Examining future NY Jets QB Aaron Rodgers’ favorite routes to target in Nathaniel Hackett’s offense
For the New York Jets, one of the most appealing aspects of adding Aaron Rodgers is the fact he will be reuniting with his former offensive coordinator, Nathaniel Hackett, whom Rodgers won two MVPs under.
What can Jets fans expect a Rodgers-Hackett offense to look like?
To answer that question, I went back and examined Rodgers’ favorite and least-favorite routes to target during his three years with Hackett in Green Bay.
According to NFL Next Gen Stats, here is a breakdown of how often Rodgers targeted each route type from 2019 to 2021 (based on the percentage of his pass attempts in which he targeted each of the 13 route types tracked by NGS):
Here are some of my takeaways from these numbers.
Expect Rodgers to feast on checkdowns into the flat, specifically when targeting RBs
By far, Rodgers’ favorite route relative to the NFL average was the flat route.
Rodgers targeted a flat route on 18.9% of his pass attempts from 2019-21, his highest rate of any route and 5.4% higher than the league average of 13.5%. Rodgers ranked first among qualified quarterbacks in flat-route target rate over this three-year span.
Rodgers enjoyed immense success when throwing into the flat. He is willing to take what the defense gives him and has an innate feel for knowing when it is the right time to check the ball down. Rodgers also throws his checkdowns with pristine accuracy to maximize yardage after the catch. All of these skills are reflected in his gaudy production on flat routes.
When targeting a flat route over his three years with Hackett, Rodgers completed 266 of 305 attempts (87.2%) for 1,835 yards, 22 touchdowns, and zero interceptions.
Running backs were the primary beneficiaries of Rodgers’ excellence in the flat. They were responsible for 12 of Rodgers’ 22 touchdowns (54.5%) and 991 of his 1,835 yards (54.0%).
In 2019, Packers running back Jamaal Williams caught four touchdowns on flat routes alone, tying him for the NFL lead among all players (regardless of position). Aaron Jones matched Williams in 2021 with another four touchdown receptions on flat routes, which also tied for the league lead.
Look for Breece Hall and the Jets’ running backs to get plenty of chances to catch the ball underneath and make things happen after the catch – particularly in the red zone. Rodgers threw plenty of red-zone touchdowns like this one to Jamaal Williams.
It’s worth noting that Hackett was primarily responsible for designing the Packers’ red-zone plays during his tenure in Green Bay, so Hackett definitely played a large role in Rodgers’ affinity for targeting running backs in the flat when in the red zone. I would expect these plays to be carried over to New York’s offense as Rodgers and Hackett reunite.
Hall, Michael Carter, and Zonovan Knight are equipped to capitalize on Rodgers’ high frequency of flat routes. All three players were already excellent on these throws in 2022.
Knight caught 10 of 10 flat routes for 89 yards and generated +5.9 total EPA (Expected Points Added) on those throws, which ranked seventh-best among running backs. Hall caught 6 of 8 flats for 62 yards and +2.5 total EPA while Carter caught 15 of 20 for 115 yards and +2.2 total EPA.
Altogether, the Jets’ top three running backs combined to average +0.28 EPA per target in the flat, which is elite. Among the 24 running backs with at least 20 targets on flat routes, an EPA/target rate of +0.28 would have been third-best. The league average for running backs was -0.05.
Rodgers loves to feed his running backs in the flat and the Jets have three running backs who have proven they can be dangerous receivers in the flat. This is a beautiful match.
We should see a large increase in deep shots down the sideline: Look for Garrett Wilson to benefit the most
The duality between Rodgers’ top two favorite routes is interesting. His favorite route is the flat, which is an easy throw underneath, and his second favorite is the go, which is the most aggressive throw in the game.
I think this sums up Rodgers’ game quite well. He is more than willing to take shots when they are available, and he is even more willing to play it safe when there isn’t a good opportunity downfield. Rodgers is a smart quarterback who excels at taking the right play, whether it’s an aggressive throw or a safe one.
