The New York Jets’ WR unit looks a whole lot different with Corey Davis out of the picture
BREAKING: #Jets WR Corey Davis has retired from the NFL
— Connor Hughes (@Connor_J_Hughes) August 23, 2023
— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) August 23, 2023
Davis’ late retirement lays a big hit to the Jets’ depth at wide receiver. The Jets now only have four veteran wideouts who are essential locks to make the roster: Garrett Wilson, Allen Lazard, Mecole Hardman, and Randall Cobb. After that, it’s open season.
Wilson continues to develop a strong connection with Aaron Rodgers and looks like he could potentially be one of the best wide receivers in the NFL this season. But after Wilson, the Jets’ wide receiver unit suddenly looks quite thin when stacked up against some of the high-flying units in the AFC’s arms race.
This is a conference where players such as Jaylen Waddle, Tee Higgins, Christian Kirk, Jerry Jeudy, and Mike Williams aren’t even the best wide receivers on their team. Other potential WR2s include Rashod Bateman, Elijah Moore, George Pickens, Gabe Davis, DeVante Parker, Treylon Burks, Robert Woods, and Jakobi Meyers. Where would you stack Lazard among those guys?
Corey Davis had a strong argument to be considered a mid-tier WR2 in the AFC, but even the biggest Lazard fan has to admit that he is near the bottom of the AFC’s WR2 leaderboard. Lazard has proven throughout his career that he is most effective when utilized in a small role and that his efficiency dwindles the more targets he receives.
Not only does Davis’ exit push Lazard into a less-than-ideal position, but it also pushes Hardman and Cobb one spot higher on the Jets’ depth chart than where they should ideally be. Having Hardman or Cobb as the WR3 certainly isn’t what the Jets were planning – even having Cobb as the WR4 would be a larger role than what many fans thought the Jets were signing up for.
While the Jets lacked the one-two punch of superstars like the ones boasted by Miami or Cincinnati, they had a very solid one-to-five depth chart with Davis aboard. The unit was constructed in a fashion that placed all five players in an ideal role for their talent level. Each member of the unit compared favorably to players at the same depth chart ranking across the league. Davis was a solid WR2, Lazard was a solid WR3, and so on.
Now, everyone beyond Wilson is one spot higher than where the Jets ideally wanted them to be.
Wilson’s connection with Rodgers looks so darn good that he might be able to carry this offense in a Davante Adams-esque fashion, gobbling up a ridiculously high portion of the targets to make up for the lack of talent behind him. That could absolutely work, but you worry about the depth in case of injury.
With Davis out of the picture, the Jets are now one Wilson injury away from a unit that would be extremely similar to the one Rodgers had last season – the same unit that Jets fans use as one of the primary explanations for Rodgers’ production dip in 2022.
Lazard as the top WR, a speedy but flawed weapon next to him (Christian Watson/Hardman), Cobb as a complementary weapon, and a bunch of unproven young players – a Wilson-less Jets WR unit would be nearly identical to last year’s Packers unit. Green Bay also had a strong RB duo similar to the one New York boasts. The Jets get the TE advantage, although it’s not a world-beating unit.
Where do the Jets go from here? Let’s dive into the options.
How the Jets can disperse Davis’ targets in the meantime (Prior to or without a WR addition)
We will get into some options for the Jets to boost the WR unit later. First, let’s try and figure out how the Jets will disperse the targets they initially planned to give Davis if they do not add another WR (or until they do).
One way the Jets can work around Davis’ absence is to give most of his vacated targets to the running backs. This way, the Jets can keep Lazard, Hardman, and Cobb at the target volumes they initially planned for (although they will still play more snaps).
This could absolutely be the Jets’ plan, as the Packers already did exactly that during the three years Rodgers spent with Nathaniel Hackett.
The Packers had a dominant WR1 in Davante Adams and a huge drop-off in WR talent afterward, typically featuring either Lazard or Marquez Valdes-Scantling as the next guy in line. To compensate, the Packers preferred giving more targets to their RBs instead of overfeeding their complementary WRs beyond the target volumes they deserved.
Here are the receiving numbers accumulated by Green Bay’s running backs from 2019 to 2021, and where those numbers ranked across the NFL:
- Targets per game: 6.3 (4th)
- Receptions per game: 5.0 (4th)
- Receiving yards per game: 40.4 (4th)
- Total receiving touchdowns: 19 (2nd)
In each of Hackett’s three seasons, Packers RB Aaron Jones ranked second on the team in targets behind Davante Adams. This allowed Lazard to stay in a role that is suited for his skill level even though he was essentially the WR2. Lazard ranked fourth on the team with 158 targets over this span (3.9 per game) while Jones was second with 196 (4.4 per game). Adams hogged the limelight with 445 targets (10.6 per game), more than double anyone else.
