With all the attention in New York Jets camp on the quarterback competition, the wide receiver position has been largely ignored in training camp. This is largely because the two starters, Laveranues Coles and Jerricho Cotchery, are firmly entrenched as the starting flankers on opening day, but the battle for the slot receiver is as entertaining as any other training camp battle.
The veteran Coles is still the primary target, especially if his friend Chad Pennington is the starting quarterback, but he's poised to bounce back after an injury-plagued year. He went from 91 receptions, 1098 yards, and 6 touchdowns to 55, 646, and 6. This year the mercurial Coles is healthy and happy that coach Eric Mangini's training camps have shortened this year, and with a new offensive line, he should have more room to wreak havoc on opposing defenses.
He went from being a track star, running a 4.17 40 yard dash at Florida State to becoming a tough and shifty receiver in the NFL. Entering his ninth season, he's gained a reputation as a gamer. He's a guy teams love to have on their side as he plays hard, runs crisp routes, and possesses good hands.
Opposite Coles is the younger Cotchery. The former North Carolina State star had his first 1000 yard season last year with 82 catches and 1130 yards. However, his touchdown output dropped from six to two touchdowns, but with shoddy offensive line and quarterback play, the offense as a whole struggled to score.
He's very similar to Coles in that he is a possession receiver who is becoming known for his toughness. In a more explosive offense, he should be able to put up similar numbers even with a healthier Coles on the other side.
Together the two are a dangerous combination of possession receivers. Neither is a true no. 1, but any team would love to have either player. While both have the ability to break tackles and run after the catch, they would benefit from another gamebreaker to provide a deep threat to keep defenses more honest or a big receiver who can help in the red zone.
Rookie tight end Dustin Keller could be that guy. Leon Washington and Thomas Jones might provide an effective enough running attack to help, but eventually, someone else will need to step up at wide receiver to take pressure off the two starters. Coles will also be 31 at the end of the season, and his physical style of play may start to wear him down.
So who are the candidates to be the Jets' third receiver? Let's take a look, in order of most likely to win the job to least likely.
Chansi Stuckey has yet to play a down in the NFL, and he was just a 7th round pick out of Clemson in 2007, but the Jets like him so much that he's the early favorite. He is a bit on the small side (6-0, 185, but that may be a stretch), but he's shifty and has turned heads in each of his two training camps. He missed last season with a foot injury, but he has been lining up at slot receiver in camp. He just has to stay healthy.
Brad Smith was a record-setting running quarterback at Missouri, but he's yet to provide much of an impact in the NFL. The Jets have made him a jack-of-all-trades, but in his first extended look at receiver last year, he struggled at times with his hands. The 6-2, 210 Smith has the most NFL experience and caught 32 passes for 325 yards and two touchdowns last year, but he's only entering his third year learning the position. Don't be surprised if he wins the job.
David Clowney was signed off Green Bay's roster last season, but he's really been impressive in camp. Eric Mangini has been effusive with praise for the former Virginia Tech Hokie, and even though Stuckey and Smith are the two favorites, the 6-0, 188 speedster might just turn enough heads to win the job.
Marcus Henry was a sixth round pick out of Kansas this season. He was a late bloomer in college, making 54 receptions for 1014 yards and 10 touchdowns for the Big XII champions. At 6-4, 210, he is a big target, but late round rookie receivers rarely make much of an impact.
Wallace Wright is primarily a special teamer, and a very god one at that, but he did make six catches for 87 yards last season. He has a good chance to make the team based solely on his special teams ability, but he's near the bottom of the pecking order when it comes to receivers. He is 6-1, 200 with pretty good speed, but don't expect him to make much of an impact offensively.
David Ball was activated for one game last season. His 58 touchdowns at New Hampshire broke Jerry Rice's record, but he made no impact his rookie season as an undrafted free agent. The 6-1, 197 Ball needs to make some plays in preseason if he wants to stick.
Paul Raymond is a 5-10, 185 rookie from Brown. He's turned heads in camp with his blazing speed, but with several other young receivers in camp, he has an uphill battle if he wants to make the team. He could be practice squad material.
None of these other candidates has much of a track record, but each of them has enough talent where they can make an impact. Stuckey is the favorite to win the job, but Smith, Clowney, Henry, and Wright all could make the team as well.
With Chris Baker, Dustin Keller, and Bubba Franks at tight end and Thomas Jones, Leon Washington, Jesse Chatman, Tony Richardson, and either Musa Smith or Jehuu Caulcrick at runningback, the Jets likely won't rely on three receiver sets, but if one of the kids impresses, the Jets won't hesitate to give that player every opportunity to make plays.