The New York Jets have options if Braxton Berrios skips town
If the New York Jets lose Braxton Berrios in free agency, they’ll have to find a player who can replicate the things he brings to the table. Specifically, we’re talking about his screen effectiveness, rushing capability, and gadget prowess on offense in addition to his return ability on special teams.
Looking at both the free-agent market and the 2022 NFL draft, here are some potential replacements for Berrios if he heads elsewhere.
Jakeem Grant (Chicago Bears)
A 5-foot-7, 171-pound energizer, Jakeem Grant has carved out a solid NFL career thanks to his incredible speed and quickness, which teams have put to use in ways similar to how the Jets utilized Berrios in 2021.
Grant is a highly efficient weapon in the screen game. Over the past two seasons with the Bears and Dolphins, Grant caught all 11 of his screen targets and turned them into 124 yards (11.3 per play) and five first downs (45.5% conversion rate). For reference, the 2021 NFL averages for screen plays were 6.0 yards per play and a 29.6% conversion rate.
Teams have used Grant in the run game, too. He has 17 career carries for 76 yards (4.5 per carry), five first downs, and one touchdown.
Grant is a fantastic returner who should be able to match Berrios’ production in that phase. He is averaging 10.3 yards per punt return and 24.5 yards per kickoff return in his career, scoring four punt return touchdowns and two kickoff return touchdowns. Grant has scored as a returner in four consecutive seasons.
For reference, the 2021 NFL averages for punt and kickoff returns were 8.8 and 22.2, respectively.
The Texas Tech product is an unrestricted free agent. He is 29 years old and will turn 30 in October.
Isaiah McKenzie (Buffalo Bills)
Like Grant, Isaiah McKenzie is a small receiver at 5-foot-8 and 173 pounds, but he has been able to stick thanks to his athleticism and production on schemed-up plays.
Since 2018, McKenzie has been a frequent weapon on screens for the Bills, turning 39 screen targets into 223 yards (5.7 per play) and nine first downs (23.1% conversion rate).
While the raw efficiency of those numbers is not great, it had to be noted that McKenzie created most of the production himself. He forced 14 missed tackles on those 39 screen plays. That’s an average of 0.359 missed tackles forced per screen target, substantially better than the 2021 NFL average of 0.209.
In the run game, McKenzie has 38 career carries for 175 yards (4.6 per carry), 15 first downs, and three touchdowns.
McKenzie is not quite as accomplished of a returner as Grant but he is solid. He owns a career average of 8.9 yards per punt return with one touchdown while he has returned 44 career kickoffs for 22.0 yards per return, including a career-high mark of 24.3 this season.
An unrestricted free agent, the Georgia Bulldog will turn 27 years old in April.
Wan’Dale Robinson (Kentucky)
Our next three options are 2022 NFL draft prospects. Each of them is not projected to be selected in the first round.
Wan’Dale Robinson was recruited to Nebraska as a running back and would split duties between the backfield and the slot during his two seasons playing there. In 2021, the 5-foot-11, 185-pound weapon transferred to Kentucky and became a full-time slot receiver, transferring his running back skills to the position.
Robinson was targeted 39 times on screens in 2021, ranking third among FBS wide receivers. He turned them into 268 yards (6.9 per play), two touchdowns, and 11 first downs (33.3% conversion rate) while breaking 13 tackles. Additionally, he rushed seven times for 111 yards.
There is work to do for Robinson in the return game, however. He produced only 15 yards on seven career punt returns (2.1 per return) and was mediocre as a kickoff returner with a 21.5-yard average on 11 returns (all coming in his first season).
Most draft outlets are pegging Robinson to go off the board late in the second round or early in the third round.
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Khalil Shakir (Boise St.)
A six-foot, 190-pound slot receiver who occasionally lined up in the backfield, Khalil Shakir was a multi-faceted playmaker at Boise State.
Shakir received only 15 screen targets in 2021 but was able to convert on eight of them (53.3%), racking up seven first downs and a touchdown with the fairly small diet of chances. He also picked up 116 yards (7.7 per play).
The Broncos used Shakir in the run game frequently throughout all four of his seasons. He ran 71 times for 414 yards (5.8 per carry), four touchdowns, and 24 first downs in his career.
In the return game, Shakir averaged 7.5 yards on 24 punt returns and 23.9 yards on seven kickoff returns.
Shakir is mostly expected to be taken in the third or fourth round.
Jerreth Sterns (Western Kentucky)
In a previous breakdown, I identified Western Kentucky’s Jerreth Sterns as one of the most sure-handed receivers in the class. He only had three drops while catching a nation-leading 150 passes.
Here’s a big reason that Sterns was able to rack up such a high number of catches without dropping many passes: he was fed a ton of screens.
Sterns led the FBS with 68 targets on screens in 2021, 19 more than any other player. He did well with them, though, converting on 27 of them (4 touchdowns, 23 first downs) for a conversion rate of 39.7%. None of the 68 targets were dropped.
Standing at 5-foot-9 and 195 pounds, Sterns is another small receiver.
New York could likely grab Sterns late in the third day of the draft.