Mike Gesicki, Davante Adams Jets free agents
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An early look at the wide receivers, tight ends, and linebackers the New York Jets could target in 2022 free agency.

The New York Jets are currently slated to enter the 2022 league year with the third-most cap space in the NFL ($76.8 million), trailing only the Pittsburgh Steelers and Indianapolis Colts. Yesterday, we analyzed potential free agent targets at the guard, center, and cornerback positions. Today, we’ll dig into the wide receiver, tight end, linebacker, and edge rusher positions.

Wide receiver

With Corey Davis locked in for the near future and a pair of recent second-round picks on the roster in Elijah Moore and Denzel Mims, the Jets could be all set at wide receiver going into the 2022 offseason, but you never know how things might transpire. Perhaps Mims fails to have a breakout second season. Maybe injuries strike. In the event the Jets do not have their surefire long-term trio after the conclusion of the 2021 season, they could certainly consider pursuing a star-wideout.

Allen Robinson

  • Team: Chicago
  • Age (Dec. 2022): 29
  • Free-agent type: Unrestricted

Allen Robinson was a free agent this offseason but didn’t get a chance to test the market as he was franchise-tagged by the Bears. He has had back-to-back seasons with at least 1,000 yards, six touchdowns, and 60 first downs. In addition, he leads the NFL with 47 contested catches since 2019.

Chris Godwin

  • Team: Tampa Bay
  • Age (Dec. 2022): 26
  • Free-agent type: Unrestricted

After averaging 95.2 receiving yards per game in 2019, Chris Godwin dipped to 70.0 yards per game in 2020 as he had to compete for targets against Tampa Bay’s stacked arsenal of targets. However, his per-target efficiency remained similarly dominant. He picked up a first down or a touchdown on 51.2% of his targets and generated a 131.9 passer rating when targeted, fourth-best among wide receivers with at least 80 targets.

Davante Adams

  • Team: Green Bay
  • Age (Dec. 2022): 30
  • Free-agent type: Unrestricted

Davante Adams has developed into one of the best wide receivers in football, averaging 91.6 yards per game over the past three seasons with nearly one touchdown per game (36 TDs in 41 games). In 2020, he led the NFL in receiving yards per game (98.1) and receiving touchdowns (18).

Will Fuller

  • Team: Miami
  • Age (Dec. 2022): 28
  • Free-agent type: Unrestricted

Will Fuller has struggled with injuries and suspensions but has been outstanding when healthy. This past season, he averaged 79.9 receiving yards per game and led all qualified players with 11.7 yards per target.

CHARLOTTE, NORTH CAROLINA - SEPTEMBER 13: Robby Anderson #11 of the Carolina Panthers breaks free for a touchdown against the Las Vegas Raiders at Bank of America Stadium on September 13, 2020 in Charlotte, North Carolina. Las Vegas won 34-30.
(Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)

Robby Anderson

  • Team: Carolina
  • Age (Dec. 2022): 29
  • Free-agent type: Unrestricted

Robby Anderson had a breakout season in 2020 as he ranked 15th in the NFL with 1,096 receiving yards and 10th with 95 receptions. He played a much different style of football than he did with the Jets, mostly feeding on short, quick throws. Exemplifying this, he caught a career-high 69.9% of his targets but averaged a career-low 11.5 yards per reception.

All told, Anderson wasn’t much better on a per-target basis than he was with the Jets. He averaged 8.1 yards per target for Carolina in 2020, the exact same average that he posted for the Jets in 2019. He picked up a touchdown or a first down on 36.0% of his targets with the Panthers, slightly lower than his 36.4% rate in 2019.

JuJu Smith-Schuster

  • Team: Pittsburgh
  • Age (Dec. 2022): 26
  • Free-agent type: Unrestricted

The Jets were apparently interested in JuJu Smith-Schuster this offseason, but he ended up re-signing with the Steelers on a one-year deal. He will hit free agency again at only 26 years old next offseason.

Smith-Schuster needs to have a big season on this one-year prove-it pact to overcome his massive production decline. He averaged abysmal marks of 8.6 yards per reception and 6.5 yards per target in 2020, generating only 831 yards with 128 targets.

Mike Williams

  • Team: LA Chargers
  • Age (Dec. 2022): 28
  • Free-agent type: Unrestricted

Mike Williams has not lived up to his status as the 7th overall pick in 2017, but he has developed into a solid starter in the NFL. Over the past three seasons, he accumulated per-16-game averages of 49 catches, 842 yards, and six touchdowns.

