The New York Jets’ tricky wide receiver situation this offseason demands that Joe Douglas acquires at least one true X-Factor.
It’s simple: Adding an outside threat to play opposite Denzel Mims while Jamison Crowder does his spectacular slot thing is Joe Douglas‘s top wide receiver goal this offseason. After all, deploying two prototypical big threats on the outside with the elusive guy in the middle is the gold standard in today’s pass-happy NFL.
Crowder’s slot game is fantastic from a pure receiving standpoint, but he leaves a lot to be desired in the “X-Factor” department. This means the New York Jets, above all else, must find at least one X-Factor this offseason.
Oh yeah, what’s an X-Factor? Think Tyreek Hill, a guy who can play the slot yet also own the jet-motion stuff within any offense. Think shifty game-breaker who can catch it and run it at a moment’s notice.
This is simply not Crowder’s game, and it leaves a much-needed element out of the Jets’ current personnel deployment. As of right now, Braxton Berrios is the Jets de facto X-Factor, and that simply won’t work heading into 2021. Help is needed.
Outside threat option: Allen Robinson
The big free-agent name at wide receiver this March is Allen Robinson. Standing 6-foot-3, the Penn State product can go up and snag it with the best of them.
Robinson, 27, finished fifth among wide receivers with an 88.3 PFF grade in 2020. His 1,250 yards and six touchdowns on 102 grabs this past season puts him in line to make serious dollars this coming March. He’s also exactly what the Jets need: another outside threat opposite Denzel Mims.
This is where it gets tricky.
A Robinson, Mims and Crowder look does plenty for a quarterback downfield, but it limits an offense in today’s league. None of these guys can assume X-Factor duties—similar to Deebo Samuel‘s insane abilities showcased in 2019 under Kyle Shanahan’s system—via his incredible hips.
Remember, this is not your father’s league.
Instead of tight coverage with contested balls that usually feature lower completion percentages, quarterbacks are throwing shorter and into much larger windows. Never has the offensive coordinator had it easier than today. They can make below-average quarterbacks look good, all while scheming up open targets.
Year by year, tight-window throwing decreases. For instance, 19 quarterbacks finished under 15 percent in NFL.com’s Aggressiveness (AGG%) category this past season, meaning that 19 quarterbacks threw less than 15 percent of their throws to a target who had a defender less than one yard away from him (tight-window throws). In 2016, just four years earlier, only four starting quarterbacks finished under 15 percent. Open-window throwing is rapidly increasing.
This limits the importance of the one-on-one outside threats and increases the value of the shifty underneath guy who can do it all.
Look at the Kansas City Chiefs as Exhibit A. Nearly every one of their receivers is a short slot guy who can catch it and run it. The previously-mentioned Hill and Mecole Hardman are nearly identical in prototype, and both work on the field together. Sammy Watkins is the most obvious contrasting example within that offense.
Tom Brady and the New England Patriots lived off the open-window game for seemingly forever. Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola starting together lent credence to the idea that the X-Factor-type is much more critical than the outside threat. Countless offensive personnel examples feature two of the three receivers as smaller, shiftier slot types who can do much more than just run routes and catch the ball.
Make no mistake about it: both the outside threat and the X-Factor are important. It’s why you want to have both on the field at the same time. But it’s Crowder’s limited X-Factor skill set that creates this messy situation.
X-Factor option: Curtis Samuel
Curtis Samuel, 24, isn’t the receiving threat Allen Robinson is. Once you get past the “Captain Obvious” namecalling, the topic can be dissected a bit.
What the Brooklyn, NY native does, however, is, well … everything (other than the downfield, go up and highpoint the ball-type stuff). The man can get it done downfield in the passing game, but he can also serve as the true X-Factor the Jets seemingly haven’t employed since the Reagan administration.
Jet-motion, end-around, double-reverse, wide-receiver screen options, more RPO options, motion to the backfield—it’s all part of what Samuel can do and what Crowder doesn’t do. And it’s all something you want your slot receiver to do in today’s evolving NFL.
He can also play a little running back when called upon, as seen last year under Matt Rhule.
Perhaps Samuel is the right choice over Robinson. For one, it’ll cost Douglas much less in free agency. Samuel could possibly be had at $12.4 million per year, according to Spotrac’s Market Value estimation, while Spotrac estimates that Robinson’s price tag could run the Jets a tidy $20 million per season.
Although Samuel and Crowder may not feel right as two parts of a trio (two slot receivers), there’s nothing wrong with it in today’s game. Mims is still there as an outside threat and drafting another outside threat as the No. 4 wideout would serve as a crucial ingredient. Then again, the same argument can be made for a Robinson signing with an X-Factor-type as a No. 4 wide receiver draftee.
Samuel’s skill set fits the X-Factor role perfectly. He rushed for 200 yards and two touchdowns for the Carolina Panthers last year—in addition to his 851 yards and three touchdowns on 57 receptions.
Considering it might be tougher to find an X-Factor, who can both catch it and run it in the draft (ready on day No. 1), Samuel might just be the better option than Robinson in free agency. Perhaps Samuel and Breshad Perriman make sense as well.
Ideal situation, final thoughts
The perfect situation is as follows:
- Z: Allen Robinson
- X: Denzel Mims
- Slot: Curtis Samuel
Obviously, it’s a stretch to think the Jets could sign two big-time receiver free agents. And in this scenario, Crowder would get the boot ($10.375 million in savings). The over-the-top ideal situation includes Crowder in the slot and Samuel as the No. 4 option.
If Crowder is kept, Samuel is the better option when considering his X-Factor abilities that fit today’s league and the price as compared to Robinson.
- Z: Curtis Samuel
- X: Denzel Mims
- Slot: Jamison Crowder
This is not your father’s NFL, in which the prototypical big target is what matters most. It’s nice and imperative, but is it as critical as having that “do-it-all” game-breaker? I don’t think so, and today’s college-principled game featuring more jet-motion stuff that threatens the defensive edge is what’s creating offense.
Either way, the No. 4 receiver looms large. Who Douglas drafts will factor into this equation greatly as well.
Deploying two slot reivers on the field at once isn’t a crime. In fact, it’s the wave of the NFL future. Never has size mattered less, and it’s the shifty hips on these game-breaker types that help open-window throwing increase for a quarterback.
The New York Jets’ wide receiver situation is much trickier than conventional wisdom would have you believe, and there are a few different paths Joe Douglas can take this offseason.
As long as the path includes a true X-Factor as one of the three starting receivers, the organization is on the right (modern) path to offensive success.