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What type of player should the NY Jets seek for their WR3 role?

Odell Beckham Jr.
Odell Beckham Jr.

The New York Jets still need to round out their WR trio

After pairing Mike Williams with Garrett Wilson, the New York Jets now possess one of the better wide receiver duos in the NFL. The Jets’ pairing is fully capable of keeping up with the other powerhouse tandems in the AFC, such as Miami’s Tyreek Hill/Jaylen Waddle and Cincinnati’s Ja’Marr Chase/Tee Higgins.

While the Jets have finally landed a strong WR2 opposite Wilson, the rest of their WR depth chart still needs plenty of work. As of today, Wilson and Williams are backed up by Xavier Gipson, Allen Lazard, Malik Taylor, Jason Brownlee, Irvin Charles, and Lance McCutcheon.

The Jets’ opening-day WR3 probably isn’t on the roster right now. Whether it’s through free agency, a trade, or the draft, Joe Douglas is almost certain to make another big addition to this unit.

That brings us to an interesting question: What should Douglas be looking for in a WR3 behind Wilson and Williams? Exactly what kind of player would be the ideal third option alongside Wilson and Williams in 3-receiver packages?

Keep in mind that, in regards to draft prospects, the Jets shouldn’t be picky when it comes to skill sets. Williams is on a one-year deal, meaning the Jets have one viable WR under contract for the 2025 season. So, the Jets can target any type of WR they’d like in the draft with an eye on grooming him to be Wilson’s future long-term partner beginning in 2025. This article is not intended to suggest the Jets should ignore certain draft prospects because they are not a perfect day-one fit.

With that being said, New York is an all-in football team with its sights set on winning the Super Bowl this year. With that in mind, I think it is worthwhile to discuss what works best for the short term. Who is the perfect WR3 for the 2024 offense?

Let’s identify a few traits the Jets should prioritize when seeking potential WR3 candidates to start in Week 1 alongside Wilson and Williams.

Slot capability

While Wilson and Williams will each line up in the slot occasionally, they both primarily work on the outside. Wilson has lined up outside on 66% of his career passing plays, while Williams’ rate is 76%.

For this reason, the best fit alongside these two players would probably be someone capable of playing the majority of their snaps in the slot. This way, when the Jets utilize their 11 personnel package (1 RB/1 TE/3 WR), they can keep Wilson and Williams on the outside while placing the WR3 in the slot.

Obviously, that is not a firm rule. The Jets will do plenty of mixing and matching. While the aforementioned scenario would probably be the most common, they will occasionally put Wilson or Williams in the slot, too.

Overall, though, having a third receiver who specializes in the slot would be ideal considering Wilson and Williams both do most of their damage from the outside. This would give the Jets a well-rounded trio of three players, creating numerous options in the playbook.

Good on screens

Aaron Rodgers likes throwing screens to his wide receivers. From 2019-21 (his three years under Nathaniel Hackett), 7.7% of Rodgers’ pass attempts were WR screens. That was 2.0% above the league average of 5.7% over that span, making it his third-favorite route type relative to the league average.

Aaron-Rodgers-Scheme-Routes-Jets

Rodgers threw 87 WR screens in 48 starts from 2019-21, an average of 1.8 per game. Of those 87 screens, 42 were thrown to a WR aligned in the slot. That is an unusual ratio. Across the NFL, 37.7% of all WR screens from 2019-21 were thrown to slot WRs, but Rodgers’ rate was 48.3%. In total, only Kyler Murray threw more screens to slot WRs than Rodgers over this span.

Not only did Rodgers throw slot WR screens quite often, but Rodgers had much more success with them than on other types of screens. On screens thrown to slot WRs, Rodgers averaged 0.12 EPA (Expected Points Added) per attempt. On screens thrown to outside WRs, he averaged -0.09 EPA per attempt.

For perspective, in the 2023 season, among the 25 QBs who threw at least 15 WR screens, 0.12 EPA per attempt would have tied C.J. Stroud for third-best, right behind Patrick Mahomes (0.17) and just ahead of Brock Purdy (0.05). While -0.09 EPA per attempt is still relatively good for WR screens – it would have ranked eighth-best between Gardner Minshew and Derek Carr, as the league-average EPA/Att on WR screens was -0.19 – it’s a substantial drop-off from his slot production. Rodgers’ slot screens were extremely efficient.

This is why the Jets should target a slot receiver who has shown the ability to thrive on screens. With Rodgers’ ability to identify favorable matchups at the line of scrimmage, audible into better plays, and quickly spit out accurate screen passes, a dynamic slot receiver could do some immense damage on screens in this Jets offense.

Having a slot receiver who demands respect in the screen game can help the Jets draw the defense toward the line of scrimmage, creating favorable opportunities down the field for Wilson and Williams.

Has the speed to get YAC on crossers

As you can see in the route breakdown above, the crossing route is another one of Rodgers’ favorites. From 2019-21, it was his second-most common route at 13.8% of his pass attempts, and relative to the average QB, it was his fourth-favorite route at 1.7% above the league average.

The crossing route is an area where the Jets’ WR3 can do damage by taking advantage of Wilson and Williams’ strengths.

Wilson is primarily going to cook opponents on slants, outs, digs, and other short-to-intermediate routes that require tremendous route-running skill against man-to-man coverage. He’ll have his share of deep shots, too, but the aforementioned routes will be his bread-and-butter as the Jets’ go-to guy. Picture Rodgers’ connection with Davante Adams.

Williams is primarily going to beat defenses on deep vertical routes. As a product of the respect he demands vertically, Williams will also catch plenty of hitch routes against soft cushions.

