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Can Xavier Gipson be a part of the NY Jets’ offense in 2024?

Xavier Gipson, New York Jets
Xavier Gipson, New York Jets, Getty Images

Some New York Jets fans believe Xavier Gipson can be the team’s No. 4 receiver

Who doesn’t love a great New York Jets underdog story?

The rise of Quincy Williams is especially sweet for Jets fans because he was a castaway from the Jacksonville Jaguars. John Franklin-Myers’ ascent to a stalwart defender means more because he was picked up off waivers. Keeping Bryce Huff is that much more of a priority because he was an undrafted free agent who became a star out of nowhere.

Many fans want to turn Xavier Gipson into the next feel-good story. They watched on Hard Knocks as he fought for his roster spot and exulted with him when his dream came true. The hype hit a fever pitch when Gipson walked off an emotional roller coaster with a punt return touchdown in overtime against the Bills.

With the demise of both Allen Lazard and Randall Cobb this season and Mecole Hardman’s unceremonious demotion and trade, Gipson has been thrust into a far larger role in the passing game than expected. In fact, he has the fourth-most routes run on the team (344). From Week 8 on, his 328 routes run rank second to only Garrett Wilson’s 466. That’s a remarkable statistic for a player who came into the season as the team’s sixth receiver.

Is Gipson deserving of the hype, though? Can he truly be a promising member of the Jets’ 2024 receiving corps?

Statistics

It is difficult to evaluate any Jets receiver this season due to their poor passing game. Even Wilson, their clear No. 1 receiver and the 2022 Offensive Rookie of the Year, looks less impressive this season as the Jets’ X, Z, and F receiver all rolled into one. Still, it’s worth looking at Gipson’s numbers just for some context.

Gipson has 20 receptions on 35 targets (57.1% catch rate) for 225 yards and no receiving touchdowns this season. He has eight rush attempts for 68 yards (10.8 yards per attempt) and a score.

Per NFL Next Gen Stats, he ranks 23rd out of 103 qualified receivers (min. 35 targets) with 5.7 YAC per reception. However, he also has the 11th-highest YAC yards rate at 52%, meaning that more than half of his yardage comes from YAC — which indicates he’s taking many short passes. His 0.29 YAC over expected per reception ranks 57th, showing that although he racks up YAC, it’s barely more than expected on each play.

Gipson posted 11.3 yards per reception from Weeks 8-18, leading the team during that span. Although it seems like a pedestrian number, consider that he ran 62.6% of his routes from the slot. Among 17 receivers with at least a 50% slot rate, Gipson’s 11.3 yards per reception ranks seventh-best. He’s been reasonably productive per catch relative to his position.

Additionally, it’s worth noting that Gipson’s 62.6% slot rate is likely too low for a player his size. In college, he played 95.1% of his snaps in the slot. While that may be extreme, Gipson came into the league as a clear slot receiver. Tyler Boyd (82.1%), Josh Downs (79.3%), Wan’Dale Robinson (75.8%), and Jayden Reed (75.8%), have roles more suited to their strengths. While the Jets want to give Wilson some slot snaps, they need to utilize the talent on their roster as constructed.

The issue for Gipson is his yards per route run. His 0.69 since Week 8 ranks 73rd out of 74 qualified receivers (min. 35 targets during that span). Wilson ranks 48th with 1.44 yards per route run during that time despite his 112 targets, perhaps placing some of the onus on the Jets’ quarterback room. The same goes for Gipson’s poor target success rate (35.1%, second-to-last) and yards per target (6.08, 67th). Wilson ranks 56th and 69th in those categories.

Again, it’s hard to figure out how productive Gipson is from his numbers due to the Jets’ offensive mess.

Return numbers

The primary reason Gipson made the team to begin with is his return ability. He’s been the Jets’ kick and punt returner from Week 1. Aside from that one spectacular return, though, Gipson has not only been unimpressive — he’s been turnover-prone.

Gipson has the second-most kickoff return attempts in the league with 22. His 23.3 return average does not justify that number of attempts, especially with the fair catch option available this season. His longest return is 34 yards.

As a punt returner, Gipson’s 9.7 average ranks 13th out of 28 returners with at least 15 attempts. He has the fifth-most returns (33) and the most fair catches (30). Other than his 65-yard return, though, Gipson averages 7.9 yards per return, which would tie for 25th. In other words, outside of his one big punt return, he’s been a significantly below-average punt returner.

While a team can live with this from a surehanded returner, Gipson has fumbled two punts and a kickoff. In college, Gipson muffed 3.9% of his fielded punts, which was already worse than the NFL median. He fumbles less than that in the NFL (3.2%), but it is still too much given his lack of explosiveness compared to his elite returning in college.

Overall, Gipson has cost the Jets more EPA on his three muffs (-10.726) than he gained on his one return touchdown (5.44).

Film

The numbers give a pretty accurate summary of Gipson’s season as a returner. By contrast, his work as a receiver requires film work to determine his capabilities.

Although Gipson is twitchy with the ball in his hands, he must be able to run some routes to be a viable receiver. Without any route-running ability, he’s just a smaller Hardman (5-foot-9, 183 pounds vs. 5-foot-10, 187 pounds) with tinier hands (8½ inches vs. 9), shorter arms (30⅛ inches vs. 30 1/4), and less speed (4.42-second 40-yard dash vs. 4.33).

