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Tale of the Tape: NY Jets WR Corey Davis vs. top replacements

Jakobi Meyers, New England Patriots, New York Jets
Jakobi Meyers, New England Patriots, New York Jets, Getty Images

Davis can be cut with few repercussions

Many New York Jets fans are out on WR Corey Davis. Some are biased against him due to his subpar 2021 season; others lament his inability to stay on the field. A third camp thinks that the Jets need Davis’s $11.2 million in salary cap savings to fill other roster needs.

However, considering that Davis is the Jets’ No. 2 or No. 3 receiver (depending on who you ask and whether you see Elijah Moore‘s poor 2022 season as an abnormality or a true representation of who he is), they will need to replace him if they do, indeed, move on.

Whenever a team wants to get rid of a coach or player, it is important to understand what the alternatives are. There are those who think that the Jets already made a mistake on this score during the nascent 2023 offseason, jettisoning Mike LaFleur only to replace him with Nathaniel Hackett.

Absent the relatively few who feel that the Jets will draft a receiver with the No. 13 pick, the most obvious route to replace Davis would be via free agency. However, it is not a particularly talented or deep market. The most obvious options available are Allen Lazard and Jakobi Meyers, with Darius Slayton coming in as a third possibility.

I already broke down some of the statistical comparisons of these players. I concluded that bringing back Davis makes the most sense. However, I wanted to dig a little deeper into the strengths and weaknesses of Davis compared to Lazard, Meyers, and Slayton to get a true idea of where they’re holding.

Much of what Davis brings to the table may not appear on the stat sheet, which means that some film breakdown is necessary to truly determine what the ideal option is.

2023 age and Spotrac-projected contract

  • Davis (28, current): 1 year, $11.17 million cap hit, $666K dead cap
  • Lazard (28): 3 years, $37.6 million, $12.5 million average annual value
  • Meyers (27): 4 years, $50 million, $12.5 million AAV
  • Slayton (26): 2 years, $7 million, $3.5 million AAV

At a glance, it appears that Slayton is clearly a cheaper alternative to Davis. However, I doubt his value is quite that low; I would imagine he gets more in the $5.5-7 million range. Although it was a breakout 2022 season for Slayton and did not light the world on fire (46 receptions, 724 yards, 2 TDs), the WR market has shot up in recent years. Still, I do think he’ll be cheaper than Davis.

Lazard and Meyers are both projected to make more money than Davis and for a longer term, potentially keeping them with the Jets until their age-31 seasons. That makes both of them iffy projections. If it doesn’t save the Jets money, what’s the point in cutting Davis?

Edge: Slayton

Size and speed

Corey Davis fulfills the Jets’ main need for size on the outside. Wilson is 6’0″ and 192 pounds, while Elijah Moore is 5’9″ and 180. Neither of these players is all that effective at contested catches right now. Davis, while not exceptional in this area, is more like league average. Furthermore, Davis’s height and weight contribute to his effectiveness as a blocker (more on that later).

Davis never ran the 40-yard dash, and although he was confident he’d have run in the 4.4 range, I’m not so certain about that. Then again, he did lose some weight heading into 2022, so maybe that brought back some of his speed from his college days.

  • Davis: 6’3″, 205; no 40-yard dash
  • Lazard: 6’5″, 227; 4.55s 40-yard dash
  • Meyers: 6’2″, 201 4.63s 40-yard dash
  • Slayton: 6’1″, 194; 4.39s 40-yard dash

Lazard definitely fits the prototypical big outside receiver profile, but that may reduce his speed somewhat. Meyers is not small for a slot receiver, and he’s still slower than Lazard. Slayton is a bit on the smaller side to fit Davis’s role, but he’s certainly fast at 4.39.

Overall, Davis’s size and speed are ideal for the role that the Jets envision for their Z receiver, although Lazard and Meyers have a fine-enough profile to fit, as well.