Rodgers targeted a go route on 12.3% of his pass attempts, which ranked fifth-highest among 32 qualified quarterbacks from 2019-21 and was 2.4% higher than the league average of 9.9%.
This bodes very well for Garrett Wilson, because it was Rodgers’ No. 1 receiver, Davante Adams, who benefited the most from Rodgers’ high frequency of targeting go routes.
Adams led the NFL with 32 receptions on go routes from 2019-21. He alone was responsible for 32 of Rodgers’ 67 completions on go routes from 2019-21.
When targeting Adams on go routes, Rodgers completed 32 of 69 attempts for 998 yards, eight touchdowns, and one interception. That’s a completion rate of 46.4% – the NFL average was 35.1% over that span.
Rodgers’ accuracy on go routes will work wonders for Wilson, who opened himself up for plenty of deep balls in 2022 but did not get much production out of them due to bad quarterbacking. Wilson tied for 10th in the league with 23 targets on go routes, but only four of them were caught (17.4%) despite Wilson not being credited with a single drop on those targets.
WR screens to Wilson will likely be a fixture
Hackett and Matt LaFleur asked Rodgers to throw plenty of screens to wide receivers. Rodgers threw a WR screen on 8.1% of his pass attempts, which ranked fourth-highest from 2019-21 and is 2.2% higher than the league average of 5.9%.
Once again, I would expect Wilson to benefit from this the most, as it was Adams who got the majority of these targets from Rodgers. Adams was the target on 55 of Rodgers’ 89 WR screens (61.8%). He caught 52 of those targets for 333 yards and two touchdowns.
Wilson ranked second among wide receivers with 22 missed tackles forced in 2022, trailing only Deebo Samuel. His elusiveness could make him dangerous in the screen game.
In 2022, Wilson caught 11 of 13 screen passes (neither of the incompletions was dropped) for 66 yards and three first downs, which isn’t the best efficiency. However, Wilson’s screen production should increase with better accuracy from Rodgers and a possible increase in scheming effectiveness with Hackett instead of Mike LaFleur.
Elijah Moore figures to be a dangerous weapon on screens thanks to his elusiveness (second among WR with 0.297 missed tackles forced per reception in 2022), but LaFleur just couldn’t figure out a way to get Moore going in this area. Over his first two seasons, Moore caught 13 of 14 screens for a measly 34 yards and one first down.
The good news for Moore is that Hackett and Rodgers have already shown they can generate screen production from any wide receiver, not just stars. Adams may have gobbled up the majority of Green Bay’s screens, but the Packers still got solid results when targeting other wide receivers on screens. Back in 2021, the Packers threw 15 screen passes to seven different wide receivers other than Adams, and of those 15 passes, eight of them resulted in first downs.
Playing with a quarterback and a coordinator who have an established history of putting their wide receivers in good positions to succeed on screen passes, Moore has the potential to finally break out as a screen receiver in 2023. If Hackett’s Packers got efficient screen game production out of an older Randall Cobb (3/3 for 35 yds) and lower-level receivers like Jake Kumerow (2/2 for 24 yds) and Malik Taylor (2/2 for 21 yds), just imagine what Moore could do in the same offense with his talent.
Crossing routes will be featured: Tight ends and Allen Lazard should benefit
Rodgers targeted a crossing route on 14.5% of his attempts, which was 1.9% higher than the league average of 12.6% and ranked sixth-highest among qualifiers.
Unlike the go route and the WR screen, which were both dominated by Adams, Rodgers spread the ball around to everyone on his crossing routes. Adams was targeted on just 50 of Rodgers’ 232 crossing route attempts (21.6%) from 2019-21. It still led the team, but it’s a relatively small portion.
Rodgers enjoyed his best success on crossers when targeting his tight ends, completing 59 of 72 passes (81.9%) for 660 yards and seven touchdowns with zero interceptions (137.3 passer rating).
This should be great news for Tyler Conklin and C.J. Uzomah, who were both underutilized on crossing routes in 2022.
