NY Jets wide receiver Braxton Berrios has his limitations, but he has proven he can thrive as a situational weapon.
As part of a deep wide receiver depth chart that features five other names that are more enticing than his own, Braxton Berrios will most likely not be seeing much time on the field when the unit is at full health. He will obviously be thrust into action in the event of an injury or two, but when each of the team’s top six wideouts is in uniform, Berrios will probably only see a handful of snaps if he even gets on the field at all.
And that’s the perfect way for the Jets to utilize him. In 2020, Berrios struggled in a featured role but showcased proficiency in a very limited role.
Due to injuries at the wide receiver position, Berrios played 30.3 snaps per game over his first seven appearances, and he performed inefficiently. After that stretch, Berrios played only 6.0 snaps per game over his next eight appearances, and in that role, he produced at a ridiculously high level of efficiency.
With only 34 routes run – around the equivalent of one games’ worth for the typical starting wide receiver in the NFL – Berrios snatched 14 of 17 targets for 184 yards, one touchdown, and seven first downs.
Imagine that your favorite wide receiver dropped a line of 14 catches, 184 yards, and eight conversions in one game. That’s how good Berrios was in his situational role over the second half of 2020. He spread out the value of one elite performance over eight games.
The Jets fed the ball to Berrios at an incredibly high frequency when he entered the game in the second half of the season. Berrios was targeted on 50.0% of his routes run, which is absurd. For reference, the NFL’s 2020 leader in targets, Stefon Diggs, was targeted on 166 of his 611 routes run, a rate of just 27.3%.
Let’s take a look at some examples of what Berrios was doing to achieve that insane level of production.
Running back duty
The Jets experimented with Berrios in the backfield. He lined up at running back on 15 snaps in 2020, and it became a fairly large part of his role in the second half of the year.
Berrios played running back on six of his 242 snaps (2.5%) in the first half and nine of his 48 snaps in the second half (18.8%).
There’s nothing special about this one; it’s just an example of Berrios being utilized creatively. Berrios lines up aside Joe Flacco in the gun and sprints into the flat for an easy 13-yard gain on third-and-2.
Placing players in unusual positions can cause confusion for the defense, which is what happens here.
Berrios lines up to the left of Sam Darnold in a shotgun look and runs out of the backfield. He stems vertically before breaking out. Darnold takes immediate pressure from the left side, making Berrios the hot read.
Darnold does a great job of slinging the ball around the rusher and launching it into Berrios’ vicinity before Berrios even makes his break. Berrios contorts his body all the way around for a tough catch, making the third-down conversion.
Lining up behind Darnold, who is under center, Berrios is the target on a trick play. Berrios effectively executes two fakes to help make the play work. First, he motions as if he is catching a pitch, which the slot cornerback bites on. Then, he jogs into the flat while staring back at the play, prompting the strong safety to ignore him, which is what opens him up.
This isn’t a world-class play, but it is a great example of the Jets dialing up a play specifically for Berrios, which is something they did quite often once he was relegated to a minor role.
The screen game was another big part of Berrios’ late-season production. From Weeks 9-17, he caught five screen passes for 57 yards and two first downs. Over the same span, the rest of the wide receivers on the team combined for six catches, 35 yards, and two first downs on screen passes.
Berrios lines up tight to the formation, off the line of scrimmage as the innermost of two slot receivers on the right side (Jamison Crowder being the other).
The Jets toss him a bubble screen with Crowder and Breshad Perriman out in front against two defenders. They perform their blocks solidly, Berrios finds the hole they create, and he makes a defender miss on his way to 25 yards.
Following some creative pre-snap motion from Crowder, the Jets toss a screen to Berrios in the left slot. Berrios slices back inside, following behind the blocks of Chris Herndon and Mekhi Becton (the latter of which does a fantastic job on this play, blocking two defenders in the open field). It’s a gain of 17 yards on first down.
Berrios motions from right to left and then jets back across just before the snap. Darnold pops the ball to him as he passes by. Berrios sees the outside leverage and George Fant and Ty Johnson, so he cuts upfield behind them and gets a healthy six-yard gain on first down.
One trait that stands out on all three of the plays above is Berrios’ vision. He is excellent at identifying the best hole available and hitting it quickly. This is a skill that he maximizes both on offense and as a punt returner.
All of the plays above feature Berrios either in the backfield or in the slot, but he did damage when lined up on the outside as well.
At the point of a stack formation with Denzel Mims behind him, Berrios runs a deep crossing route and makes an easy 34-yard catch. Crowder attracts the attention of three defenders underneath, including the middle linebacker, which is what frees Berrios up.
As the outermost receiver in a trips formation to the right side (field side), Berrios runs a 10-yard out against a cornerback giving an extremely soft cushion. Darnold launches a great throw and Berrios lays out to snag it, just barely tapping both feet in-bounds to record the catch.
Berrios has yet to prove he can be a starter in the NFL, but his short-area quickness and vision make him a valuable situational weapon who is capable of producing tremendous results when used intermittently on plays that are designed to get him the football.
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