How will the NY Jets deploy their wide receiver corps in 2023?9 min read
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By: Rivka Boord
The New York Jets have many different options for how to deploy their receivers
With the reaction of the NFL landscape to the New York Jets‘ signing of Randall Cobb, you’d think Cobb is going to be the Jets’ WR1.
Newsflash, folks: Cobb came in to be the Jets’ fifth receiver on a team that plays a lot more 12 personnel than 10. He’s not going to have that large of a role in the offense. The Jets have many other weapons.
Rather than quibbling about the advisability of bringing in a fifth receiver who the quarterback is familiar with, the more interesting question is how the Jets will deploy those receivers. The skillsets of several of their players might seem somewhat redundant, narrowing the depth that the corps actually has.
But is that really the case? Or do the Jets have more firepower among their receivers than the rest of the NFL seems to think?
Jets’ receiver room
Jets fans are very familiar with what Garrett Wilson can do. The Offensive Rookie of the Year excelled with the worst quarterback situation in the league, going off for 83 receptions, 1,103 yards, and four touchdowns. Many of his other metrics were depressed by his passers’ deficiencies.
Wilson was in the 14th percentile among 73 qualified receivers in catch rate (securing 59.7% of his targets) despite landing in the 84th percentile in drop rate at just 2.4%, which signals that he received a lot of uncatchable targets in his direction. Sure, not every incompletion that should have been caught is recorded as a drop. Still, other than a scuffle here and there, Wilson’s quarterbacks were at fault for most of the balls thrown his way that were not caught.
Corey Davis also suffered from his quarterback play. Davis was limited to 13 games and 55.4% of the snaps with injuries. However, that still does not explain why Davis saw a target just once per every 6.83 routes run, the ninth-lowest mark among qualified receivers (min. 58 routes run).
Davis has historically not graded well in receiver metrics that track route running. In 2022, ESPNAnalytics has Davis ranked dead-last out of 81 receivers with a 26 open score. However, that number does not match the film; he is open enough to garner a lot more targets than he receives.
Jets fans will point to Davis’ drops as a reason for his lower target volume. Indeed, Davis’ 8.6% drop rate was still one of the worst in the league, ranking 59th (21st percentile). However, it’s important to note that in his four years in Tennessee, Davis had a 5.9% drop rate, which is not that far off from the league average (5.5% in 2022).
There are still many in the fan base and media who think Davis will be released or traded prior to the season. It’s hard to imagine that happening, as it would greatly weaken the team’s depth. $11.2 million is fair value for a player of Davis’ caliber.
Many Jets fans think Allen Lazard will be the team’s WR2. In terms of target volume, it’s possible that Aaron Rodgers will target Lazard more often than Davis simply because of familiarity. However, Davis will likely see a higher snap count when healthy, because he is a better player than Lazard.
Although Lazard tied for 32nd in open score last season at 64, the reality is that his film shows a receiver who is often not that open. He benefited greatly from a quarterback who placed the ball in a perfect spot where the defender could not reach it. Lazard had the 17th-highest rate of contested targets among all receivers at 23.5%. While the fact that Wilson and Davis both had higher rates was due to their quarterbacks’ ineptitude, Lazard did not have the same excuse.
Lazard definitely has utility in this offense, but as Michael Nania broke down, his peak efficiency has always come with a low target volume. That should mean more targets for Davis and fewer for Lazard.
Mecole Hardman was mostly a gadget player in Kansas City with the occasional deep catch. The Jets reportedly want to expand his role, although it might be difficult to do that when he is the WR4.
Still, Hardman was showing signs of productivity last season before injuries kept him off the field. In nine games, Hardman had 27 receptions on 36 targets (75%) for 307 yards and four receiving touchdowns.
Going from Patrick Mahomes to Rodgers, there is no reason to expect Hardman to be worse. If anything, Rodgers’ ability to throw deep will give Hardman a continued opportunity to utilize his speed. Just last season, Hardman caught three of six deep targets for 94 yards.