Edge: Davis

Durability

One of the primary concerns with keeping Davis around is the fact that he’s only played in 11 games per season over the last two years. Although he participated in 13 games in 2022, he left two of those fairly early with injuries. If the Jets are going to replace Davis, they’ll want someone whose track record indicates that he’ll be there when they need him.

2022 games/snaps per game played

  • Davis: 13/47
  • Meyers: 14/49
  • Lazard: 15/58
  • Slayton: 16/44

2021 games/snaps per game played

  • Davis: 9/50
  • Meyers: 17/55
  • Lazard: 15/48
  • Slayton: 13/41

Career games per season

  • Davis: 13
  • Meyers: 15
  • Lazard: 14
  • Slayton: 14.75

All of these players have missed games throughout their careers. However, Meyers has been the most durable of the bunch.

Edge: Meyers

Usage

If the Jets are going to replace Davis with one of these players, they’re going to want a player who was used similarly to how they used Davis in his time with the team. Davis is primarily the Z receiver, a traditional No. 2. Let’s see how the other players compared with their 2022 usage.

  • Davis: Wide 80%, Slot 18%, Inline 2%
  • Lazard: Wide 59.7%, Slot 33.8%, Inline 6.2%
  • Meyers: Wide 38.3%, Slot 60.1%, Inline 0.2%, Backfield 1.2%
  • Slayton: Wide 70.6%, Slot 28%, Inline 1.3%

If the Jets wanted to replace Davis directly, Slayton’s splits follow his role the closest. Lazard is next, while Meyers had a significantly different role as a slot receiver.

Looking at this from a different angle, though, it’s possible that the Jets would choose to replace Davis with a primary slot receiver and move Elijah Moore to the Z role. I find that unlikely given the emphasis they put on having Moore in the slot, but then again, most of his success in 2021 came on the outside (as the X receiver). Let’s look at the snap splits for Moore in 2021-22 and Garrett Wilson in 2022.

  • Moore 2021: Wide 72.9%, Slot 26.3%, Backfield 0.6%
  • Moore 2022: Wide 52.8%, Slot 46.8%, Inline 0.4%
  • Wilson 2022: Wide 64.9%, Slot 33.9%, Inline 1.1%

It’s interesting that both Wilson and Moore played wide more than they did the slot. That happened partially because Davis missed several games, but also because of Moore’s hiatus from the lineup. Considering that it took until Week 8 for the Jets to move Wilson to the outside on a more exclusive basis, it is somewhat surprising that he ended up playing nearly double the wide snaps as the slot.

Moore’s 2021 numbers actually match Davis’s fairly closely, so the Jets could decide to put him back in that role. I don’t think Moore would be bad as a Z as long as they stopped running him on go routes all the time. He was still winning non-go routes on the outside, but it was just taking too long.

Now that Wilson has proven that he can be a consistent outside receiver, the Jets have the luxury of moving Moore around a bit.

If the team would decide to replace Moore’s 2022 role, then Meyers or Lazard could fit in there somewhere. I do think Lazard is the best overall fit if the Jets want the inside/outside versatility with a focus on the outside.

Edge: Davis/Lazard

Route running

One of the knocks on Davis has been that he’s not a great route runner. In the past, Reception Perception has dinged him for being below average against all different types of coverage. However, it’s hard to say that he’s a bad route runner.

Davis finds ways to get open a fair amount and always seems to do it in the clutch. He made defenders look silly with his moves at times this year, although he did get stymied by man coverage more frequently than you’d like from a true No. 2 receiver.

However, Meyers shows much of the same in his game tape. The space he creates is often not due to anything he did technically, but rather because he was in the slot and the Patriots cleared out space for him.

While there’s nothing wrong with being the beneficiary of scheme, that’s not necessarily what you want to pay WR2 money for. Still, Meyers has a knack for finding the soft spot in the defense and is also pretty good in tight windows.

Lazard has a tendency to pick up his hand to ask his QB to throw it to him whether or not he’s open. He’s not the greatest route runner, but he’s not bad. He’s somewhat reminiscent of Davis, in fact, getting open with his feet sometimes but not consistently.

