This is the third of eight position reviews of the Jets' 2010 season that will be appearing in the next several weeks on newyorkjets.com.
Pardon the obvious turn of phrase, but the Jets' receiving game really made strides in 2010.
Part of that was Mark Sanchez's stepping up as the second-year starting quarterback. But part was equally the Jets' receivers, who arguably were the best collection of downfield targets in franchise history.
"We've got some weapons now," head coach Rex Ryan crowed after the playoff triumph at New England. "We've got three great receivers, a great receiving tight end and two great backs. ... I think we can match up offensively with anybody in this league, the way we've been playing."
Wideouts Braylon Edwards, Santonio Holmes and Jerricho Cotchery, tight end Dustin Keller and running back LaDainian Tomlinson were some fivesome. All but Cotchery were tightly bunched from 52 to 55 receptions in the regular season, only the second time that four Jets pass-catchers had at least 50 receptions in a season (equaling the 2000 Green & White's total).
Add Cotchery's 41 catches into the mix and it was only the second time in franchise history that five sets of hands had at least 40 catches in the same season (matching the feat from the otherwise forgettable 2003 season).
Factor out Tomlinson, whose season was summed up in Eric Allen's running backs review on Wednesday, and this group had quite a campaign. Can they possibly stay together and continue to grow closer with Sanchez in 2011? That's a question that, due to the uncertainties of individual contract talks compounded by the larger NFL-NFLPA picture, can't be answered now.
But as general manager Mike Tannenbaum said in his postseason wrapup, "We'll see what the system looks like moving forward. We hope to keep them all."
And why wouldn't he, after their terrific '10.
It's hard to know where to start with this quartet, since each took his star turn in individual games and with his season's statistics. Let's go by regular-season yardage, which has Braylon Edwards battling leadoff. He led the Jets with 904 yards and seven receiving touchdowns on 53 catches. That's 17.1 yards per catch — the best figure by a 50-catch receiver in Jets history since the 1970 merger.
Then in the playoffs Edwards trumped his average by going for 18.2 yards on nine catches, including the Green & White's second TD at New England and the clutch 18-yarder to set up Nick Folk's last-second game-winner the week before at Indianapolis. Not surprising, the way he finished the season, said coordinator Brian Schottenheimer.
"He's been outstanding for probably the last six or seven weeks in practice," said Schotty before the Steelers game. "He's a guy that's wanting extra reps, he's fighting for different opportunities — he's finishing things."
"He's such a big target and he's dangerous," Ryan said. "He can catch and go the distance with it. He's got good hands. He's fearless across the middle."
Did Rex mention hands? Edwards unofficially dropped one pass in 19 games.
Santonio Holmes had every bit as good a season as Edwards. Some numbers weren't as gaudy (although keep in mind Holmes sat the first four games): 52 catches for 746 yards (14.3 avg.), six TDs.
But there was that wondrous five-game stretch of outcome-changing plays:
■ the 46-yard pass-interference call to set up the winning TD at Denver.
■ the 52-yard reception to set up the winning FG at Detroit.
■ the 37-yard TD catch-and-run for the win just in the nick of overtime at Cleveland.
■ the 6-yard TD catch (set up by Edwards' 42-yarder) to pull out the home win over Houston.
Mix in the beautiful toe-tapping end zone grab at Gillette Stadium and the home run ball from Sanchez that just might have turned the tide at Heinz (but didn't, of course), and no wonder Ryan has said:
"Everybody feels his presence. The bigger the game, the better he's going to play. There's just something about him. Some of your great competitors just have that little extra on the biggest stage."
No. 1-B on our entry list of Jets receivers is TE Dustin Keller. He had his highs and not-so-highs as defenses either couldn't neutralize him or decided to take him away from the Jets, but the bottom line was that DK led the Jets with receptions both in the regular season (55) and postseason (14), added five TDs and had the best season by a Green & White TE since Johnny Mitchell in '94 and before that Mickey Shuler in the mid-to-late-Eighties.
"Dustin really is a coordinator's nightmare as far as the kinds of matchup problems you have," Ryan said. "We think he's an outstanding young player."
And what more can be said about "1-C," the final member of "the Flight Boys"? Cotchery's numbers and snaps were down from previous years, yet he still led the Jets with 15 third-down conversions, all on receptions, and had at least two of the most memorable catches of the season: the horizontal 10-yard grab just steps after he pulled his groin in the OT at Cleveland ("Unbelievable," said Schotty), and the 58-yarder (50 after the catch) to set up the Holmes TD at New England in January.
"He's got to be one of the most underrated receivers in the league," said Rex.
There are more to the positions than just those four players. Brad Smith, with all the hats he wears, still counts occasionally as a wideout. Patrick Turner played sparingly and Logan Payne ended the season on the practice squad. At tight end there's Ben Hartsock, Matthew Mulligan and Jeff Cumberland.
As we said above, there's no telling yet if next year's group will have the same participants as this year's group. But the core of this year's pass-catching corps doesn't appear to be in danger of flying under the radar for a while.
Since the 1970 merger (and so with apologies to Don Maynard, George Sauer and Art Powell), here are the Jets' top 10 per-catch averages for all receivers with at least 50 receptions in a season:
Monday — Quarterbacks
Wednesday — Running Backs