The New York Jets have made so many additions at wide receiver in 2021 that a few players have been totally disregarded as if they’re no longer on the team.
One of those weapons is Jeff Smith, an athlete with a generic name who has a style of play that is anything but. The former 2019 undrafted rookie out of Boston College fought his way onto the Jets practice squad two training camps ago.
He only factored in one game his rookie season, catching a single pass for a 12-yard first-down. During his age-23 campaign in 2020, Smith showed flashes of his true potential. His best game came against the Denver Broncos in Week 4, catching seven of nine targets for 81 yards.
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Reporter Names Unique Talent as Player to Watch
“He’s someone who could fight his way into regular-season playing time because his skill set is exactly what [Mike] LaFleur wants,” Hughes wrote regarding Smith. If you’re wondering why you haven’t heard the WR’s name very much this spring or summer, it’s because an injury kept him from taking part in OTAs.
“He’s kind of a poor man’s Deebo Samuel, having played quarterback, receiver and running back at Boston College. [Adam] Gase never unlocked everything Smith could do, choosing instead to use him as a traditional wideout. LaFleur isn’t that kind of coach. Smith won’t unseat any of the wideouts atop the depth chart, but could find his own role as a slasher,” Hughes explained.
I recently compared Jamison Crowder to Deebo Samuel myself but I can see the similarities in Smith’s game. He’s a gadget-type that has blazing speed and lateral agility, two traits that fit this offense like a glove.
Back on his pro day, Smith ran a 4.36-second forty-yard dash (listed at 4.34 on NFL) at nearly 19 miles per hour. He also clocked in at 4.06-seconds on his 20-yard shuttle run and 6.87-seconds on his three-cone drill.
It’s no surprise that Coach Gase underutilized the talented threat, as Hughes pointed out above. The ex-Jets play-caller never adapted his system to the strengths of the players. LaFleur has already stated publicly that his west coast scheme won’t operate that way.
“What’s cool and unique about this offense is, yes it’s the west coast system and we’re trying to run the outside zone and do the play-action stuff off it, but we fit it to our players,” said the Jets offensive coordinator during his initial press conference.
Picture a Tavon Austin-type weapon in his prime. He’s no starter and forcing him into a hefty snap-count may expose him but at the same time, his rare physical gifts may pique LaFleur’s interest.
After all, the Jets actually worked out Austin briefly this spring.
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Intense Competition at Wide Receiver
I anticipate that six or seven wide-outs will make this 53-man roster, and we’ll also have to keep in mind that there could always be an injury or two (knock on wood). Here’s what the depth chart looks like so far in my personal opinion.
* My WR projections play off the educated assumption that the Jets WR1 role will be the more physical exterior threat that has height and ability off the play-action. The WR2 role would then be based around dynamic speed receivers like Moore and Keelan Cole who can line up anywhere on the field.
|Corey Davis||Elijah Moore||Jamison Crowder|
|Denzel Mims||Keelan Cole||Braxton Berrios|
|Manasseh Bailey||Vyncint Smith||Jeff Smith|
|Josh Malone||Matt Cole|
If the Jets coaching staff sees Moore as a slot receiver like some fans seem intent on proving, that’s bad news for a player like Smith. He’s already behind Crowder and Berrios in this capacity, and although Smith’s much more of a gadget receiver than a slot, Joe Douglas will only keep so many of these speedy weapons on the roster.
Not taking into account any injuries, Gang Green is expected to field a WR core of Davis, Moore, Crowder, Mims and Cole. The main exception would be Crowder, on the off-chance he still gets traded.
Berrios is definitely leading the race for the sixth spot based on his chemistry with Zach Wilson in camp and his ability as a punt returner. That would leave one spot (if even) for someone like Jeff or Vyncint Smith, Bailey, Montgomery, Malone, Cager or Matt Cole.
Based on that group, my money’s on either Jeff Smith or Bailey.