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Corey Davis’ presence provides the Jets some NFL draft breathing room

NASHVILLE, TENNESSEE - NOVEMBER 24: Corey Davis #84 of the Tennessee Titans shouts as he runs onto the field before the game against the Jacksonville Jaguars at Nissan Stadium on November 24, 2019 in Nashville, Tennessee.
(Photo by Silas Walker/Getty Images)

Corey Davis’ presence provides Joe Douglas and the New York Jets some much-welcomed NFL draft breathing room.

It’s been almost four years since Western Michigan product Corey Davis heard his name called fifth overall at the 2017 NFL draft in Philadelphia. During his time in college, scouts saw the wide receiver as arguably the best at his position in the nation, with a limitless ceiling.

Fast forward to March 2021 and the 26-year-old is coming off his first eye-popping season in the NFL. After signing a three-year, $37.5 million deal ($27 million guaranteed) with the New York Jets, Davis is ready to begin the next chapter of his playing career.

His first few seasons have been underwhelming, but Jets fans are optimistic a change of scenery can shape him into the true number one receiving threat he was drafted to be. The only thing is, this year’s wide receiver class is looking absolutely loaded, and the addition of Davis poses the question: should the Jets still spend an early draft pick on a receiver?

Joe Douglas’s decision to deal Sam Darnold to Carolina on April 5 essentially guaranteed the selection of a quarterback with the second overall pick. But with the Jets also possessing the 23rd and 34th picks, many had been expecting them to take a wide
receiver early.

However, in signing Davis, a new conundrum reveals itself. Are the Jets already decent enough at the position to not feel forced into having to draft a downfield threat?

Davis believes he can be the guy.

“I do consider myself a wide receiver one, in my ability to get open, my speed, separation, releases,” Davis told reporters at his introductory Zoom session, per Jets X-Factor’s Robby Sabo. “I feel like I can do it all. I feel like I’m a 1,000-yard receiver.”

The Jets’ roster has lacked such a receiver since Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker were released after the 2016 season. In fact, the most productive season from a Jets wideout since then was Robby Anderson in 2017 — not exactly a high bar.

If Davis can duplicate his breakout 2020 campaign, perhaps he’s exactly what New York needs.

His 984 receiving yards last season is already more than any Jets receiver since Marshall, so the potential is certainly there. But what makes the Davis signing so encouraging doesn’t necessarily have all to do with the player himself. Pair Davis’s skillset with new offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur and the possibilities are mouthwatering.

The offense LaFleur will be bringing over with him from San Francisco will presumably be run-heavy and rely on play-action passes for chunk gains. According to NFL’s Next-Gen Stats, San Francisco dialed up play-action passes on 27 percent of their dropbacks from 2017-2020 while LaFleur was passing game coordinator.

Davis, meanwhile, gained 544 of his 984 receiving yards (55 percent) off play-action last season. On top of that, he also led the NFL in yards per route on play-action passes with 5.2.

INDIANAPOLIS, INDIANA - NOVEMBER 29: Corey Davis #84 of the Tennessee Titans runs the ball against the Indianapolis Colts at Lucas Oil Stadium on November 29, 2020 in Indianapolis, Indiana.
(Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

It’s evident that Davis’ skill set matches nicely with LaFleur’s scheme, but is it enough to feel comfortable as it currently stands? Talented players like Rashod Bateman, Kadarius Toney and Terrace Marshall Jr. still figure to be available when the Jets are on the clock at pick 23. But as talented as those players are, having Davis makes them less of a necessity for the Jets.

Even with the benefits Davis provides the team, like many signings, he comes with potential concerns.

His 984 receiving yards in 2020 left him just 16 yards short of his first 1,000-yard season. But where was that production throughout the first few years of his career? There’s a good chance a lot of it can be blamed on quarterback play, seeing as Marcus Mariota has now seemed to have settled into a backup role in the NFL.

Furthermore, 2020 was Davis’s first full season with Ryan Tannehill throwing him the ball. If it was due to poor play at quarterback, that only amplifies the importance of Douglas’s selection with the second overall pick.

Another concern with Davis is the fact that he lost his WR1 role with the Titans to A.J. Brown last season. Of course, Brown is a rising star in this league so one can hardly hold that against Davis, but it does mean he was mainly facing his opponents’ CB2 rather than their top dog. To what extent should his spike in production in 2020 be attributed to that? Only time will tell.

Signing Davis clearly doesn’t come without risk, but here’s the thing: the Jets have so many holes on their roster that even if Davis doesn’t blossom into the team’s next Brandon Marshall, it’s a safe bet that he makes the wide receiver room better. That’s enough to justify passing on the position early in the draft.

Instead of a Bateman, Douglas can improve the weak secondary by taking a Greg Newsome II. Instead of taking someone like Toney, he can bolster the interior offensive line and land a Landon Dickerson, Creed Humphrey or Wyatt Davis.

At the end of the day, Corey Davis substantially raises the floor of a team’s receiving corps. In the Jets’ case, it’s enough so that they can afford to turn their attention elsewhere early in the draft.

This certainly isn’t to say that Gang Green can’t still take a pass catcher in the later rounds. The depth of this class actually makes it an ideal year to do so. Players of Nico Collins, Tylan Wallace and Amon-Ra St. Brown’s caliber are not usually available as late as they will be, and the Jets can still absolutely take a shot on a Day 2 receiver with the hope that they can develop into a stud, i.e. Stefon Diggs, a former fifth-round pick.

Adding Corey Davis to a crew of Denzel Mims, Jamison Crowder and now Keelan Cole means the team finally has a respectable receiving corps to work with and can turn its attention to other areas of need early in the draft. The concerns with Davis are undeniably real, but Gang Green is in a better position than they have been in quite some time.

This fanbase deserves a pass-catcher to be excited about, and especially in Mike LaFleur’s system, Corey Davis has a real shot at being that guy.

“I’m familiar with that system,” Davis said. “I know where I can hit the ground running.”

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