The Jets traded Leon Washington a year ago. He had a good 2010 season. He was in the top ten in kickoff return average, led the league with 3 touchdowns, and was eleventh in punt return average. The Jets really did not miss him. Brad Smith did this to a large degree.
This might make it seem like Smith is too valuable to let go. Is that really what this says, though? If the Jets could easily find a guy to do the things Washington did, they surely can find a guy to replace Smith for a fraction of the cost. That guy might be Jeremy Kerley.
Remember when the Jets went to TCU and worked out Andy Dalton? The guy they were really there to check out was Kerley. He is shifty and agile, a standout as a kick returner and a punt returner in college. He was twice named Mountain West Conference Special Teams Player of the Year. He averaged 13.8 yards per punt return with a pair of career touchdowns and 27.2 yards on kickoffs.
He has a good chance of taking over as the regular kick return man. Even if Antonio Cromartie is back, the Jets will probably not want to risk him on returns because of his value on defense except in big spots. He also figures to be in the mix for the punt return job. It would sure be nice to see the Jets finally get a threat back there running back punts. Other options might be Joe McKnight and Kyle Wilson. Wilson looked very close to popping a few big ones last year. The equipment crew just needs to find him better cleats because he seemed to always lose his footing.
On offense, Kerley might be the new Smith, getting the ball in space with blockers in front of him on screens and reverses. The Jets will try and work on his route running to turn him into the slot receiver Smith never was. If two of the three wide receiver free agents go, Kerley could end up seeing significant playing time in three receiver sets.
Interestingly, Kerley also has experience playing Wildcat quarterback. He was the point man on TCU's "Wild Frog" and hit 5 of 7 passes for 135 yards and a touchdown in his career. The Jets might want LaDainian Tomlinson's experience and sure hands back there instead. Those who remember his earlier days in San Diego know LT is a good thrower, 8 for 12 with 7 touchdowns in his career. He did botch the one snap in the Playoff game in New England with Smith out, though. There will probably be a competition between the two if Brad is gone.
If Smith is back, Kerley's role will be vastly reduced to mainly special teams. This pick seems to indicate Brad is out the door, though.