It’s close to a universal belief that the Jets should be looking to upgrade the wide receiver position this offseason. Beyond trying to improve Zach Wilson’s supporting cast, there is a practical need at the position. With Jamison Crowder, Keelan Cole, and Braxton Berrios about to hit free agency, and Denzel Mims in full enigma mode, the Jets have a vacant starting spot. Corey Davis and Elijah Moore are penciled into the lineup, but NFL teams have three starting receivers in this day and age.
There is a lot of speculation about candidates through trades, free agency, and Draft. But before we get to any of that, it probably makes sense to figure out what it is the Jets want from their wide receivers.
With that in mind, I decided to take a close look at the position. All of the injuries the Jets suffered a wide receiver in 2021 made things a bit simpler. With different players shuffling into and out of the lineup so frequently, it becomes a bit easier to understand the roles the coaching staff has without the possibility they are specific to one player.
Before we begin, I will provide you with the standard caveats. For this venture I did not watch every play of all seventeen games. I do think I saw enough with multiple players performing each role to get a good idea of how the Jets view the position. Beyond that, there’s always the possibility I missed something or got something wrong. I didn’t design this offense or all the plays after all.
Now that we’ve addressed that, let’s get started.
As far as I could decipher, it seems to me like the Jets essentially have two different receiver positions. There is outside receiver, and there is slot receiver.
In today’s NFL offenses and defenses are too complex for a player to have the same role on every single play, but there was a pretty clear division. Generally speaking, the outside receivers consistently stayed outside around three-quarters of the time, and the slot receivers stayed inside around the same proportion.
Most notable to me was Jeff Smith, who played on the outside for much of the season. However, in Week 18 against Buffalo with Crowder and Berrios both hurt, Smith “changed” positions and played in the slot on most of his snaps. This was a likely indication that the roles are separate.
This was particularly interesting because offensive Mike LaFleur came from the San Francisco 49ers, a team with a far less defined slot role. San Francisco uses the slot to find matchups and moves the likes of Brandon Aiyuk, Deebo Samuel, George Kittle, Kyle Juszczyk, and others there frequently. The Jets meanwhile stuck extensively with Crowder and Berrios.
Now let’s go a little deeper.
A player the outside receiver role is expected to do it all. I’ll use the phrase “all weather receiver.” They need to be able to beat press coverage, get deep, win contested catches, and gain yardage after the catch. They need to run a full route tree that takes them vertical, over the middle, and to the sideline.
I get the feeling the Jets are focused on players with tremendous physical tools for this role. More on that later.
Here’s a play that displays a bit of what the Jets want. Corey Davis shows the ability to threaten deep, making the safeties back off, which opens up space as he bends the route to the sideline and gets open.
Here Elijah Moore effectively stems his route to create separation, and he turns on the afterburners after the catch.
We could be here all day if I showed you the various different routes these guys ran. Suffice it to say, they have to do a little bit of everything, and they are the big playmakers in this offense. Davis, Moore, and the primary backup at outside receiver Keelan Cole all have an average air yards per target between 11 and 14 according to NextGen Stats.
I looked at player usage to see whether there were any trends in where specific receivers lined up that could further differentiate outside receiver spots into different roles. I looked at left side vs. right side, X vs. Z (on the line of scrimmage or a little bit back), strong side vs. weak side (the side where the tight end lines up), and field side vs. boundary side (the short side of the field or the long side of the field determined by which hash the ball is on). I couldn’t find any significant patterns, leading me to believe outside receiver is one generic role.
This role is generally much more focused on moving the chains and much less focused on producing splash plays. The slot receivers largely work the middle of the field and find the soft spot in the defense.
For their part Crowder and Berrios only averaged 6 and 4.7 air yards per target respectively. Despite the emphasis on chain moving over splash plays, the Jets did turn to them in key moments.