DJ Chark

  • Team: Jacksonville
  • Age (Dec. 2022): 26
  • Free-agent type: Unrestricted

Over the past two seasons, DJ Chark averaged 61.2 yards per game with 13 touchdowns in 28 games despite bad quarterbacking in Jacksonville. He had 1,008 yards in 15 games in 2019.

Tight end

The Jets have a stable of tight ends who each bring something to the table, but they lack a complete player who can be considered a long-term solution. Barring a resurgence from Chris Herndon in which he recaptures his 2018 form and makes his 2020 struggles a thing of the past, the tight end position will be one of the Jets’ most glaring weaknesses entering 2022.

Robert Tonyan

  • Team: Green Bay
  • Age (Dec. 2022): 28
  • Free-agent type: Unrestricted

Robert Tonyan was an advanced metrics darling in 2020. According to NFL Next Gen Stats, Tonyan caught 88.1% of his targets versus an “expected” catch rate of 71.4%, a plus-16.7% differential that led all players with at least 50 targets (regardless of position). Over 16 games, Tonyan collected 11 touchdowns while averaging 36.6 yards per game and 9.9 yards per target.

Gerald Everett
(Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

Gerald Everett

  • Team: Seattle
  • Age (Dec. 2022): 28
  • Free-agent type: Unrestricted

Gerald Everett had a solid four-year career with the Rams before signing with the Seahawks this offseason, where he could have a chance to set himself up for some big money by playing with Russell Wilson. Everett was seldom-used in Los Angeles, averaging 28.4 yards per game over the past two seasons, but his playmaking ability has always stood out as he has averaged 5.4 yards after catch per reception in his career (great for a tight end).

Eric Ebron

  • Team: Pittsburgh
  • Age (Dec. 2022): 29
  • Free-agent type: Unrestricted

Eric Ebron has put together a solid career since being drafted by the Lions in the first round of the 2014 draft. Since 2014, he ranks fifth among tight ends in receiving touchdowns (32) and eighth in receiving yards (3,753).

Over 15 games with the Steelers in 2020, Ebron scored five touchdowns and ranked 15th at the position with 558 yards (37.2 per game).

O.J. Howard

  • Team: Tampa Bay
  • Age (Dec. 2022): 28
  • Free-agent type: Unrestricted

The former 19th overall pick has had an extremely volatile career that has been riddled by injuries and stretches of poor play but has also featured flashes of brilliance. O.J. Howard had been averaging 36.6 yards per game with two touchdowns in four games to begin the 2020 season until a ruptured Achilles tendon ended his season, marking his fourth straight season to begin his career in which he missed multiple games.

Howard has been a highly efficient target throughout his career, averaging a spectacular 10.1 yards per target, but he has been unable to become a focal point of Tampa Bay’s offense outside of an eight-game 2018 season in which he averaged 56.5 yards per game. In each of his other three seasons, he failed to eclipse 40 yards per game.

Hayden Hurst

  • Team: Atlanta
  • Age (Dec. 2022): 29
  • Free-agent type: Unrestricted

Hayden Hurst was an efficient target for the Ravens over his first two seasons in the league but was seldom used. He was traded to the Falcons prior to the 2020 season and got a chance to show what he could do with a larger workload. Hurst got 88 targets over 16 games and tied for ninth among tight ends in receiving touchdowns (6), 10th in receptions (56), and 14th in receiving yards (571).

Evan Engram

  • Team: NY Giants
  • Age (Dec. 2022): 28
  • Free-agent type: Unrestricted

Evan Engram had a brutal 2020 season in spite of his seemingly solid total of 654 receiving yards. He had eight drops, caught only 4-of-19 contested targets (19.4%), scored only one touchdown, averaged only 6.0 yards per target, and was the intended target on six interceptions thrown by Giants quarterbacks.

None of Engram’s first few seasons were as bad as 2020, but this has been the general theme throughout his career. He has put up nice volume numbers as he has been fed a ton of targets, but he has consistently struggled with drops, contested targets, scoring touchdowns, and per-target yardage production.

Mike Gesicki

  • Team: Miami
  • Age (Dec. 2022): 27
  • Free-agent type: Unrestricted

Mike Gesicki has improved greatly in each of his three NFL seasons, peaking with a very solid season in 2020 that saw him score six touchdowns and rank fourth among tight ends with 703 receiving yards. Here are his slash lines in touchdowns/first downs/yards from 2018-20: 0/9/202, 5/20/570, 6/30/703.

Dallas Goedert

  • Team: Philadelphia
  • Age (Dec. 2022): 27
  • Free-agent type: Unrestricted

Dallas Goedert missed five games in 2020 but the former second-round pick had an excellent season, ranking fifth among tight ends with 47.6 receiving yards per game and dropping only two passes on the season.

