JuJu Smith-Schuster
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The New York Jets need an infusion of explosiveness at the wide receiver position. Which direction should they go in free agency?

Jets’ impending free agents

Jeff Smith
  • 2020 cap hit: $572,939
  • Free agent type: Exclusive Rights
  • Age on September 1, 2021: 24.3
  • Free agent WR ranking: 45th of 47

Jeff Smith started off his 2020 season with a bang, grabbing seven of nine targets for 81 yards in a Thursday night bout with the Broncos. From there on out, his season was a nightmare. Over his final 11 games, Smith caught just 10 of 28 targets for 86 yards, averaging 3.1 yards per target and 7.8 yards per game. Finishing the season with 167 yards on 208 routes run, Smith’s average of 0.80 yards per route run ranked last out of the 115 wide receivers with at least 30 targets.

Vyncint Smith
  • 2020 cap hit: $661,776
  • Free agent type: Restricted
  • Age on September 1, 2021: 25.2
  • Free agent WR ranking: DNQ

Vyncint Smith was seldom-used offensively in 2020, playing just 50 offensive snaps over seven games as he caught 1-of-3 targets for 13 yards. He was mediocre in 2019, playing 13 games and grabbing 17 of 31 targets for 225 yards (7.3 per target / 17.3 per game), 11 first downs (35.5% rate) and no touchdowns.

Breshad Perriman
  • 2020 cap hit: $6,437,500
  • Free agent type: Unrestricted
  • Age on September 1, 2021: 27.9
  • Free agent WR ranking: 25th of 47

Perriman’s 2020 season was a roller-coaster, featuring moments of brilliance but also long stretches of silence. While Perriman was certainly not great in his own right, it is worth considering that he dealt with some brutal quarterback play that cost him catches on many plays in which he was open.

Over 12 games, Perriman caught 30 of 60 targets for 505 yards (8.4 per target / 42.1 per game), 17 first downs, and three touchdowns (33.3% conversion rate).

Perriman could never quite get on the same page with Sam Darnold and Joe Flacco in the deep game. He caught only four of the 17 targets thrown his way over 20 yards downfield (23.5%).

One underrated aspect of Perriman’s performance was his ability to draw penalties. Perriman tied for sixth among wide receivers with five defensive pass interference penalties drawn, with those totaling 91 yards. His production in this area explains how, in spite of catching only half of his targets and picking up a first down on only a third of them, he posted a near-average DVOA (defense-adjusted value over average) of -3.0% that ranked at the 47th percentile among qualified wide receivers.

Jets’ players under contract

  • Jamison Crowder, age 28.2 on 9-1-21, $11.4M cap hit in 2021 (signed through 2021)
  • Denzel Mims, age 23.9, $1.2M cap hit (signed through 2023)
  • Josh Doctson, age 28.7, $985K cap hit (signed through 2021)
  • Josh Malone, age 25.4, $920K cap hit (signed through 2021)
  • Braxton Berrios, age 25.9, $850K cap hit (signed through 2021)
  • D.J. Montgomery, age 24.8, $850K cap hit (signed through 2021)
  • Jaleel Scott, age 26.5, $850K cap hit (signed through 2021)
  • Manasseh Bailey, age 24.2, $850K cap hit (signed through 2021)
  • Lawrence Cager, age 24.0, $850K cap hit (signed through 2021)

The Jets have a lot of bodies at wide receiver, but only one of them – Mims – is under contract beyond the upcoming season.

Crowder had an excellent season in 2020, grabbing 59 of 89 targets for 699 yards, 26 first downs, and six touchdowns over 12 games. He set career-highs in yards per game (58.3), touchdowns per game (0.5), and total conversions per game (2.7). His average of 39.9 yards per game out of the slot ranked sixth-best in the league.

Mims hauled in 23 of 44 targets for 357 yards (8.1 per target / 39.7 per game), 15 first downs (34.1% rate), and no touchdowns over nine games. As we broke down here at Jet X, he was criminally underused, seeing only 4.9 targets per game due largely to a combination of poor vision at the quarterback position and mismanagement from Adam Gase (although Mims’ route-running needs work before he can hit his maximum potential).

Berrios was fine when he was thrust into a starting role, averaging 48.0 yards and 2.5 conversions in the four games missed by Crowder. However, he was electric when handling his extremely small role late in the season. Over the last five games of the season, Berrios managed to post 171 receiving yards (34.2 per game) with just 37 offensive snaps (7.4 per game). Perhaps he has a future as a top-notch gadget/limited-role weapon.

