The Jets gave a big-money extension to defensive end John Franklin-Myers a few months ago and there are a few other candidates to get new deals between now and the start of the 2022 league year.
Veterans like Marcus Maye, Jamison Crowder and Folorunso Fatukasi are all coming to the end of their contracts and 2019 first round pick Quinnen Williams will be eligible for an extension too. That’s without also taking into account the number of players signed to one-year deals such as Morgan Moses, Keelan Cole and Tevin Coleman.
However, one player who hasn’t been discussed much in the context of being an extension candidate is wide receiver Braxton Berrios. While Berrios only contributes about 20 yards per game to the offense on average, he’s been a valuable contributor for a number of reasons and perhaps could be someone the Jets seek to lock up at a reasonable cost.
The 26-year old Berrios is coming to end of his rookie deal and will be an unrestricted free agent if he hits the market. This could see him drawing interest from other teams that might consider him as someone who could produce more if given an opportunity.
During the offseason, it looked like Berrios might be on his way out as the expectation was that Elijah Moore was going to be a major contributor in the slot. However, the Jets have been using Moore on the outside and that’s started to pay off over the past few weeks.
When the Jets brought Crowder back on a renegotiated deal, Berrios ended up back in his backup slot receiver role, but he’s been reliable when called upon at that position.
Berrios missed the 2018 season but has played in all 44 games since then, so he’s been someone dependable the Jets can rely upon when other receivers are out. When given opportunities, he’s produced well too. In eight games where he’s been targeted more than three times, Berrios has caught 66 percent of his targets for a total of 394 yards on 39 catches.
In his other 36 games, Berrios has only caught 30 passes but he’s only played more than 25 snaps in one of those games. Simply put, he’s been productive when given opportunities. In fact, in 2020, he was 16th in the NFL in yards per route run for NFL wide receivers according to Pro Football Focus. He was literally the only player in the top 20 that hadn’t had a season with at least 700 receiving yards within the past few years, perhaps indicating that he has that potential if he can get enough looks.
Clearly, there’s some value in Berrios as a rotational receiver, even if he’s yet to establish himself as worthy of a starter-level contract. How about what he brings to the table on special teams as well though?
Berrios is a solid punt returner, whose best attribute is again how reliable he has been. In his entire career - including four years with the Miami Hurricanes - Berrios has only muffed one punt, against New England in the “Ghosts” game.
Jets fans will recall yearning for the safe hands of Jim Leonhard as they cycled through several potential replacements until Andre Roberts finally stepped up in 2018. While a big play threat like Roberts would be nice, the downside of having a player that could muff a punt at the worst possible time arguably overshadows this need and having someone like Berrios back there is reassuring.
Berrios was statistically productive in 2019 as he placed 2nd in the NFL in punt return average. His 2020 numbers were way down because he only ended up returning 10 punts, mainly because the Jets (a) didn’t force many punts and (b) did such a poor job of slowing up opposing gunners. However, he’s showed some improvement this year as his 13.6 yards per return average is a career-high and second only to Devin Duvernay among qualifiers.
In addition to his punt returning, Berrios has also been employed as a kickoff returner this year, although you get the idea that this was more by default than anything else. They’ve tried other players in this role, but Berrios keeps ending up back there and actually seems to be getting the hang of it. It may surprise you to learn that Berrios was also 2nd in the NFL for kickoff return average among qualifying players, entering Sunday’s game.
It’s particularly impressive for Berrios to be among the league leaders in both categories because he hadn’t broken any big returns yet to artificially skew that average. Entering Sunday, 21 NFL players had at least one 20-yard punt return and 19 have at least one 40-yard kick return this year but Berrios didn’t have either and yet still was among the leaders. This again speaks to his dependability.
Of course, on Sunday, he did finally break a long return to further improve his average and move ahead of Tony Pollard, the league leader among qualifying players. That’s also more evidence that he’s figuring out how to be successful at this role.
Berrios isn’t a big name but he’s provided the Jets with solid depth at wide receiver and consistent production on special teams. With the coaching staff also recently lauding his leadership and grasp of the offensive system, don’t be surprised if they decide it will be wise to keep him around a little longer.