This helps to explain that despite finishing fourth and fifth on the team in receiving yards, Crowder and Berrios tied for the team lead with 11 drive extending receptions on third and fourth down plays.
Receiving Back/Running Receiver
There was also what I would call a secondary role on the team. Nobody had a roster spot specifically to play this role. The Jets pulled from both outside and the slot to fill it.
You could call it the receiving back, running receiver, or something else. In any event, the Jets offense had a player they tried to get the ball in space on manufactured touches. These could be screens, end arounds, jet sweeps, or any type of schemed up play you can imagine to take advantage of playmaking ability.
This really came into play around the midway point of the season where the Jets made manufacturing touches for Elijah Moore a regular feature of their offense.
After Moore suffered what turned into a season ending injury, Berrios took the role over.
Berrios also had a few manufactured touches before Moore got injured, indicating he was the backup in this role.
So What Do the Jets Want?
Last offseason, Joe Douglas made three significant additions at wide receiver. They were Corey Davis, Elijah Moore, and Keelan Cole.
Douglas has a larger sample size at receiver, though. While we must acknowledge the caveat that he brought these players in for a different coach running a different system, the previous year he also added Breshad Perriman and Denzel Mims.
Beyond that, Douglas played a prominent role in the Eagles front office prior to his time with the Jets. Working under a general manager in Howie Roseman who lacked a traditional personnel background, Douglas by most accounts had major influence on Philadelphia’s acquisitions.
During his time with the Eagles, Philadelphia added Alshon Jeffery, Torrey Smith, Jordan Matthews, JJ Arcega-Whiteside, Mack Hollins, Greg Ward, and Golden Tate though either free agency, trade, or the Draft.
Tate and Ward played the slot extensively during their time with the Eagles, leaving the others in the group of outside receivers.
Despite being acquired for two different teams running three different systems, there were some common themes among the outside receivers Douglas acquired.
I reemphasize what has already been said. Looking at numbers accessible from either the Combine or pro days, Douglas has shown a propensity for “all weather” wide receivers with a physical skillset that allows them to do everything.
Douglas likes his outside receivers tall. All except Smith and Moore were at least 6’1” and all except them and Cole were at least 6’2”. Depending on your source, the average NFL receiver is somewhere in the neighborhood of 6’0” to 6’1”.
Cole and Moore are the only receivers under 200 pounds. Smith is the only other receiver under 209 pounds.
The average arm length of these receiver is 32.63, well above the 31.75 average OurLads calculates. In fact, Moore is the only receiver with an arm length below 32 inches. The other receivers excluding him average just a shade under 33.
The average hand size is 9.4 inches, roughly in line with the average wide receiver.
The average 40 yard dash for these players is 4.41. The only players who were timed with 4.5 or worse were Arcega-Whiteside and Hollins who were also the two players who weighed more than 220 pounds.
The players had an average vertical of 36.8. Davis and Cole had no testing data available. Hollins was the only player whose vertical was below the average of 34.625.
Every player with a testing score was above the average on the broad jump. (Davis and Cole again had no figures available.)
Five players performed the bench press. All did at least 16 reps.
There was less consistency on the change of direction drills, which is the type of thing that is more relevant in the slot.
In any event, it shows the way Joe Douglas values measurables at the wide receiver position. The two players on the small side, Moore and Smith, were notable for their outstanding performance in both speed and agility drills. Smith added one of the top verticals in recent history at the Combine.
Douglas likes his receivers big (measurements). He wants players strong enough to beat press coverage (bench press). He wants them fast enough to get down the field (40 time). He wants them to have explosion and be able to accelerate (broad jump). He wants them to be able to get into the air and win contested balls (hand size, arm length and vertical). This all matches with the tape.
If a player is an exceptional athletic with speed, quickness, and change of direction ability, he might be willing to make an exception on size. If somebody is an enormous target, he can sacrifice a bit of speed. But outside receivers he targets are likely to be very physically gifted.
