By Jeff Capellini
A big part of a rebuilding process is the never-ending quest for consistency.
The Jets have guys running hot and cold all over the roster, and that’s one of the main reasons why they are 1-2 and trending seriously downward since what many thought was an eye-opening win in Detroit to begin the season.
Is it a question of talent? A lack of cohesion? Coaching?
Probably a bit of all three.
But you can make the argument, at least on offense, that there has been one player who has actually been better than anticipated. And considering where he came from, that’s really saying something.
Quincy Enunwa isn’t a superstar. He may not even be a Top 20 receiver in the NFL. But he has gotten better and better in his progression as a pro, and that’s with a career-threatening neck injury wiping out his entire 2017 season.
If and when the Jets transform from an NFL bottom-feeder into a perennial playoff participant, something their fans have been praying for forever, Enunwa should be around to enjoy the spoils.
That is, if the Jets are smart enough to lock him up before he hits unrestricted free agency next spring.
As currently constituted, the Jets do have other good receivers, but none of them have proven yet that they deserve consideration to return next season. On the other hand, though not yet a true No. 1 wideout, Enunwa’s importance to what the Jets hope to be is impossible to downplay.
On this team, Enunwa represents hope. He is the rare draft pick on offense that has actually worked out during Mike Maccagnan’s reign as general manager.
It’s looking more and more like most of the Jets’ other receivers are just stopgaps and won’t be around by the time Sam Darnold is ready to win. Each is serviceable in his own way, but also maddening in his own way.
Take Robby Anderson, for instance. So much was made of his speed and big-play capability last season when Josh McCown was the starting quarterback. Anderson’s 63 receptions, 941 yards and seven touchdowns were a major step up from his rookie season, when he was signed as an undrafted free agent and went on to earn a starting job before finishing with 42 catches, 587 yards and a pair of TDs.
But so far in 2018, the year many figured he would establish himself as someone the Jets can truly count on? He has all of six catches and more fumbles lost (two) than touchdowns (one) in three games. Things needs to improve and they need to improve quickly because even though he’ll be a restricted free agent in 2019, there’s no guarantee he’ll be back.
Plus, he’s a bit of a hot head on the field, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but, when coupled with some of his off-the-field issues, it makes one wonder how long it will be before he hurts the Jets more than he helps them.
Then there’s Terrelle Pryor. He of the 77 catches and 1,007 yards for a God-awful Browns in 2016 that he parlayed into a one-year, $6 million contract with Washington. The former quarterback bombed with the Redskins, catching just 20 passes for 240 yards in only nine games. While he did deal with an injury most of the season, some of his former teammates publicly questioned his heart.
Since signing a one-year, $4.5 million deal with the Jets he has shown flashes of serious playmaking ability, but has just eight receptions to show for it. Is this a guy who is willing to do what it takes to win and to take his game to the next level? It’s really hard to say.
I feel kind of bad including Jermaine Kearse on this list. I actually love the guy. But truth be told, he has never approached a 1,000-yard season. Last season, his first with the Jets, he posted career highs in catches (65) and yards (810).
Known as “Big Game Jermaine” and “Big Catch Kearse” during his time with the Seattle Seahawks, the now-28-year-old was hobbled by an abdominal injury that set him back during the preseason. Once one of the more clutch receivers in the NFL, Kearse, who will probably have value on the open market next spring, has to do more than the occasional highlight-reel grab to convince the Jets to invest in him beyond this season.
The Jets simply are not an intangible piece or two away from being something more.
Now, you could say all three of those wideouts have been ineffective so far this season in part because the Jets have a rookie quarterback out there behind a suspect offensive line still trying to get used to the speed of this league. But you’d be ignoring the fact that both Darnold and the line played well in the first two games and could make the argument that the Browns’ defensive line just posed a bad matchup.
But none of the perceived excuses has stopped Enunwa from getting his, and, again, that’s a lot of what building a team is all about — being consistent and performing no matter the opponent or situation.
Currently on pace for 91 receptions and more than 1,100 yards, Enunwa could very well end up in the Pro Bowl this season. His 29 targets are by far the most on the Jets and are tied for 14th in the league. He has quickly become Darnold’s security blanket, and his ability to find seams and rack up yards after the catch are what is setting him apart so far in the early going.
You can make the argument Enunwa is the best receiver in the AFC East, and there is no question he is becoming one of the better underneath options in the entire conference.
So on a team that is always begging for offensive standouts, Enunwa is already the man. He’d be a real difference-maker on a contender. Hell, he’s probably a very useful player on many a fantasy roster.
When was the last time anyone could say that about a Jet?
Maccagnan needs to pay this man, and he needs to do it soon. Even if the Jets manage to convince top free agents to come here next spring, they should not mess with the chemistry that has developed between Enunwa and Darnold. It may just hold the key to this franchise’s future.
Read more columns by Jeff Capellini and follow him on Twitter at @JCapGLJ