CINCINNATI, OH - DECEMBER 21: Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster (19) warms up before the game against the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Cincinnati Bengals on December 21, 2020, at Paul Brown Stadium in Cincinnati, OH.
(Photo by Ian Johnson/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Here are the top free agents that have the ability to solve the New York Jets’ biggest problems from the 2020 season.

Previously in our series of breakdowns chronicling the New York Jets‘ greatest weaknesses of 2020, we focused on the wide receiver position. We’ll be taking another look at the offense today, but this time through a more general lens.

Solving the Jets’ greatest weaknesses

Weakness: Third down conversion rate in the passing game

Converting just 34.0% of their third downs in 2020, the Jets were the least efficient third down offense in football.

Adam Gase‘s pathetic offense struggled in both phases on third down, but the passing game was the greater problem. The Jets converted a league-worst 29.3% of their third-down passing plays. They weren’t as poor in the run game, ranking 20th with a 53.8% conversion rate on third-down rushing plays.

Solutions: JuJu Smith-Schuster, Curtis Samuel, Hunter Henry, Kendrick Bourne

JuJu Smith-Schuster’s overall production has massively disappointed over the past two seasons, but in 2020, he was still a very good clutch performer. Smith-Schuster caught 24 third-down conversions, tying him with Davante Adams for second-most in the NFL behind Keenan Allen (28). He tied DeAndre Hopkins for the most third-down targets in the league (44). With 24 third-down conversions over 44 targets, Smith-Schuster had a very efficient conversion rate of 54.5% on third down, well above the 2020 league average (42.6%).

Carolina’s Curtis Samuel tied for 13th in the NFL with 18 receptions to convert on third down, placing him second among impending free agents behind only Smith-Schuster. He also tied for eighth in the league with 348 receiving yards on third down. Samuel was targeted 35 times on third down, giving him a conversion rate of 51.4%.

Jet X Offseason Tool 2023 4

Among tight ends, the Chargers’ Hunter Henry is the best free agent option when it comes to converting on third down. Henry ranked third among tight ends and 17th among all players with 15 chain-moving grabs on third down. He was targeted 33 times on third down, also 17th-most, giving him a 45.5% conversion rate that slightly beats the league average.

San Francisco’s Kendrick Bourne – whose excellent elusiveness would also be a hole-filler for the Jets – tied for 31st in the league with 13 third-down-converting receptions despite only getting 23 targets on third down, which ranked 52nd. That gives him a stellar 56.5% conversion rate. Bourne was even more efficient on third down in 2019 with 12 conversions on 19 targets (63.2%).

Weakness: Red zone offense

The Jets were just as abysmal in the red zone as they were on third down, completing their one-two punch of awfulness in crucial situations. They scored a touchdown on just 16-of-38 trips into the red zone, a league-worst 42.1% rate.

Both phases were an enormous problem for the Jets within the final 20 yards of the field. They converted a first down or a touchdown on 21.2% of their passing plays in the red zone, ranking second-worst (ahead of only New England). In the run game, they converted only 24.1% of the time, also second-worst (ahead of only Cincinnati).

In both the passing game and the run game, there are not many free agents who offer an intriguing resume of red-zone production. Here are the few who do.

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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] - Twitter: @Michael_Nania
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