Lining up with how Green Bay used Jones, perhaps the Jets decide to allocate some of Davis’ targets to Breece Hall.
Hall showed tantalizing upside as a receiver in 2022, averaging 31.1 receiving yards per game on 7.0 yards per target. To be fair, 79 of his 218 receiving yards came on one (uncovered) catch, but Hall consistently displayed great YAC skills and also showed flashes as a route-runner that the Jets did not tap into frequently enough. He also had his numbers hampered by poor accuracy from the Jets’ QBs on plays where he was open.
Rodgers and Hackett are not necessarily known for loving the TE position, but that is another place they could move some of Davis’ targets if they do not want to overfeed Lazard, Hardman, or Cobb. Tyler Conklin is a more dangerous TE than Lazard is a WR.
Conklin was underused as a downfield threat last season. Despite his reliable hands and slick route-running chops in the short-to-intermediate range, Conklin was mostly used as a dump-off option in the flat. Davis’ absence could open up an opportunity for Conklin to be placed in a featured receiving role. The Jets can almost use him as a quasi-slot receiver, flexing him out to create mismatches against linebackers and safeties.
If the Jets take the field with their skill position unit unchanged from its current state, I would expect them to closely follow the model set by Green Bay during the Hackett/Adams years. It will be the Garrett Wilson Show, and after that, the Jets will spread the ball around to everyone, getting the RBs and TEs involved just as much as the complementary WRs.
Can the Jets add anyone?
This is the tricky part. Finding a surefire upgrade at a premium position like WR is very difficult at this part of the calendar.
Davante Adams himself will generate the most hype, but it is difficult to envision Las Vegas trading him. Per Spotrac, the Raiders would have to eat $31.55 million in dead money over the next two seasons if they traded Adams. It would take some serious cap gymnastics to make it work.
Plus, the Jets cannot offer their first or second-round pick in next year’s draft because of the Aaron Rodgers trade. One of those two picks will go to Green Bay depending on whether Rodgers plays enough snaps to upgrade the pick from a second-rounder to a first-rounder. Until that is decided, the Jets have to keep both picks available. This will make it tougher for the Jets to trade for a player of Adams’ caliber who will demand a high draft pick. They can only offer a first or second-round pick in 2025 or 2026.
Mike Evans is another player who comes up in these conversations since the Buccaneers are entering a rebuilding stage. However, four days ago, Buccaneers GM Jason Licht said, “I can’t see Mike playing anywhere else. I hope and think we can figure something out so he can retire a Buc.” Jets fans know as well as anyone that these quotes are not gospel (we want Jamal to remain a Jet for life) but that sounds like a pretty affirmative statement.
Perhaps the Jets can pull a rabbit out of their hat that nobody is talking about, but among the players I’ve seen brought up in trade rumors, there is only one who would be a clear upgrade for the Jets: Hunter Renfrow.
And I think he makes a lot of sense.
Why Hunter Renfrow could be an excellent solution
The 27-year-old has been speculated as a possible trade candidate all offseason for a variety of reasons.
Firstly, Renfrow seemed miscast in Josh McDaniels’ offense last year, experiencing a large decline in efficiency in his first season under McDaniels. Renfrow posted career lows in yards per target (6.6) and first down/target rate (36%) after hitting at least 8.0 and 40%, respectively, in each of his first three seasons. His -15.8% DVOA was also a career-low after posting an average DVOA of +6.3% over his first three seasons.
This occurred in spite of the Raiders adding Davante Adams to take immense pressure off Renfrow. Injuries also played a role in Renfrow’s down year (two games missed with a concussion, five with an abdomen strain) but his efficiency was already far behind his previous standards before injuries came into play (5.0 yards per target and 31.3% first down/target rate prior to missing his first game). The fit simply wasn’t there.
Las Vegas’ offseason actions served as further evidence that Renfrow is not viewed as a fit. They went out and signed former Patriots WR Jakobi Meyers to a three-year, $33 million deal. Las Vegas also added veterans Phillip Dorsett and DeAndre Carter on one-year deals. To top it off, they drafted Cincinnati WR Tre Tucker in the third round. The Raiders seemed to be getting ready for life without Renfrow.