Linebacker

The Jets are financially tied to C.J. Mosley through at least the 2022 season – cutting him in 2022 would result in $20.5 million of dead cap – so we know he will be starting in 2022 barring something drastic. Who will be starting next to him remains a question mark. We don’t even know who it will be this season – Jarrad Davis, Blake Cashman, Jamien Sherwood, and Hamsah Nasirildeen will compete for the role.

It would be great for the Jets’ future if one of those four players could establish themselves as a long-term solution, but if not, they could look to spend some of their cap space on a more surefire option at the off-ball linebacker position.

Jayon Brown
(Photo by Frederick Breedon/Getty Images)

Jayon Brown

  • Team: Tennessee
  • Age (Dec. 2022): 27
  • Free-agent type: Unrestricted

The inside linebacker position was strangely underpaid on the 2021 free-agent market, and no player exemplifies that more than Jayon Brown.

Brown entered the 2021 market with a tremendous resume. He is only 26 years old and has a proven track record of elite coverage. Brown led linebackers with 0.80 passes defended per game in 2020, and from 2018-20, he had the fourth-best Pro Football Coverage grade among linebackers. Yet, Brown only netted a one-year, $5.3 million deal from the Titans.

Most likely, Brown will continue to cover at an elite level, since he’s been doing it consistently throughout his career. If he can remain in peak form this season, we’ll see if he can cash in next year.

Nicholas Morrow

  • Team: Las Vegas
  • Age (Dec. 2022): 27
  • Free-agent type: Unrestricted

Nicholas Morrow’s story is basically the same as Brown’s, with the only major difference being that Brown has been playing great football for multiple seasons while Morrow’s appeal is based entirely on a 2020 breakout season. Like Brown, Morrow was a 26-year-old free agent who provided elite pass coverage in 2020 but only signed a relatively modest one-year deal. Morrow ranked second among linebackers with nine passes defended and third with 5.0 yards per target allowed.

Dont’a Hightower

  • Team: New England
  • Age (Dec. 2022): 32
  • Free-agent type: Unrestricted

Longtime Jet killer Dont’a Hightower – who ranks third among active players with 85 career tackles against the Jets (trailing Devin McCourty and Reshad Jones) – will hit the market five years after the Mike Maccagnan-led Jets apparently tried to lure him in with cupcakes. He opted out of the 2020 season due to COVID-19 concerns.

Hightower remains a weapon in the passing game. In 2019, his most recent season, Hightower allowed 7.1 yards per target in coverage (position average: 8.0) and led off-ball linebackers with 33 pressures as a pass rusher.

Anthony Barr

  • Team: Minnesota
  • Age (Dec. 2022): 30
  • Free-agent type: Unrestricted

Another linebacker with comical free-agent ties to the Maccagnan Jets. Anthony Barr had agreed with the Jets on a massive deal early in the 2019 free agency period, but backed out of it and opted to re-join the Vikings.

Barr is a great blitzer, as he posted a pressure rate of 20.2% from 2018-19 (2020 LB average: 14.3%), but his coverage has not been any better than average since he signed his new deal with Minnesota. Barr ranked at the 51st percentile among linebackers in PFF’s coverage grade in 2018 and at the 47th percentile in 2019.

Barr missed the final 14 games of the 2020 season with a torn pectoral muscle.

Darius Leonard

  • Team: Indianapolis
  • Age (Dec. 2022): 27
  • Free-agent type: Unrestricted

Perhaps the best linebacker in football, Darius Leonard has ranked as a top 8 linebacker at PFF in all three of his NFL seasons.

Leonard excels in every facet of the game. His coverage is elite, as he has given up a career touchdown-to-interception ratio of 3-to-7. He is an excellent pass rusher, creating pressure on a whopping 23.3% of his career pass-rush snaps. The man does not miss tackles, owning a career 15.3-to-1 ratio of tackles to missed tackles that nearly doubles the 2020 linebacker average of 8.3-to-1. Leonard also has a superb knack for big plays, racking up 22 pass deflections, nine forced fumbles, seven interceptions, and four fumble recoveries in his career.

Leighton Vander Esch

  • Team: Dallas
  • Age (Dec. 2022): 26
  • Free-agent type: Unrestricted

Leighton Vander Esch established perennial Pro Bowler potential in his rookie season but has seen his early career shellacked by injuries. He missed seven games in 2019 and six games in 2020.

Along with the missed time has come a decline in performance. Vander Esch had PFF’s 5th-best overall grade among linebackers as a rookie in 2018, but dropped to the 41st percentile in the category in 2019 and down again to the 33rd percentile in 2020.

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