Oh no Wayne Hunter stinks! Oh no, Steven Hill is inexperienced, Schillens is always hurt, we can't get Tone the ball enough. Not once have I heard any talk about the forgotten man in the huddle Dustin Keller. I take that back, the only talk I've heard was a brief "what if we traded him for a right tackle?". I think even Jets fans talk about Gronkowski and stopping him, than we do about our on tight end Dustin Keller. Here is why you don't treat a guy that should be a star as an after thought.
4 Years. 16 games every year. 64 games played, no injuries, no holdouts, no complaints. No arrests. No PED suspensions. No strangling his girlfriend suspensions or team fines. No DUI's, or violations of team rules every year since he joined the NFL as a Jet.
During those 4 years here's what he's done. Receptions up from 48,45, 55, and 65 last year. Yards per catch up every year 4 years straight 11.1, 11.6, 12.5, and 12.5. Touchdowns up from 3,2,5,to 5. 20+ yard catches up from 7,7,11, to 12 last year. Total receiving yards up from 535, 522, 687, to 815 last year. Every stat has gone up for this guy every year.
The Chargers, Patriots, Saints, Cowboys, and 49ers all feature their tight ends as a staple, while the Jets do more as a check down or afterthought. I think Dustin is in that category and talent level to be featured this year. Some consider us to have a weak receiving corps, and a mediocre backfield. I don't think so. I think we have two veteran receivers, in Holmes and Keller. There is no shame in trying to get the ball to your teams two proven receivers, and sprinkling the rest among Hill, Kerley, Schillens, Cumberland, etc.
Dustin Keller has done nothing to make me think he will not continue to improve. He is durable, he is intelligent, he improves his blocking and his route tree every year he's in the league. He's only 27, and he's in the prime of his career. Tony Gonzalez, Antonio Gates, and even Jason Witten are proving these days that if you keep feeding a tight end the ball, he will play at a high level well into his 30's. Now is the time to let Keller be in the conversation with the all time great receiving tight ends.
Using last year (2011 season) as a measuring stick, he caught 5, 6, and 5 passes his first 3 games for 61, 101, and 87 yards and 2 touchdowns. Then, inexplicably, he fell off the face of the earth until the last 2 weeks of football. We use words like invisible, or streaky, but he can't throw himself the ball. He can't design the plays with himself as the prime or secondary target. I would say if those first 3 games of last season were any indication, or an audition of sorts, he showed what he can give a team when he's involved in the passing game.
While some are saying he might be too pricey, and he might not be back next year, I see it the opposite way. This is the guy that can be the cornerstone of the Jets passing attack for the next 5 years easy. I'm thinking, and it might just be wishful thinking, that when opening day comes the surprise will not be the running attack, or the wildcat with Tebow. The surprise could be the Sanchez to Keller connection, in which Keller has a career day.
The grumblings of where's the offense, where is the passing attack will all be solved. The beauty of this is that if Keller is used the way Antonio Gates is used, he will draw the attention of linebackers and safeties alike, and greatly open up the outside of the field for the wideouts. He can run deeper routes and open holes underneath for slanting wideouts.
In my long winded diatribe, my point is this. Let's not treat Dustin Keller like an easily replaceable commodity, because he is not. His youth, durability, play making ability, constantly improving blocking/receiving skills should make him the next guy in line for a long term deal.