FLORHAM PARK, N.J. (AP) — Quincy Enunwa catches passes, takes big hits and dishes out some vicious shots of his own.
The New York Jets wide receiver has become a fan favorite for his physical style and reliable hands — and those impressive attributes have also quickly made him a go-to guy for rookie quarterback Sam Darnold.
“First of all, Q is a great dude, so it’s easy to develop a rapport in that way,” Darnold said. “With how smooth he is route running, he’s smooth but he’s also physical. He’s very sudden, a very quick dude. It’s awesome to be able to throw to him. The routes that he runs are very crisp, but again very violent at the same time.”
Enunwa, a former Husker, was the Jets’ leading receiver in their 48-17 rout of the Lions in Detroit on Monday night. He was targeted 10 times by Darnold and had six catches for 63 yards and a touchdown — a play during which he dragged two would-be tacklers on his back as he reached over the goal line.
“For myself, I just try to make sure that I’m doing what I need to do, even when I know the ball’s not coming to me, because those are always going to show up on film,” Enunwa said Thursday. “When I can do what I’m supposed to do, he’s going to see that and he can know that even when his No. 1 (option) is not open, he can come back to me.”
Enunwa was almost a forgotten man by those outside the Jets’ facility as recently as a few months ago.
After a breakout season in 2016 when he set career highs with 58 catches, 857 yards receiving and four touchdowns, Enunwa went down with a neck injury during a scrimmage last summer. He had a bulging disk in his neck, the culmination of problems he dealt with for several months, and needed surgery. A grueling rehabilitation period was next with many wondering when — or if — Enunwa would get back on the football field.
“I’ve never had that where I just didn’t play,” he said, “so that was the hardest part for me.”
Enunwa always believed he would play again. And not only that. He knew he would re-establish himself as a key part of New York’s offense.
He gradually worked his way back onto the field during minicamp this spring and was a full-go by the time training camp began. After missing some time with a thumb injury, Enunwa is completely healthy.
“I definitely missed it and it felt good to go back out there, and I’m excited to keep going on through the year,” Enunwa said. “That was just Game 1, and I’m hoping to go out there some more, play some more, take some more hits and give some more hits.”
At 6-foot-2 and a chiseled 225 pounds, Enunwa is an imposing presence. He’s strong enough to line up in the backfield as an H-back to help in the run game — as the Jets have used him in the past — and quick enough to get down the field and cause problems for smaller defenders.
“He’s very versatile,” coach Todd Bowles said, “and he allows us to do a lot of things and put him in places to try and create certain things as well.”
Even before this season, Enunwa endeared himself to Jets fans because of the way he never shies from contact. Quarterback Josh McCown has compared him to Anquan Boldin, who had a similar build with a rare combination of speed and power.
“I try to be a physical guy,” Enunwa said. “I know fans love the hard-nosed player. That’s just always been me, so I’m always going to continue to do that.”
Enunwa took a few big pops from defenders after catches, and it was a relief to him and the Jets that he was able to bounce right back up without any issues.
“I definitely felt sore on Tuesday from all that hitting going on,” he said. “It definitely felt good mentally to know that I’m still able to give those hits and take those hits and still be able to play on.”
Enunwa was a sixth-round pick by the Jets out of Nebraska in 2014. After playing in just one game as a rookie, he had 22 catches for 315 yards in 2015.
Then came his breakout season before being forced to the sideline.
“He was coming into his own then, he was a younger player,” Bowles said when asked if Enunwa is better now than he was in 2016. “Just having sat out for a year, I think it has helped him mentally and he understands what his body can do and he’s taking care of his body well, so hopefully that continues.”
Enunwa is looking forward to the home opener Sunday against Miami and has several family members planning to attend the game at MetLife Stadium.
Those won’t be the only eyes on him that day. Dolphins coach Adam Gase said this week that his team has identified Enunwa as one of the Jets’ weapons who can cause a defense problems.
That’s something Darnold is quickly discovering himself.
“It’s cool to be able to throw to him and just see how much separation he creates for himself,” the quarterback said of Enunwa. “It’s fun when you’re throwing to receivers like that.”