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NY Jets have fundamental offensive issue that could cost them

Mecole Hardman, NY Jets, Drops, Stats
Mecole Hardman, New York Jets, Getty Images

The New York Jets’ skill position players seemingly all have the same core issue

The story of Aaron Rodgers‘ decline as a quarterback has many talking heads licking their chops and hoping for the New York Jets‘ downfall. After all, Rodgers’ 2022 season was his worst since 2008, his first year as a starter.

Fractured finger notwithstanding, it was certainly not the season Rodgers was hoping for. However, there was one specific issue that he dealt with persistently, greatly undermining his season: drops. Rodgers’ receivers posted a 7.9% drop rate, which was the seventh-highest rate in the NFL. (That number may be an underestimate, as we’ll discuss later.)

It wasn’t just the drops themselves, but the level of the drops. Rodgers had several perfectly-thrown deep balls, potential explosive plays or touchdowns, dropped.

Unfortunately for the Jets quarterback, he may be in for a rude awakening in New York. The team’s receivers, tight ends, and running backs have had issues with drops. When you throw in persistent fumbling problems, the Jets have a broader hands issue. This alone has the potential to sink the Jets’ offense.

Allen Lazard

When discussing drops, some Jets fans might be surprised to hear that the list will inevitably begin with Allen Lazard. Joe Blewett has called Lazard’s hands and catching technique the worst he’s ever seen.

The statistics do not even fully encapsulate how poor Lazard’s hands are. On the surface, his 6.3% drop rate ranked in the 43rd percentile among receivers. Considering that the receiver average in 2022 was 5.6%, Lazard’s drop rate is worse than average but not atrocious. However, the tape tells a different story.

Furthermore, Lazard’s career drop rate is 8.6%. From 2019-21 when he had between 55-60 targets per season, he posted drop rates of 7.3%, 14.9%, and 6.8%. Even when he does catch the ball, the clap technique he uses is a recipe for continued drops.

Lazard received a WR2 contract, but his drops alone make it hard to justify that number. On the plus side, he’s never fumbled in his career, so at least he should be reliable in that area.

Corey Davis

Corey Davis has been a Jets fan scapegoat since 2021. In two years with the team, he has recorded 66 receptions and nine drops, which amounts to a 12% drop rate. It was a whopping 15% in 2021 but was still putrid at 8.6% in 2022.

What’s strange is that Davis had a 5.9% drop rate in his four seasons prior to joining the Jets, which is only slightly worse than the average for starting receivers (5.6%). Obviously, the quarterback throwing the ball to him was a factor in 2022, but those targets should have been caught nevertheless.

Count me among the believers that Davis will have a bounce-back season in 2023. Still, there will undeniably be times that Jets fans tear their hair out in frustration over him. A big part of his problem is that he often catches the ball with his chest rather than his hands. That technique, like Lazard’s clap technique, is a surefire cause of drops.

Furthermore, Davis has had fumble issues throughout his career. He has six career fumbles, including two in 2021. 2022 was his first season in which he did not record a fumble. Six fumbles on 273 career receptions amount to an outrageous 2.2% career fumble rate.

Mecole Hardman

Blewett described Mecole Hardman as having alligator arms over the middle. That is an apt description, and it is not a great characteristic for a slot receiver to have.

Hardman’s career drop rate is 7.5%. While that is largely driven by his 2020 season when his rate was an alarming 12.5%, he also had a 6.9% rate in 2022. Hardman pulls his arms away quickly when he senses contact coming, and that leads to drops.

Hardman also has two career fumbles on 171 touches, a 1.2% rate that’s too high for comfort.

Garrett Wilson

Why would I list the Offensive Rookie of the Year if he had just a 2.4% drop rate in 2022? Indeed, Garrett Wilson ranked 14th among all receivers in that category, having been charged with just two drops, per Pro Football Focus.

However, Wilson’s tape indicates several more balls that he should have caught but dropped. Even if PFF’s graders did not charge them that way, an NFL receiver must catch those passes.

Furthermore, the dropsies were one of Wilson’s key knocks from his college tape. Blewett noted it, pointing out that Wilson has a tendency not to look the ball into his hands out of his desire for YAC. He often peeks at the defense before he fully secures the catch.

Indeed, Wilson’s drop rate from his three years at Ohio State was 7.2%, including 7.9% in his breakout 2021 season. It may not have translated statistically to his rookie season in the NFL, but it was noticeable in spots and is still something to look out for.

Wilson had two fumbles in 2022, as well. In his haste for YAC, he doesn’t always hold the ball as tightly as he should. While he had no fumbles in college, it’s still something he should be more careful about in 2023.

Randall Cobb

Randall Cobb has a career 7.7% drop rate. Although his 5.6% rate in 2022 (two drops) is roughly at the league average for receivers, it has nevertheless been a problem at times in his career. Cobb had three separate seasons where he posted at least nine drops, including as recently as 2019. He’s not a high-volume target, but drops can still be an issue for the veteran.

Tyler Conklin

Another Jets fan scapegoat, Tyler Conklin did not have a history of drops before coming to New York. In fact, he had posted just three drops in his first four NFL seasons, including just one at a 1.6% rate in 2021. Unfortunately, Conklin’s drop rate ballooned to 6.5% in 2022, and the four drops he was charged with may be generous accounting.

