MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. — Quincy Enunwa is an unlikely survivor.
The 24-year-old wide receiver was a long shot to make the team as a sixth-round pick (209th overall) in 2014, much less blossom into one of the Jets’ brightest young players in a season devoid of much good news during a 3-5 start.
But the fact that the Jets can even think about making a playoff run heading into Sunday’s game against the Dolphins — and it’s still highly unlikely that they will make a run — is due in no small part to Enunwa.
He made a game-changing play in a 24-16 win over the Ravens two weeks ago, turning Geno Smith’s pass over the middle into a 69-yard touchdown that fellow receiver Brandon Marshall suggested was a play that might have saved the season.
And in last week’s 31-28 comeback win over the Browns, a game in which the Jets rallied from a 13-point halftime deficit, Enunwa again was at the heart of the comeback. Not only did he score a third-quarter touchdown, a 24-yard play on which he broke several tackles before lunging into the end zone, but he broke up what would have been a potentially crushing interception by Ryan Fitzpatrick early in the third quarter. He also had a 57-yard reception on a field-goal drive.
“It happened so fast, I didn’t even remember it,” Enunwa said of the touchdown. “When I came back to my locker and saw the play, it was one of those plays where I just wanted to get into the end zone, no matter what. I had an opportunity, and I wanted to take advantage of it, make a play for our team and get us going.”
It’s still too early to suggest Enunwa can become an elite receiver capable of making game-changing plays on a regular basis. But on a team in which age has caught up to several key players, including Fitzpatrick, cornerback Darrelle Revis, and receivers Marshall and Eric Decker, Enunwa has shown enough flashes to suggest that he will outlast all of them in the coming years.
There’s also a strong likelihood that Enunwa will outlast almost every one of the draft picks from the ill-fated two-year run of general manager John Idzik. In 2013-14, Idzik drafted a combined 19 players, and Enunwa figures to be one of only three to be with the team next year. With the Jets expected to part ways with Smith after the season and the strong possibility that 2013 first-round defensive lineman Sheldon Richardson will be traded, the only remaining survivors would be safety Calvin Pryor, guard Brian Winters and Enunwa.
“He’s playing with so much confidence,” Fitzpatrick said of Enunwa, who has 36 catches for 502 yards and three touchdowns. “That’s a new guy. That’s a guy that’s really grown up the last two years. He wants the ball. He wants to make those plays. That sometimes sounds silly, because everybody wants to make plays, but he’s really got his confidence level up. He wants to be that guy.”
It is a remarkable turnaround for a receiver who was retained by first-year coach Todd Bowles and first-year general manager Mike Maccagnan in 2015 after not even having a single catch as a rookie the previous year. Enunwa had offseason problems stemming from an arrest on Aug. 31, 2014, on charges of “domestic violence simple assault” after an alleged altercation with his then-girlfriend in a hotel room in Florham Park, New Jersey. Enunwa was cleared of the charges but was suspended four games in 2015 for violating the NFL’s personal-conduct policy.
Enunwa said upon being reinstated that he wants to “stay on the straight and narrow for the rest of my career. It definitely helped me grow a lot. I learned a lot about the NFL and learned a lot about myself, and I just want to make sure I don’t put myself in any kind of position like that again. There’s a lot of sides to the NFL, and I never want to be on that side of the NFL again.”
With his off-field issues behind him, Enunwa has taken advantage of his second chance with an increased dedication to football. He has transformed himself into a playmaking receiver who figures to be part of the solution with the Jets for many years to come. And take it from Marshall, Enunwa will only get better.
“He has so much more potential,” Marshall said. “He has a long way to go.”
He is not a finished product by any means. Enunwa’s biggest flaw: too many dropped passes, of which there were two more against the Browns last week.
“This guy can play, but what I like about him is there was a couple of plays early [in the Browns game] that he wishes he had back,” Marshall said. “But he fought through it. That’s where Quincy wins is mentally. This kid obviously can do all the things physically, but understanding the game, reading coverage, bouncing back from failure, will set him up for success for a long time in this league.”
Enunwa looks forward to making more big plays in the weeks ahead, especially as the Jets continue their virtual must-win scenario on Sunday and beyond.
“I think this is something we want to ride, especially into the bye week [after next week’s home game against the Rams] and then get some rest,” Enunwa said. “We want to keep winning.”
Fitzpatrick knows he needs Enunwa to continue stepping up, especially with Decker out for the year with hip and shoulder injuries, if the Jets are to have a chance.
“He’s really come through this year for us,” Fitzpatrick said, “and we expect a lot out of him and expect him to continue doing it.”
This almost certainly will be the last Fitzpatrick sees of Enunwa, given that the Jets are not expected to keep the quarterback beyond this season. But Fitzpatrick knows what he sees, and he knows that Enunwa will be a major factor for whoever winds up passing him the ball.
“I think I’m taking advantage of my opportunities,” Enunwa said. “It’s something I didn’t do too well last year, and it’s something I’ve been working on a lot this year. I’m not perfect. I still have my mistakes. But I want to keep going out there and making as many plays as I can.”
Rest assured Enunwa will keep getting opportunities. After all, he might be the most important player the Jets have right now.