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Why underrated Corey Davis, not Allen Lazard, will be Jets’ WR2

Corey Davis, NY Jets, WR2
Corey Davis, New York Jets, Getty Images

New York Jets WR Corey Davis is due for a big season, but it seems as if nobody talks about him

In my opinion, Corey Davis is the most overlooked player on the New York Jets. Every day, I see graphics and tweets that flaunt the Jets’ loaded weaponry, yet do not include Davis in the picture.

I believe Davis is poised for a big season as the Jets’ No. 2 wideout. For many reasons, I think he will actually have a more substantial impact than Allen Lazard, who is always featured in these types of graphics.

While Lazard should be a valuable piece of the Jets’ offense, it’s Davis who I view as the better player and the one who will emerge as the Robin to Garrett Wilson’s Batman.

Let’s dig into a few reasons why Davis is set up for a fantastic season, and why he is a better fit than Lazard to be the Jets’ No. 2 wide receiver. We’ll start by looking at Davis individually before comparing him to Lazard.

Aaron Rodgers is the right QB to unlock Davis’ strengths

It’s often forgotten how good Davis was back in 2020, the season before he signed with the Jets. That year, Davis averaged 4.6 receptions and 70.3 yards per game, also scoring five touchdowns in 14 games.

Davis’ efficiency was the best aspect of his game in 2020. When the Titans targeted him, he delivered. Davis averaged 10.7 yards per target (3rd among WR with 80+ targets) and picked up a first down or touchdown on a whopping 53.3% of his targets (1st).

In Davis’ breakout season with Tennessee, the primary key to his success was in-breaking routes. Davis was wildly efficient on routes that sent him over the middle of the field.

According to NFL Next Gen Stats, these were Davis’ numbers on crossing routes, in routes, and slant routes:

  • Crossers: 13 catches on 19 targets (68.4%) for 230 yards (12.1 per target)
  • Ins: 7 catches on 8 targets (87.5%) for 118 yards (14.8 per target)
  • Slants: 8 catches on 10 targets (80.0%) for 77 yards (7.7 per target)

On these three routes combined, Davis caught 28 of 37 targets (75.7%) for 425 yards (11.5 per target). When a player is that efficient on a specific play type, you want to feature him in that situation as often as possible. But you need the right quarterback to do it.

The great news for Davis is that Rodgers’ accuracy on these throws is absolutely lethal – and he targets them quite often, too.

In 2022, Rodgers ranked seventh in the NFL with 144 pass attempts to one of these three route types, and his 70.8% completion rate on those throws ranked sixth-best out of 28 qualifiers.

Rodgers didn’t throw these as often in 2021, ranking 15th with 133 attempts on crossers/ins/slants, but he led the NFL with a 75.6% completion rate. In 2020, he was back up to sixth in attempts (149) and still ranked second in completion rate with an even higher 77.2%.

Overall, over the past three seasons, Rodgers had a combined completion percentage of 74.4% between crossing routes, in routes, and slant routes, ranking second-best behind only Joe Burrow (75.3%). Rodgers also ranked fourth with 426 pass attempts to one of these routes.

Meanwhile, Davis was dealing with the worst of the worst. Zach Wilson ranked last among qualifiers with a 50.9% completion rate on these three routes in 2022.

Davis’ greatest strength is winning over the middle of the field. He uses his big frame to shield defenders off for tough catches in traffic, and he’s effective after the catch. These skills were diminished by the Jets’ brutal quarterbacking over the past two years, but now, Davis has one of the league’s two most accurate quarterbacks on the specific routes he thrives upon.

We’ve seen glimpses of Davis’ potential in this area, but the Jets haven’t tapped into it enough.

This play showed what Davis can do at his best. It isn’t even a perfect throw by Zach Wilson, thrown slightly behind Davis, but Davis snags it and then still makes a big play after the catch despite having to slow his stride to make the grab.

Davis’ YAC skills are underrated. He averages 0.128 missed tackles forced per reception in his career, which is above the 2022 league average of 0.104 for wide receivers. This is especially impressive because Davis rarely has screens or short passes called for him, meaning he forces most of his missed tackles on plays like the one above – where the evaded tackles are occurring down the field.

That play could have gone for even more yardage if the ball were placed out in front of Davis. Rodgers’ precision on in-breaking throws will maximize Davis’ YAC potential on throws over the middle. Facilitating YAC is a big part of Rodgers’ success on these passes, as he does a great job of placing the ball in an ideal spot for his receiver to catch it in stride and gain maximum YAC.

