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NY Jets’ WR search could lead them to Kendrick Bourne

Kendrick Bourne
Kendrick Bourne

If New York Jets end up taking a cheaper route at WR, Kendrick Bourne could be in the cards

Throughout the past few months, adding a star receiver has been constantly mentioned as a primary goal for the New York Jets this offseason.

However, now that free agency is less than a week away, the options are already starting to dwindle. Mike Evans just went off the board, as he re-signed with Tampa Bay. Tee Higgins was franchise-tagged (as expected). The Raiders squashed any hopes of a Davante Adams trade.

As the stars begin to fade, it’s looking increasingly likely that the Jets opt for a more economical approach at the wide receiver position – a pathway that is more appealing than some fans might realize. By saving money at wide receiver, the Jets can make a full-court press to bolster their offensive line, allowing Aaron Rodgers to thrive no matter who he is throwing the ball to.

Rumors are beginning to emerge that suggest the Jets are indeed considering this option. The Boston Herald’s Andrew Callahan recently suggested New York could target the Patriots’ Kendrick Bourne, citing the fact that Joe Douglas showed interest in trading for Bourne in each of the last two seasons.

Signing Bourne would confirm the Jets have elected to neglect the superstar sweepstakes and take a conservative approach at receiver. With a career-high of 800 receiving yards across seven NFL seasons, Bourne would not sell any season ticket packages. That does not preclude Bourne from being an effective piece of a competitive football team.

This past season in New England, Bourne was putting up career highs in multiple categories before suffering a torn ACL on October 29. With an expected recovery timetable of 6-to-8 months, Bourne should be ready for the 2024 season opener, but the injury is certainly something that prospective teams will consider.

Nonetheless, Bourne has put together a solid NFL career and could be a useful piece in any offense for the right price. Does he make sense for the Jets? Let’s dive into his complete free agent profile.

Jets free agent profiles:

Basic info

  • Age: 28.5
  • Height: 6-foot-1
  • Weight: 205 pounds
  • College: Eastern Washington
  • Experience: 7 years (Signed by 49ers as UDFA in 2017)
  • Teams: 49ers (2017-20), Patriots (2021-23)
  • Previous contract: 3 years, $15M (Signed with Patriots in 2021)

Measurables

  • Data from 2017 Combine (via Mockdraftable)
  • Percentiles among all-time wide receiver prospects

Kendrick Bourne, WR, 40 Time, Jets

  • Height: 6’1″ (48th percentile)
  • Weight: 203 pounds (53rd)
  • Arm length: 32.5in (65th)
  • Hand size: 9.125in (30th)
  • 40-yard dash: 4.68s (5th)
  • Vertical jump: 34in (32nd)
  • Broad jump: 125in (75th)
  • 3-cone drill: 6.73s (85th)
  • 20-yard shuttle: 4.21s (56th)
  • Bench press: 25 reps (51st)

Bourne earned a Relative Athletic Score (RAS) of 4.96/10.

Role

After serving as a complementary receiver for his whole career, Bourne became the Patriots’ No. 1 target in 2023. Over seven games prior to his injury, Bourne led the team in targets per game (7.3) while leading the team’s wide receivers in average snap ratio (75%).

Before 2023, Bourne was a supporting cast member in each of his first six seasons. From 2017-2022, Bourne averaged 3.7 targets per game while playing 51% of the offensive snaps. His most involved season came in 2020 with San Francisco, when he averaged 4.9 targets and played 66% of the snaps.

Bourne has been used in a versatile fashion throughout his career. He’s run 64% of his routes from out wide and 36% from the slot. This past season, the Patriots had Bourne leaning further to the outside, with a 70%/30% ratio.

Despite playing the majority of his career snaps out wide, Bourne has always been utilized as a short-game target. His career average depth of target is 9.8 yards, which, for perspective, would have ranked 63rd out of 80 qualified wide receivers in 2023 (min. 50 targets). Bourne has consistently remained very close to that mark, as his ADOT has ranged from 8.3 to 10.6 over the past six seasons.

Bourne placed 55th out of 80 qualifiers with a 10.5 ADOT in 2023. Nearly half of his targets (27 of 55) came under 10 yards downfield. That’s a 49.1% rate, which ranked 23rd out of 76 qualifiers.

