Jets Trade Up In First Get Purdue TE Keller
By Douglas Bonjour
Jets Insider.com Staff Writer
April 26th, 2008
The Jets gave up one of their two 4th round picks (#113) to Green Bay for moving up and when the trade was announced there was buzz that the team may either select a wide receiver such as California's DeSean Jackson or a quarterback such as Louisville's Brian Brohm. Most were surprised when Keller's name was read.
Keller (6'2" - 242 Lbs) is a senior from Lafayette, IN. Last year, he hauled in 68 receptions for 881 yards (13.0 average) and seven touchdowns in 13 games (all starts). His receptions per game (5.2) and receiving yards per game (67.8) ranked fourth and fifth, respectively, among the country's tight ends in 2007. Keller missed one game in 2005 because of an ankle injury. A great pass catcher with speed over the middle, his scouting report mentions that he is a bit undersized and will never be a dominant drive blocker. What he lacks in blocking skills, he makes up by being a playmaking threat with the hands, athletic ability and versatility to develop into a quality contributor.
With the Keller pick, the Jets are now off the board until tomorrow when they select in the 4th round (Pick # 102).
IN DEPTH: Keller's a TE in the Dallas Clark/Antonio Gates mold.
When NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell walked up to the podium at the Radio City Music Hall with chants of “Vernon Gholston” ringing through the air, few were surprised when the Jets selected the Ohio State defensive end sixth overall in the NFL draft. With the selection of Gholston, the Jets had not only acquired a premium talent, but had also filled their most glaring need from a disappointing 2007 season.
The Jets were next scheduled to pick 36th overall, but that all changed when Goodell returned to the podium later in the first round to announce that the team had made a trade. The Jets traded away both their second-round pick (36th overall) and fourth-round pick (113th overall) to the Green Bay Packers, and in return, acquired the Packers’ 30th overall selection.
With the pick, the Jets selected Purdue tight end Dustin Keller. The overwhelming sound of joy that followed the Gholston selection was nowhere to be heard after Keller’s name was announced, as most Jets fans were too surprised to offer much of a reaction.
As surprising as the pick was to the throng of Jets fans, Jets general manager Mike Tannenbaum told reporters that the 6-foot-2, 248-pound tight end was a player the team had been targeting.
“A couple nights ago, we had some scenarios about a group of players that if they were available at the bottom of the first round, we would try to trade back into the bottom of the first,” Tannenbaum said. “Dustin obviously was one of those players.”
While the decision to move into the first round led many to believe that the Jets would draft a young and promising quarterback such as Louisville’s Brian Brohm or Michigan’s Chad Henne, or a play-making wide receiver such as California's DeSean Jackson or Michigan State’s Devin Thomas, Keller was the player they coveted.
Some draft analysts have compared Keller's style to the Colts’ Dallas Clark and even the explosive Chargers' tight end Antonio Gates. With the selection, the Jets receive a prototypical pass-catching tight end whose athleticism should make him a top offensive target and a mismatch for defenders. Keller believes that the selection will turn out positive for the Jets.
“I had a really good feeling about the Jets. It’s going to be a really good fit,” he said.
Keller arrived at Purdue in 2003 as a 185-pound wide receiver, where he appeared on the scout team before blossoming into one of the nation’s most dangerous pass-catchers. In four seasons as a Boilermaker, Keller caught 142 passes for 1,882 yards and 16 touchdowns. A second-team all-Big Ten selection during his senior year, Keller was a finalist for the John Mackey Award, given to the nation’s top tight end. Last season he was also named the team’s Most Valuable Player, making him the first tight end to garner such honors since Dave Young in 1979.
Gholston, who played against Keller while he was at Ohio State, praised his new teammate's abilities.
“He’s a great athlete. Going back to our games, our focus was on trying to stop him," Gholston said. “Obviously he can run, he can catch the ball, and he’s a tight end. We need that for our offense.”
Just like Gholston, Keller’s draft stock improved significantly following an impressive showing at the NFL Scouting Combine, in which he topped all tight ends by running the 40-yard dash in 4.55 seconds and registering a 38-inch vertical leap.
However, even though he shines brightly as an athletic receiver, he comes to the Jets as the target of criticism, all of which is centered around his blocking abilities. Keller has been labeled as a weak blocker, better suiting him as a wide receiver.
Even so, Keller simply turns such criticism into self-motivation.
“That’s a motivator to me more than anything else,” he said. “If somebody says I can’t do anything, that means I have to prove them wrong.”
The Jets will need Keller to improve upon his blocking skills, especially after Chris Baker, last year’s starting tight end, requested a trade earlier in the month because of his dissatisfaction with his current contract.
While Tannenbaum was pressed with questions concerning Baker, he declined to comment on the issue, only going as far as saying that “Chris is on our team. He’ll be here. He’s done a lot of good things for us in the past.”
If Baker does remain with the team for the upcoming season, he will be part of a considerably upgraded position for the Jets. Along with Baker and Keller, the Jets also have Bubba Franks, who signed a one-year contract with the team on March 18.
For now, the Jets will hope that their newest addition on offense will impact games the way he did while at Purdue.