Could New York Jets end up keeping Corey Davis after all?
Throughout the majority of the 2023 offseason thus far, it’s been a widely accepted presumption that the New York Jets will eventually trade wide receiver Corey Davis. This belief only grew stronger when the Jets signed Allen Lazard, a wide receiver who possesses a similar skill set to Davis.
When you add in the fact that Lazard joining the Jets left a hole in the depth chart of the Green Bay Packers – who the Jets happen to be currently negotiating with on an Aaron Rodgers trade package – a Davis trade has become an inevitability in the eyes of many. Davis is commonly mentioned as a likely candidate to be included in the eventual Rodgers deal.
However, Jets head coach Robert Saleh doesn’t appear so sold that Davis has played his last down in Gotham Green. When speaking to the media on Monday at the NFL’s league meetings, Saleh seemed open to the idea of keeping Davis.
One of the takeaways from Robert Saleh's availability that I didn't expect:
He went out of his way to mention Corey Davis as if he was still part of the plans on offense. Obviously that would change if they add another WR, but seems like they want to try to keep him.
— Zack Rosenblatt (@ZackBlatt) March 27, 2023
Yes, Davis is under contract with the Jets and Saleh would obviously not publicly say the Jets are interested in trading him. The head coach is going to sing the praises of any player under contract with his team.
But that does not mean Saleh has to go “out of his way” to discuss Davis as if he is still a part of the team’s offensive plans. That’s something worth noting.
With that in mind, it’s time to start exploring the idea of the Jets keeping Davis.
I think it’s a much more appealing idea than many Jets fans give it credit for.
Maximize depth at WR for a win-now season
The Jets are trying to win a championship in 2023. That became their goal at the very moment Aaron Rodgers told the team he intends to play for them.
Keeping Davis would supplement that goal.
The rumblings of Davis being a trade candidate never stemmed from the idea Davis is an underwhelming player who can’t help the Jets win games. Rather, it was a concept centered around the appeal of using the $10.5 million in cap space Davis would open up, especially after the Lazard signing made Davis seemingly expendable.
But now that it’s March 27 and the Jets have not been aggressive in free agency anyway, they don’t really need the cap relief that Davis would bring. Plus, the Jets have already made numerous restructures to clear immediate cap space, and they’ve also heavily backloaded their free-agent signings to maximize their cap space.
Dumping Davis for cap space isn’t as appealing of an idea anymore. Whether they keep Davis or not, the Jets have enough room and maneuverability to accommodate whatever remaining goals they have in the free agent and/or trade markets.
With less need for Davis’ cap relief, it’s becoming more appealing to just keep him around at $10.5 million – which is a very affordable cost in this day and age for a starting wide receiver who averages 50 yards per game for his career.
If the Jets are in win-now mode, why not load up on as many weapons as possible? Players will get hurt. It’s inevitable. The more good players the Jets have at wide receiver, the more prepared they will be to lose starters to injury.
We know how frustrated Rodgers can get when he is forced to play with subpar talent at receiver, and in 2022, we also saw how much it can affect his production. Overloading the wide receiver position with quality players is a great idea for the Jets as they aim to build the best possible supporting cast for Rodgers.
Davis can fit alongside Garrett Wilson and Allen Lazard
As of right now, the Jets’ wide receiver room is headlined by Garrett Wilson, Davis, Allen Lazard, and Mecole Hardman. If they played a game today, the starting trio would figure to be Wilson, Davis, and Lazard while Hardman serves as the fourth receiver and primary gadget weapon.
Some view Davis and Lazard as redundant since they are both big-bodied receivers, but that’s not really true. Davis and Lazard are unique to one another in more ways than many people realize. A starting trio of Wilson, Davis, and Lazard can work.
The most notable difference between Davis and Lazard is where they typically line up. Davis has leaned heavily toward lining up on the outside throughout his career while Lazard has plenty of experience as a slot receiver. The Jets can comfortably run their three-receiver packages with Wilson and Davis on the outside and Lazard in the slot.
For his career, Davis has run only 22.8% of his routes from the slot. Lazard has run 42.8% of his routes from the slot, and this rate was even higher when Lazard was serving as a complementary weapon to Davante Adams.
From 2019-21, Lazard ran 48.5% of his routes from the slot. His rate dropped to a career-low 37.7% in 2022 after Adams went to Las Vegas, which left Lazard as the Packers’ top target. But when Lazard was serving as a complementary weapon alongside a star No. 1 receiver – as he will in New York with Wilson – he was playing in the slot nearly half of the time.
In fact, when Lazard had his most efficient season, he was playing in the slot more than half of the time.
The 2020 season stands as the best of Lazard’s career from an efficiency perspective. He posted career-highs of 9.8 yards per target, a 71.7% catch rate, 13.7 yards per reception, and 1.74 yards per route run. And, in this electric 2020 campaign, Lazard ran a career-high 53.2% of his routes from the slot, which led the Packers among their four wide receivers to run at least 100 routes that season.
