Robert Saleh, NY Jets, HC
Robert Saleh, New York Jets, Getty Images

Beyond the obvious culprits, New York Jets fans can’t ignore the awful production out of this position

Zach Wilson is not a good NFL quarterback. We know. The banged-up New York Jets offensive line is not good. We know. Nathaniel Hackett is not a particularly good coordinator when he doesn’t have Aaron Rodgers. We know.

All of these problems are clear as day. They’ll attract the most attention in the media because they are low-hanging fruits that are easy to berate. And yes, all three of those aforementioned parties do deserve blame. But what isn’t being talked about enough is how putrid the Jets’ wide receiver room is.

Past the WR1 spot, the Jets might have the worst wide receiver depth in the NFL. This is hurting the Jets offense as much as any other problem right now, and it deserves to be talked about accordingly.

It all starts at WR2 with Allen Lazard, who is in the midst of an utterly brutal stretch. Over his last three games, Lazard has more combined drops and penalties (6 combined, with 3 apiece) than he has first downs (4). He only has 41 more receiving yards than penalty yards (71 receiving, 30 lost on penalties).

On top of that, Lazard has caught 0-of-4 contested targets thrown in his direction over the past three games, which isn’t exactly ideal for a 6-foot-5 receiver who is not a good separator and was brought in specifically to provide a wide catch radius.

Lazard has played 87% of the Jets’ offensive snaps this year, and yet, he is averaging only 2.4 receptions for 34.1 yards and 1.9 first downs per game. His low-volume production despite a large volume of snaps is a result of his poor route-running. Lazard logs dozens of route-running chances per game and only shows up with one or two impactful plays because he is constantly blanketed.

This is crushing the Jets offense. Since teams have no fear that Lazard will punish one-on-one matchups, they feel comfortable enough to consistently double-team Garrett Wilson. They simply shade the coverage toward Wilson and trust someone to hold up against Lazard on an island, and the vast majority of the time, it works. So, not only are the Jets getting bad production from Lazard himself, but his ineptitude is severely limiting Wilson’s chances of succeeding.

Lazard’s poor route-running would be less detrimental if he was good at the catch point, allowing him to deliver efficient results when targeted, but he has done the opposite. Lazard has a wildly terrible 20.8% drop rate, ranking as the worst in football among wide receivers with at least 25 targets. Additionally, he has secured only 4-of-14 contested targets this season (28.6%).

As poorly as Lazard is playing, he has still vastly outproduced the rest of the Jets’ wide receivers on his own. Outside of Wilson and Lazard, the Jets’ other wideouts have combined for eight catches and 69 yards on the entire season. I had to do a double-take when I wrote that, as it is so befuddling. The Jets have played eight football games and they have gotten eight receptions out of their wide receiver unit beyond the top two players.

That mostly falls on Randall Cobb, another Aaron Rodgers minion who has performed below replacement level. Cobb has three catches in six games despite playing 173 offensive snaps. He has the same number of drops as first downs (2 apiece).

After Cobb, the Jets are left with a bunch of fringe-roster players who have not stood out in any way.

Here’s where we stand: The Jets’ wide receiver room currently consists of Garrett Wilson, arguably the worst WR2 in the NFL, and quite literally nothing else.

Go ahead and take your shots at Zach Wilson, Nathaniel Hackett, and the offensive line – all three parties deserve immense blame – but don’t leave the wide receivers out of the conversation.

And when discussing this unit, make sure you mention Joe Douglas. The current scenario should have never been allowed to happen and the Jets’ general manager deserves criticism for letting this transpire.

All offseason, we discussed how Lazard’s best production in Green Bay came as a complementary option. In each of his three most efficient seasons as a Packer, Lazard received no more than 60 total targets. When Lazard skyrocketed to a career-high 100 targets in 2022, his efficiency plummeted. It was always clear that Lazard is best suited as a WR3 and, at best, the fourth or fifth option overall. The Jets should have never been content with a scenario where Lazard enters the season as the clear-cut No. 2 option in the passing game.

To be fair, the Jets were supposed to have a top-three of Wilson, Corey Davis, and Lazard. Davis’ late retirement was a tough blow that surely disrupted the Jets’ plans.

Still, by the time Davis exited, the Jets had plenty of time to swing a move at the wide receiver position before the season. Entering the season with Allen Lazard as the WR2 should have been viewed as a desperate issue equivalent to the Jets’ woes at the offensive line. It’s not much different than going into a season with, say, a backup-quality tackle as one of your starting linemen. The impact of a bad WR2 is not as easily noticeable to the naked eye as the impact of a bad starting tackle, but is equally as profound in reality.

But the Jets did not treat it that way. They remained complacent and stubbornly attempted to make things work with a WR3/WR4 as the WR2, largely because he is Aaron Rodgers’ buddy. One step down the depth chart, they did the same thing with Randall Cobb, attempting to use him as a WR3 when he is really just a WR4/WR5 at this point (if that) just because he is Rodgers’ pal. Now they are paying the price for their nepotism.