That may be one of the reasons Aaron Rodgers struggled for much of this season: his No. 1 target (until Christian Watson broke out) just couldn’t get open on a regular basis.

Slayton, like Meyers, ran a rather limited route tree repeatedly. The Giants liked to scheme him open on levels concepts. Since his two seasons prior to 2022 were subpar, there is not much film to compare prior to Brian Daboll and Mike Kafka’s superior scheming that allowed them to succeed with a general dearth of talent, particularly in the receiving corps. It’s hard to know how much was Slayton and how much was scheme.

One thing Slayton does seem to do better than many of the current Jets receivers is flattening his route in response to coverage. Some schemes and playbooks are much more specific about the nuances of taking a route slightly more horizontally or vertically depending on whether the coverage is man or zone.

We’ve seen Davis and other Jets WRs take their routes just a little too wide, running into coverage rather than sitting in the open space. Slayton does a good job bending his route down to give himself more space to work with.

Overall, all four of these players are hit-or-miss with their route running. I would not give one a particular edge over the other. They all have their good routes, but they also don’t win consistently without being schemed open. Overall, Davis might be the most versatile route-runner of the group.

Edge: Wash/Davis

Man coverage

Here are different man coverage categories and the head-to-head comparisons (67 qualified WRs, min. 18 man coverage targets):

Corey DavisAllen LazardJakobi MeyersDarius Slayton
Catch rate27.8% (67), 5-for-1855.6% (T-39), 25-for-4567.6% (11), 23-for-3455.6% (T-39), 10-for-18
TD:INT ratio1:12:42:01:1
YAC per reception2.8 (55)4.7 (21)3.1 (T-49)12.6 (1)
Yards per route run0.55 (67)1.93 (T-30)2.15 (23)1.95 (29)
Drop rate28.6% (67)0.0% (T-1)0.0% (T-1)23.1% (T-64)
Targeted QB rating37.0 (T-66)57.7 (61)108.1 (23)95.8 (41)

Overall, Meyers was the most consistently above average. Lazard’s numbers aren’t bad, but the four interceptions thrown on balls his way in man coverage killed his targeted QB rating; the question is if those were his fault or his quarterback’s.

Slayton’s drops were a nightmare for the Giants. Davis was by far the worst of the four WRs against man across the board.

Man coverage has been an ongoing issue for the Jets despite Wilson’s strong season in this area. They could use another player who can get open against it consistently.

Edge: Meyers

Hands

We’re going to go with drops and contested catches (72 qualified receivers, min. 58 targets) in this category, although both are somewhat subjective.

  • Davis:  8.6% drop rate (57th), 47.4% contested catch rate (T-31st)
  • Lazard: 6.3% drop rate (44th), 39.1% contested catch rate (52nd)
  • Meyers: 1.5% drop rate (T-9th), 56.5% contested catch rate (T-15th)
  • Slayton: 11.5% drop rate (T-70th), 53.3% contested catch rate (23rd)

Edge: Meyers

Deep threat

A No. 2 wide receiver is usually meant to be at least somewhat of a deep threat. Let’s compare these four in that area, particularly because the Jets don’t have a true deep threat right now.

  • Davis: 5-for-10 (50%, T-9th), 173 yards (40), 1 TD, 1 INT, 5.6 YAC/rec (T-22), 17.30 yards/route run (10), 89.6 rating (32)
  • Lazard: 9-for-28 (32.1%, 47th), 263 yards (T-21), 3 TD, 3 INT, 5.1 YAC/rec (28), 9.39 yards/rout run (54), 64.1 rating (52)
  • Meyers: 8-for-17 (47.1%, 16th), 241 yards (26), 3 TD, 0 INT, 3.4 YAC/rec (41), 14.18 yards/route run (26), 133.0 rating (4)
  • Slayton: 5-for-11 (45.5%, 20th), 192 yards (32), 1 TD, 1 INT, 5.8 YAC/rec (21), 17.45 yards/route run (9), 84.5 rating (T-38)

Lazard is the only one of the four above a 20% deep target share, but his numbers are the worst in this area. Although he did score three touchdowns deep, he was seemingly mostly bust in this area.

