Coming into this season I was interested in seeing a healthy Jeff Cumberland perform in 2 TE sets for the Jets. Cumberland presents an intriguing physical package, with WR speed in a TE body. The little bit of game action in preseasons past had piqued my interest in Cumberland, and I thought he might develop into a real weapon for us. Dustin Keller is in a contract year this year and there was the possibility we might be able to save a few million off the cap if Cumberland showed he was capable of replacing much of Keller's production. After all , Cumberland is bigger, stronger and faster than Keller. With a little experience, why couldn't he surpass Keller on the football field? Well, we are now 3 games into the season and I can safely say I was WRONG, WRONG WRONG. Stupefyingly, moronically, brain numbingly WRONG. Cumberland may look good on paper, but on the football field he is a dud.
Looking at his play the last 3 weeks, I can only come up with one positive. In space, when he is running downfield routes more typical of WRs than TEs, Cumberland is hard to defend. Too big for CBs, too fast for LBs and too much of a big/fast combo for most safeties, when Cumberland is able to run medium range and deep patterns and is hit in stride, he is very difficult to defend. He is a fast and monstrous WR in space, not entirely surprising since he is a converted WR from his college days. That pretty much is the beginning, middle and end of his positive attributes. The negatives are a bit more extensive.
I see the following problems with Cumberland's game.
1. He plays smaller than his size. Cumberland is big. 6'4", 260 big. With that body he should be devastating in the short stuff, outlet type routes more typical of TEs, but he isn't. He fails to make effective use of his body to screen off defenders. A typical TE route is chip block a DE, run downfield a few yards, find an open seam and turn around. The way to make this work is to box out opposing defenders like a power forward and catch the ball. Cumberland fails to do this on a regular basis, making him less than useful as an outlet receiver.
2. Cumberland has terrible lateral movement. Let him work up a head of steam and hit him in stride and he's a wonder to behold. But ask him to find a seam, turn and look for the ball and he is awful at making adjustments to slight inaccuracies in the throw. He does not slide well, and consistently shows no ability to adjust laterally to make the catch.
3. Cumberland does not have any vertical ability. Watching him in the end zone trying to leap to Mark's pass last week (the one that sailed way over his head), it looked like Cumberland has a vertical leap of 12 inches or less. Now, NOBODY was going to catch that ball, but Cumberland gave it an effort, and looked like he had cement in his shoes. Again, he plays small. No vertical ability, poor use of his body to screen out defenders, and poor lateral movement adds up to little or no threat in the red zone, a big problem for such a large target.
4. Cumberland has poor game awareness. The play where Mark made a perfect hot read on the blitz and Cumberland failed to recognize the read and never turned around for the ball spoke volumes about his football savvy. Some guys just don't get the mental aspect of the game. It appears Cumberland may be one of those guys.
5. Finally, Cumberland is an unenthusiastic, technically flawed blocker who rarely seals his man off and often completely whiffs on blocks. For a man his size, he blocks like a WR.
What this all adds up to is a guy with one useful skill. He can be a weapon in space running routes more typical of WRs. But this is a pretty limited skill set, and we already have a couple of big WRS who are much faster and much better at this particular skill. And when it comes to other skills more typical of TEs, Cumberland usually seems lost.
The thought that we might safely jettison Keller in favor of Cumberland in 2013 was a tantalizing one in terms of the salary cap. I have come to realize it was only a dream, and at the same time have acquired a greater appreciation for just how valuable Keller is to this team.