Over the next few weeks, we're going to look 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.
While he only caught nine passes last season, Chad Hansen came on strong at the end of the year and has reportedly turned heads during offseason practices. Hopes are high that he'll lock down a backup role and establish himself as a keeper over the course of the season.
Preseason stats: Four games, seven catches for 87 yards and one two-point conversion.
Regular-season stats: 15 games (one start), nine catches for 94 yards.
Projected role: Backup wide receiver.
The Jets drafted Hansen with their fourth-round pick last year, but he was expected to be something of a longer-term project. In college, Hansen lined up almost exclusively as an outside receiver on the right side of the formation and didn't really run a full route tree in the Cal Bears' spread-style offense. Perhaps not surprisingly, he barely played in the first half of the season and wasn't targeted for the first time until Week 10.
When Jeremy Kerley was suspended in Week 9, there was an opportunity for more playing time for Hansen and fellow 2017 draft pick ArDarius Stewart; tellingly, Hansen earned more of the available reps. Having caught nine passes down the stretch, he's also been singled out as a stand-out in organized team activities over the past few weeks.
It's not difficult to discern where Hansen is seeking to improve in 2018, as he's already said as much in an interview on the team's official website. Hansen specifically mentioned concentrating on limiting drops and improving his footwork and lower-body strength since last season.
Drops haven't been an issue for Hansen so far as he didn't have any in regular season or preseason action and they weren't a major problem for him in college either. However, it's encouraging that he recognizes the importance of catching the ball consistently and the damage dropping passes could do to his roster chances.
Although scouting reports correctly note that he didn't really run a full route tree in college, Hansen still displayed some decent route running skills in his college film. It shouldn't be as surprising that he's shown progress there so far, including some good production out of the slot despite hardly having played there in college. His extra work seems to be paying off, as reports from practice last week indicated that he embarrassed veteran cornerback Morris Claiborne on a downfield route.
Hansen has suggested the extra work on his leg strength is having an impact too, as is the fact he's much more comfortable with the system and in practice. This will aid his explosiveness and ability to produce after the catch.
Since Hansen was expected to need some seasoning, his development curve seems to be right on schedule for a mid-round pick. However, in Robby Anderson, Terrelle Pryor, Quincy Enunwa and Jermaine Kearse, the Jets have four receivers under contract who've had 800 or more receiving yards either last year or the year before. If everyone is healthy, Hansen would have to be extremely impressive to crack that top four and make one of them expendable. Nevertheless, as a young player still under affordable team control for three more years, they'll be keen to give him opportunities if he continues to impress.
At the other end of the scale, the Jets brought in two other veteran free agents -- Charles Johnson and Andre Roberts -- and also signed undrafted rookie Jonah Trinnaman. Former draft picks Devin Smith and Charone Peake are also still on the roster, along with a couple of kick return options. Therefore, if Hansen falters or gets hurt, he could easily lose his spot altogether. Fortunately, it seems like he's doing everything right at the moment.
Outlook: While his production as a rookie was pretty similar to Stewart's, there's currently more optimism about Hansen's future after he played well down the stretch and stood out during OTAs. It's early, but Hansen looks well on his way to securing a backup role. In an ideal world, he'll establish himself as a potential starter for 2019 and beyond.