There was never any fear.
When he was set to make his NFL debut on Sept. 11 against the Cowboys, rookie wide receiver Jeremy Kerley said that there was no upset stomach, no goose bumps, no intimidation, no deep-breathing exercises to calm his jitters. It was, simply put, time for him to “get out there and show what I can do.”
That’s all that Kerley has been doing since he arrived with the Jets in August – turning heads and making an impression.
He wasn’t one of the big name wide receivers on the draft board, but Kerley has proven to be one of the steals of the draft. A fifth-round pick this past April, Kerley came out of Texas Christian University with a reputation for speed. But the Horned Frogs’ wide-open offense, predicated on lots of vertical passing routes, had him labeled by many scouts as a product of their system. His ability to translate his skillset to the NFL was questioned and he was thought of primarily as a special teams option.
Not by the Jets, or by Kerley himself. General manager Mike Tannenbaum liked Kerley’s speed and his game and the Jets had no qualms about selecting the player as high up as they did. Since then, Kerley has been repaying their confidence.
“Those rookie jitters were kind of gone once I came through the door. It’s a game; I try my best to realize that, something I play with all the time,” Kerley told Metro. “There’s no pressure; I just go out there and play and that helps me stay focused.”
Kerley though, is showing that he’s more than just a special teams option, even if he has some strong playmaking ability there as well. By midseason, he took over the punt return duties, including a 53-yard return Week 3 in Oakland. His shiftiness and speed make him an asset back there, something not lost on special teams coach Mike Westhoff.
“The guy to me who is coming on, and I watch him in practice, is Jeremy Kerley,” Westhoff said. “He is getting better, and better, and better and I want to make sure I give him every opportunity to get the ball in his hands.”
But the big opportunity for Kerley came a month ago, when he supplanted veteran wide receiver Derrick Mason as the team’s No. 3 receiver. Mason was brought in from Baltimore to be a third-down target, but Kerley showed in a few short weeks that he had the ability to be a reliable outlet for quarterback Mark Sanchez.
Kerley’s big moment came against the team he will face on Sunday, when he supplanted Mason in the lineup in the Jets’ 30-21 loss in New England. Kerley had three catches for 35 catches and the first touchdown of his career. Two days later, the Jets traded Mason to Houston and head coach Rex Ryan credited the emergence of Kerley the Sunday before as the impetus behind the transaction.
Since his debut in Foxboro, Kerley has registered multiple catches in every game.
“I’m just trying to be someone that Mark can throw to on third down, someone who can get open and make plays and good, solid decisions,” Kerley said. “I’m getting more and more comfortable in that role, and I’m getting more games under my belt, more reps and that’s all helping. I’m learning about the speed of the game and I’m catching up to it. That’s big.”
On Sunday night, Kerley should be a factor in the Jets’ passing attack, going against one of the worst secondary units in the league. He’s playing – and carrying himself – like anything but a rookie.
“I’m just trying to take things one day at a time, not let things overwhelm me,” Kerley said. “Just do what I can do, contribute the way I can and always play to my best. I can’t worry about anything else. I can only worry and focus on me. If I do that, then I think I can help this team.”
Follow Jets beat writer Kristian Dyer on Twitter @KristianRDyer.