Here is who the New York Jets should set their sights on throughout the second day of 2021 NFL free agency.
Wide receiver: Gadget option
With their current starting wide receiver trio of Corey Davis, Denzel Mims, and Jamison Crowder lacking a player who thrives at making things happen on screens and other manufactured underneath plays – a fixture of the San Francisco 49ers offense that Mike LaFleur will largely carry over – the New York Jets will need to add a fourth receiver that specializes in this area, assuming they keep Crowder rather than cut him and pay top dollar for Curtis Samuel. The 2021 draft class is rich with players of this ilk, but there is one available free agent who fits this bill perfectly.
Isaiah McKenzie, Bills
Isaiah McKenzie can step right in and be the designated gadget weapon the Jets need. In 2020, 14 of McKenzie’s 33 targets came behind the line of scrimmage, a 42.4% portion, which ranked second among qualified wide receivers behind only San Francisco’s Deebo Samuel (47.7%). McKenzie did a nice job with those as he turned 5-of-14 into a first down or touchdown. That’s a 35.7% rate, ranking eighth-best out of 32 qualified wide receivers.
Overall, McKenzie ranked ninth among 115 qualified wide receivers in yards-after-catch per reception with a mark of 6.3.
Wide receiver: Deep threat
If the Jets are looking for a No. 4 or No. 5 option that can serve as a fast and explosive vertical threat, there are some nice options available.
Rashard Higgins, Browns
Rashard Higgins averaged 11.5 yards per target in 2020, second-best among wide receivers with at least 30 targets behind only Will Fuller (11.7). He caught seven of his 11 deep targets (20+ yards downfield), a 63.6% rate that ranked second among qualified wide receivers behind only Curtis Samuel (76.9%).
Breshad Perriman, Jets
Breshad Perriman‘s three games with Joe Flacco showcased the potential he has as a downfield threat. With Flacco under center, Perriman averaged 3.7 catches for 72.3 yards and 1.0 touchdown. He also drew a pair of penalties for 43 yards, pushing his overall per-game yardage average to 86.7.
Perriman may have been in a bit over his head as the Jets’ top outside weapon for most of 2020, but as a team’s fourth option, he should perform quite well when his number is called.
Edge rusher: Stopgap starter
The Jets still need another starting EDGE to line up at the other 5-technique spot opposite Carl Lawson. Fortunately for them, the market is loaded with veteran edge defenders who can still perform at an above-average level while not breaking the bank or blocking the path to the field for any potential draft picks.
Olivier Vernon, Browns
Olivier Vernon can still hold down a starting role and thrive. At 30 years old, he ranked fourth among edge rushers with 57.5 snaps per game. He tied for 17th at the position with 51 pressures, posting an efficient 11.0% pressure rate (77th percentile among qualifiers).
Aldon Smith, Cowboys
Alson Smith ranked 13th among edge defenders with 809 defensive snaps in his return season. He placed 20th at the position with 50 positions and dominated against the run as he ranked fifth with 23 run stops. Smith will turn 32 during the season.
Kerry Hyder, 49ers
Kerry Hyder will be 30 when the season begins. He had a career year under Saleh in 2020, averaging 45.1 snaps over all 16 games as he elevated to a starting role in Week 3 following injuries to Nick Bosa and Solomon Thomas. Hyder tied for 14th among edge rushers with 55 pressures and tied for sixth with 22 run stops.
However, it should be noted that Hyder’s production as a pass rusher was more a product of his motor and hustle than pure rushing ability, as his 58.8 pass rush grade at PFF ranked at the position’s 24th percentile.
Nevertheless, Hyder is a solid starter with experience in Saleh’s scheme that can hold the fort down sufficiently until a long-term starter is ready to take over.
Jadeveon Clowney, Titans
Jadeveon Clowney might get severely underpaid after a zero-sack season in which he also missed eight games. If this happens, he’ll be a great bargain for his new team, because he is still a very good player regardless of what the sack column says. He ranked at the position’s 85th percentile with a 74.9 overall grade at PFF, grading highly as both a pass rusher and run defender while ranking above the 69th percentile in both pressure rate and run stop rate.
Clowney averaged 3.5 pressures per game, which would put him on pace for 56 pressures over 16 games, a total that would have tied for 11th-best at the position on the year. He’ll still be only 28 years old this season.
