Corey Davis isn’t proving himself to be a true No. 1 WR for the New York Jets
Corey Davis is having himself a decent season in his first year with the New York Jets. In seven games, he has caught 29 of 49 targets for 442 yards, four touchdowns, and 16 first downs. Those are good numbers. Davis is averaging 63.1 receiving yards per game, which would be the best mark by a Jet since Brandon Marshall (93.9) and Eric Decker (68.5) in 2015.
However, Davis is not quite proving himself to be the go-to guy that the Jets hoped they would be getting when they promised him $27 million guaranteed (18th-highest total among WR).
Wide receivers who earn the title of a “No. 1” must be able to consistently present themselves as a trusty option for the quarterback. To accomplish such a feat, they must thrive at creating separation on an island against man coverage.
Davis has not been able to do that.
Ten weeks into the season, there is an enormous disparity between Davis’ production against man coverage and his production against zone coverage.
Percentile ranks among 72 qualified wide receivers
- Routes vs. man coverage: 1.13 yards per route run (14th), 6.0 yards per target (24th)
- Routes vs. zone coverage: 2.66 yards per route run (94th), 12.0 yards per target (89th)
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Davis has been outstanding against zone coverage, which is great, but he is getting locked down when teams challenge him with physical man coverage, and it is crushing the Jets’ offense.
As Jets X-Factor’s Vitor Paiva broke down in his film review of the Jets’ Week 10 loss to Buffalo, a big reason for the offense’s struggles was the inability of the wide receivers to separate against man coverage. Davis was at the center of those woes.
While Davis finished the game with five catches for 93 yards, none of his grabs came against man coverage, and nearly half of those yards (2 grabs for 39 yards) came in garbage time. Davis’ lack of separation played a role in multiple Mike White blunders.
Back in Week 2, Davis caught only two passes on five targets for a season-low 8 yards against New England’s notoriously man-heavy defense. He had no catches on two targets against man coverage. Zach Wilson often had no options due largely to his top receiver’s inability to separate, leading to a multitude of mistakes.
Davis was shut down by the Broncos in Week 3 with only five catches for 41 yards despite getting a season-high 10 targets. He caught 2-of-4 targets for 14 yards against man coverage.
If you are going to be a team’s clear-cut No. 1 wide receiver, you have to win when the opposing defense challenges you with one-on-one coverage. Otherwise, the quarterback will be unable to punish teams for sending aggressive blitzes.
Davis is not getting the job done in man-to-man situations right now, and until he does, he will continue hurting the Jets’ offense against teams that play man-heavy defense.
In Week 11, the Miami Dolphins await – who play more man coverage than every team outside of Massachusetts.
Whoever is at quarterback for the Jets will be in for a difficult afternoon if Davis cannot get his route-running against man coverage back on track.
Now, it’s not as if Davis has never been good against man coverage and the Jets were foolish to sign him and think he’d magically get good at it. Davis does have the ability to beat man coverage. He showed it off during his breakout 2020 season with the Titans.
Davis averaged 2.46 yards per route run (81st percentile among WR) and 9.5 yards per target (74th percentile) against man coverage in 2020. He had huge games against man-heavy teams like the Lions (4/6 for 110 and 1 TD), Bengals (8/9 for 128 and 1 TD), and Ravens (5/7 for 113) – although Baltimore got revenge in the Wild Card round by holding Davis to no grabs on two targets.
As for his performance against zone coverage, Davis’ fantastic numbers this season are nothing new. When facing zone coverage in 2020, Davis averaged 2.74 yards per route run (98th percentile among WR) and 12.3 yards per target (96th percentile).
Davis has proven that he can exploit the soft spots in zone coverage as well as anyone. But to fulfill his potential, he has to complement that ability with high-level performance against man coverage.
Somewhere inside of him, Davis has the talent to be a great man-coverage beater. We’ve seen it. Can he find a way to bring it back?
New York badly needs him to. Zach Wilson’s development depends on it.
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