Some might argue things would have gone differently if Lazard got to play with Rodgers, but I disagree. You can blame Zach Wilson for a lot of things, but it’s certainly not his fault when Lazard flat-out drops easy passes, fails to use his size to box out defenders, loses his routes, and commits penalties. I think things would have gone just the same with Rodgers under center. Lazard is simply miscast right now.

The Jets had a chance to make amends at the trade deadline. While they deserve credit for making attempts to land a star receiver, they should not have stopped there. Getting a solid WR2/WR3-level player to add to this room should have been viewed as a necessity. Landing a starting-quality offensive lineman was never on the table (who trades those guys?), but there were receivers like Hunter Renfrow and Jerry Jeudy on the block who would have provided upgrades over Lazard and stabilized the depth of the entire unit.

Instead, the Jets are stuck with a one-man show at wide receiver for the rest of the season – which, in actuality, is a zero-man show because Garrett Wilson is constantly getting bracketed due to the ineptitude of his teammates.

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Michael Nania is one of the best analytical New York Jets minds in the world, combining his statistical expertise with game film to add proper context to the data. Nania scrapes every corner, ensuring you know all there is to know about everyone from the QB to the long snapper. Nania's Numbers, Nania's QB Grades, and Nania's All-22 give fans a deeper and more well-rounded dive into the Jets than anyone else can offer. Email: michael.nania[at]jetsxfactor.com - Twitter: @Michael_Nania
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mlesko73
22 days ago

I would have to agree with another post I read here; for a variety of reasons this year is shot and we should be looking to 2024.
We are beholden to Aaron (just stating the facts, I love Aaron) which means that we cannot take play-calling away from Hackett, we can’t cut Cobb or Lazard, and benching Zach may even be seen as an affront to Rodgers.
Off-season: do not pick up Zach’s option/cut him (unsure of cap implications, but he would be nothing but a distraction), draft OL/WR, trade for WR where feasible, get a legit QB2 in the building, pray for Aaron to stay healthy.

Jonathan Richter
Jonathan Richter
20 days ago
Reply to  mlesko73

I’m sure they won’t pick up his option, but I don’t see cutting him as feasible. He’s owed $11 mil with an $11 mil dead cap hit. He’s not bad as a backup.

Nevada Buck
22 days ago

There is a silver lining at WR. Promote Gipson to WR2, and bring Taylor into the mix

Jonathan Richter
Jonathan Richter
20 days ago
Reply to  Nevada Buck

I was going to say something like this. Out of those 8 catches for WRs other than GW/AL, 3 of them came against the Chargers. Two for Xay, and one for Taylor.

DFargas
23 days ago

I think it’s imperative for Lazard to be benched for the Jets’ next game particularly because of his bonehead penalties. It would accomplish two things: get an underperforming player and bad example off the field and impose a little sense of discipline and accountability, which seems to be greatly lacking on the team. I know the Jets’ brain trust will probably talk themselves into the idea that Lazard is still their best option even considering his shortcomings, but this team badly needs a kick in the rear end and any negatives of the benching will be outweighed by its positives at least in the long run. I know that Brownlee showed a lot of grit despite his rawness during preseason so he is one option to replace Lazard, and Gipson can fill in for the rest of the snaps. Something needs to be done because this offense is an embarrassment and is spiraling out of control.

Bird9
Bird9
23 days ago

Maybe they need to be creative with tight ends and running backs running deeper routes. Breece might be able to do a decent Leveon Bell impersonation either wide or out of the slot, for example. He’s pretty fast.

Jonathan Richter
Jonathan Richter
20 days ago
Reply to  Bird9

You could have stopped this comment after the word “creative”. There is NOTHING creative about this offense.

Jets71
Jets71
23 days ago

Great article. I know the knee jerk it to blame Zach (who should get his fair share) but they aren’t helping him AT ALL. That includes OC, OL, and as you mentioned WR. This won’t sit well but for me the bottom line is this: you cannot have a consistent offense with the revolving starting OL combos. It’s not possible. It’s too difficult for the RB’s, QB’s and the OC too. They really have to adjust weekly to what this OL does best, and that has been changing.

I’m sure you can find this info, but I’d be willing to guess the Jets have started different OL’s in more games than any team over the past three seasons. You just can’t put together an offense that way. Then add, the subpar QB play, the WR’s as you pointed out, and let’s not absolve the RB group. Other than Hall, they aren’t doing much either.

Lastly, I blame the black uniforms. Woody caved and went back to the black combo and it LOOKED EXACTLY like last season. We can bury the black now. It as a nice fad but time to let it go.

Jonathan Richter
Jonathan Richter
20 days ago
Reply to  Jets71

Benching Zach is like asking to change rooms on the Titanic after it hit the iceberg.

Last edited 20 days ago by Jonathan Richter