Still, Conklin appeared to be a victim of exceptionally bad quarterback play. Most of his drops were significantly off target. Against the Steelers, a short Zach Wilson pass went off his hands and into a defender’s; however, the pass was high and hard, which is very difficult to catch at such a distance. There were other similar drops throughout the season.

Harder to understand were Conklin’s fumbles. He had two in his first two games with the Jets. Although that did not persist throughout the season, it added to the perception that he is a mistake machine. Once again, he had two total fumbles in his prior four seasons, so it’s not necessarily an issue that should persist.

C.J. Uzomah

C.J. Uzomah was charged with one drop on 26 targets in 2022. However, his career drop rate is abysmal at 8.5%, which is far worse than the 2022 tight-end average of 5.66%. That includes an 8.5% rate in 2018 and 7.5% in 2021, the seasons with his highest target numbers. Uzomah also had a pass that he bobbled up in the air against the Bills, nearly causing an interception (many would argue that the ball was, in fact, intercepted and not caught).

Breece Hall

The Jets’ star running back had issues with fumbles and drops in his rookie season, which is likely why his PFF grade was low. Breece Hall had one fumble on 98 total touches, a 1.0% rate that was worse than the running back average (0.82%) but close to the median (47th percentile). In college, Hall had two fumbles each in 2020 and 2021, although his 0.75% rate was about where you’d expect for a running back. It could be that his rate would have evened out with more touches, but Blewett did point out that Hall sometimes fails to put two hands on the ball in traffic.

Hall’s drop numbers are alarming, at least on the surface. His 20.8% drop rate was by far and away the worst among running backs; the average among 43 backs (min. 30 targets) was 6.7%. Hall was charged with five drops against 19 receptions.

It’s important to remember that Hall’s drops, like Davis’ and Conklin’s, usually came on poorly-thrown passes. Hall actually has even more of an excuse since most of his so-called drops were in fact contested targets or actively difficult to catch.

It’s hard to assess Hall fully due to a seven-game sample size, but these are still possible concerns.

Michael Carter

Michael Carter has three fumbles in his first two seasons in the NFL at a 0.89% rate, which is roughly average for running backs. However, that breaks down into a 0.55% rate in 2021 and a 1.29% rate in 2022. The 2021 number is solid, while the 2022 mark ranked in the 33rd percentile among 43 running backs (min. 125 touches). In college, Carter posted four fumbles on 594 attempts, a 0.67% rate. This could suggest that 2022 was an outlier.

Carter also has six drops at a 7.2% rate over two seasons, although that was also starkly divided between 2021-22: five in 2021 (12.2%) compared to just one in 2022 (2.4%). Carter’s hands in 2021 left something to be desired, while his overall drop rate suggests roughly league-average hands for a running back. His 7.1% drop rate in college backs that up.

Zonovan Knight

Zonovan Knight‘s fumbling issues are well-documented going back to college. He had seven fumbles on 454 touches in college for a putrid 1.54% fumble rate. He also had five drops at a 9.6% drop rate, although four of them came in his first college season.

At the NFL level, Knight’s fumbling issues continued in a small body of work. He had two fumbles on 98 touches for an outrageous 2.04% rate, which would have been the worst among all backs had he qualified. That’s the kind of number that could jeopardize his roster spot, particularly with Dalvin Cook looming on the horizon.

Knight also posted one drop at a 7.1% rate, although it was a somewhat off-target throw. Overall, his receiving looked solid in a small sample size.

Izzy Abanikanda

Yet another Jets running back who has fumble issues, Izzy Abanikanda is known for holding the ball loosely. He had three fumbles in his final year at Pitt, a 1.19% rate that would be considerably worse than average at the NFL level. Although that number reduces to 0.72% if you consider his total number of college touches, it’s a legitimate concern for the rookie.

Furthermore, Abanikanda is not much of a receiver, as he totaled just 12 receptions in 2022 and 37 in his three college seasons. Still, he managed to post five drops at an 11.9% rate in those years.

Abanikanda is the poster child for this chronic Jets issue.

Dalvin Cook?

Dalvin Cook is yet unsigned, but things seem to be pointing toward his joining the Jets.

One of my primary objections to Cook is his lack of surehandedness. In the last four seasons, he is tied for the most fumbles among running backs with 16, and he ranks sixth-worst out of 31 qualified backs (min. 500 touches) with a 1.29% fumble rate during that span. He has also never had fewer than three drops in a season in his six years in the NFL and has a career 10.2% drop rate, which is considerably worse than the running back average (6.9% in 2022).

Cook will fit right into the Jets’ backfield with more chronic issues. Expect plenty of grumbling on the matter, which is not something Jets fans seem all that aware of.

Have-to-have moments

Considering the lack of surehandedness across the Jets’ receiving corps, Rodgers will need to pick his poison in key moments. Wilson is likely to be the go-to target despite Rodgers’ prior chemistry with Lazard. Indeed, Wilson’s drop issues seem the least bad among Jets receivers, anyway.

I would expect Conklin to bounce back in this area, though. Catching inaccurate balls from Zach Wilson, Joe Flacco, and Mike White seemingly took a toll across the board. I think Davis will improve somewhat, too, although less so than Conklin due to his technique issues.

The main thing that Jets fans should be aware of is that there are bound to be unbearably frustrating moments due to fumbles and drops. It is a teamwide problem that is unlikely to please their quarterback. The Jets need to hope that, unlike in 2022 (against the Vikings), it does not end up truly costing them games.

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