There is less of a template for slot receivers. Tate, Ward, Crowder, and Berrios are all under 6’0” tall. Berrios and Tate did well in the 40. Crowder did well in the vertical. Berrios also had a great three cone drill. There isn’t much of a common thread aside from that. It just seems like Douglas is willing to accept less from the slot, a role which might not have the same significance.
Now with all of this I will leave the caveat that Douglas acquired many of these players years after they participated in their respective Combines and pro days, meaning these numbers aren’t necessarily a direct match with their skillsets when they were acquired. These players had reputations, though.
Now let’s talk about what the options might be.
The most natural fit might be Chris Godwin. The big need right now for the Jets is in the slot with Davis and Moore filling the outside roles. Godwin has played the slot extensively the last few years and could help the Jets turbocharge that area. He also had success on the outside earlier in his career, though, and checks most of the boxes if the team suffered an injury or wanted to move on from Davis after this season.
If the Jets wanted to add some sizzle to the slot, they could look to add an outside receiver and shift Moore inside. As I mentioned while discussing tight end, the middle of the field might soon become an opportunity area for NFL offenses as defenses around the league shift to more two deep safety looks. Perhaps the slot role could evolve from a chain moving job into a playmaking job with Moore there. Mike Williams and Allen Robinson are potential options, although some aspects of Williams’ athletic profile are fairly pedestrian, and there are questions about how much Robinson still has to offer after a down season in Chicago.
The wild card is Davante Adams. If arguably the best receiver in the NFL hit free agency and became interested in the Jets’ money, it might be the type of situation you accept and just figure out later. The most likely solution would still be a move of Moore to the slot.
There is a lot of buzz about the possibility of Amari Cooper leaving Dallas. Cooper’s size is adequate but not overwhelming. His athletic ability is strong in some areas Douglas has prioritized in the past but weak in others. Could his resume override this, though? The Jets might prefer to give Zach Wilson a savvy veteran route runner. Even if Cooper doesn’t check all of the physical boxes, he comes close and with a proven resume of production.
Calvin Ridley is another name mentioned, although he is a bit undersized and had very low scores in areas like the vertical and broad jump combined with only an average bench press. This might make him an unlikely candidate.
It seems unlikely Seattle would move DK Metcalf, but if they do he is the perfect Douglas receiver. He is one the league’s biggest receivers and posted elite numbers in all athletic tests aside from the agility drills, which aren’t dealbreakers for Jets outside receivers.
Garrett Wilson is a tad undersized. This leads me to wonder whether he might be viewed as a slot receiver by the Jets. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Again, the Jets need somebody to work from the slot. Wilson could be the type of player who could turn the starting slot receiver from role player into featured piece. His route running ability would make him an intriguing option. That said, Wilson did check the athletic boxes with a surprising Combine performance so perhaps he could be in play as an outside receiver. Either way, his skills with the ball in his hands make him a likely candidate to join Moore in the receiving back/running receiver role.
Treylon Burks seems made for that role. Early in his career, his most prominent contribution might come on manufactured touches that utilize his playmaking ability as he refines his game as a receiver. If the Jets picked him, he might sit for a year to develop his route running in the hopes he could take over an outside role if Corey Davis is cut after 2022. In the mean time he could join Moore in that receiving back/running receiver role.
Like Burks, Drake London has experience in the slot from college but more likely profiles as an outside receiver in the Jets offense. He is another player who could push Moore into building a more dynamic slot.
These are some of the options in front of the Jets, but to close I would be remiss without acknowledging things could change. What we saw in 2021 might have been dictated by the personnel this new coaching staff inherited as much as it was by philosophical beliefs. With a more dynamic group of pass catchers at tight end and a more versatile receiver corps, the Jets could easily change the way they utilize their wide receivers and the slot alignment. We might see a more fluid receiver room with players bouncing between outside and inside.
We can’t say definitively. For now this is the state of the wide receiver position based on what we have seen for sure.