Who can solve the New York Jets’ specific roster problems?
Yesterday, I broke down four particular weaknesses that ailed the New York Jets in 2021. The Jets ranked either 31st or 32nd in each of these four specific categories, contributing majorly to the team’s lack of production in more wide-ranging statistics such as total offense and total defense.
Let’s identify some free agents and draft prospects who can help the Jets turn things around in these areas.
1. WRs who can produce vs. man coverage
In 2021, the Jets’ wide receiver unit ranked 17th in yards per route run against zone coverage (1.46) but 31st in yards per route run against man coverage (1.17).
New York must find wideouts who can win on an island.
Best free agent: Russell Gage (Atlanta Falcons)
Without taking the cop-out answer of Davante Adams (who is obviously the best free-agent WR in most categories), the best man-beating WR on the market surprisingly might be Russell Gage of the Falcons.
Gage, who recently turned 26, just averaged career-highs of 55.0 yards per game and 8.2 yards per target in 2021. He caught 66 of his 92 targets for 770 yards and four touchdowns.
The LSU product’s excellent efficiency in man-to-man situations played a big role in his improvement. Gage averaged 2.84 yards per route run against man coverage, which ranked eighth-best out of the 68 WRs to face at least 20 targets against man coverage. That number is 76.4% higher than the 2021 league average of 1.61 for WRs.
When facing man coverage, Gage caught 18 of 28 targets for 230 yards, three touchdowns, and 11 first downs.
The most impressive aspect of Gage’s man-coverage production is the frequency at which he drew targets, which is an indicator of his separation ability. Gage was targeted on 34.6% of his man-coverage routes, which ranked third-best out of qualified WRs and put him in terrific company:
- D.K. Metcalf, 39.2% (38 targets on 97 man-coverage routes)
- A.J. Brown, 36.1% (39 on 108)
- Russell Gage, 34.6% (28 on 81)
- Cooper Kupp, 34.0% (48 on 141)
- Davante Adams, 33.1% (56 on 169)
Best draft prospect: Garrett Wilson (Ohio St.)
You cannot go wrong in this category between projected first-round wide receivers Drake London, Treylon Burks, Jameson Williams, and Garrett Wilson. All four players had great man-coverage production in 2021.
Wilson takes the cake, though.
Throwing the ball to Wilson against man coverage resulted in amazing results for the Buckeyes. Ohio State had a passer rating of 157.8 when targeting Wilson vs. man-to-man, which was the best mark in the nation among WRs to face at least 20 targets against man coverage.
Wilson caught 18 of his 21 man-coverage targets (85.7%) for 260 yards (12.4 per target) and five touchdowns. He had zero drops in those situations and caught five of his six contested targets (83.3%).
2. RBs and TEs who can pass block
New York needs to add running backs and tight ends who can block after the team’s RBs and TEs combined to allow pressure on 9.86% of their pass-blocking snaps in 2021, worst of any RB/TE unit in the NFL.
Best free agent RB: Malcolm Brown (Miami Dolphins)
A 5-foot-11, 225-pound power back, Malcolm Brown uses his size to stonewall blitzers in pass protection.
Brown earned a Pro Football Focus pass-blocking grade of 91.7 in 2021, the best of any RB. He only allowed one pressure on 44 pass-blocking snaps (2.27% rate).
For his career, Brown has not allowed a sack over 182 pass-blocking snaps. He’s given up 12 pressures (6.59% pressure rate). The 2021 league average for RBs was 8.83%.
Brown is a solid short-yardage back who scored 10 touchdowns for the Rams from 2019-20 despite only getting 170 carries over that span. If the Jets want to complement Michael Carter with a bruiser who can also pass-protect, Brown is a great option.
Best draft prospect at RB: Tyler Allgeier (BYU)
A former Cougar teammate of Zach Wilson, Tyler Allgeier allowed only one pressure over 95 pass-blocking snaps in 2021, a rate of 1.05%. Allgeier’s current stock suggests he will go off the board early in the third day of the draft.
Best free agent TE: Dalton Schultz (Dallas Cowboys)
Dalton Schultz is a big-name free agent because of his receiving production, but he supplements his fantasy numbers with some of the best blocking ability in the league.
Schultz gave up only one pressure on 63 pass-blocking snaps in 2021, a 1.59% rate. That ranked second-best among the 23 tight ends who played at least 50 pass-blocking snaps. The 2021 NFL average for TEs was 6.25%.
