Over the next few weeks, we're going to be looking back at last year's rookies in an effort to assess what their role will be in 2018 and where we can expect them to make improvements on what they brought to the table last year.
After a disappointing rookie campaign, ArDarius Stewart faces stiff competition to even earn a spot on the active roster, let alone to have a role as a major contributor, so he will need to make progress in his second season.
Preseason Stats: Four games, eight catches for 113 yards and two touchdowns.
Regular Season Stats: 15 games, two started, six catches for 82 yards, seven carries for 27 yards.
Projected Role: Back-up wide receiver. The Jets drafted Stewart in the third round and would have been hoping that he'd adjust quickly to life in the NFL, given that the Jets essentially played in the same offensive scheme that he had been productive in while at Alabama.
After some good performances in preseason, Stewart entered week one as the number three receiver and was in the starting line-up on opening day. However, his workload dried up after that game, as that would prove to be the highest number of snaps he played in any game all season. It was also the only time he caught more than one pass and he only started one other game thereafter.
There were tantalizing flashes of his potential, but these were fleeting. On opening day, he athletically got to the pylon for what looked like his first career touchdown, although the replay booth would ultimately take it away from him. He also made a sensational diving catch at full stretch a few weeks later against Miami and got deep for a 46-yard play in the last game of the year. He simply wasn't targeted often enough to make more of an impact though.
While Stewart didn't drop any passes or make any other obvious mistakes like running the wrong route, he fell out of favor very quickly and whenever he saw playing time over the remainder of the season, the lack of production was jarring. Maybe Stewart wasn't getting much separation, but the impression given was that neither offensive coordinator John Morton nor quarterback Josh McCown had much faith in him.
In order to become more productive, the first place Stewart needs to continue to improve is in terms of his route running. Coming out of college, it was apparent that Stewart has good speed, but perhaps relied too much on that to get open when he was in college. While capable of making sharp breaks at the top of his route, he had a tendency to get lazy and round off his routes at times and that's perhaps still a habit he needs to break.
The Jets initially seemed keen to make every effort to get Stewart involved, both via jet sweep type plays and as a kick returner, but this was a plan that was soon abandoned. The decision to use him in a kick return role despite not having had much collegiate success as a return man arguably backfired, as he made some mistakes and poor decisions which no doubt further dented his confidence and that of the coaching staff in him.
The team also wouldn't have been impressed by Stewart's body language down the stretch as he became increasingly frustrated with his role or the quarterback's inability to get him the ball when he was open. A more mature and business-like approach to the 2018 offseason would likely convince them that he's going to dedicate himself to having a better season than last year.
While there is plenty of overlap with last year's staff, the promotion of Jeremy Bates to offensive coordinator perhaps gives Stewart a bit of a fresh start. The team must have been high on Stewart to use a day two pick on him, so it would make sense for them to give him every opportunity to flourish in year two.
Outlook: Stewart's disappointing production in his rookie year was hopefully a wake-up call for him and he's bound to realize his roster spot is no longer secure following the Terrelle Pryor, Charles Johnson and Andre Roberts signings during the offseason. It's not uncommon for disappointing rookies to bounce back in year two, especially when they have the kind of athletic ability Stewart does. It will be interesting to see how well he responds in the training camp competition.