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NY Jets: How Aaron Rodgers’ return can buoy Allen Lazard

Aaron Rodgers, NY Jets, Allen Lazard, Stats, 2024
Aaron Rodgers, Allen Lazard, New York Jets, Getty Images

The New York Jets hope that Rodgers can help turn Lazard around

If there’s any New York Jets player battling for his NFL career in 2024, it’s Allen Lazard.

Signed to a four-year, $44 million deal with $22 million guaranteed in the 2023 offseason, Lazard proceeded to post the worst numbers of any receiver in the NFL. Among 81 receivers with at least 48 targets, Lazard ranked last in yards per route run (0.68), last in drop rate (17.9%), 73rd in yards per target (6.5), 75th in YAC per reception (2.5), and 74th in targeted passer rating (67.3). There’s not much else to say about his year.

In 2024, according to ESPN’s Rich Cimini, the Jets are betting on Aaron Rodgers’ return and the presence of receivers coach Shawn Jefferson to turn Lazard around. The latter seems strange, as it’s difficult to believe that a coach will be able to transform a 28-year-old player. However, having Rodgers back seems widely believed to be a panacea, particularly where Lazard is concerned.

Is that really the case, though? How much can Rodgers’ return benefit Lazard?

Tight-window throws

At 6-foot-5, Lazard is stiff and does not cut cleanly. Therefore, he’s not going to create a lot of separation regularly. A big part of his game is catching tight-window throws at a higher rate than expected. A tight-window throw is defined by NFL Next Gen Stats as a “pass target when the separation between the receiver and nearest defender is less than 1 yard at pass arrival.” In 2023, 30.6% of Lazard’s targets were in tight windows.

From 2019-22, Lazard caught 22 of 52 tight-window targets (42.3%) with 5.5 receptions over expected. In 2023, he caught just 2 of 15 tight-window targets with -3.1 receptions over expected.

Part of that could have been his putrid hands coming home to roost. He had an 8.1% career drop rate before 2023, but his hands were actually far worse than that on film. Therefore, the drop-off to a 17.9% drop rate likely affected his tight-window catch rate, showcasing how bad his hands actually are.

Still, on the flip side, Rodgers’ success on tight-window throws far exceeds Zach Wilson’s. In 2022, Rodgers completed 39% (32-for-82) of his tight-window throws, the third-highest rate out of 35 qualified passers (min. 200 dropbacks). His 6.6% completion percentage over expected was also third-best, as was his 34.1% success rate. Meanwhile, in 2023, Wilson ranked 26th with a 30.4% completion percentage on tight-window throws, with a -2.3% CPOE (22nd) and a 23.2% success rate (29th).

This has a lot to do with ball placement — and that’s where Rodgers can make a difference to Lazard. Placing the ball where Lazard expects it can help him hang on. Wilson did not do that.

Success on slants

From 2019-22, Lazard ran the highest rate of slant routes (12.8%) among 61 receivers who ran at least 1,200 routes. He caught 26 of 35 slants (74.3%) for 326 yards, 3 touchdowns, no interceptions, a 131.4 targeted passer rating, and a 7% catch rate over expected.

In 2023, Lazard ran slants 7.8% of the time. He caught 4 of 7 slants (57.1%) for 37 yards, no touchdowns or interceptions, a 71.7 targeted rating, and a -11.8% catch rate over expected.

I think Rodgers will target Lazard on slants more often in 2023, which could help him.

Deep connection

From 2019-21, Lazard was efficient on deep balls in limited usage. He caught 14 of 32 deep passes (43.8%) for 515 yards (36.8 yards per reception), 5 touchdowns, and no interceptions. Lazard caught just 2 of 8 deep targets (25%) for 68 yards, no touchdowns or interceptions, and a 62.5 rating in 2023.

If Lazard is on the field at the same time as Garrett Wilson and Mike Williams, he may receive the benefit of easier coverage. That could help Rodgers and he rediscover their deep connection on more limited targets.

Red zone targets

From 2019-22, Lazard ranked 17th among all receivers with 15 red zone touchdowns, 12 of which came in 2021-22 (8th). He was highly efficient on red zone targets, converting 35.3% of them for touchdowns in 2021-22 (8th/47).

In 2023, the Jets posted the worst red zone touchdown rate in the NFL at just 32.4%. Lazard was targeted four times in the red zone, catching 2 of 4 passes for 21 yards, 1 touchdown, and 1 interception. The interception was on a ridiculous pass into double coverage where Lazard inexplicably called for the ball.

While the Jets now have Mike Williams to eat up jump-ball targets, there’s still a chance for the Rodgers-to-Lazard connection to rekindle in the red zone. That would significantly boost Lazard’s overall production.

It’s still ultimately up to Lazard

Even with Rodgers back, Lazard won’t magically revert to a good receiver. Frankly, he was inefficient in 2022 with Rodgers at the helm. His ideal role is in a supporting role down the depth chart. The Jets attempted to put him back in that position by bringing in Williams and drafting Malachi Corley.

Still, if the Jets can get anything out of Lazard in 2024, it would be a big help for their receiving corps as a whole. From 2019-21, Lazard averaged 36 catches for 480 yards 4.7 touchdowns, and 9.1 yards per target per season. The Jets would be thrilled with that kind of production from him. Luckily, it’s not just blind faith that leads them to believe Lazard can recapture that performance; Rodgers’ return could pay significant dividends for the embattled receiver.

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Reprocity
Reprocity
22 days ago

Without Rodgers, his blocking also magically declined. I hope he does have a bounce back year, but I’m not holding my breath.

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