Davis’ size is another asset that he utilizes to thrive over the middle. On this game-saving 4th & 10 grab, Davis uses his frame to box out the defender and position himself for the catch. He’s then able to power through the contact and stay afoot for extra YAC.

Rodgers knows how to squeeze the ball into tight windows over the middle. He excels at placing the ball in an ideal spot for his receiver to wall off his man and secure the grab.

Look for Aaron Rodgers to maximize Corey Davis’ most valuable traits.

Davis vs. Lazard: Similar production despite incredibly different circumstances

Davis and Lazard have produced at similar levels in recent seasons. This is despite Davis battling through the league’s worst quarterback situation and Lazard enjoying the luxury of Aaron Rodgers.

Here is a comparison between Lazard and Davis’ numbers over the past two seasons (2021-22):

  • Corey Davis: 3.0 receptions per game, 46.7 receiving yards per game, 0.27 touchdowns per game (4.6 per 17 games), 8.4 yards per target, 1.52 yards per route run, 2.3 first downs per game
  • Allen Lazard: 3.3 receptions per game, 43.4 receiving yards per game, 0.47 touchdowns per game (7.9 per 17 games), 8.1 yards per target, 1.42 yards per route run, 2.4 first downs per game

Outside of Lazard scoring more touchdowns (something that is much easier when your team is in the red zone far more often), the numbers are nearly identical.

Going forward, this paints a more optimistic outlook for Davis than Lazard. Davis’ quarterbacking will take a massive leap while Lazard will have the same quarterback. This means Davis’ numbers should naturally improve off the past few seasons even if he performs the exact same way as an individual, whereas for Lazard, it’s difficult to envision his numbers improving any further.

Davis has a more reliable set of hands than Lazard

Both Davis and Lazard have battled drop issues throughout their careers. However, Davis’ outlook in this department is more promising.

For their careers, Davis and Lazard’s drop rates are pretty close. Davis is at 7.5% while Lazard is at 8.2% (the 2022 NFL WR average was 6.9%). So, Davis already has a small edge, but the advantage grows when you add context.

Drops are proven to correlate with accuracy from the quarterback. This is because many of the plays that get charted as “drops” come on imperfect throws. So, the more erratic the quarterback’s accuracy is, the more likely he is to create opportunities for “drops” by his receivers.

Davis is a perfect example. During his four years in Tennessee, where he received fairly solid quarterbacking for the most part (Tennessee’s quarterbacks ranked 10th in passer rating from 2017-20 at 95.0), Davis’ drop rate was 5.9%, which is better than the league average for wide receivers.

But since he came to New York, Davis’ drop rate has skyrocketed to 12%. He got it down to 8.6% in 2022 after ballooning to 15% in 2021.

Davis has certainly dropped some freebies with the Jets (more so in 2021). Still, his drop woes have been slightly blown out of proportion due to the quarterbacking. Some of his drops should have been easy completions, but he was hung out to dry by a bad throw.

This high throw by Mike White on an out route is an example. Davis was charged with a drop here, one of his three in 2022.

Could Davis catch this? Absolutely, but the placement from White makes the catch far more difficult than it has to be. While it’s undoubtedly a missed catch opportunity by Davis, calling it a “drop” feels like putting too much blame on the receiver when the quarterback also deserves some blame. With Rodgers, this throw is hitting Davis between the 8 and the 4 nine times out of ten.

Davis’ other two drops in 2022 were definitely on him. But if you changed the play above to no longer be labeled as a drop, his drop rate on the season would go down to 5.9% – equal to his rate in Tennessee.

Lazard, meanwhile, maintained a high drop rate in Green Bay despite getting precise passes from Rodgers.

Davis also has a better resume in contested-catch situations. For his career, Davis is credited with a 51.9% catch rate on contested targets, per PFF, while Lazard’s rate is 46%.

This is another facet where the quarterbacking disparity comes into play. Rodgers maximizes his receivers’ odds in contested situations with thorough ball placement; the two plays we watched earlier are excellent examples. If Davis has already been 7% better than Lazard in contested situations without Rodgers, how much further ahead will he be when they both have Rodgers?

I know Rodgers is good friends with Lazard and has accumulated five seasons of familiarity with him. But as Rodgers stacks reps with Davis, I believe he will find out that No. 84 is the man he’ll prefer to look for on his second reads.

