Should the New York Jets go after Maxx Williams?
Yesterday I was putting together my newsletter around the issue the New York Jets have with the TE position, a position group that should be a young quarterback’s best friend, yet turned into a bit of a young quarterback’s nightmare.
I didn’t go into that exercise with Maxx Williams on my mind – in fact, he was one of the last tight ends I decided to look at for the comparison piece – but the more I looked into him, the more I liked.
Recapping the 2021 New York Jets tight end room
In total, the Jets ran out five different TEs in 2021, and none of them staked a claim to return in 2022. Between all five of them, they were targeted 75 times and caught 50 passes for 534 yards, three touchdowns, and eight drops. Their cumulative average run-blocking grade was 58.9 according to Pro Football Focus, and that’s significantly helped by the 69.8 grade given to Trevon Wesco who spent most of his time as a fullback.
In short, the Jets had one of the worst TE rooms in football.
Fortunately for the Jets, the 2022 offseason is a good time to be looking for TE help. The depth in the draft is as good as it’s been for years and regardless of what the team does in free agency, I firmly believe that the Jets will be drafting a TE come April.
Having spoken to a couple of people on the ground at the Senior Bowl in Mobile, the common feedback I got was that the Jets’ coaching staff “loved” multiple TEs in their National Team group, and that the two names to watch out for were Colorado State’s Trey McBride and Iowa State’s Charlie Kolar.
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Why does Maxx Williams make sense?
Today I’m going to focus on free agent Maxx Williams, but I do just want to make clear that I’m not saying the Jets should target the former Arizona Cardinal as their main priority.
I believe that Dalton Schultz should be the priority and if he doesn’t break free and the Jets need to pivot, they then should move to secondary options. In my mind, those options revolve around David Njoku from Cleveland, C.J Uzomah from the Bengals, or Gerald Everett from Seattle. But an unheralded name to watch is Maxx Williams, and here’s why.
The Jets’ system relies on the TE to do their job in the blocking game. It’s key to the outside zone system that they run. San Francisco is fortunate to have George Kittle, who’s one of the best blocking TEs in football, but not everybody is fortunate enough to have a Kittle.
So here is the first feather in the bow for Maxx Williams: his PFF run-block grade has been a 70 or better in five of his seven NFL seasons. He has surpassed the mark in four straight seasons dating back to his 2018 season in Baltimore. For reference, a run-block grade of 70 is usually good enough for the top-15 out of qualified tight ends.
I know it’s not sexy, but this system works when you get blocking from the TE position.
Williams has never really been featured as a starting TE outside his rookie year in Baltimore. Back in 2015 he was targeted 45 times and caught 31 passes for a 71.1% catch rate, and in fact, he’s about as reliable as you come. Over his entire career, he’s been targeted 122 times and he’s caught 103 of those passes (84.4%) while dropping just two (his last drop was in 2019).
While Williams is not explosive by any means, but his yards per reception rates over the last three years sit at lofty marks of 13.5, 12.8, and 12.1.
Williams has enough flexibility where you can line him up in-line, out wide, or in the slot to create mismatches against sub-packages. He’s a big body at 6-foot-4 and 252 pounds, but not so big that he doesn’t have the movement skills necessary for this system. He hasn’t found himself in many contested-catch situations over his career (4), but he’s converted 75% of them (3). While you wouldn’t call him slippery in the open field, he did force five missed tackles on just 16 receptions last season.
If you’re bringing Maxx Williams in to be your TE1, you’ve got issues. But if you’re bringing Maxx Williams in to be your TE2 then you have some potential. Williams can come in on key running downs and be a reliable target for Zach Wilson, which is what’s desperately needed.
There is one key figure that jumped off the page at me. Williams had an average of 8.0 yards after the catch in 2021 which ranked him third-best among qualified tight ends. Go back to 2020 and he’s there again, as his 8.3 average yards after catch put him third in the league that year as well. The Jets like players who can generate yardage after the catch, and it appears Williams can do that.
Our problem here is sample size. Williams caught only eight passes in 2020 and 16 passes in 2021.
Here’s another big red flag for Williams: injuries. Maxx has missed significant time over the last two years. In 2020 he landed on IR with an ankle injury which limited him to just nine games. In Week 5 of 2021 he suffered a torn ACL which finished his season.
The Jets have had considerable issues with injuries over the last couple of years, so bringing in someone who has missed time recently may not be a recipe for success.
PFF has projected Williams’ contract at three years and $18.75 million with $10 million guaranteed. Personally, I think you’ll be able to get him a little cheaper than that considering he’s coming off an ACL injury.
The Jets can save $3 million on the cap by cutting Ryan Griffin this offseason, so if they could replace Griffin with Williams by only adding $2 million to the cap ($5 million annual value), I think that’s an interesting option. It’s not the only option and I don’t think it’s Plan A, but it’s an option nonetheless.
In 2021 the Jets ran 61% of their plays from 11 personnel (meaning there was only one tight end on the field), which is the same as the league average of 61%. The Jets used 12 personnel (2 TEs) on 20% of their plays which is again right around the league average of 21%. So the Jets may decide to draft one of the top TEs like Trey McBride and then go for a lower free agent option like a Maxx Williams.