Remember, it’s far easier to get open from the slot than it is from the outside. Many NFL players can find their way open in the slot. Therefore, seeing Gipson get open a time or two and run for some extra yards shouldn’t cause the automatic reaction that he is anything more than a No. 6 receiver.

The problem is that Gipson’s routes tend to be very linear with few moves that would make a defender bite. If it’s a quick hitch, at times he can get his defender turned around, but other than that, he’s mostly running straight to a spot. Furthermore, despite his 4.42 speed, his film highlights his pedestrian three-cone drill, showcasing his mediocre change of direction and lateral agility.

Furthermore, his release package is essentially limited to running straight off the line. He doesn’t even usually use a get-even step. He just runs straight. There’s nothing significant in his movements to throw off a defender or make them think about where he’s going.

I could have put in 10 plays of film per game, but I chose just a sample from a few games. The plays are illustrative of Gipson’s route-running as a whole.

One thing noticeable in the film is that Gipson is often late off the snap. That just adds to his inability to move defenders, who already have a read on him before he gets off the line.

Note that Gipson’s issues have nothing to do with the quarterback. It’s not about whether the passer missed him. These are standalone issues that make him a poor receiver.

Verdict

The film indicates that Gipson doesn’t do much as a receiver. Other than his speed, he has almost no release package, rarely makes moves to separate from defensive backs, and gets off the line late. He may be twitchy with the ball in his hands, but his actual YAC is what would be expected given the situation. That mirrors what we’ve seen on his kickoff and punt returns, which are pedestrian.

There is simply no reason to keep Gipson around. The Jets can find another undrafted free agent to do the same thing. Perhaps the Jets can keep him around as their No. 6 receiver, but that’s the maximum. There’s a serious argument to be made that they need a new return man, and they apparently know it, as they briefly tried out Izzy Abanikanda as a kick returner. Gipson certainly cannot be their No. 3 or No. 4 receiver, as he is a very poor man’s version of Hardman.

As much as this is not what Jets fans want to hear, it’s the reality on film. It’s not worth trying to develop an entire release package in a player whose sole attribute is speed. A receiver who runs a 4.42 is not a difficult commodity to find in today’s NFL. The other reasons that made Gipson an undrafted free agent are readily apparent on his film and make him just that — a UDFA simply trying to make a team.

Follow Rivka Boord on Twitter @rivka_boord

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Reprocity
Reprocity
6 months ago

That was a pretty strong take for the 6th wr spot. I agree about him not being a good returner. He absolutely should be back next camp competing for the 6th again. It’s a slim chance that he develops further into a starting slot, but to not be worth a spot to compete for the backup slot is a bit much.

mlesko73
mlesko73
6 months ago

I attended a coaching clinic where Dabo Swinney spoke a few yrs ago. Clemson has become something of a “Wideout U”. The amount of time and the number of techniques Dabo discussed when talking about a receiver’s release at the line was mind-numbing. Speed alone will not make for an NFL WR. I also would love to see X be that diamond in the rough, but if he can’t even get off the line at the snap that isn’t going to happen.
We need legitimate #2 and #3 receivers fo this offense to cook.

Jim Green
Jim Green
6 months ago

I’m rooting for Gipson, but those we horrible routes he ran. Thx for that, like most of ourreceivers he needs GOOD coach!!

JetOrange
JetOrange
6 months ago

Let me state that I have a bias, I believe that both passing coordinator Todd Downing and running coordinator Kieth Carter should be fired for performance and political reasons.Consider the WR failures of Lazard, Cobb, Charles, Malik Taylor & Brownlee. It’s a system problem, a play calling problem, a coaching problem. Gipson did not develop, the coaching staff is partially responsible. The Jets need to pick up a veteran slot at a reasonable cost. The Jets can’t wait.

Jets71
Jets71
6 months ago
Reply to  JetOrange

I agree with you on Downing and Carter based on the team performance, I’m not sure the political reasons, or that they are even necessary. Those guys provided nothing, you can add the QB coach Calabrese, and WR coach to the list.

PS. I suspect, Lazard has the same political issues but again I don’t know what you are talking about, however based on their performance doesn’t matter.

Jets71
Jets71
6 months ago
Reply to  Rivka Boord

No clue how he’s keeping that job. If he’s smart and gets another opportunity to be an OC at a place like Kentucky they better “encourage” him to take it.

Jets71
Jets71
6 months ago

Nice breakdown. I like him as a prospect, we don’t know how much he can improve this off-season. I would say winning the game trumps the muffs overall but I do agree he didn’t provide much after that, yet I don’t believe we have to be so definitive on a young guy. They do get better, how much we never know. Look at Ashtyn Davis, who couldn’t tackle me two years ago, making himself a situational player. I doubt Gipson is going to be Wes Welker but he could improve. Ideally, they get enough players to beat him out, but I’m not saying “it’s not worth keeping him” here in January.

JetOrange
JetOrange
6 months ago
Reply to  Jets71

Agree outstanding breakdown, Gipson is a developmental keeper, remember he is an UNDFA

Jonathan Richter
6 months ago
Reply to  Jets71

Ash was 3rd rd pick, not an UDFA.

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