Davis is suited for a WR2 role while Lazard is at his best in the background

Garrett Wilson is Batman in the Jets’ passing game, drawing the spotlight and the headlines. But who will be Robin?

The career track records of Davis and Lazard suggest Davis is the more suitable candidate.

The 2020 season remains the best of Davis’ career by far. His role that year? Tennessee’s clear-cut No. 2 target behind a superstar No. 1 receiver.

A.J. Brown was the top dog, leading the Titans with 106 targets in 14 games (7.6 per game). Davis was next in line, getting 92 targets in 14 games (6.6 per game). The third-ranked target was Jonnu Smith with 65 targets in 15 games (4.3 per game), over two fewer targets per game than Davis.

Davis has proven he can thrive as a Robin. As a matter of fact, the Robin role is where Davis has played his absolute best football.

Lazard, on the other hand, has never been a true Robin before. Lazard’s best production has come as a supporting actor who plays a limited role. He is at his most effective when he only appears in a couple of scenes but steals the show in those scenes.

Over his first three seasons (2019-21), Lazard never ranked higher than third on the Packers in total targets.

He did rank second on the team in targets per game in 2020, but with only 4.6 per game (46 in 10 games), and that was a measly 0.1 ahead of third-ranked Aaron Jones.

Davante Adams dominated the target share in 2020 with 149 targets in 14 games (10.6 per game). Everyone else was pretty much in the same boat – there wasn’t a true No. 2. In fact, Lazard and Jones were two of four players who averaged between 3.7 and 4.6 targets per game.

In 2019, Lazard was sixth on the team with 52 targets in 16 games (3.2 per game), and in 2021, he was third with 60 in 15 games (4.0 per game). The bottom line is that Lazard was mostly a supporting piece over his first three years – never a true No. 2 to the extent Davis was with Brown in 2020.

Lazard skipped a step by elevating into the Packers’ No. 1 role in 2022 after Davante Adams left. He led the team with 100 targets in 15 games (6.7 per game). Lazard got 1.5 more targets per game than second-ranked Romeo Doubs.

This role expansion did not yield ideal results. Lazard was actually at his best in the supporting role he played over the previous three seasons.

From 2019-21, Lazard averaged 9.1 yards per target and generated a passer rating of 126.7 when targeted. Lazard’s efficiency dipped when he took on the featured role in 2022; he posted a career-low 7.9 yards per target and a career-low 85.8 passer rating when targeted (his previous low was 117.9).

Rodgers had far less chemistry with Lazard in the featured role, throwing five interceptions on passes intended for Lazard in 2022 after throwing zero over the previous three seasons.

Davis’ best football came when he was the secondary weapon behind a star No. 1 receiver. Lazard’s best football came when he was getting 3-4 targets per game as a supporting weapon. It’s clear that Davis is better suited for handling a high target volume in the Jets’ offense this year.

Couple that with the perfect fit between Davis’ in-breaking prowess and Rodgers’ in-breaking accuracy, and I see a big year coming for the Jets’ 28-year-old wideout.

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9 months ago

I would love to see Corey have a year where he returns to form.
It’s the drops of Lazard, even in camp so far, that concern me the most.

9 months ago

This is purely an intangible, but I can’t help wonder how Zach Wilson’s nervousness and by the extension the nervousness of the whole offense might have contributed to drops. Even beyond the accuracy issues, just watching games, I felt like every pass where he was even reasonably on time and on target was such a big deal that the receivers might have felt huge pressure to catch it (and may have even been surprised it was catchable!). Having a sure-handed QB like Rogers, and maybe a greatly improved and more relaxed Wilson, should help everyone else relax, especially the receivers.

Matt Galemmo
9 months ago

All of this is objectively true, but I’m trying to unpack why Lazard could be so efficient in one role and deficient in another. The caliber of cornerback covering him is the most likely reason, but this would only be noticeable when covered man-to-man. Did his production suffer most vs man coverage? Further, are there any trends with spot corners vs outside corners?

If not, I wonder what that means.

Rivka Boord
9 months ago
Reply to  Matt Galemmo

Worse coverage, it’s easier to be efficient in a small sample size, better schemed-up looks in specific situations, other WRs getting more attention to give him one-on-one looks.

Matt Galemmo
9 months ago
Reply to  Rivka Boord

Yes, of course. I feel like I should’ve been able to figure that out myself.

Regarding better schemed looks, a lot has been made of Rodgers reuniting with Hackett, but none of Lazard and Hackett. These numbers suggest that reunion might be significant.