Every guy has that girl that they look back on and say, “Why did I ever let her go?” Well, one can argue that the Jets will be saying the same thing about the recently lost Dustin Keller. While this may not be too much of a throwback, Keller tested the free-agent market following the 2012 season, and ultimately signed with cross-divisional foe, the Miami Dolphins.
But in looking back at Keller’s career sporting the green and white, some may think that there could have been just a little something more. The production was there in college, and while Jet’s fans saw spurts of his potential, I don’t think it was ever fully unveiled. After making the switch from wide receiver to tight end in his freshman year at Purdue, Keller spent the next four years racking in 142 receptions for 1882 yards and 16 touchdowns for the Boilermakers. Keller put up more and more production each year and was voted the team’s Most Valuable Player in 2008, along with the title of Most Valuable Offensive Player in the Motor City Bowl.
Yet, these impressive numbers were nothing compared to his results at the 2008 NFL Combine. Keller wowed scouts by posting the best scores for tight ends in three measurables—the 40-yard dash (4.55), vertical jump (38 in.) and broad jump (10’11”). Keller followed up these statistics by finishing second in the bench press amongst tight ends with 26 reps, as well as a second-place finish in the 3-cone drill with a time of 6.88 seconds. Despite these impressive numbers, Keller would not get drafted until the 30th pick of the 2008 NFL Draft by yours truly, The New York Jets. Keller had the fortune, or misfortune, whatever you will call it, of playing alongside Brett Favre for his rookie season, and collected 535 yards on 48 receptions and three touchdowns. Now, I think everyone would agree that those are some impressive numbers for a man’s first time in the league, and they would only get better. In year two, Keller had Mark Sanchez thrusted upon him, and put up comparable numbers, gathering 522 yards on 45 receptions for two touchdowns. Even though the numbers stayed stagnant, I wouldn’t put that on Keller, but on Sanchez’s first year under the helm.
But year three and four is where Jets fans fully embraced picking-up Keller two years ago. Keller led the Jets in receptions in 2010 with 55, alongside 687 yards and five touchdowns, and again, leading the Jets in receptions in 2011, with 65, five touchdowns, and 815 yards. Sanchez and Keller orchestrated a great chemistry, but it was hindered in 2012, as was Keller’s ankle. Keller was limited to just eight games last season due to a pulled groin and high-ankle sprain, and caught just 28 passes for 317 yards and two touchdowns. Following 2012, Keller was a free agent, and signed a one-year contract with the Dolphins worth 4.25 million dollars.
While the Jets are in a rebuilding mode and essentially cleaning house, fans can argue that they lost a very valuable asset to their offense. Keller is a player that has the size, speed and athleticism of a wide receiver, but the build and toughness of a tight end. Keller can be used a main target of the defense, like a Rob Gronkowski or Vernon Davis, if used properly. He could be great, and Gang Green Nation will get to watch his every move twice a year next season.