2023 performance vs. previous track record

Bourne’s resume reminds me of Allen Lazard’s when he joined the Jets. The media spun Lazard’s 2022 season in Green Bay as a “career year,” but all he really did was get a massive increase in targets due to the loss of Davante Adams. From an efficiency perspective, Lazard was not as effective as he was when his target volume was lower.

That is the case with Bourne. While Bourne was putting up career-best numbers in terms of volume before his injury, his efficiency significantly declined compared to the rest of his career. He just happened to be the best guy on an extremely talent-deficient Patriots offense, leading to more targets and thus gaudier box-score stats.

In 2023, Bourne averaged career-highs in receiving yards per game (50.8), receptions per game (4.6), and touchdowns per game (0.5 with 4 in 8 games). However, as we mentioned earlier, it required a massive increase in targets to get there. His average of 6.9 targets per game was a full 2.0 targets per game ahead of his previous high.

In terms of efficiency, Bourne took a big step back.

Through 2022, Bourne had career averages of 13.2 yards per reception, 8.9 yards per target, and a 44.3% conversion rate (percentage of targets resulting in a first down or TD). These are excellent numbers for a low-volume complementary target, telling us that he delivered at a high level of reliability when called upon. The yardage numbers are especially impressive for a player who typically works in the short range.

But in 2023, Bourne averaged 11.0 yards per reception (career-low) and 7.4 yards per target (career-low) with a 27.3% conversion rate (career-low). Of his 55 targets, just 15 of them resulted in a first down or touchdown. That’s less than two conversions per game.

Basically, Bourne was putting up a lot of empty stats. His -0.27 EPA (Expected Points Added) per target ranked third-worst among wide receivers with at least 50 targets. Over the previous four seasons (2019-2022), he was way up at 0.44, which would have ranked seventh-best this year.

If the Jets sign Bourne, they need to push him back down to the neighborhood of four targets per game he was getting before 2023. He is not suited for a bona fide No. 2 role.

Strengths and weaknesses

Strength: Route running

Bourne is considered a solid route runner. After all, with 4.68 speed and an average-sized frame, he is not winning in the NFL with any sort of sheer physical advantage, so it’s his technique and fundamentals that have allowed him to last in the league.

You can see that Bourne was an above-average separator in 2023 based on Pro Football Focus’ separation grade, although he was below average once the ball arrived (more on that later).

While Bourne’s 40 time was poor, his 3-cone time was fantastic (6.73, 85th percentile) and it shows up on his breaks. Bourne makes up for his lack of speed by creating separation at the apex of his route stem with crisp breaks, good hand usage, and subtle head fakes.

Mixed bag: Hands

Bourne’s resume in the hands department is very erratic. You never quite know what you’re going to get from him. He could be outstanding or below average.

Bourne finished 2023 with zero drops. However, his career drop rate is 6.4%, which is about average. He’s quite erratic from season to season: 0.0% in 2023, 7.9% in 2022, 3.5% in 2021, 7.5% in 2020, 9.1% in 2019.

The main reason Bourne ranked below average in PFF’s Catchpoint/YAC grade was his inability to make difficult catches. While he was great at securing the freebies, as evidenced by his zero drops, Bourne struggled mightily to haul in the tough ones.

According to NFL Next Gen Stats, Bourne caught just 2-of-14 passes with a catch probability of 50% or less. On these passes, he had a 14.3% catch rate versus an expected catch rate of 29.7%, giving him a catch rate over expected of -15.4%. That ranked ninth-worst among wide receivers with at least 10 of these targets.

Similar to his erratic nature with drops, Bourne was phenomenal in this department before his brutal performance in 2023. He caught 7-of-13 targets with a sub-50% probability in 2022, including a CROE of 23.5%. In 2021, he caught 8-of-16 with a CROE of 17.6%.

Bourne went 0-for-4 on contested catch opportunities in 2023. This was unusual for Bourne, whose career contested catch rate was 50.8% going into the season. That’s a solid mark, as the league average for wide receivers usually hovers from 42-45%.

Fumbles are a minor concern for Bourne. He’s got four of them over the past three seasons with at least one each year. He only had one over his first four seasons, though.

