ProFootballFocus.com recently released a featured statistic called the After-the-Catch Conversion Rate. This statistic refers to the percentage of passes thrown short of the first down marker that are converted into first downs. The Jets' 30.4% conversion rate ranked 27th in the NFL, and their 5.58 average yards after catch (YAC) ranked 3rd to last among listed teams, beating out only Oakland and Tampa Bay. The Jets also only converted 58 total first downs on passes short of the sticks in 2014, finishing 4th to last among listed teams. That seems pretty grim, but it could be partially due to how far away from the first down markers the passes were caught? Let's take a look at how the Jets players performed in terms of YAC in general.
The Jets presumed starting receivers, Eric Decker and Brandon Marshall, finished 57th and 74th in average YAC per reception among 110 eligible receivers with at least 25% of the snaps. Slot receiver Jeremy Kerley finished 67th and former Jet David Nelson finished dead last. At tight end, Jeff Cumberland tied for 33rd, while Jace Amaro finished right below him at 35th out of 67 eligible tight ends. At running back, the Jets have only one eligible player from last year, Chris Ivory, who finished 43rd out of 57 eligible running backs. He also only had 18 total receptions on the season, and is far from a receiving threat. In fact, Golden Tate accounted for nearly as much yardage as every Jet skill position player combined last year, even including Eric Decker's game 17 explosion that accounts for over 25% of his total YAC for the season.
A part of this likely falls on Geno Smith's play last year. Geno's accuracy was scattershot at best, and he often failed to put the ball in the ideal place to allow the receiver an opportunity to run after the catch. I can't put too much blame on Geno, however. The Jets also simply lack an explosive playmaker. The player who led the Jets in YAC/rec in 2014 was Percy Harvin, and he didn't even show a lot of YAC ability last year. None of the Jets skill position players are particularly good in this regard and the addition of Brandon Marshall is unlikely to help improve this deficiency, as it is not his strongest aspect. So what does that mean for the Jets if there isn't a YAC threat this year?
Having a YAC machine like Demaryius Thomas or Antonio Brown can really take the pressure off of a QB because even the shortest routes can turn into 40+ yard gains. If nothing else, it will certainly help a QB's confidence. Unfortunately for the Jets, these players are very hard to find and the Jets have yet to manage it. This could have factored in to the decision to draft Devin Smith, who averaged over 20 yards per reception in 3 out of his 4 college seasons. Still, Devin Smith is unlikely to make a considerable difference in 2015 even if he does earn a good amount of playing time. He is also considered to be more of a deep ball specialist than a YAC specialist, which the Jets simply don't have on the roster. If the Jets really want to help Geno Smith and Bryce Petty develop, investing in a player who excels in YAC would make a big difference.