Surprisingly, Meyers had the most consistent deep numbers despite being perceived as more of a slot guy, and his yards per route run number is very nice. Slayton and Davis went deep rarely, although Davis’s 66-yard TD reception against the Browns padded his yards per route run significantly.

Edge: Meyers

Blocking

This one isn’t going to show up on the stat sheet at all. One of Davis’s best and most underrated attributes is that he is an elite blocking receiver. It’s perhaps the main reason that the Jets ran the ball better out of 11 personnel than 12 for much of the year. In fact, it’s likely a big part of why they signed Davis in the first place.

Lazard is certainly a willing blocker, and he’s certainly shown the capability at times. He is particularly strong when asked to be the blocker out in front on a screen pass. He does whiff more often than Davis, but he’s serviceable.

Meyers is a true Bill Belichick product. He’s going to play hard and give it his all in both the run and pass games.

Slayton wasn’t asked to block all that much, but he gets a nod for effort in that limited sample size. He’s not all that great at it, though.

Edge: Davis

One non-comparative consideration

Belichick is not a great drafter. We’ve seen that many times over the years, especially regarding his often-Strange higher picks. However, one of the ways he builds his roster is by accumulating compensatory picks, which then allows him more bites at the apple in the mid-to-late rounds.

While the formula used to determine comp picks is beyond the scope of this article (and also not fully known to anyone outside of the committee that determines the picks), it is important to understand that losing players via free agency is the main way to be eligible for comp picks.

If a team cuts a player, that player no longer counts toward the comp pick formula. However, if the player leaves as a free agent, the bigger ticket they are (money-wise), the higher their value is toward the formula.

If the Jets cut Davis now, they get nothing for him. Yes, $11.2 million is a significant amount of cap savings, but his likely free-agent replacements are not going to be cheaper. They could try to trade him, but at that point, other teams would have little incentive to give up any assets for him, knowing that he would likely be cut if he couldn’t be traded.

Coming off a down season, Davis isn’t going to be worth all that much. However, if the Jets would hold on to him for 2023, they could still hope to recoup his value with a better QB.

Davis has shown that he can be a strong player when healthy. I’m not ready to write him off just yet. If he had a bounceback season in a contract year, he might be able to play himself into one more decently-sized free agent contract—which would, in turn, be more likely to net the Jets a comp pick.

This may seem a little convoluted, but it is something that any sound capologist will keep in mind. This is the way that teams remain cap solvent while building up their rosters on the cheap.

Any upgrade over Davis?

If you look at various areas, it may seem as if some or all of these receivers are upgrades over Davis. However, I would caution against Slayton off the bat due to his outrageous drop rate. If Jets fans are unhappy with Davis’s drops, they’ll be furious at a former Giant bringing his brick hands across the stadium.

I’m just not enamored of Lazard, either. I don’t see him as that much of an upgrade over Davis that he’s worth paying more for. Sure, I understand that Rodgers has familiarity with him, but does Rodgers seem to be that pleased with Lazard of his own accord?

It speaks volumes that 32-year-old Randall Cobb put up similar production to Lazard on a per-snap basis (1.67 yards per route run vs. 1.61). I’d be more willing to bet that Davis’s production improves with a better quarterback than commit to Lazard for a longer period of time.

Between Lazard and Meyers, Meyers seems like the better option except for his penchant for playing in the slot. However, I would not give either player longer than a three-year deal, so if Meyers’s value really is at four, that would be a hard pass.

At three years, it would depend on what the team’s plans are for Moore, but Meyers is, at the very least, a crafty veteran. Then again, New England castoffs are notorious for failing elsewhere, so maybe it’s a matter of caveat emptor (buyer beware).

