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Is the Jets receiver room getting too crowded for Jamison Crowder?

NFL: New York Jets at Miami Dolphins Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

Over the last three games, the Jets have had their starting wide receivers all on the field for the first time this season.

Something notable has happened in the passing game. Slot receiver Jamison Crowder’s role has been reduced. In the first four games he played in 2020 Crowder averaged 11.5 targets per game. He didn’t have less than 10 targets in any of those games. A full 29% of the team’s targets went to Crowder.

Over the last three games with Denzel Mims and Breshad Perriman joining Crowder, his role in the offense has reduced. He has averaged only 3.7 targets per game with 5 this past week against Miami his most activity in that stretch. Crowder’s share of the targets has gone down to 13.4%, putting him third on the team behind Mims and Perriman.

In clutch situations Crowder’s role has fallen off even more profoundly. In the early season games without the full slate of receivers he got 39% of third down targets. That number has fallen by more than half in the games with Mims and Perriman in the lineup. Crowder’s share of third down targets has been 17.2% while Mims has become the go to guy with 34.4% of the targets. (All numbers come from Stathead.)

These numbers raise some questions about Crowder’s potential future with the Jets. He has an $11.5 million cap number next season, expensive for a slot receiver. There would only be $1 million in dead money if the Jets moved on without him.

In the early stages of the season many argued that Crowder was productive enough to justify an overpay. Given the way the offense has shifted with a healthy Mims and Perriman, it might be time to reassess.

It might be that in the early stages of the season Crowder had what I would call Jeremy Kerley Syndrome. Kerley was a credible slot receiver for the Jets in the Mark Sanchez and Geno Smith days. However, his statistics were likely inflated simply by being the only NFL caliber receiver on the roster. Because he was the only guy capable of getting open on a semi-consistent basis targets funneled to him, and he put up bigger numbers than he would have on a team with a legitimate group of pass catchers. Even Crowder’s biggest fan would likely acknowledge he ideally projects as a supporting player rather than the main guy in an offense.

The Jets will have to make a decision on their slot receiver in the offseason, but some of the most important variables are still unknown. There likely will be a coaching change, which could change Crowder’s utility to the team. Not every coach runs a system that calls for a shifty slot receiver like Crowder. Some coaches like to leave the slot as a place to create mismatches for their best players. Some like giving the quarterback a big target in the middle of the field out of the slot. Some systems ask the slot receiver to take on a major run blocking role and require somebody bigger. Thus the coach the Jets hire, and the system they implement will have some say over Crowder’s future.

The finances of the league might increase the odds of a Crowder return. Due to revenue losses this year, there is a real chance the salary cap falls next season. With less money to spend in free agency across the league, Crowder would be unlikely to make $11.5 million on the open market perhaps giving the Jets leverage to pursue a paycut to keep him around.

The last five games of the season also will presumably have an impact. We have seen Crowder’s role reduced with Mims and Perriman in the lineup, but three games is a small sample size. Should Crowder’s role increase in the weeks ahead, a return could become more likely.

The Jets will have a number of key decisions to make in the offseason. Most of them will be about bringing in new players. Jamison Crowder will present them with one of the most complex internal decisions. In the weeks ahead there will be many factors guiding the decision that will be worth watching.