Michael Nania explained what Cobb still brings to the table as a receiver. Rodgers has been highly efficient going to Cobb over the last two seasons, posting a 90.7 QBR on those targets, per ESPN. Cobb is a more surehanded target than Braxton Berrios and brings that chemistry with Rodgers.
Denzel Mims is still the Jets’ WR6, presumably. The other options are either previous practice squad players or UDFAs. Still, Mims did not make the most of his opportunities last season with Elijah Moore benched and phased out of the offense and Corey Davis injured.
Mims posted just 1.13 yards per route run (24th percentile among 119 qualified WRs, min. 24 targets) in 2022, catching just 10 of 24 targets (41.7%, dead last) and garnering a quarterback rating of 51.6 when targeted (second-worst). This was despite playing at the starting X receiver spot in four games.
Time is running out for the big wideout from Baylor, who seems to have gone backward in the NFL with his hands. Jets fans who are still bedazzled by the talent should be ready to acknowledge that there are many physically gifted receivers who do not translate their skills to the league.
Here is how the Jets’ six receivers split their alignments in 2022, per Pro Football Focus. This includes all offensive plays, not just passing plays.
- Wilson: 572 snaps wide (64.9%), 299 slot (33.9%), 10 inline (1.1%), 1 backfield (0.1%)
- Davis: 492 wide (80%), 111 slot (18%), 12 inline (0.2%), 0 backfield (0%)
- Lazard: 515 wide (59.7%), 292 slot (33.8%), 55 inline (6.4%), 1 backfield (0.1%)
- Hardman: 146 wide (48.2%), 149 slot (49.2%), 1 inline (0.3%), 7 backfield (2.3%)
- Cobb: 77 wide (20.8%), 288 slot (77.6%), 2 inline (0.7%), 4 backfield (1.3%)
- Mims: 208 wide (77.3%), 56 slot (20.8%), 3 inline (1.1%), 2 backfield (0.8%)
It’s important to note that once the Jets moved Moore to the starting slot position, Wilson’s splits changed to 74.9% wide and 24.9% slot, which are not that far off from Davis’ season splits. Once the Jets made the switch, they went all-in.
Another interesting point is that while Lazard received a nice diet of snaps from the slot, he was still primarily an outside receiver in 2022. The perception that he will be the Jets’ starting slot receiver might be somewhat misguided in that sense. Lazard is a big slot receiver but doesn’t have the speed or agility that teams generally prefer in that position.
Even Hardman, thought of as exclusively a slot receiver, did not necessarily play that way in Kansas City in 2022. His split between lining up outside and inside was virtually even. The only receiver the Jets have who is truly relegated to the slot is Cobb.
This actually gives the Jets more versatility in their receivers than many are giving them credit for. Wilson, Lazard, and Hardman can all split inside and outside. Even Davis has played in the slot as much as 30% of the time in a season (2019).
Per NFL Next Gen Stats, this is the different rate of routes run for the Jets’ six receivers in 2022 compared to league average and the averages for Rodgers from 2019-21, when Nathaniel Hackett was his offensive coordinator.
|Garrett Wilson||Corey Davis||Allen Lazard||Mecole Hardman||Randall Cobb||Denzel Mims||League Average (83 WRs, min. 300 routes run)||2019-21 Rodgers|
Every 2023 Jets receiver exceeded the 2022 average for in-breaking routes. Only Wilson and Hardman ran an above-average number of out-breakers. Davis had the highest volume of vertical routes.
Specific common routes among many or all of the Jets’ receivers include slants and posts. Hardman had a much higher rate of crossers than any other receiver, and Rodgers does like his crossers a fair amount (1.9% above league average from 2019-21).
Rodgers tends to throw a lot more receiver screens than any of his receivers have run in the past. However, with Wilson’s YAC ability, it’s easy to expect that more of those are coming.