Edge rusher: Situational piece
If the Jets are looking for someone who can provide an efficient pass-rush pop as a rotational piece in a non-starting role, there are some excellent names.
Everson Griffen, Lions
Everson Griffen played only 37.7 snaps per game for the Cowboys and Lions, but remained efficient as a pass rusher with a 73.6 Pro Football Focus pass rush grade that ranked at the position’s 79th percentile and a 10.3% pressure rate that ranked at its 67th percentile. He will turn 34 years old late in the season.
Vinny Curry, Eagles
Vinny Curry is still kicking despite being set to turn 33 prior to the season. He’s a shoo-in fit for this scheme, lining up at defensive end with his hand in the dirt on 99.7% of his snaps for the Eagles in 2020. Playing just 28.2 snaps per game, Curry was electric with a 14.0% pressure rate that put him at the position’s 94th percentile. He was even better at 16.0% in 2019.
Running back: Committee members
At running back, it seems fair to assume the Jets will pass on the more expensive bell-cows and show the most interest in players who have a particular skill-set that will allow them to fit nicely in a committee.
Jamaal Williams, Packers (Jet X Breakdown)
Jamaal Williams is a fantastic passing-game back in all aspects.
- 32.2% of career targets resulting in first down or TD versus 2020 RB average of 24.9%
- 6.7% career pressure rate allowed versus 2020 RB average of 10.4%
- 4.7% career drop rate versus 2020 RB average of 7.4%
He has also never fumbled the ball in the NFL. Williams will turn 26 in April.
Mike Davis, Panthers
Mike Davis is a fantastic pass-catcher out of the backfield. He led running backs with 22 broken tackles after the catch in 2020, while ranking at the position’s 71st percentile with 1.23 yards per route run. Davis ranked fourth among running backs with 244 receiving yards in the short range (0-9 yards downfield).
Josh Adams, Jets
Josh Adams is a restricted free agent. He averaged a blistering 5.41 yards per carry over 29 totes with the Jets last year.
Jerick McKinnon, 49ers
Jerrick McKinnon has been a solid receiving back in his career when healthy, averaging 1.27 yards per route run in his career, well above the 2020 positional average (1.08). He ranked at the 89th percentile among running backs with a 76.9 PFF receiving grade in 2020. In his previous season, the 2017 season with Minnesota, McKinnon’s 82.7 receiving grade placed at the 91st percentile.
LaFleur and the 49ers utilized McKinnon in a uniquely versatile way in 2020. McKinnon’s average target came at a depth of 3.3 yards downfield, second-deepest among qualified running backs behind only David Johnson (3.8).
Matt Breida, Dolphins
Matt Breida picked up 2,463 yards and 10 touchdowns from scrimmage over 43 games with the 49ers from 2017-19, averaging 4.99 yards per carry. He struggled to find a role with the Dolphins in 2020, averaging 4.9 carries and 0.8 targets per game over 12 appearances.
Known for his long speed, Breida was a home-run hitter in San Francisco. In 2019, Breida gained 42.4% of his rushing yards on runs that went for 15+ yards, the highest portion among running backs with at least 100 carries. He ranked sixth in the category in 2018 (42.5%).
In addition to his big-play prowess as a rusher, Breida is an efficient receiver:
- 32.3% of career targets resulting in first down or TD versus 2020 RB average of 24.9%
- 1.37 career yards per route run versus 2020 RB average of 1.08
- 6.3 career yards per target versus 2020 RB average of 5.7
Take out Breida’s rookie season and his numbers boost to 36.5%, 1.49, and 7.6 – elite stuff.
Plan Bs on the offensive line
The Jets are simply not going to find a slam-dunk upgrade on the offensive line in free agency at this point, but there are two players available who have a decent chance of representing an upgrade if they can maintain their average-to-good performance levels from last year.
Oday Aboushi, Lions
A Brooklyn native and fifth-round pick of John Idzik’s Jets in 2013, Oday Aboushi started 10 games for the Jets in 2014 to kickstart a journeyman career in the NFL that has carried him to five different teams.
At 29 years old in 2020, his eighth NFL season, Aboushi had a career year. Over seven starts at right guard for Detroit, Aboushi posted an overall PFF grade of 71.9. That mark would have ranked at the 85th percentile among qualified guards if maintained over the entire 2020 season. In addition, Aboushi yielded a pressure on just 2.6% of his pass protection snaps, sixth-best out of 68 qualified guards (93rd percentile).