Strength: YAC

Bourne has been an above-average playmaker after the catch since entering the league. For his career, he is averaging 0.155 missed tackles forced per reception (2023 NFL WR average: 0.120) and 5.1 YAC per reception (2023 NFL WR average: 4.4). Bourne was even better in 2023, averaging 0.216 MTF per reception and 5.6 YAC per reception.

His whole career is littered with impressive highlights after the catch.

Scheme fit

Per NFL Next Gen Stats, here is a look at the distribution of Bourne’s route tree in 2023 based on the percentage of his routes run (all routes, not just targeted routes) that were classified as each route type.

Bourne makes his money on out routes and in routes. That’s somewhat concerning when projecting him into the Jets’ offense, as Aaron Rodgers typically prefers to throw those two routes less often than the average quarterback. Seen below is Rodgers’ route distribution across his pass attempts from 2019-21 when he played under Nathaniel Hackett.

Aaron-Rodgers-Scheme-Routes-Jets

I would keep this in mind if the Jets added Bourne, but considering he would only be a complementary target, it’s not a huge concern. The Jets can carve out a role for Bourne that allows him to stick to his strengths without asking Rodgers to stray from his overall tendencies. It’s not as if Rodgers never throws outs or ins. He can simply focus the ones he does throw on Bourne.

Bourne seems like a solid option to slide into the Jets’ slot role and give them reliable short-game production on around 50% of the snaps with a low volume of targets. However, if they were to add him, it would become a necessity to complement him with another wide receiver who offers verticality.

Bourne is not a player who threatens defenses deep. Even if they do not land a star wideout, the Jets need to add someone with some degree of gravity to divert attention away from Garrett Wilson. While Bourne is a solid player who can execute efficiently in his role, his skill set does not do much to alter the opponent’s game plan or make life easier for other players.

Durability

As previously mentioned, Bourne is recovering from an ACL injury that he suffered on October 29. His recovery is reportedly expected to take 6-8 months, which would put him on track to return somewhere from late April to late June.

Before this injury, Bourne was quite durable. He only missed one game due to injury over his first six seasons. Bourne missed five games as a healthy inactive in his rookie year and one game due to COVID-19 in 2020, but other than that, he played all but one game until the ACL injury.

Projected cost

Due to his age, lack of a high-end ceiling, limited athleticism, and current ACL recovery, Bourne figures to be a relatively inexpensive option on the free agent WR market. Spotrac is pegging his market value at $4.8 million per year while Over The Cap has him at $5 million.

Bourne earned $5 million per year on his previous contract in 2021, although the cap has risen significantly since then. However, the cap inflation is balanced out by Bourne’s ACL injury and his age, so the $5 million number seems like a fair ballpark estimate.

The verdict

If Bourne only costs around $5 million to sign, I think he’d be a stellar option for the Jets. When used in the right role, Bourne is an efficient, reliable short-game target who consistently provides crisp route running and good YAC. I believe he would be an excellent value at that price.

Of course, for a Jets team that currently has only one solidified starting WR on its roster, the caveat of not adding a superstar receiver is that they would have to try and replace him in the aggregate by adding multiple players who each replicate different parts of his skill set. Bourne would cost $5 million for a reason: he is not a game-changer in any sense. The Jets cannot add Bourne and enter the season with him as their clear-cut WR2.

While Bourne is valuable because he can execute his job much better than a replacement-level player, he is only effective in a limited capacity, nor does he bring any explosiveness or force the defense to alter its approach. Only a handful of the WR room’s issues would be solved with the arrival of Bourne.

Bourne would need to be a part of a multi-player WR solution. Alongside him, the Jets would have to find another player who brings speed, deep ability, and all-around explosiveness. After only spending $5 million on Bourne, the Jets would have more than enough room in their budget to find a sufficient solution for that role while still spending less money than they would on one superstar. Some options include Hollywood Brown, Darnell Mooney, Gabe Davis, Odell Beckham Jr., and Josh Reynolds.

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Jets71
Jets71
2 months ago

The reports from NE during his time there was that he didn’t exactly grasp the playbook, not sure if that’s because he didn’t want to or because of the dysfunction in NE. I don’t know, something about this player I’m not sold on. I like your plan of a couple of supporting WR’s to add to Garrett. I mean let’s be honest, we don’t need two #1 WR’s. Garrett is a stud, he needs some help to loosen the D on him.

I’d look elsewhere, not sold on Bourne. I fear he could be “Alan Lazard II”

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