C.J. Uzomah is one of five New York Jets free agent targets to watch in Cincinnati Bengals-Tennessee Titans game
The NFL playoffs are a perfect time for New York Jets fans to do two things: one, be jealous of other teams that get to feel glory in January, and two, scout players from those teams who could help the Jets achieve that same January glory in the future.
Here are five free agents in Saturday’s Divisional playoff game between the Cincinnati Bengals and Tennessee Titans (4:30 p.m. ET) that Jets fans should keep a close eye on.
Bengals TE C.J. Uzomah (Jersey No. 87)
C.J. Uzomah had a breakout year in Cincinnati, posting career-highs of 49 catches, 493 receiving yards, and five receiving touchdowns over 16 games. He built upon his improved regular season with a great Wild Card performance in the Bengals’ win over Las Vegas, catching all six of his targets for 64 yards and a touchdown.
In a league where quality receiving tight ends have become increasingly scarce in recent seasons compared to years past, Uzomah should get himself a handsome paycheck on the open market.
Keep an eye on Uzomah’s blocking in today’s game. He is not highly-regarded in this phase at Pro Football Focus. The analytics website scored Uzomah with a run-blocking grade of 60.9 this season, which ranked at the 49th percentile among qualified tight ends.
It’s also worth noting that Uzomah is no youngster. He is already 29 years old.
The Jets will need good blocking ability from any new tight ends they add, so if Uzomah is only a league-average blocker, the Jets should probably be wary of splurging on a 29-year-old whose career year featured under 500 receiving yards.
If Uzomah can be had affordably, though, he’d be a nice target as a complementary tight end for New York.
Bengals FS Jessie Bates (Jersey No. 30)
Jessie Bates is a polarizing free-agent figure. His worth will depend on whether teams think they will get the 2020 version of him or the 2021 version.
Bates broke out with an incredible 2020 season, particularly dominating in coverage. That year, Bates led all safeties with 15 passes defended (three more than any other safety). He allowed a 42.3 passer rating on throws into his coverage, ranking second-best among qualified safeties (trailing only Minkah Fitzpatrick).
PFF ranked Bates as the No. 1 safety in football for the 2020 regular season.
The 2021 season marked a big step back for Bates from a production standpoint. He collected only four passes defended while his allowed passer rating ballooned to 135.0, which was third-highest among qualified safeties. Bates earned an overall PFF grade of 56.2 that ranked at the 16th percentile among qualified safeties.
Which version of Bates are you getting? That is the difficult question that teams will have to answer when pondering how much money they should throw Bates’ way.
Bates does offer two things that teams love in a free agent: youth and durability. Bates will turn 25 in February and has only missed two games in his career.
It’s worth noting that Bates experienced a performance drop-off after a neck injury that kept him out for one game in Week 4. Over his first three games, Bates had a 75.6 overall PFF grade that ranked ninth-best out of 71 qualifiers. From his return in Week 5 through the end of the year, Bates had a 48.1 grade that ranked 62nd out of 64 qualifiers.
Bates showed up under the bright lights of the playoffs in the Wild Card round. He posted a season-best 85.6 overall PFF grade thanks to his lockdown coverage. Bates allowed zero catches over a whopping 61 snaps in coverage, breaking up each of the two targets that were thrown in his direction.
Can Bates continue using the playoffs to quell doubts about his regular season woes?
The Jets badly need safety help, so they could absolutely be one of the teams that decide to chase Bates on the open market.
Bengals DT B.J. Hill (Jersey No. 92)
Former Giants defensive tackle B.J. Hill had an outstanding season playing on the interior of Cincinnati’s defensive line.
Hill was especially good against the run. He ranked at the 93rd percentile among interior defensive linemen in run-stop rate (11.2%) and the 86th percentile in PFF’s run-defense grade (68.6).
To boot, Hill was by no means a bad pass-rusher – he was actually above-average. Hill ranked at the position’s 70th percentile in pressure rate (8.9%) and the 54th percentile PFF’s pass-rush grade (65.1).
With multiple key rotation players hitting free agency (Foley Fatukasi, Nathan Shepherd) and one of their two returning starters having an escapable contract while coming off a disappointing year (Sheldon Rankins), the Jets could use help on the inside.
Hill is a two-phase force who can play anywhere on the interior, ranging from the nose all the way out to the 4i-tech spot.
Bengals CB Eli Apple (Jersey No. 20)
The Jets could possibly look for help at cornerback this offseason, but if they do, it seems unlikely that they will spend aggressively at the position based on the career track records of Robert Saleh and Joe Douglas. That means a mid-tier option like Eli Apple could come into play, simply for the sake of adding depth and competition to the room.
Apple did not have an amazing season in 2021 but he was fine. The former Giant ranked 61st out of 96 qualified cornerbacks with a decent 61.6 PFF coverage grade and placed 33rd with an allowed passer rating of 86.2, a career-best.
On the positive side, Apple did a nice job of handling his assignments to prevent throws in his direction. He was targeted on just 10.0% of his snaps in coverage, ranking third-best among qualified cornerbacks. The problem is that when Apple was targeted, he allowed 13.1 yards per reception, which ranked 77th out of 96 qualifiers.
Titans EDGE Harold Landry (Jersey No. 58)
There is a good chance that the Jets will be searching for another big-time pass rusher to add into their defensive front-seven. Harold Landry is one of the most productive edge rushers set to hit the open market.
At 6-foot-2 and 252 pounds, Landry is a hybrid edge defender who can either stand up and play outside linebacker (where he often drops into coverage) or put his hands in the dirt and play defensive end.
Landry ranked 10th in the NFL with 12 sacks this season and ranked eighth among edge rushers with 64 pressures.
However, there are reasons to be concerned about the legitimacy of Landry’s pass-rush production.
Landry records a lot of his production off of games/stunts and on hustle/cleanup plays. He does not actually get many straight-up pass-rush wins.
At PFF, Landry owned a pass-rush win rate of 12.0% this season, which ranked only 70th out of 119 qualified edge rushers (42nd percentile). His PFF pass-rush grade of 56.5 ranked 96th of 119 (19th percentile).
Those things essentially tell us that Landry’s production is replaceable.
Teams thinking about pursuing Landry will have to decide whether they think he is actually a game-changer or if his numbers are fool’s gold.
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