The other route Rodgers likes to throw is a go. When he sees one-on-one coverage on the outside, he’s confident that he can hit it, and he tends to place the ball in a perfect spot. Davis, Lazard, and Mims all ran go routes at a rate above league average, and Wilson was right about average. Expect to see many of those.
2023 usage prediction
Garrett Wilson is the Jets’ X receiver. After that, the other snaps are likely up for grabs.
Since Davis and Lazard are two of the best blocking receivers in the league, the Jets will likely try to get them both on the field in 11 personnel on early downs. Between their receiving capabilities and run-game impact, they are the perfect duo to give the Jets a tremendous amount of play-calling flexibility.
Still, I think that you’ll see both play the Z position while the other comes off the field to give Hardman snaps. Hardman’s speed is something the Jets covet.
Because Davis has a hard time staying healthy, there’s a good chance Lazard will start at least a couple of games at the Z, anyway, making Hardman the starting slot receiver.
This is a potential snap count breakdown that I could see the Jets going with. Obviously, it is highly dependent on health.
- Wilson: 80% team snaps, 75% wide/25% slot
- Lazard: 63% team snaps, 50% wide/50% slot
- Davis: 55% team snaps, 75% wide/25% slot
- Hardman: 38% team snaps, 38% wide/62% slot
- Cobb: 25% team snaps, 15% wide/85% slot
- Mims: 10% team snaps, 85% wide/15% slot
It’s hard to predict the exact mix for Davis, Lazard, and Hardman. Cobb played 33.9% of Green Bay’s snaps last season as their WR3/4, so that will likely come down a bit with him as the WR5. Then again, Hardman is coming off an injury-plagued season, so Cobb could take some of Hardman’s snaps with an injury, or he could bump up to the No. 4 if Davis gets injured.
I see Davis hitting roughly the same snap count that he did last season. With Lazard on the team, the Jets could give Davis some breathers to keep him fresh. The chemistry that Lazard already has with Rodgers could make up for the slight dip in physicality at the catch point, route-running, and veteran smarts.
Wilson could become Rodgers’ Davante Adams and see an even higher snap count. I went conservative with his number to account for possible injuries, the depth of the Jets’ receiving corps, and the possibility that a few big leads will allow the team to remove him early from a game or two. Considering that Wilson played 79.4% of the team’s snaps in 2022 despite starting the year as the WR4, there’s a good chance he goes higher than that this year.
Expect to see Wilson run more “alert” go balls than he did in 2022. The deep ball was one of Wilson’s rare weaknesses as a rookie, as he caught just 5-of-20 deep targets for 169 yards, including 2-of-9 contested targets and a 61.5 QB rating when targeted.
However, with one of the league’s masters of an accurate deep ball slinging it, look for Wilson to make some impact plays. Rodgers often turns to the go route outside in one-on-one situations. Although Wilson didn’t necessarily win consistently on those routes, he often gained enough leverage to make a play with a good throw. Rodgers made those throws routinely in 2022 only to have his receivers drop them.
As much as Rodgers has a tendency to go with his old faithful, Wilson’s reliability and explosiveness will likely turn him into this year’s Christian Watson in terms of target volume. As much as Rodgers loved Lazard, once Watson came around, Lazard played a clear second fiddle. The same will happen here.
I would expect a fair number of in-breakers to Davis, much as Rodgers doesn’t appear to love to throw them. Davis runs those well and found plenty of space behind the Jets’ other weapons last season.
Hardman is an interesting case. I could see some of those screens going to him and not just Wilson. The crossers and slants that Rodgers likes are also likely to go his way.
Cobb ran more post routes in 2022 than most slot receivers tend to. Some of those could potentially go to Hardman, but Cobb is one of Rodgers’ old reliable.
Overall, the versatility of the Jets’ receiver room will make for a very interesting case study throughout the season.
Jets fans, how do you want to see the snap counts divided? Davis or Lazard for WR2?
Follow Rivka Boord on Twitter @rivka_boord
Related Article: What will be Aaron Rodgers’ favorite routes in NY Jets offense?
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