantage of that unexpected turn of events. His slot performance improved in almost every category — he ranked 12th in Catch Rate, fourth in Yards per Route Run (1.97) and fifth in Drop Rate (2 drops on 67 targets). He was also very impressive in the deep passing game where he ranked first in Catch Rate (at least 25% deep targets) by catching 10 of 15 passes with no drops and over 30 yards per reception. Kerley looked like the best skill player on the roster, and he will be asked to keep that level for the next season.
The new coordinator, Marty Mornhinweg, should provide a fresh approach to the offensive system this season. It will help the quarterback, whoever he is, and the receivers in a passing offense that has been ineffective for the past two seasons. Jeremy Kerley is in great position to benefit from that. His ability from the slot and versatility to produce in the short and deep game will be a big factor for the Jets’ offense. If Mornhinweg and the quarterback find the way to get the ball to Kerley often he could become the Jets’ first 1,000-yard receiver since Jerricho Cotchery in 2007.
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