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NY Jets should not target these remaining free agents

Ezekiel Elliott
Ezekiel Elliott

The New York Jets should stay away from these overrated free agents

After filling all their primary needs in the first wave of free agency, the New York Jets now have more minor needs to address. They will likely leave some of those holes to the draft or post-draft free agency, but they may make some more moves before then.

In particular, the Jets need a No. 3 receiver,  a No. 2 running back, potentially a No. 3 tight end, a swing tackle, another edge rusher, and a safety. There are still players available at most of those positions who could make sense. Still, there are a few whom the Jets should stay far away from, and some of them are the most commonly cited free agents to target at their respective positions.

Who should the Jets not sign?

RB Ezekiel Elliott

Ezekiel Elliott is the most recognizable remaining name on the running back market. On the surface, he seems like a good fit: he has a reputation as a good pass protector, a strong short-yardage back, and a good pass-catcher out of the backfield. However, several of those are misleading.

Michael Nania cited Elliott in the “Dalvin Cook Watch” section when discussing who the Jets should target as their backup running back. The primary reason is that Elliott had -71 rush yards over expected in 2023 (31st of 36 RBs with 150+ carries) despite having 41.8% of his runs result in positive RYOE (10th). That indicates his lack of explosiveness was so severe (4th-worst Pro Football Focus explosiveness rating out of 35 qualified backs) that he was losing chunks of yardage at a time compared to what he should have gained.

Furthermore, Elliott ranked 44th out of 45 qualified backs (min. 40 pass block reps) with a 17.5% pressure rate allowed. His 12 pressures allowed were the most among running backs. So much for the idea that he’s a strong pass protector.

In terms of short yardage, Elliott gained a first down on 5 of 9 third-and-short or fourth-down rushing opportunities in 2023. Among 36 backs with at least 9 such carries, Elliott’s 55.6% success rate ranked 31st. He was better than Breece Hall, whose 53.8% success rate and -3 first downs over expected ranked 33rd, but he wasn’t exactly great.

The one area that makes Elliott somewhat appealing is his receiving. His 1.27 yards per route run ranked 12th out of 43 backs with at least 30 targets. However, his -15.2 total EPA (30th) and -0.24 EPA per target (27th) indicate that many of those receptions were likely third-down dump-offs in long-yardage situations.

Overall, Elliott does not bring the main skills the Jets need from their backup running back. As Nania warned, the Jets should stay far away.

RB J.K. Dobbins

My main objection to J.K. Dobbins is his injury history. Jets fans are aware that he rehabbed from his Achilles tear along with Aaron Rodgers. What seems to go overlooked is that he tore his ACL in August of 2021, then hurt the same knee in October 2022 and had arthroscopic knee surgery. This was all in the same leg.

Even though he’s only 25 years old, that much damage on the same leg is difficult to come back from. The Jets are likely better off drafting another running back than signing Dobbins.

Admittedly, Dobbins was average in pass protection in his lone healthy season. He allowed three pressures on 33 pass-blocking snaps, a 9.1% rate that was slightly better than the 9.9% average for running backs in 2023. Still, for his career, he’s allowed 8 pressures on 58 pass-blocking reps — a 13.8% rate. Therefore, his pass protection track record is not that promising.

Dobbins also wasn’t much of a receiver in his rookie year, catching just 18 balls in 15 games. In short yardage, he gained a first down on 4 of 6 third-and-short or fourth-down situations.

Overall, even at a cheap price, Dobbins isn’t a great bet. It would be a Dalvin Cook-style signing in trying to create a one-two punch in the backfield rather than focusing specifically on what they need from a No. 2 running back.

WR Marquez Valdes-Scantling

MVS will continuously be linked to the Jets because of his Aaron Rodgers connection. However, there isn’t much value to bringing him in.

As Nania explained, the Jets need specific skills from a new No. 3 receiver: strong slot production and the speed to exploit crossers. Valdes-Scantling played 32.5% of his snaps in the slot in 2023, not far off from his 34.4% career average. He was abysmal on those reps, catching just 4 of 18 targets with a -28.7% catch rate over expected and -151 receiving yards over expected. He also ran very few crossing routes, as just 6.2% of his routes were classified as crossers, ranking 89th out of 93 receivers with at least 40 targets.

The Jets have no need for MVS.

OT Donovan Smith

As Nania explained before free agency started, Donovan Smith epitomizes an over-the-hill tackle on the rapid decline. Despite being only 30 years old, his numbers have fallen off a cliff over the past two seasons. Smith’s 8.3% pressure rate in 2023 was worse than Mekhi Becton’s and Carter Warren’s (both 7.8%).

Smith may have grown up a Jets fan, but there is no way he should be joining his favorite team.

EDGE Yannick Ngakoue

Yannick Ngakoue has a reputation as a pass-rush specialist, which would seemingly make him a fit to be a Bryce Huff replacement. However, a closer look at Ngakoue’s numbers indicates that he hasn’t been above-average as a pass rusher since 2018. He had an 8.3% pressure rate in 2023, well below the 12.2% average at the position. That followed a 10.1% rate in 2022 and 11.2% in 2021.

Ngakoue has no value for the Jets.

S Justin Simmons

I highly doubt Joe Douglas would consider this move, as he notoriously does not value the safety position. Bringing back Chuck Clark fit in with his low-cost acquisitions at the position. Although Ashtyn Davis is still a free agent, I find it far more likely that the Jets will re-sign Davis or sign a similar player, use Jarrick Bernard-Converse in the role, or sign a linebacker to play weakside linebacker in base (rather than playing big nickel).

Furthermore, Simmons’ 2023 numbers dispel the notion that he is an elite safety. He ranked 54th out of 74 qualifiers (27th percentile) with 9.0 yards per target allowed. His 1.6% defensive stop rate ranked 51st, and his 11.8% missed tackle rate was 42nd.

If the Jets want to sign a safety to replace Davis, Julian Blackmon makes far more sense. Simmons would be highly overpaid for the value he brings.

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