Regarding the legitimacy of Aboushi’s improvement, the offensive line scouting community agreed with the numbers.
I was so impressed with studying every snap of Aboushi's season…he really settled into his technique, played faster, and kept the edge to his game that really sets him apart. I think his presence would be extremely valuable to have in 'the room'
— Brandon Thorn (@BrandonThornNFL) March 15, 2021
Germain Ifedi, Bears
Coming over from Seattle after a tumultuous tenure in which he struggled mightily at tackle, Germain Ifedi moved back to guard for the first time since his rookie season and had some success. Ifedi started at right guard for Chicago over the first 10 games of the season, posting a 64.8 overall PFF grade that ranked 33rd out of 86 qualified guards (62nd percentile) through Week 10.
There are some good centers available that the Jets could conceivably sign while kicking Connor McGovern over to guard, but amidst reports that the Jets had no interest in pursuing Corey Linsley – arguably the best center in football – it seems likely that the team wants to keep McGovern where he is and does not have interest in signing a center.
The Jets have a direct link to two of the best slot corners in football, so it would be disappointing if they did not come away with either one.
Brian Poole, Jets
Brian Poole quite simply has the best statistical resume of any slot defender in the league over the past two seasons. His average of 0.75 yards allowed per slot coverage snap from 2019-20 was the best among defensive backs with at least 300 snaps in slot coverage over that span, and by a massive margin. Across all targets (regardless of alignment), Poole allowed only 5.4 yards per target from 2019-20, fourth-best among all qualified cornerbacks over that span.
K’Waun Williams, 49ers
K’Waun Williams has an obvious connection to the Jets through Robert Saleh, but the Jets also hired San Francisco’s secondary/cornerbacks coach from the 2020 season, Tony Oden, who will serve as the senior defensive assistant and cornerbacks coach in New York.
Williams had a small-sample 2020 as he missed eight games due to hip and ankle injuries while playing only 35.5 snaps per game when he did appear, but he was fantastic when healthy. His average of 0.80 yards per cover snap allowed in slot coverage was the best among 33 qualifiers. Over a healthy 15 games in 2020, he was still solid with a mark of 0.99 that ranked 12th-of-39. In total, over the past two seasons, Williams allowed no touchdowns, two picks, and 452 yards over 80 targets and 489 cover snaps in the slot – 0.92 yards per cover snap, 5.7 yards per target, and a 72.5 passer rating.
Veteran outside cornerbacks
There are two great veterans available who still have gas in the tank and would be nice fits in the Jets’ scheme.
Richard Sherman, 49ers (Jet X Breakdown)
Richard Sherman can still play until proven otherwise, as he coughed up the second-fewest yards per cover snap among qualifiers in 2020 (0.43) and the fewest in 2019 (0.44). His value off the field would also be tremendous.
Xavier Rhodes, Colts
The Jets have a strong recent history of adding former Colts defensive backs, and Xavier Rhodes had a tremendous bounceback season for Indianapolis at 30 years old in 2020. His 77.9 coverage grade at PFF ranked him at the 90th percentile among cornerbacks. Defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus’ zone-heavy scheme turned out to be an excellent fit for Rhodes after the veteran flamed out in Mike Zimmer’s man-heavy scheme in 2019 – good news for the Jets if they are projecting him into Saleh’s defense.
Long-term outside cornerbacks
These two players will likely fetch lucrative contracts, but could prove to be worth it thanks to their strong career track records.
Shaquill Griffin, Seahawks
Shaquill Griffin‘s production has fluctuated from year-to-year, but on the whole, his body of work over his four years is good. He has given up career averages of 7.6 yards per target and 0.99 yards per cover snap, both below the 2020 averages at cornerback (8.0 and 1.15). He is a great on-ball playmaker, tying for 10th among cornerbacks with 48 passes defended since 2017.
Ricky Manning, newly hired by the Jets as a defensive assistant, was an assistant defensive backs coach for the Seahawks when Griffin was drafted in 2017.
Turning 26 years old in July, Griffin is one of the youngest cornerbacks on the market.
William Jackson, Bengals
William Jackson will likely come at a premium cost since he is one of the few good outside cornerbacks on the market who are under 30 years old (he will turn 29 during this season). He has had a fantastic career in which he has given up 7.1 yards per target and 0.86 yards per cover snap.
