Who can help the New York Jets improve their sure-handedness at WR?
The New York Jets‘ 2021 wide receiver unit was subpar in the “hands” aspect of the position. Whether it came to the easy catches or the tough ones, New York’s wideouts did not get the job done.
According to Pro Football Focus, the Jets’ wide receivers had a 7.1% drop rate, which ranked 19th out of 32 wide receiver units. The group also caught only 42.1% of its targets that were deemed “contested”, which ranked 24th.
Those rankings aren’t necessarily abysmal, but they’re not ideal for a team that is trying to support a developing young quarterback. New York needs to climb into the top-10 of those rankings next year to give Zach Wilson his best chance of succeeding.
That quest will begin on the free agent market.
Looking specifically at the two aforementioned categories – drops and contested catches – which impending free agents would provide the Jets with the most help?
To answer that question, I concocted a stat called “Catches Added” using Pro Football Focus’ drop and contested-catch data. It compares how many contested catches and drops each wide receiver had versus how many contested catches and drops they would be expected to have if they performed at the league-average rate in each category at their reception volume.
Essentially, it reveals each wide receiver’s combined ability to make contested catches and to avoid drops compared to the league average wide receiver.
Let’s use Braxton Berrios – the Jets’ leader in Catches Added – to exemplify how this stat works.
Berrios had one drop and 46 receptions this season. That’s one drop out of 47 catch opportunities, a rate of 2.1%. The league average drop rate for wide receivers in 2021 was 6.6%. That means the league average wide receiver would have had 3.1 drops on Berrios’ volume (6.6% of 47 is 3.1). So, Berrios had 2.1 fewer drops compared to the expectation.
Berrios caught five of his six contested targets, a sterling 83.3% rate. The league average contested-catch rate for wide receivers in 2021 was 46.8%, so if the league average wide receiver caught 46.8% of Berrios’ six contested targets, he’d have made 2.8 contested receptions. Berrios had 2.2 more contested catches compared to the expectation.
Combine Berrios’ plus-2.1 in the drop category and his plus-2.2 in the contested-catch category, and you get a total of 4.3 Catches Added. That number placed Berrios at 12th-best among all wide receivers in the NFL.
From an efficiency perspective, Berrios was even better. Berrios racked up his 4.3 Catches Added over 65 targets, which means his Catches Added boosted his overall catch rate by 6.6%. That ranked sixth-best out of 118 qualified wide receivers.
As a unit, the Jets’ wide receivers ranked 24th in total Catches Added (-4.0). Comparatively, the New England Patriots’ wide receivers led the NFL with 14.7 Catches Added. With support like that, it’s no wonder that rookie quarterback Mac Jones was able to look so comfortable in his rookie year.
Finding wideouts who make the quarterback’s life easier is a must for the Jets in their mission to supplement Zach Wilson’s development. Here are the five best free agent wide receivers (unrestricted only) when it came to Catches Added in the 2021 regular season.
5. A.J. Green, Arizona Cardinals
- Catches Added: +2.5 (27th out of 118 qualified WR)
At 33 years old, A.J. Green had an excellent bounce-back season for the Cardinals in 2021. He looked revitalized after showing signs of major decline with the Bengals in 2020.
Green had a better-than-average drop rate (5.3%) but it’s in the contested-catch category where he racked up value here. Green caught 13 of his 24 contested targets (54.1%), grabbing 1.8 contested catches above expectation (23rd among WR).
4. Christian Kirk, Arizona Cardinals
- Catches Added: +3.5 (21st out of 118 qualified WR)
Christian Kirk actually had a drop rate that was worse than average (7.2% with 6 total drops) but his incredible contested-catch production vaulted him up the leaderboard.
Kirk caught 12 of his 17 contested targets, a whopping 70.6% rate. His total of 4.1 contested catches above expectation ranked seventh-best among all wide receivers.
3. Chris Godwin, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
- Catches Added: +3.6 (18th out of 118 qualified WR)
Chris Godwin still cracked the top-20 despite missing three games and leaving early in another.
Godwin’s production comes from a healthy blend of contested-catch ability and drop minimization. He caught seven of his 11 contested targets (63.6%) and had only five drops against 98 receptions (4.9% drop rate), giving him 1.9 contested catches above expectation and 1.8 fewer drops versus expectation. There are only seven wide receivers who outperformed Godwin in both categories.
2. Braxton Berrios, New York Jets
- Catches Added: +4.3 (12th out of 118 qualified WR)
Braxton Berrios’ hands were an issue prior to the 2021 season, but he made extraordinary progress in that area this season. He entered the year with career numbers of a 37.5% contested-catch rate and a 10.4% drop rate before lighting it up with an 83.3% contested-catch rate and a 2.1% drop rate in 2021.
Those elite numbers came over a small sample, so it’s realistic to expect some drop-off from Berrios in the future (especially in the contested-catch area). With that being said, he established himself as a substantially improved catcher and should be considered a reliable target going forward.
If the Jets’ priority at the wide receiver position is sure-handedness, they are not going to find many players who were better than Berrios in 2021.
1. Davante Adams, Green Bay Packers
- Catches Added: +5.3 (7th out of 118 qualified WR)
The clear-cut No. 1 wide receiver on the free agent market, Davante Adams lives up to that billing on this list.
Adams was solid in the contested-catch area, grabbing 14 of his 28 targets (50.0%). But it’s his ability to make the easy catches with astounding consistency that sets him apart.
While making 123 catches, Adams only had four drops, giving him a drop rate of 3.1%. The average wide receiver would have had 8.3 drops over the same volume. Adams’ total of 4.3 fewer drops versus expectation ranked second-best among all wide receivers, trailing only Tyler Boyd of the Bengals (+4.4).
Honorable mentions, notable omission
Here are the top-ranked qualifiers in Catches Added among unrestricted free agents:
- Chris Moore, Texans: +2.5 (29th)
- Russell Gage, Falcons: +1.8 (36th)
- Laquon Treadwell, Jaguars: +1.6 (37th)
- Adam Humphries, Football Team: +1.6 (39th)
- T.Y. Hilton, Colts: +1.3 (43rd)
- Danny Amendola, Texans: +1.2 (44th)
- Zay Jones, Raiders: +1.1 (45th)
- Chester Rogers, Titans: +0.8 (49th)
A notable omission is Mike Williams of the Chargers, who had 1,146 receiving yards, trailing only Adams among unrestricted free agent wide receivers. He placed 64th out of 118 qualifiers with only +0.3 Catches Added. While Williams was good at contested catches (21/41, 51.2%), he had a few too many drops (7 drops, 76 catches, 8.4% drop rate).