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Jeremy Kerley is a proven receiver without a job with Jets

New York Jets wide receiver Jeremy Kerley brings

New York Jets wide receiver Jeremy Kerley brings in a first-down reception before being taken down by Atlanta Falcons cornerback Kevin White at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey on Friday, Aug 21, 2015. Credit: Steven Ryan

Jeremy Kerley isn't quite sure how he got here.

Nor is he certain how long he'll be staying.

In a near-empty locker room less than 48 hours before the Jets' first regular-season game of 2015, the receiver reflected on his rapid descent from dependable offensive starter -- awarded a contract extension a year ago -- to a special-teamer.

And he's already steeling himself for his own worst-case scenario: no longer wearing a Jets uniform.

"This is the team that drafted me, so it'll always be love here. I'll always feel like this is kind of home. But I understand the business side, too," he told Newsday during a quiet moment Friday afternoon. "I'm 26 years old. This is my fifth year in the NFL. These are young years for me. So I consider myself a starter. That's what I want to be. So whether it be here, whether it is wherever I'm at, I want to see myself as a starter."

He sounded defeated. Lost, even.

Despite his own self-confidence, Kerley seems resigned to the fact that he might be only an afterthought in Chan Gailey's offense. He's behind not only Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker but also Quincy Enunwa.

"I didn't really get a lot of feedback from the coaches," Kerley said.

His diminished role, and the emergence of Chris Owusu, was a story line followed closely by Jets fans. But in the days leading up to Sunday's game against the Cleveland Browns, Kerley still had few answers about his offensive role.

"And as far as receiver," he said before a long pause, "I'm getting in where I can fit in, basically. I really don't know what to say. If I'm out there, I'll make plays. But as far as I know, I'm the starting punt returner. So my plays are going to be made on special teams."

The arrival of rookie speedster Devin Smith (6 feet, 196 pounds) didn't bode well for the 5-9, 188-pound Kerley. Neither did Gailey's reputation for liking big receivers (Marshall, Decker and Enunwa are 6-4, 6-3 and 6-2, respectively).

His voice barely above a whisper, Kerley spoke in matter-of-fact terms. He is not bitter, nor is he particularly emotional. For the sake of self-preservation, NFL players can't afford to be.

"Everyone's expendable to some extent," he said. "So a guy in my position right now, seeing how things are going, you've got to kind of prepare yourself for the worst and prepare yourself for the best."

After all, this is the same organization that traded away Darrelle Revis in 2013.

"Exactly," Kerley said. "This game's nothing new to me, but the business side of the game is. Teams are always looking for somebody that's cheaper and younger and can do your job."

Because of injuries, Kerley was asked to shoulder more of the offensive load in 2012 and 2013. In his second NFL season, he had more catches (56) and receiving yards (827) than former No. 1 Santonio Holmes, former No. 2 Stephen Hill and tight end Jeff Cumberland.

Kerley did the same in 2013, contributing 523 receiving yards on 43 catches despite missing four games with a dislocated elbow. Last season, Kerley had the same number of catches as rookie tight end Jace Amaro (38) but finished second behind Decker in receiving yards (409).

"Since I've been here, I've always been a contributor," said Kerley, who was given a four-year, $16-million contract extension in October 2014 by former general manager John Idzik. "I've always been that fifth-round pick that contributed as a first- or second-round pick."

But his offseason Achilles injury further set him back. And the belief that he can't block as well as other receivers -- a statement he strongly denies -- likely has hurt his case, too.

"I went and talked to Chan. His thing was, 'We didn't get to see you in OTAs.' And I respected that," Kerley said, though he later added that "when I came in, I was already where I was on the depth chart."

That's why he was surprised to hear he was in competition for the slot receiver/third receiver spot. "Personally, I never thought it was a competition. As far as I knew, the job was Quincy's. As far as I knew, the job was Chris'. I haven't been playing slot receiver, really, since I've been here," Kerley said.

He feels like a forgotten man to some degree. But even so, he said he "wasn't worried" heading into roster cutdown weekend.

"If you know one thing about me, I let my play speak for me," Kerley said. "If I were to get cut, I would have lived tomorrow. I would have lived the next day."

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