By Jeff Capellini
WFAN.com

He’s the best receiver the Jets have had since … since … damn, it has been a long time.

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Brandon Marshall has been everything this franchise could have hoped for and more since that day back in May when novice general manager Mike Maccagnan fleeced the Chicago Bears in a trade that could go down in history as one of, if not the best deals the Jets ever made.

He’s that good and has made that much of an impact.

As the entire football world knows, the Jets have been plagued by a poor passing offense for the better part of the last three decades — a fact that has contributed to their consistent lack of contending status more than any other. In many of the cases the problems have been due to the guy actually throwing the ball, but in recent years it has been more a combination of a lack of know-how of the quarterback and the absence of big-play ability by his targets.

The Jets haven’t had a receiver surpass 1,000 yards since Jerricho Cotchery put up 1,130 in 2007.

That’s really an amazing statistic when you think about it because the modern day NFL is all about the passing game. The running game is still very important, but we’re seeing less and less true workhorse backs and more by-committee attacks, and you are considered a one-trick and easily defendable pony if you’re not good at catching passes out of the backfield and making the first guy miss.

Teams simply don’t win championships, for the most part, without the big-armed intelligent quarterback throwing all over the place to prototypical receivers with the ability to not only run good routes, but also to create separation when there appears to be none.

Marshall brings every element a team could want to the party. He’s big, physical, has tremendous hands, breakaway speed and an uncanny knack for making the tough catch, especially in the red zone.

Where would the Jets be without him, you might be wondering? Well, I find it hard to believe they’d be 4-1 and in position to grab first place in the AFC East away from the mighty Patriots this Sunday if Eric Decker was still their No. 1 receiver. And that’s not a slight against Decker, mind you. But he’s more of a possession guy, while Marshall is the game-breaker and difference-maker that can separate a team that aspires to be good from one that actually is good.

With 37 receptions, 511 yards and four touchdowns in five games, Marshall is currently on pace to challenge the numbers he put up during his outstanding 2012 season with the Bears. That year he posted career highs with 118 receptions and 1,518 yards, to go along with 11 TDs, one less than he scored the following season.

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And he’s doing all of this with Ryan Fitzpatrick throwing to him, the same Ryan Fitzpatrick who is often criticized for not being a Pro Bowl-caliber quarterback. So it begs the question: Is this quarterback simply better than previously thought, or is Marshall just that much better at his craft than anyone the Jets have had in ages?

I tend to think Fitzpatrick is slightly underrated. Prior to joining the Jets this past offseason, he played for five mostly pedestrian-at-best teams during his first 10 seasons. But with his current team finally armed to do more than ground and pound, Fitzpatrick has let his intelligence and work ethic make up for the areas of the game in which he struggles. While he’s hardly the most accurate quarterback to ever live and is not all that reliable at throwing the deep ball, he has completed passes at a high rate (62.6 percent this season on 171 attempts) and is among the better QBs in the league on the analytical scale.

Fitzpatrick finished last week with a 99.2 QBR rating, which led the NFL, and his 76.57 rating for the season is nearly 20 points higher than his previous career high, set last season in 12 games with the Houston Texans, who happened to have Andre Johnson and DeAndre Hopkins out wide and multitalented Arian Foster in the backfield.

So, you see, when a team surrounds a quarterback that has shown flashes of consistent solid play in the past with the likes of a Marshall, Decker and Chris Ivory, among others, what happened at points in the past really has no relevance on what could transpire going forward.

More than anyone else on the Jets’ offense, Marshall has made those around him better. Fitzpatrick looks the part now more than ever. Opposing defenses have to respect the Jets’ passing game more than in recent years, which has led to Ivory getting a ton of room to maneuver, and Decker has become a dangerous intermediate route target because opponents are cheating coverage toward the big guy out wide.

It was a master stroke of genius by Maccagnan getting Marshall, regardless of the fact that he’s 31. I see no reason why this guy, being the physical specimen that he is, can’t continue to be productive for a few more seasons.

I think Jets fans are looking at a player who could one day challenge for a bust in Canton, Ohio. If he decides to hold off on a full-time broadcasting career, something he’s already pretty good at, he could reach 1,000 receptions. He’s currently 190 away, which is not a big number when you consider that Marshall has recorded five seasons with at least 100 catches and is well on his way to another one.

The Jets have had very good receivers in the past — everyone from Hall of Famer Don Maynard to the often underappreciated Wesley Walker to the outstanding but overlooked Al Toon to the complete player that was Keyshawn Johnson.

But if Marshall continues to do what he’s doing and decides to stick around for a while, there’s no reason why his name won’t be right up there with the best to have ever worn green.

And if he helps lead the Jets to heights they haven’t reached in ages, he could become an immortal in the eyes of fans who haven’t seen all that many.

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Read more columns by Jeff Capellini and follow him on Twitter at @GreenLanternJet