Prior to joining the Jets, Conklin and Uzmoah were dangerous on crossers. In 2021, Conklin caught 10 of 11 crossers for 128 yards and a touchdown while Uzomah caught 7 of 7 crossers for 82 yards and two touchdowns. But in 2022, they each caught 4-of-5 crossers, with Uzomah gaining only 20 yards and one touchdown while Conklin gained 33 yards and no touchdowns.
Another prime target for Rodgers on crossing routes should be newly-signed Jets wide receiver Allen Lazard, who had a strong connection with Rodgers on these throws in Green Bay.
When targeting Lazard on crossers from 2019-21, Rodgers went 20 for 29 (69.0%) with 238 yards, four touchdowns, and no interceptions.
Their success dwindled in 2022 when Lazard had the pressure of being Green Bay’s No. 1 option – 6 for 11 with 52 yards, one touchdown, and two interceptions – but when Lazard was playing a complementary role, Rodgers was very efficient when looking for Lazard on crossers.
Wilson should also enjoy Rodgers and Hackett’s usage of crossers. In 2022, Wilson caught 14 of 19 crossers for 194 yards. It was his best yardage total of any specific route type and tied for eighth-most among wide receivers.
The hitch route will likely be severely diminished: Should they incorporate it more often to accommodate Elijah Moore?
Rodgers and Hackett despised the hitch route. From 2019-21, Rodgers targeted a hitch route on just 9.9% of his pass attempts, which was a whopping 6.8% below the league average of 16.7%. It was the lowest rate in the league among qualifiers by a wide margin.
It makes sense that Rodgers did not throw this route often, as it is one of the few routes he was not proficient with. Rodgers completed 105 of his 159 hitch route attempts from 2019-21. That is a completion rate of 66.0%, which falls below the league average of 70.3% over that span.
Whenever Rodgers does use the hitch route (as he will still throw it often, just far less than other quarterbacks), I would expect him to prioritize Elijah Moore, who has excelled on hitches.
Moore has caught 20 passes on hitch routes in his career, which is his best total of any route type. And he’s been efficient, too. Despite the quarterbacking woes, Moore has caught 20 of 24 hitch routes (83.3%) for 247 yards and a touchdown with no interceptions. Moore was especially good in his 2021 rookie season, ranking 11th among all wide receivers with +11.0 total EPA generated on hitch routes.
Moore can thrive on plenty of different route types, but I’d be interested to see how things play out in this specific department.
The hitch route is one of Moore’s best weapons – he is so good at selling vertically and stopping on a dime to create separation – but Rodgers uses it at an extremely low rate relative to other quarterbacks. It’s also one of the few throws Rodgers isn’t great at. Will Rodgers and Hackett adjust to get Moore a higher diet of hitch targets, or will they stick to their past tendencies and try to emphasize Moore in other ways?
This should give us an idea of what to expect from the Jets’ passing game
Most likely, Rodgers and Hackett will make plenty of alterations to their offense in New York. I doubt the Jets’ 2023 offense will look exactly like the Packers’ offense from 2019-21. It’s important to make adjustments based on the personnel at your disposal. Plus, Rodgers has changed as a quarterback over the years, and Hackett has likely changed as a coach, too. Not to mention, Matt LaFleur had a greater say in constructing that Green Bay offense than Hackett.
With that being said, the numbers we broke down today should give us a good idea of the framework that Rodgers and Hackett will be working off of as they construct the Jets’ 2023 offense. We now know which weapons Rodgers and Hackett loved, which ones they used at a relatively average rate, and which ones they chose to place on the back burner. Going forward, they will adjust these tendencies to fit the strengths and weaknesses of the Jets’ roster as well as their own personal changes over the past few years.
Overall, though, I do like how Rodgers and Hackett’s past tendencies match up with the talent on the Jets’ roster. New York has elusive running backs who should thrive on a heavy diet of receptions in the flat. Wilson has plenty of untapped deep-threat potential that can be maximized by Rodgers’ deep prowess. Both Wilson and Moore should succeed in the screen game. Conklin, Uzomah, and Lazard should do damage on crossers.