Simply put, those two players are going to attract a ton of attention along the sidelines. We’re going to see a lot of situations where they get pressed with more help waiting over the top. That will open up a sea of space in the middle of the field.

The best way to maximize that space is with a speedy WR3. He doesn’t even need to be a great route runner. The Jets can scheme him open on play-action crossers over the middle, putting him in a favorable position to run after the catch.

Rodgers generated incredible production on play-action crossing routes during his three years with Hackett. From 2019-21, Rodgers went 86-for-112 (76.8%) with 895 yards (8.0 per attempt), nine touchdowns, and one interception when targeting a crossing route off play action. That’s a 122.4 passer rating. He also averaged 0.30 EPA per attempt.

On those attempts, 55% of Rodgers’ yardage was gained after the catch. This is why it’s vital to find a fast receiver who can sprint as far down the field as possible when the Jets scheme him open and give him the football in stride.

Who are the best candidates?

Call me crazy, but I think Odell Beckham Jr., who remains a free agent, could fit into this role effectively. While Beckham has never been close to a primary slot receiver (his career-high slot rate is 29.4%, and he played a career-low 12.3% last year), his recent performance suggests he might project well into the Jets’ WR3/slot role when considering the criteria we laid out today.

Although he has rarely lined up in the slot, Beckham has produced very efficiently when asked to do so. Across his past two seasons with the Rams and Ravens (including the playoffs), Beckham has run 119 routes out of the slot. On those plays, he caught 17-of-24 targets (70.8%) for 271 yards (11.3 yards per target) and two touchdowns. He generated a 135.9 passer rating when targeted and 0.76 EPA per target. His average of 2.3 yards per route run is better than the 2023 marks of top-ranked slot receivers like Amon-Ra St. Brown (2.2) and Keenan Allen (2.0).

On top of his wildly efficient production in the slot, Beckham still has the speed to be a good YAC weapon on screens and crossing routes. Beckham isn’t the elite athlete he once was, but even at this stage of his career, he remains above average.

According to NFL Next Gen Stats, Beckham clocked an average speed of 14.37 miles per hour on his receptions in 2023, ranking 27th out of the 82 WRs who caught at least 30 passes. His maximum recorded speed was middle-of-the-pack – 46th at 19.92 miles per hour – but Beckham consistently displayed good acceleration and looked smooth when catching and running, which allowed him to boost his average speed to a solid level even if his top speed has dipped to about average.

Beckham’s market hasn’t seemed robust. He remains available more than 10 days after free agency opened. Perhaps the Jets can land him on the cheap. This wouldn’t preclude them from drafting a receiver later on, but he would give them a viable option to hold down the WR3 spot in case the draft doesn’t fall their way, or if the player they draft isn’t ready to start immediately.

Outside of Beckham, the free agent market isn’t appealing when limiting the search to players who fit this specific role. Tyler Boyd is an experienced slot receiver with reliable hands, but he doesn’t offer the speed or juice to take advantage of screen and crosser opportunities. He might be out of their price range, anyway. Hunter Renfrow is another noteworthy slot receiver on the market, but he got benched in Las Vegas and is even less explosive than Boyd.

Unless the Jets sign Beckham, I think their best bet to fill the opening-day WR3 spot is to count on the draft. It’s a deep WR class, so even if the Jets do not target the position in round one, the third round should still present an opportunity to land someone who is talented enough to step into the role from day one.

The Jets’ WR3 role is a fantastic landing spot for a young wide receiver. With Wilson and Williams in place – not to mention Breece Hall and Tyler Conklin – it’s an extremely low-pressure situation for a rookie to step into. New York’s WR3 will probably be the No. 5 target overall.

The role is especially stress-free when considering the responsibilities we laid out in this article. These are things that a raw player should be able to do immediately in the NFL. With screens and crossing routes, you’re mainly just asking the receiver to go out there and make plays using his physical tools. This is a great role for an athletic but unproven young receiver to make an impact while he develops his all-around game.

If the Jets draft a WR in the first round, it’s safe to say he will fit in just fine no matter what. The top of this class is loaded with all-around studs. However, if the Jets wait until the third round, they may want to target a more specific skill set if their goal is to maximize day-one impact.

Based on the NFL Mock Draft Database consensus big board, here are a few potential third-round targets who stand out as good fits:

  • Malachi Corley, Western Kentucky (#65 overall): 86% slot rate, 5th among FBS WR in slot YAC (517)
  • Jalen McMillan, Washington (#82 overall): 89% slot rate, 6.9 YAC per reception in the slot (25th of 80 WR with 50+ slot targets)
  • Jamari Thrash, Louisville (#117 overall): Only 10.8% slot rate but could project well into the slot; ranked 25th among all WR in total missed tackles forced (17) and had an 84.5 PFF receiving grade in the slot
  • Luke McCaffrey, Rice (#121 overall): 72% slot rate, T-15th in slot TD (6) and 35th in slot YAC (316)
  • Malik Washington, Virginia (#122 overall): 88% slot rate, 5th among WR in receiving yards (1,384), led WR in missed tackles forced (35), 4th in YAC (710)

I’m fascinated to see how the Jets end up filling their third starting WR spot. Whoever they choose, that player is heading into a wonderful situation. They will not get targeted often, but when they do, they will get some incredibly favorable chances thanks to all of the weapons around them. Considering this, I think the Jets would be wise to target a high-upside player who has the speed, explosiveness, and elusiveness to maximize the playmaking opportunities that are presented to them.

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