The Detroit Lions added Jeremy Kerley to their brand new receiving corps on Monday. Kerley had a once-promising career with the New York Jets, but things quickly turned and the Jets opted to cut the young receiver this offseason. Let's take a deeper look into his career to see what went wrong in New York and what the Lions can expect from Kerley.
What went wrong with the Jets
New York released Kerley in early March in an effort to gain some extra cap room back. Kerley actually signed a four-year, $12 million extension just in the middle of the 2014 season, but a regime change and the addition of Eric Decker saw the Jets' plan for Kerley drastically change in a short amount of time.
After leading the Jets in reception in 2012 and 2013, Kerley was not part of the gameplan under new offensive coordinator Chan Gailey in 2015. It's almost a surprise the Jets even bothered to keep him around last year, considering how little they used him during the season:
Kerley really only saw time with the offense when an injury forced New York's hand. When Decker and Quincy Enunwa were healthy and active, Kerley never saw more than ten percent of the offensive snaps. During the four week stretch in which Enunwa was injured, the versatile Decker moved to the outside and Kerley fit into the slot. Kerley enjoyed his most successful run of 2015 during those four games, grabbing 10 catches for 119 yards and one touchdown in that span.
But what's more interesting is that even with Enunwa on the bench, the Jets started phasing Kerley out of their plans. The final week of that four-week period saw Kerley on the field for just 15 percent of the offensive plays. Even when No. 1 receiver Brandon Marshall was inactive during the Jets' 15th game, Kerley couldn't manage to see playing time once during the entire game. For whatever reason, the Jets were just done with Kerley.
What he brings to the Lions
Despite being phased out in New York, Kerley still has undeniable talent. He is a prototypical slot receiver who does his best work over the middle of the field. The Jets lined him up almost exclusively in the slot last year, and it's easy to see why:
Lined up second from the bottom, Kerley is able to quickly dig his foot into the ground and immediately create separation. Not only that, but he's able to snag the well-contested ball and pick up an additional 15 yards on a crucial third down.
Kerley's best route, which he ran quite often, is the whip route:
But what's even better than his whip route is when he fakes it:
Geno Smith doesn't end up finding Kerley, but he is wide open over the middle of the field after a brilliant move. This was not out of the ordinary for Kerley.
However, he does have a pretty big limitation, and that's his play downfield. Kerley has issues getting open on any vertical routes, as his straight-line speed isn't all that impressive (4.62 40-yard dash time at the combine). Physical cornerbacks tend to get him off his game, which is why the Jets almost never used him as an outside receiver.
Kerley also brings a lot of punt return experience to the Lions. Looking around, Kerley has received much criticism for fair catching the ball too often. Indeed, Kerley finished sixth in the league with 19 fair catches. But considering he also finished second in punt return yards and 14th in yards per return among qualifying players, you take the good with the bad.
Overall, Kerley is a shifty receiver with more-than-reliable hands. Just don't expect him to stretch the field vertically.
Where he fits in Detroit
It'll be interesting to see where the Lions choose to use Kerley. In 2015, Detroit rotated their receivers through the slot. Calvin Johnson, Golden Tate, Theo Riddick and Eric Ebron all saw significant playing time at the position. TJ Jones even saw his role increase as the season went on.
What is important to point out is that while the Jets seemingly looked for ways to keep Kerley out of the lineup, the Lions will likely try to find ways to increase his time on the field. The Jets were a run-heavy offense and didn't go with three or four receiver sets that often. Detroit, on the other hand, threw the ball on a higher percentage of downs than all other teams.
Kerley will be in strict competition with Jones and Corey Fuller for positioning on the Lions' depth chart. Though Fuller is more of an outside, deep threat, if the Lions continue to mix and match positions, receivers will be expected to contribute in a variety of ways, Kerley included.