In my opinion, Meyers is the only one of these three who’s worth even considering as a free agent. Whether or not to actually acquire him will depend on his asking price and how the Jets see him as a potential fit in their offense. There are definitely things to like about him, but I don’t know if he’s an ideal WR2.

If the team does not go the Meyers route, I’d prefer to see them hang on to Davis and draft a potential replacement in the middle rounds of the draft. Plenty of WR3s have come out of the third and fourth rounds.

It’s a good time to groom a replacement while not needing to rely on a rookie from Day 1. As the draft draws nearer, we’ll look at some possible names and give a more thorough breakdown.

The Jets are cap strapped this offseason for the first time in a long time. Decisions like these will be critical toward their success in 2023 and beyond.

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Jim G
1 year ago

Great analysis. I felt the Jets had to bring Davis back, I just didn’t know why. Thanks for educating me.

One of the commenters made a good point about everyone on the Jets’ offense’s stats suffering during the losing streak. Something to keep in mind is that Zach Wilson was throwing to Davis while A-Rod was throwing to Lazard.

Another consideration is that if Belichick is not re-signing a player, it causes me to question that player’s skills and value to the new team. It appears the most successful coaches squeeze the best out of their players and there is a drop off when the coach moves them to a new team. Buyer beware on Meyers.

DFargas
DFargas
1 year ago

From my fan’s perspective, I have a problem with Davis’ drops that goes a little beyond the statistics. It seemed to me like a lot of his drops came early in games, on his first couple of targets, and the problem was that it was so important for Wilson particularly to get off to a good start, get in rhythm, before he got bogged down and started losing confidence. I recall a few occasions when Wilson would be struggling as usual in the first quarter, but he would hit Davis in the hands on a third and long and Davis would drop it: huge momentum killer. Davis tended to do better in the second half, but that was only after a lot pain and suffering. I just think the guy is too unreliable. Based on his much lower drop rate alone, Meyers would be a distinct improvement.

vnick12
vnick12
1 year ago

Good article. Thanks. For all we know, a new OC/WR Coach and upgrade at QB might turn Mims into a serviceable replacement for Davis in 2024. I’d be inclined to just roll with Davis and see how things look after this season.

Noam
Noam
1 year ago

If the Jets keep Davis they might want to restruture, extending his contract and moving his compensation this year into a signing bonus to free up cap room.

Matt Galemmo
1 year ago

I know I am in the minority but I like Davis. It seems to me many were anticipating his return mid-season, wondering how he was cleared to re-enter one game but then ruled out for the next 2-3. Jet X had a few takes sprinkled about articles that highlighted the Jets’ offense with and without Davis, with the conclusion that Davis was missed. At present, his contract is at worst fair, and if Lazard does surpass him, I would argue he’s a bit of a value.

When the Jets were 6-3, Davis was an asset. All the wheels came off then, and while I think this deserves a deep dive to try to attribute cause, I am not expecting Davis to be assigned much blame at all.

In short I would not replace him with any of these options, but I would consider putting resources towards a WR4 you have reason to believe might breakout. Who are those guys, if they exist at all? At worst, it would be nice to have someone with upside if Davis continues to miss games.

Andrew Candela
Andrew Candela
1 year ago

I think for all these reasons Davis would be attractive as a trade pick. Perhaps a 3rd or even 2nd. Maybe two lower ones. Jets could draft some type of replacement and have more ammo to move up. If not trading than I prefer him but paying two right ends money you can’t get back hurts the cap

Andrew Candela
Andrew Candela
1 year ago
Reply to  Andrew Candela

*tight ends. And I’m not suggesting Davis is one but rather JD overcommitted money to them and now ten million for a receiver seems like too much when it’s pretty average

Robert725
Robert725
1 year ago

Good article, besides the QB being an area of concern, is the linebacker core, time to retool and why is Seth Joyner not a coach yet? Great choice and Knows the game!

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