If the Jets want to add a featured weapon at tight end, this player projects very well to their scheme.
Gerald Everett, Rams (Jet X Breakdown)
Everett’s elusiveness makes him an exciting fit for the LaFleur offense. Among the 34 tight ends with at least 40 targets in 2020, Everett ranked fourth in yards after catch per reception at 5.9, one spot ahead of Jonnu Smith (5.8). In addition, Everett tied for fifth among tight ends with nine broken tackles after the catch while Smith tied for 24th with three.
Overall, Everett’s career average of 22.8 receiving yards per game is right above Smith’s 21.7.
If Everett somehow gets paid far less than Smith despite the similarities in their resumes, he will have a good chance of becoming the better value by a wide margin.
Linebacker: Starting WILL
The idea of the Jets paying big money to another linebacker with C.J. Mosley on the books may not be enticing to many, but with the increasing importance of the linebacker position in coverage (just look at what the Jets will be facing against the Patriots twice a year), it’s not too far-fetched of an idea.
These players will not be cheap and are likely to earn multi-year deals, but could provide massive value in this defense thanks to their range and coverage ability. Any of the players below would likely be penciled in as the every-down starter beside Mosley, pushing Jarrad Davis back to the third linebacker spot (the role he thrived in for Detroit last season) prior to any other additions.
Jayon Brown, Titans (Jet X Breakdown)
Jayon Brown, who is only 26 years old, has allowed a career average of 6.3 yards per target, second-lowest among unrestricted free agent linebackers behind only the next guy on our list. In 2020, Brown led linebackers with 0.8 passes defended per game (8 in 10 games) and placed the 89th percentile among linebackers with a 73.5 PFF coverage grade.
Eric Wilson, Vikings
Turning 27 during the 2021 season, Eric Wilson got his first crack at being a full-season starter in 2020 and took full advantage with a great campaign in coverage. His career average of 5.7 yards per target is the lowest among unrestricted free agent linebackers by a wide margin.
Nicholas Morrow, Raiders (Jet X Breakdown)
Nicholas Morrow will turn 26 just before the season begins. He had a breakout season as Las Vegas’ WILL linebacker in 2020, ranking at the 83rd percentile among linebackers in PFF’s coverage grade (70.4) and the 86th percentile in yards per cover snap allowed (0.64).
K.J. Wright, Seahawks
Even over 10 years as a starter in the NFL, K.J. Wright has maintained excellent coverage numbers, as his career average of 6.6 yards per target ranks third-best among unrestricted free agent linebackers. He was even better than that in 2020 with a mark of 6.2, while also leading all linebackers with 10 passes defended. Wright’s 78.7 PFF coverage grade ranked fifth-best among linebackers with at least 700 defensive snaps.
Wright shared time in Seattle with both Saleh and Jeff Ulbrich early in his Seahawks career.
B.J. Goodson, Browns
B.J. Goodson, who will turn 28 in May, has had a roller-coaster career. He has bounced back-and-forth between starter and backup throughout his five-year career with the Giants, Packers, and Browns, but in 2020, the Browns believed in him enough to have him start at inside linebacker in all 14 of his games, playing 90% of the snaps on average. Goodson ranked at the position’s 76th percentile with a 66.6 PFF coverage grade, marking the fourth straight season that he improved in that category.
Linebacker: More depth
These players would likely come on cheaper, shorter-term deals like Davis, and wouldn’t be penciled into starting like the players above. Rather, they would simply provide more depth, competition, and coverage ability at the position, entering camp with the chance to fall anywhere from starter to the third linebacker to backup/special teamer.
Malcolm Smith, Browns
The former Super Bowl MVP and soon-to-be 32-year-old linebacker was great in coverage as a rotational/backup linebacker for the Browns over 15 games in 2020. His PFF coverage grade of 79.0 ranked at the position’s 94th percentile.
Denzel Perryman, Chargers
Playing only 24.4 snaps per game over 13 games, Denzel Perryman was an all-around monster for the Chargers over his small sample of opportunities. He ranked above the position’s 90th percentile in each of yards per cover snap allowed, run stop rate, and pressure rate.
Over the course of his career, Perryman has allowed 6.6 yards per target in coverage, fourth-lowest among unrestricted free agent linebackers. He was dominant in 2020 with just 4.0 yards per target allowed.
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