The New York Jets’ wide receiver room is now defined by potency, potential, and the need to prove it’s truly a game-changer
With minicamp concluded, the New York Jets 2022 offseason is officially closed. By the time the Jets take the field again, they’ll be prepping for preseason contests and the regular season that follows.
To commemorate the offseason, Jets X-Factor takes a positon-by-position look to answer the almighty question…did the Jets get better?
Part III moves on to more aerial antics at the receiver spot…
In the 11 games #Jets Elijah Moore played:
– Led Jets pass catchers in TGT%, AY%, Air yds, Rec, RZ TGT and Rec. Yds
– 2nd in aDOT & 2nd in EZ TGT
– Something of note: Slot% ⬆️ 3 straight weeks before landing on the IR to finish 2021. During those games his TGT/G & Rec/G ⬆️ pic.twitter.com/fsz77o99IC
— Mike Kurland (@Mike_Kurland) July 13, 2022
How It Started
In the NFL, all the money in the world can’t make players look the other way at losing. That’s part of the reason why the Jets have had trouble luring big-name, big-play talents to the metropolitan fold.
After all, this is a team that wasted two of the most prolific single-season performances in team history (Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker‘s shared thousand-yard, double-digit touchdown performances in 2015) on a 10-win season that fell just short of the playoffs.
The Jets thus stockpiled secondary options and tried to treat them like primary targets (i.e., Keelan Cole, Jamison Crowder, Corey Davis). Whichever poor sap had the misfortune of quarterbacking the team would have to make do.
Those arrivals were accompanied by hand-me-downs from practice squads and final preseason cuts (i.e., Braxton Berrios). Acquiring young talent with premier draft capital was largely abandoned. This doomed the Jets to rely on mid-to-late round selections without a No. 1 playmaker.
That began to change when the team used second-round picks on receivers in consecutive years. The Jets still gave the tenured yet unproven Davis a sizable deal ($37.5 million for three years, though nothing is guaranteed beyond this season), but Denzel Mims and Elijah Moore were expected to be instant big-play contributors, unlike the mid-round projects that had filtered in and out in years past.
Since this is the Jets, camp injuries derailed Mims’s rookie season. Once on the field, though, he served as a rare silver lining in the Jets 2020 season. His most remarkable contribution was chunk plays, the likes of which Florham Park has not seen for an obscene length of time. But Mims bizarrely struggled to gain snaps in Mike LaFleur’s new system, as he was inactive more often than starting.
Davis was the closest thing prize draft pick QB Zach Wilson had to a safety blanket in the early going (notably scoring twice in his New York debut). However, he saw his season partly erased by injuries without making a significant impact on the passing game.
Moore picked it up in the potential department for Mims. He made the most out of a season sandwiched by ailments. Despite missing six games, the Ole Miss alum finished in the top 10 among rookie WRs in yardage (538), receptions (43), and scores (5).
Crowder took on an abbreviated role in the slot after he returned for another year, and Cole was a one-and-done Jet. However, Braxton Berrios’s late-season emergence saved the team’s offense from total ignominy.
The New England draftee’s special teams prowess was already well-known. Unexpectedly, he developed a strong rapport with Wilson over the final stages of the season. He put up a stretch of 859 all-purpose yards over his final six games.
— The Ox Cord Podcast (@TheOxCordPod) July 16, 2022
How It’s Going
Douglas continued to reverse the trend of ignoring the WR position early in the draft. He used one of the team’s first-round choices on Ohio State standout Garrett Wilson. The former Buckeye became the first receiver chosen by the Jets in the opening round since Santana Moss in 2001 and the first chosen in the top 10 since Keyshawn Johnson was 1996’s opening pick.
“He’s got the whole repertoire in terms of the route tree, he’s got great body control and he’s a lot stronger, you see him, and he looks a little slight, but he’s actually very strong,” head coach Robert Saleh said of what Wilson brings to the offense. “He plays the game very strong, he’s got great range, he’s got really good speed. So, he’s another guy that he can win one-on-one.”
Adding Wilson was an exclamation point, as the Jets were otherwise relatively quiet on the receiver front. Cole (Las Vegas) and Crowder (Buffalo) departed as expected. The team is set to bring back Jeff Smith for another training camp audition.
But a fair amount of hype lingered around the Berrios conundrum, one eventually solved with a two-year, $12 million contract. Time will tell if Berrios’s success was the product of a contract year or if he can become a reliable dual receiving/returning threat (a la Az-Zahir Hakim). But one thing’s for certain: Berrios’s return has made Zach Wilson very happy.
This throw by Zach Wilson, where he places it, made this TD possible. No slow down, no hesitation, no wasted movement by Braxton Berrios in the out-cut, and that's the key. 14-7 #Jets pic.twitter.com/Bi9OU0JcHT
— Robby Sabo (@RobbySabo) January 2, 2022
Are They Better Off?
By the time Darnold suited up for his second season, all but three of his top 10 receivers were off the team. That doesn’t even count Quincy Enunwa, whose career more or less ended due to injury the following season. By Year 3 with Darnold, only one pass-catcher, Chris Herndon, remained from his rookie year. At that point, Herndon was nowhere near the height of his freshman powers.
By re-upping with Berrios and using premier draft capital on young big-play talents, current Jets management is ensuring that receiver continuity won’t be an issue for Zach Wilson as he vies to become the answer to the team’s eternal search for a franchise signal-caller. This offseason centered upon making the passer’s life easier and providing him the best chance to succeed. With a friend from both a stat sheet and social perspective returning, along with similarly aged playmakers in Moore and Garrett Wilson aboard, Zach Wilson cannot say that the Jets didn’t give him the tools to become their franchise QB.
Perhaps the team could’ve made a bigger play at a proven elite target … some fans, after all, began this offseason by preordering Davante Adams Jets jerseys … but there’s enough potential here to the point where, even if Zach Wilson falters, the Jets will have a reasonably strong cabinet for his would-be successor.
Final Offseason Grade: B+
Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags