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The NY Jets’ perfect target distribution plan for 2023

Allen Lazard, NY Jets, Stats, Predictions
Allen Lazard, New York Jets, Getty Images

How should the New York Jets distribute targets in their offense without Corey Davis?

Corey Davis’ shocking retirement leaves the New York Jets’ offense looking much different as Week 1 draws near.

With his projected WR2/WR3 (it’s up for debate which one he was actually slated to be) suddenly out of the picture, how should Nathaniel Hackett adjust his target distribution plan?

While the Jets could make a move to replace Davis, let’s just assume for now that the Jets stand pat with what they have. What would be the best way to distribute targets among the current skill-position group?

Hackett’s days in Green Bay laid out the perfect map.

The “Davante Adams Plan”

During the three years Aaron Rodgers and Hackett spent together in Green Bay (2019-21), the Packers’ passing attack was more of a one-man show than any other in the NFL. Davante Adams was the guy. He ate a larger slice of his team’s target pie than anybody else in football.

Adams led the NFL with 10.6 targets per game over that three-year span, drawing 445 targets in 42 games. In games where Adams played, the Packers targeted him on a whopping 30.6% of their pass attempts.

Beyond Adams, the Packers never had a true secondary target. There wasn’t a bona fide “WR2” nor a heavily featured tight end. Green Bay spread the ball around fairly equally to everyone beyond Adams, with all three units (WR/RB/TE) getting fair rations of Adams’ leftovers.

In fact, the Packers’ second-ranked target beyond Adams from 2019-21 was their RB1, Aaron Jones, whose 196 targets (4.4 per game) were less than half of Adams’ team-leading number.

Marquez Valdes-Scantling was third in line with 174 targets (4.0 per game), placing second among wide receivers. Fourth among all players and third among wide receivers was Allen Lazard, who had 158 targets (3.9 per game).

Ultimately, the gaps between Jones, Valdes-Scantling, and Lazard are so small that it wouldn’t make sense to label any of them as having a certified spot in the pecking order. All three players had similar involvement in the passing game, serving as the primary complements to Adams.

Rounding out the top five was TE Robert Tonyan with 103 targets in 35 games (2.9 per game), putting him a decent distance behind the Jones/MVS/Lazard trio.

Here is a full list of the Packers’ top targets from 2019 to 2021:

  1. WR Davante Adams: 445 in 42 games (10.6 per game)
  2. RB Aaron Jones: 196 in 45 games (4.4 per game)
  3. WR Marquez Valdes-Scantling: 174 in 43 games (4.0 per game)
  4. WR Allen Lazard: 158 in 41 games (3.9 per game)
  5. TE Robert Tonyan: 103 in 35 games (2.9 per game)
  6. RB Jamaal Williams: 80 in 28 games (2.9 per game)
  7. TE Marcedes Lewis: 64 in 48 games (1.3 per game)

To visualize how it may look if the Jets replicate this plan in 2023, let’s view the Packers’ target distribution in individual seasons. We’ll specifically focus on Rodgers’ MVP years in 2020 and 2021.

Take a look at the Packers’ top targets in the 2020 season.

2020-Packers-Targets

And here is the 2021 season.

2021-Packers-Targets

Garrett Wilson allows the Jets to use a similar plan

The Jets’ current skill-position unit carries many similarities to the 2019-21 Packers. They have a star WR1. They have a star RB1 with the pass-game skills to handle plenty of targets. They have a fairly deep WR unit with some nice pieces, but none that can be viewed as a true WR2. Their TE unit is solid and deep even if it lacks a star.

The Jets are built to mimic this plan. And it’s because of one man: Garrett Wilson.

Green Bay’s target plan only worked because Adams was as dominant as he was. Most elite passing attacks have multiple intimidating threats and wouldn’t be nearly as successful if you removed one of them. But the Packers didn’t need a second guy because their lone star was that good. The connection between a HOF QB and a HOF WR1 was so strong that Adams essentially served as two star receivers in one.

If the Jets didn’t have a player of Wilson’s caliber, they would not be able to mimic Green Bay’s target plan. They would undoubtedly need to add another top-end weapon to ensure they can have a chance of fielding an elite offense this year. But if Wilson can match (or even come close to) Adams’ output, the Jets can make it work with what they have.

For many reasons, it is realistic to believe Wilson can carry a passing attack on his back in the same way Adams did. While holding Wilson to Adams’ standards may seem too extreme for such a young player, this offseason has proven it is not an improbable expectation.

Wilson and Rodgers have been building an extraordinary connection all throughout training camp, linking up for massive plays on a daily basis. Drawing immense praise from Rodgers for his quickness, route running, and hands, Wilson continues to show he is ready to fill Adams’ shoes as Rodgers’ new go-to No. 17.

Even as a 22-year-old rookie, Wilson already wasn’t far off from Adams’ workload. Wilson drew 147 targets in 17 games (8.6 per game), tying him for the sixth-most targets among all wide receivers. This is despite Wilson’s film displaying countless instances where he got open but did not get targeted due to poor vision on the quarterback’s part.

With a second-year leap, a giant upgrade at quarterback, and the exit of his two closest competitors for targets at WR last season (Elijah Moore and Corey Davis), it’s very easy to picture Wilson taking the next step and matching Adams’ colossal target volume.

How this plan would benefit the weapons beyond Wilson

Having Wilson bear the brunt of the targets will allow the rest of the Jets’ weapons to settle into roles that suit them. Nobody would be forced to carry a workload that is too heavy for their skill level, allowing each player’s efficiency to be maximized. This is why Green Bay’s model worked so well.

Seeing only around four targets per game apiece, Marquez Valdes-Scantling and Allen Lazard were highly efficient in the 2019-21 stretch. Valdes-Scantling averaged 9.0 yards per target while Lazard averaged 9.1 yards per target. Lazard had 14 touchdowns on just 158 targets (8.9% TD rate) while Valdes-Scantling had 11 touchdowns on 174 targets (6.3%).

For perspective, the 2022 league averages for WRs were 8.0 yards per target and a 4.4% TD rate, so Valdes-Scantling and Lazard were both performing much better than the league-average WR on a per-target basis. That’s the effect Adams had. Because Adams took on so many different responsibilities, his teammates were free to be solely used in ideal situations for their skill sets, leading to tremendous per-play efficiency.

Aaron Jones justified his high target volume by establishing himself as one of the more efficient pass-catching running backs in the league. Among 37 running backs with at least 100 targets from 2019-21, Jones ranked 13th in yards per target (6.2) and third in touchdown rate (5.6%). In total, he tied for second at the position with 11 receiving touchdowns and fourth with 1,220 receiving yards, outplaying his No. 6 ranking in targets (196).

If you’re getting above-average receiving efficiency out of your second wide receiver, third wide receiver, and top running back, you have yourself a well-oiled machine. Not many offenses can pull this off with only one true threat at the top, but when you have a quarterback as good as Rodgers and a weapon as good as Adams or Wilson, it can be done.

The Jets will want to mold their offense in this way to make up for the lack of a reliable No. 2 wide receiver. Too much of Allen Lazard, Mecole Hardman, or Randall Cobb could hurt the offense. But if each player is limited to the right role, they can be effective and dangerous.

Giving Lazard any more than four or five targets per game would be pushing him too far. His most efficient seasons according to DVOA were 2020 and 2021, a stretch during which he averaged just 4.2 targets per game. Lazard had a 28.3% DVOA in 2020 (5th of 90 WRs with 45+ targets) and a 24.8% DVOA in 2021 (4th).

“DVOA”, or Defense-Adjusted Value Over Average, is a metric from Football Outsiders that represents value, per play, over an average WR in the same game situations. It accounts for various game-situation factors such as down-and-distance, field position, time on the clock, quality of opponent, and more.

In his two best seasons, Lazard was getting fewer targets than Green Bay’s RB1 and was tightly contested with Valdes-Scantling for the second-most targets and snaps at WR. Even if you labeled Lazard as Green Bay’s quasi-WR2, Adams devoured such a large share of targets that Green Bay’s WR2 target volume would be a WR3 target volume in most other offenses.

When Lazard went up to a career-high 6.7 targets in 2022, his efficiency plummeted across the board. His chemistry with Aaron Rodgers took a hit; Rodgers threw five interceptions when targeting Lazard after throwing zero his way over the previous three seasons. Overall, Lazard’s 7.0% DVOA (29th of 85) was still solid, but it was a far cry from his production as a lesser-used weapon.

Granted, Lazard was the Packers’ WR1 for most of 2022, but still, the bottom line is that Lazard has proven he tends to be more effective with fewer targets. It would be ideal for the Jets to keep him around the target volume he had back in the Adams era, even if he is technically the WR2. As long as they do that, having Lazard as the WR2 can work.

Hardman’s best season according to DVOA was his 2019 rookie year. That season, he was fourth among Kansas City’s wide receivers in both targets per game (2.6) and snaps (29.4 per game / 45% ratio). Hardman was incredibly effective in this limited role; his 44.1% DVOA led all wide receivers with at least 40 targets. With just 41 targets, Hardman generated 538 yards and six touchdowns.

The Chiefs bumped Hardman up to 4.4 targets per game over the next three seasons and his efficiency significantly declined. Hardman posted a DVOA of 9.2% across those three years – which is still good (it would rank 27th of 85 qualifiers in 2022), but it’s an enormous decline from his video game numbers as a rookie. Hardman also dipped from a league-leading 13.1 yards per target in 2019 to 8.7 over the next three years.

If the Jets want the absolute best out of Hardman, they should try to emulate the Chiefs’ usage of him in 2019. Make him the Bryce Huff of the offense. Restrict him to situations that are perfect for his skill set and reap the benefits of unreal efficiency. Don’t get greedy and try to squeeze more out of him beyond the things you know he does well – just let him cook with screen-game touches and the occasional deep shot.

As for Cobb, he showed in 2022 that he can still be useful in a WR4 role. Cobb was fourth among Green Bay’s wide receivers in targets per game (3.8), snaps per game (28.5), and snap ratio (44%), and he played well for someone at that spot on that depth chart. Cobb performed around league average in most efficiency metrics, generating 8.3 yards per target and posting a -0.9% DVOA (45th of 85 WRs with 50+ targets). It’s not the worst thing in the world to continue giving him three or four targets per game.

Tyler Conklin is the big X-factor in this mix. Green Bay didn’t use its tight ends for a high volume of targets, although Robert Tonyan was a red-zone fixture in 2020.

But Conklin is a talented route-runner with strong hands who might be a trustier chain-mover and short-to-intermediate option than any of the Jets’ wide receivers beyond Wilson. With the Jets’ current layout, I see Conklin drawing a much higher target share than Green Bay’s tight ends did. He will take some of the middle-of-the-field targets vacated by Davis.

Conklin is capable of taking on the second-most targets in this offense so the wide receivers can fulfill their ideal roles. He already had 87 targets in each of the past two seasons. I see Conklin staying around the same number of targets this year; although he should produce more efficiently in terms of yards and touchdowns. Last season, Conklin was largely used as a safety blanket, but in 2023, I see Rodgers and Hackett featuring Conklin more heavily as a key playmaker – especially in the red zone.

Breece Hall is equipped to slide right into Aaron Jones’ shoes as the high-usage passing game RB. Hall already averaged 4.4 targets per game in 2022, which is identical to Jones’ average from 2019-21. With fantastic YAC skills and underrated route running potential that deserves to be tapped into more often, Hall projects as an efficient receiver.

Crafting the roadmap

Using all of the information we have gathered so far, let’s try and map out the Jets’ ideal target distribution plan for the 2023 season. This plan will be built off Green Bay’s 2019-21 model with adjustments made to mold it around the Jets’ current talent.

Some notes:

  • I assumed Aaron Rodgers will throw 34 passes per game, giving him 578 attempts over the course of 17 games. This is based on the fact he averaged 33.9 pass attempts per game from 2019-21.
  • These predictions assume everyone will play 17 games.

Here is the target distribution plan I came up with.

  1. WR Garrett Wilson: 175 targets (10.3 per game)
  2. TE Tyler Conklin: 85 (5.0)
  3. RB Breece Hall: 80 (4.7)
  4. WR Allen Lazard: 70 (4.1)
  5. WR Randall Cobb: 50 (2.9)
  6. WR Mecole Hardman: 46 (2.7)
  7. RB Dalvin Cook: 35 (2.1)
  8. TE C.J. Uzomah: 15 (0.9)
  9. TE Jeremy Ruckert: 12 (0.7)
  10. FB Nick Bawden: 10 (0.6)

I believe this plan would allow the Jets to operate an efficient offense in which every player can perform their best.

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mlesko73
mlesko73
9 months ago

Great article Mike, thank you.
I would agree that Conklin’s numbers/efficiency will increase w/ Rodgers at QB.
While it may take a while for Breece to get back to 100% and full reps he will also thrive w/ AR. On the other hand, by your own data, Cook will severely limit the RB passing attack.
I think that we end up keeping Malik Taylor, his experience in the NFL and w/ AR should trump the younger guys’ ceiling. I also think that he plays a role in our offense.
Lets Go Jets

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