Renfrow is only two seasons removed from a 2021 campaign where he racked up 103 catches for 1,038 yards and nine touchdowns. He was the No. 1 target for a Raiders passing attack that ranked sixth in yards per game.
It’s clear that Renfrow would easily be the Jets’ second-best wide receiver if he joined the team. His 2021 performance vastly surpasses anything Lazard (career-high 788 yards) or Hardman (693) have done in their careers, while Cobb only surpassed 1,000 yards once, way back in 2014. To boot, Renfrow’s career averages in yards per route run (1.78) and drop rate (3.9%) would both rank second-best among the Jets’ wide receivers behind only Wilson.
Another thing worth noting is that Renfrow has experience in an offense that might carry similarities to Nathaniel Hackett’s. His offensive coordinator from 2019 to 2021 was Greg Olson, who worked with Hackett in Jacksonville from 2015 to 2016. Olson was the Jaguars’ OC while Hackett worked under him as the QB coach (ultimately replacing Olson after he was fired). Both coaches also come from the Jon Gruden tree, with early roots working under Gruden in Tampa Bay.
No, Renfrow doesn’t give the Jets a superstar No. 2 to match the AFC’s powerhouse duos, but he would allow the Jets to reestablish the well-structured depth chart they had with Davis aboard. All five veterans would be back into a role that makes sense for them.
I also think Renfrow’s skill set is precisely what the Jets need. His strengths would make him an excellent fit between Wilson and Lazard on the Jets’ depth chart.
While Renfrow is not as explosive as Lazard, he brings two skills that Lazard does not: extremely reliable hands and crisp route-running. Those abilities would make him a far trustier secondary target than Lazard.
In situations where Wilson is covered, Rodgers will want to move on to someone he can trust to get open and secure the ball consistently. Renfrow can do those things at a high level. Lazard is not that kind of player; he is a big-play threat who performs most efficiently when he only gets around four targets per game, with those targets coming in ideal situations for his skill set (emphasizing his size and de-emphasizing his route-running).
Because of his issues with route-running and drops, Lazard is not a trusty player who can methodically move the ball down the field – he’s more the boom-or-bust type. Renfrow is the opposite. If he were in the fold, it would take pressure off Lazard to be a consistent play-to-play threat.
This would allow the Jets to maximize Lazard’s efficiency by restricting his targets to situations that suit him. Lazard could be saved for the occasional deep shot or contested red-zone target while Renfrow complements Wilson with quick-hitters and third-down conversions to help the Jets extend drives.
Adding Renfrow would make sense for various reasons. Will the Raiders trade him, though?
With Adams, Meyers, and Renfrow all making eight figures annually, the Raiders are allocating a ton of cap space to the wide receiver position. Per Spotrac, their WR room has a combined $40.3M cap hit this season, ranking second-highest in the NFL. Considering the Raiders currently rank 29th in the NFL with only $2.8 million in cap space, they do seem like a team that could be intrigued by a cap-clearing move at WR.
Renfrow has two years remaining on his contract. He is set to have a $13.1 million cap hit in 2023 and a $13.7 million cap hit in 2024, with two void years tacked on ($3.7 million in 2025 and $1.8 million in 2026). His base salaries are $6.5 million in 2023 and $11.2 million in 2024. If the Raiders trade him now, they can clear $7.0 million in cap space, per Spotrac.
Davis’ retirement opened up some cap flexibility for the Jets. New York gained $10.5 million in cap space with Davis’ retirement, putting them at $16.3 million. There is enough room to squeeze in Renfrow without any gymnastics.
With all of that in mind, plus Renfrow’s poor fit in McDaniels’ offense and the other additions they’ve made to the position, there are many reasons to believe Las Vegas could be willing to trade him.
I like the idea of Joe Douglas offering a third or fourth-round selection for Renfrow. Of course, though, it takes two to tango. Although there are signs suggesting the Raiders might be interested in dealing Renfrow, we don’t know that with certainty.
Other than Renfrow, the Jets would probably have to get creative and/or aggressive to acquire a legitimate upgrade via trade. There is not much trade chatter at the moment involving players who would significantly aid the Jets.
Looking at the free agent market, there isn’t much to write home about. If you want any sort of real upside behind fringe-roster level, you’re limited to washed-up big-name players like Kenny Golladay, Julio Jones, Jarvis Landry, and T.Y. Hilton. I’m not sure I see the Jets dipping into this pool.
It will be interesting to see how Joe Douglas handles this situation. Will Douglas get aggressive in a championship-chasing season? Or will he stand pat and trust the Jets’ current depth?