Top-tier free agents that make sense

Allen Robinson, Bears

Some contend that Robinson is not a great option for the Jets, claiming his lack of big-time YAC ability makes him a less-than-ideal scheme fit and that he has somewhat of a clashing skill-set with Mims. I disagree. While those things are true, Robinson is the type of player who is good enough to where scheme fit should be a non-issue. Plug him into any offense and he will likely find success.

Robinson owns career averages of 68.2 yards and 0.44 touchdowns per game – 1,091 yards and seven touchdowns per 16 games – despite catching the majority of his career passes from Blake Bortles and Mitchell Trubisky. Robinson is coming off of a 2020 season in which he ranked 13th in the NFL with 78.1 receiving yards per game with Trubisky and Nick Foles splitting the reps at quarterback.

Any receiver-needy team should be willing to shell out for Robinson if their cap sheet can handle it.

Curtis Samuel, Panthers

Samuel is a high-production player who doubles as a presumably great fit in Mike LaFleur’s offense. In San Francisco, the passing game was built around concepts that gave receivers the ball in space with the chance to make a play after the catch. Samuel is a pure playmaker, as evidenced by his 41 carries for 200 yards (both tops among WRs) in 2020.

As a pass-catcher, Samuel posted career-highs of 56.7 yards per game, 8.8 yards per target, and a 40.2% conversion rate in 2020. Overall, he accumulated 1,051 scrimmage yards (70.1 per game).

A move into the slot facilitated Samuel’s breakout. Samuel lined up in the slot on only 28.1% of his routes run from 2017-19. This season, Samuel was the top slot receiver for the Panthers, running 71.8% of his routes out of the slot.

Corey Davis, Titans

Teams will need to be wary of Davis’ one-year-wonder status, as he made an overnight jump from an average starter (44.5 YPG over first three seasons) to a superstar, but his 2020 season was a marvelous one that will net him some big money.

In 14 games, Davis caught 65 of 92 targets for 984 yards, five touchdowns, and 44 first downs, posting a stupendous 53.2% conversion rate and averaging 10.7 yards per target. He ranked above the position’s 90th percentile in each of receiving yards per game (70.2), overall PFF grade (86.9), yards per route run (2.58), routes run per conversion (7.8), and DVOA (+22.4%).

Davis thrived in a very play-action heavy Tennessee offense – Ryan Tannehill ran play action on 36.4% of his dropbacks in 2020, tops among qualifiers. This should make him a good fit for Mike LaFleur’s offense, which will likely be heavy on play action if he holds up San Francisco’s trends over the past four seasons. In 2020, Jimmy Garoppolo ran play action on 32.3% of his dropbacks, ranking ninth-highest out of 39 qualifiers.

Kenny Golladay, Lions

Golladay posted back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons from 2018-19, averaging 72.7 yards per game, 9.6 yards per target, and 0.52 touchdowns per game over that span, registering an elite 45.5% conversion rate with 107 conversions on 235 targets. In 2020, he only played five games, missing three games to start the year with a hamstring injury and then missing the final 11 with a hip injury. In his four fully-played games, Golladay averaged 84.5 yards on 12.1 yards per target with an astronomical 57.1% conversion rate (14 first downs and 2 touchdowns on 28 targets).

At six-foot-four, 214 pounds, Golladay fits the prototype mold of a big-bodied “No. 1 receiver.” He would likely handle the Jets’ “X” receiver role while kicking Mims over the “Z” role. The same would likely occur if Robinson were signed.

Chris Godwin, Buccaneers

If Tampa Bay somehow lets Godwin hit the open market, he is going to be in extraordinarily high demand. He has established himself as one of the most efficient targets in football. Over the past two seasons, Godwin has grabbed 106 conversions on 205 targets, an unreal rate of 51.7%. He also averaged 83.6 yards per game on a whopping 10.6 yards per target over that span.

Godwin is primarily a slot man, running 67.1% of his routes out of the slot in 2020. Among the 49 wide receivers with at least 150 routes run out of the slot, none caught a higher percentage of their slot targets than Godwin, who snatched 85.7% of the throws his way when he darted out from a slot alignment.

Top-tier free agents to avoid

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Michael Nania is one of the best analytical New York Jets minds in the world, combining his statistical expertise with game film to add proper context to the data. Nania scrapes every corner, ensuring you know all there is to know about everyone from the QB to the long snapper. Nania's Numbers, Nania's QB Grades, and Nania's All-22 give fans a deeper and more well-rounded dive into the Jets than anyone else can offer. Email: michael.nania[at]jetsxfactor.com - Twitter: @Michael_Nania
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