At 6-foot-5, Lazard may not be your typical shifty slot receiver, but he still has traits that teams covet in their primary slot man. Most importantly, Lazard is an effective third-down weapon.
Since 2019, Lazard ranks 25th among all wide receivers in third-down conversions with 50. With those 50 conversions coming on just 80 third-down targets, Lazard has moved the chains on 62.5% of his third-down targets, which was the NFL’s best rate among the 121 players with at least 50 third-down targets from 2019-22.
Lazard achieved his third-down dominance largely through his proficiency on slant routes, which he runs at a higher frequency relative to the league average than any other route type.
The idea that Lazard is a one-for-one Davis replacement is misguided. Davis and Lazard hurt defenses in significantly different ways.
Lazard is most dangerous on slants, red-zone jump balls, and on deep shots up the sideline. He beats Davis in those three categories. But Davis is miles ahead of Lazard in the intermediate range. While Lazard boasts flashier ball skills, Davis’ superior route-running skills make him a more consistent weapon in the middle of the field.
The intermediate range (passes thrown 10-19 yards beyond the line of scrimmage) is an area where Davis thrives and Lazard does not. Over the past four years, Davis has caught 81 intermediate passes for 1,425 yards in 51 games (27.9 YPG). Over the same span, Lazard has caught 32 passes for 529 yards in 57 games (9.3 YPG). That’s exactly triple the yards per game for Davis.
If the Jets swapped out Davis for Lazard, they would sorely miss Davis’ intermediate-range impact. Davis is simply a better route-runner than Lazard in this area.
In situations where the Jets need someone to line up outside and beat their man on a dig route or an out route that breaks somewhere beyond 10 yards, Davis easily takes the cake over Lazard. But if the Jets need someone to make a tough catch in the red zone or win a vertical route up the sideline, Lazard is the better option.
When you look beyond their body types and analyze how they actually play the game, it’s clear that Davis and Lazard are different players who can complement one another.
Establishing a ground game
One thing Davis and Lazard do have in common is their excellent blocking ability. They are both among the best blocking receivers in the NFL.
In 2022, the Jets relied heavily on Davis to make key blocks in the run game, and his success as a blocker facilitated some of the Jets’ best run plays of the season.
While their similar excellence in this category could certainly allow Lazard to smoothly fill Davis’ role if Davis were to leave, it also presents the intriguing concept of having two dominant blocking receivers in the same offense.
The Jets want to run the football. It’s an idea we have heard peddled by Robert Saleh and Joe Douglas since they joined forces in 2021. Not to mention, a stout rushing attack can be a fantastic tool for taking pressure off the shoulders of a 40-year-old quarterback who the Jets will want to take as few hits as possible.
With Lazard and Davis on the field together, it would almost be like having two extra tight ends out there. The image of Rodgers pitching a crack toss to Breece Hall with Lazard and Davis leading the way has to be tempting for Nathaniel Hackett and the Jets’ offensive coaching staff.
Some Jets fans point to Denzel Mims as a player who is capable of matching Davis’ blocking ability, but that is a misconception. While Mims’ frame gives him the potential to be as good of a blocker as Davis, we have not seen Mims fulfill that potential. His poor angles and inconsistent effort have caused him to whiff on more blocks than fans seem to realize. Davis’ blocking production is far better than Mims’.
Keeping Davis isn’t a crazy idea for the New York Jets
Davis opened the offseason looking like a player who was certain to be moved. But with Saleh’s recent comments, and with Davis remaining on the team as April nears closer, the odds of Davis staying with the Jets are slowly increasing.
And Jets fans shouldn’t be upset about that. If the Jets’ goal is to give themselves the best shot they possibly can to win Super Bowl 58, keeping Davis can help them do that.
The looming Odell Beckham Jr. rumors are another dark cloud hanging over Davis’ future with the Jets. There is a scenario where the Jets sign Beckham to a sizable one-year contract and finally decide to deem Davis expendable.
However, the Beckham rumors just bring us back to the main point of this article. If Beckham can be had affordably (and that’s an important caveat), then why does Davis have to be expendable? Why not build a formidable five-deep depth chart with Wilson, Beckham, Lazard, Davis, and Hardman? Few teams, if any, would boast a unit with that much talent from No. 1 all the way down to No. 5.
It will be interesting to see how the Jets handle Davis. For me, I keep coming back to one thing: The Jets want to win the Super Bowl this year. With that in mind, I would toss traditional team-building ideologies to the wayside and focus solely on building the deepest and most talented roster possible for the 2023 season. Holding onto a solid starting receiver on an affordable expiring contract would undoubtedly be part of my plan to accomplish that mission.
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