Those numbers were a continuation of the norm for Schultz, who has given up three pressures on 146 pass-blocking snaps in his career (2.05% rate).
Best draft prospect at TE: Trey McBride (Colorado St.)
Trey McBride is the consensus No. 1 tight end prospect at the moment. Like Schultz, his pass-catching abilities are what vault him to the pinnacle, but he adds to his game with legitimate top-end blocking production to boot.
McBride did not allow any pressures over 27 pass-blocking snaps in 2021. For his career, he gave up only two pressures on 188 pass-blocking snaps (1.06% rate). Both of those were hurries – McBride allowed zero hits and zero sacks.
3. Right-side pass rush ability at EDGE
With right defensive end Carl Lawson sidelined, the Jets’ edge rushers combined for only 38 pressures off the right side of the defensive line, ranking 31st of any EDGE unit in the NFL. New York’s lack of pass-rush juice off the right edge (the QB’s blindside) was perhaps its greatest defensive weakness in 2021.
Lawson should solve this problem upon returning, but with his extremely spotty injury history, the Jets need security at this spot. Not to mention, we don’t even know if Lawson will be the same player he once was.
Best free agent: Charles Harris (Detroit Lions)
Former first-round pick Charles Harris had a quietly good season in 2021, finally showing the potential that prompted the Miami Dolphins to select him 22nd overall out of Missouri in 2017.
Harris collected a career-high 52 pressures, ranking 20th among edge rushers. He picked up 42 of those pressures from the right side, ranking sixth-best at the position.
Best draft prospect: Kayvon Thibodeaux (Oregon)
Likely top-five pick Kayvon Thibodeaux split his time fairly evenly between both sides of the defensive line in 2021. However, it was on the right side where he was at his most dominant. Here are Thibodeaux’s 2021 pass-rush splits by side:
- Left side: 143 pass-rush snaps, 21 total pressures (14.69% rate), three sacks (2.10%)
- Right side: 123 pass-rush snaps, 24 total pressures (19.51% rate), six sacks (4.88%)
Thibodeaux also had seven QB hits to go with six sacks on the right side, giving him 13 total knockdowns on 123 right-side rushes. That’s a rate of 10.57%, which led all qualified Power-5 edge rushers.
4. Coverage ability at S
The Jets’ safeties allowed an average of 11.2 yards per target on throws in their direction, the worst mark of any safety group in the NFL. New York needs any form of coverage help it can get at this position.
Best free agent: Marcus Williams (New Orleans Saints)
Marcus Williams is one of the best deep safeties in the NFL, providing a combination of high-level playmaking and the ability to minimize mistakes.
Williams has 15 interceptions in his five-year career, snagging at least two in each campaign. He has not sacrificed touchdowns to make those plays, giving up a comparatively minuscule total of nine touchdown passes in his career.
Over 76 career games, Williams has been credited with allowing only 48 completed passes, an average of 10.7 completions allowed per 17 games.
Williams ranked seventh-best among qualified safeties with an 84.3 coverage grade at PFF in 2021. It marks his fourth top-15 finish in the category in five NFL seasons, and his third top-8 finish.
Best draft prospect: Kerby Joseph (Illinois)
Notre Dame’s Kyle Hamilton is the consensus No. 1 safety prospect and has a near-100% chance of being the first player drafted at the position (likely coming early in the top 10).
However, it’s Kerby Joseph of Illinois who boasts the best coverage production of the 2022 safety class.
Joseph’s 90.6 coverage grade at PFF led all safeties in the nation this past season. Across 11 games and 357 coverage snaps, Joseph allowed just nine catches on 19 targets for 134 yards and a pair of touchdowns. He made as many plays on the ball as his opponents did, collecting five interceptions, two pass deflections, and two fumble recoveries.
It appears that Joseph will be selected early on the third day of the draft. Perhaps the Jets could forgo drafting Hamilton in the top 10 and look for safety help later on with a productive player like Joseph.
Joseph is not the Jets’ only option for that approach. Projected second-round picks Jaquan Brisker (Penn St.) and Lewis Cine (Georgia) also had comparable coverage production to Hamilton in 2021. Both of the aforementioned players had a better PFF coverage grade than Hamilton’s 81.0.