Using the numbers to deduce who is best suited to be the New York Jets’ primary slot receiver
The New York Jets have established their starting wide receiver trio for the 2022 season: Elijah Moore, Corey Davis, and rookie Garrett Wilson. Barring a shockingly slow transition into the NFL for Wilson, these will be the Jets’ top three wideouts (in no particular order).
All three players are quite versatile – particularly Moore and Wilson – so it will be interesting to see how the Jets decide to utilize them from an alignment perspective.
More than anything else, I’m curious to see which of these receivers will play the most snaps in the slot.
Before we get into this debate, let’s be clear: football positions are not like baseball positions. Players don’t stand in the same spot for the whole game. Plenty of rotation is employed.
Like every NFL team, the Jets are going to rotate their receivers quite frequently, using all of them in many different roles throughout each game to try and create matchup advantages. Moore, Wilson, and even Davis will each play some slot reps in each game. They’ll all play on the outside at times, they’ll all play some X receiver, they’ll all play some Z receiver – you get the idea.
But in terms of frequency – who will play the most slot reps out of this trio?
To try and answer this question, I figured it would be a good idea to look back at each player’s 2021 production based on their alignment. How well did they perform in the slot versus when they were not in the slot?
Let’s dive in.
Garrett Wilson, Elijah Moore, and Corey Davis’ slot stats vs. outside stats
Elijah Moore and Corey Davis each performed significantly better on the outside than in the slot during the 2021 season.
Here’s a look at Moore and Davis’ stats when lined up in the slot, per Pro Football Focus:
- Moore: Ran 88 routes out of the slot and recorded 15 catches on 25 targets for 133 yards and 1 TD. Averaged 1.51 yards per route run (55th out of 117 qualified WR) and 5.3 yards per target (102nd)
- Davis: Ran 73 routes out of the slot and recorded 7 catches on 15 targets for 89 yards and 0 TD. Averaged 1.22 yards per route run (79th out of 117 qualified WR) and 6.4 yards per target (94th)
And here are Moore and Davis’ stats on any passing plays in which they did not line up in the slot:
- Moore: Ran 220 non-slot routes and recorded 28 catches on 49 targets for 405 yards and 4 TD. Averaged 1.84 yards per route run (43rd out of 117 qualified WR) and 8.3 yards per target (52nd)
- Davis: Ran 209 non-slot routes and recorded 29 catches on 45 targets for 403 yards and 4 TD. Averaged 1.93 yards per route run (34th out of 117 qualified WR) and 9.0 yards per target (35th)
Both players ran the bulk of their routes from the outside and were far more efficient when doing so.
Garrett Wilson, on the other hand, produced better numbers when lined up in the slot.
Wilson was primarily a slot receiver in 2020 before switching to playing the majority of his reps on the outside in 2021. Despite the change, Wilson was actually far more efficient in the slot during the 2021 season even though he only played a small portion of his reps in that alignment.
Here are Wilson’s numbers in 2021:
- Slot: Ran 61 routes out of the slot and recorded 18 catches on 22 targets for 297 yards and 4 TD. Averaged 4.87 yards per route run and 13.5 yards per target.
- Non-slot: Ran 292 non-slot routes and recorded 52 catches on 80 targets for 761 yards and 8 TD. Averaged 2.61 yards per route run and 9.5 yards per target.
Only 17% of Wilson’s routes were run out of the slot, yet, he picked up 28% of his yards and 33% of his touchdowns from the slot.
Even back in 2020, when Wilson was primarily playing in the slot, his numbers were better in that role (although the difference was much smaller). Here are Wilson’s 2020 splits:
- Slot: Ran 174 routes out of the slot and recorded 34 catches on 44 targets for 557 yards and 5 TD. Averaged 3.20 yards per route run and 12.7 yards per target.
- Non-slot: Ran 64 non-slot routes and recorded 9 catches on 14 targets for 166 yards and 1 TD. Averaged 2.59 yards per route run and 11.9 yards per target.
Overall, across the past two seasons, Wilson averaged 3.63 yards per route run from the slot and 2.60 yards per route run from the outside. He scored a touchdown once every 26.1 routes in the slot (9 TD on 235 routes) versus once every 39.6 routes on the outside (9 TD on 356 routes).
Perhaps Garrett Wilson should be considered the favorite to handle New York’s slot role
Based on the information at our disposal, it looks like Garrett Wilson might be the best option to handle the Jets’ primary slot duties in the 2022 season.
Not only does Wilson have the heaviest slot-leaning splits of the trio, but starting his career in the slot will allow him to have a smoother transition into the NFL versus if he played most of his reps on the outside.
The 183-pound Wilson might struggle against press coverage in the early goings of his career. As a smaller receiver, he will need excellent precision with his release technique and hand usage to beat the physical man coverage of NFL cornerbacks. Elijah Moore showed these abilities in his rookie year, proving he can overcome his size to thrive on the outside. We’ll have to wait and see if Wilson can do the same.
With those concerns in mind, Wilson could benefit greatly from building some confidence early in his career by lining up off the line of scrimmage for a high percentage of his playing time. In the future, once he’s ready to take on the responsibilities of being a primary “X” or “Z” receiver who lines up on the line of scrimmage for most of his reps, he can slide into the role.
Starting Wilson out in the slot will give him the best chance of contributing immediately while simultaneously allowing him to develop his outside game at his own pace. It also allows Moore and Davis to be played to their strengths.
My money is on Wilson to lead the Jets’ receivers in slot reps this season. Exactly how often will he be in there? That will be fascinating to see. The Jets’ primary slot receiver in 2021 was Jamison Crowder, and he ran 78.9% of his routes out of the slot. Wilson, though, is a much more versatile receiver than Crowder, who is as pure of a slot receiver as there is in the NFL.
I think Wilson’s slot rate will be lower than Crowder’s considering his versatility. A reasonable guess would be that Wilson will run somewhere from 65 to 70 percent of his routes out of the slot this season, leading the way amongst the Jets’ starting trio.