Usually at this time of the year, we are asking what the Jets are going to do at quarterback for the following season. After all, they have had five different starting quarterbacks on opening weekend in the last seven seasons. But this year is different.
It appears the Jets have landed a long-term solution at quarterback in rookie Sam Darnold. He has been impressive in his past two games, showing why the Jets selected him No. 3 in the draft.
This year’s question is: How do the Jets build around Darnold to help him realize the potential he has shown in his first season?
The Jets need help along the offensive line, at running back and at pass rusher. But they also need to give Darnold better wide receivers to throw to. Robby Anderson has come on strong lately, but he still does not look like a No. 1 receiver. Quincy Enunwa, a pending free agent, has had trouble staying healthy and is more of a complementary receiver. Jermaine Kearse has struggled in his second year with the Jets and will probably be allowed to walk as a free agent.
Jets general manager Mike Maccagnan, if he is kept by the Johnson brothers, needs to figure out how to upgrade at the position, and it will not be easy. The Texans do not have amazing talent on offense around Deshaun Watson except for DeAndre Hopkins, who showed he is one of the best in the NFL against the Jets. Players like Hopkins are hard to find, though.
So what can Maccagnan do?
Here is an early look at the wide receiver options this offseason:
There may be a surprise cut or two in the next three months that bolsters this class. Otherwise, it is uninspiring. Golden Tate is probably the best receiver in the bunch, but he will be 31 by next season and is not considered No. 1 material either. Randall Cobb is a few years younger, but his production has dropped this year as he has battled injuries.
The rest of the free-agent list is filled with players who have not lived up to their potential or have maxed out as complementary receivers: Devin Funchess, Kelvin Benjamin, Donte Moncrief, John Brown, Tavon Austin, Chris Hogan and Adam Humphries are a few.
Overall, free agency feels like a way the Jets can get a No. 3 or 4 wide receiver, but not a way to get someone to make a big impact.
Look at the list of top receivers in the NFL and most of them were drafted in the first round. There are exceptions — Antonio Brown, Michael Thomas and Adam Thielen — but usually landing a top receiver means taking him in the first round.
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This year’s draft is not projected to be a strong receiver draft. Oklahoma’s Marquise Brown is the only receiver the draft gurus have rated highly at the moment. That could change in four months, but it does not look promising.
The Jets will not be using a top-five pick on a receiver when they need a pass rusher and a left tackle, positions that are best found early in the draft. The only scenario in which the Jets would take a receiver in the first round is if they were to move back in the draft. If they find a quarterback-needy team that wants to move up and offers them a monster trade, then maybe the Jets take a receiver with that new draft position.
Maccagnan could land a receiver later in the draft, but it is a long shot that he can find a top receiver on Day 2 or 3 of the draft.
The Jets have lived off receiver trades over the last decade. Braylon Edwards, Santonio Holmes and Brandon Marshall all came to the Jets in trades and all had productive first seasons.
It is hard to predict who will be on the trade block this offseason, but many times when there are coaching and/or GM changes with teams, players become available. One receiver to keep an eye on is Mike Evans in Tampa Bay. The Buccaneers may be firing coach Dirk Koetter and GM Jason Licht after another disappointing year. Evans signed a monster deal in March and has a $20 million cap figure for 2019. A new regime may be looking to unload that contract. The Jets have the cap space to take it. It just could be the answer to the Jets’ receiver problem.