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The many questions involving NY Jets’ 2024 target distribution

Garrett Wilson, NY Jets, Stats, Targets, TDs
Garrett Wilson, New York Jets, Getty Images

Aaron Rodgers will have many choices to make in distributing targets for the New York Jets

The New York Jets’ social media team asked an interesting question on X (formerly known as Twitter).

The question is compelling for several reasons. It requires a prediction of whether Aaron Rodgers will remain healthy or not, how the rest of the Jets’ receiving corps will play, how Rodgers will distribute targets, and how often Wilson will truly be in a position to score touchdowns.

Wilson has just seven scores in two seasons thus far. He’s had other opportunities but lost out due to poor quarterback play. To answer that question about how many touchdowns he’ll score in 2024, though, we need to look at the rest of the picture.

What will Rodgers’ stat line be (assuming he stays healthy), and how will he distribute targets among his players?

How often will Rodgers throw?

The Jets’ selection of two running backs in the draft indicates that they want to run the football a lot in 2024. They had the fourth-fewest rushing attempts in the league in 2023 with 388, including the fourth-fewest from running backs (322).

Still, Rodgers’ numbers from 2019-21 are probably a good indication of how often he’ll throw the football. Those Packers teams were winning a good chunk of the time, having posted three consecutive 13-win seasons. In those years, Rodgers averaged 33.9 pass attempts per game, which translates to 576 over a 17-game season. We’ll go with that as a baseline expectation for him.

I don’t expect Rodgers to play quite up to his MVP level, although it’s not out of the realm of possibility. His career completion percentage is 65.3%, but I think he might go a little higher with many high-percentage targets to Breece Hall and Tyler Conklin. Therefore, I’m giving him a 66.5% completion percentage, which would have ranked 11th out of 35 qualified passers in 2023 (min. 225 dropbacks). That translates to 383-for-576.

Rodgers’ career touchdown rate is 6.2%, with a high of 9.1% in 2020 and a low of 4.2% in 2018. He was at 4.8% in 2022. The league leader in touchdown rate in 2023 was Brock Purdy at 7%, and 4.8% would have ranked 12th-best. Let’s give Rodgers a ninth-ranked 5% touchdown rate, which would translate to 29 touchdowns.

Rodgers’ career interception rate is 1.4% and he was at 2.2% in 2022. Let’s split the difference between those two marks and go with a 1.8% interception rate; that would translate to 10 interceptions on 576 pass attempts.

The 10th-ranked yards per attempt average among qualified passers in 2023 was Josh Allen’s 7.4. I think that’s a fair mark for Rodgers; he was at just 6.8 in 2022 but has a career average of 7.7.

These numbers translate to a 97.9 passer rating.

  • Rodgers 2024 numbers: 383-for-576 (66.5%), 4,262 yards, 29 TD, 10 INT, 7.4 YPA, 97.9 passer rating

The Mike Williams conundrum

The biggest question in the Jets’ receiving room is what production they’ll receive from Mike Williams. From 2021-23, Williams averaged 4.9 receptions for 71.6 yards and 0.41 touchdowns per game, which would translate to 83 receptions for 1,217 yards and 7 touchdowns over a 17-game season. Besides the fact that translating statistics is often a faulty process, there are questions on both ends for Williams: how many games will he play, and can he sustain anywhere near his production level from before the ACL tear?

If Williams is healthy and productive, it’s likely that he’ll command a decent number of targets from Rodgers. Going back to his first season as a starter in 2008, Rodgers has tended to give a high volume of targets to his most reliable producers. Here’s how Rodgers divided up his top three targets during the seasons before Davante Adams became his lone reliable target.

  • 2008: Greg Jennings 132, Donald Driver 110, Jordy Nelson (rookie) 53
  • 2009: Driver 109, Jennings 107, Jermichael Finley 72
  • 2010: Jennings 120, James Jones 85, Driver 82
  • 2011: Jennings 96, Nelson 93, Finley 91
  • 2012: Randall Cobb 102, Jones 93, Finley 85
  • 2014: Nelson 146, Cobb 125, Davante Adams (rookie) 62
  • 2015: Cobb 123, Jones 89, Adams 88
  • 2016: Nelson 146, Adams 118, Cobb 80

You can see that Rodgers had times where he split up targets pretty evenly or gave more than 100 targets to multiple players. If Williams is healthy for all 17 games, he could easily see 100+ targets.

Everything else in the Jets’ receiving corps flows largely from Williams’ availability and proficiency. He’s averaged at least 14.2 yards per reception in every full season he played from 2018-21, although he was on a lesser trajectory (13.1) over his first three games in 2023. It’s likely that Rodgers will want to target him as a deep threat, but deep-threat receivers tend to have slower recoveries from ACL tears than others. How many yards per reception will Williams average?

  • Williams: 100 targets in 14 games (7.1 per game), 61 receptions, 856 yards, 8 TD

The clear No. 1

There’s almost no way Garrett Wilson will see fewer than 120-130 targets in 2024, barring injury. He was fourth in the NFL with 163 targets in 2023. If Williams is healthy, he’ll likely see fewer than that, but I still expect him to see a healthy chunk of targets. If Williams is off the field, Wilson will revert to the 9-10 per-game target range. So far, Wilson has averaged 9.26 targets per game in his career as the Jets’ clear No. 1 and sometimes only viable target, but that could change depending on the other weapons around him.

As far as production is concerned, I’m not sure if Wilson can put up Adams-level numbers, primarily because he hasn’t shown the same ability as a deep target or contested-catch threat. From 2019-21, Adams caught 32 of 67 contested targets (47.8%), averaging 47.5% per season. So far, Wilson has caught just 25 of 76 contested balls (32.9%).

It is worth noting, though, that the gruesome quarterback play that Wilson has endured could be a part of this. Not all contested catches are created equal. Some are well-placed and require merely strong hands from the receiver, while others give the receiver little chance without body contortions and catching through the defender. Adams himself saw his contested catch rate plummet to 35.3% (12-for-34) in 2023 behind the Raiders’ subpar quarterback play. Perhaps Wilson can improve on that with Rodgers throwing to him, particularly because his contested catch rate was much better in college (13 of 25, 52%).

It seems evident, though, that Wilson is at his best in the intermediate part of the field. Adams was a much bigger deep threat for Rodgers, catching 31 of 67 deep passes (46.3%) for 1,084 yards (35.0 yards per reception) and 8 touchdowns in that area from 2019-21. Wilson, meanwhile, has caught just 12 of 45 deep passes (26.7%) for 379 yards (31.6 yards per reception) and no deep touchdowns in his first two seasons. While part of that is certainly his quarterbacking, he also doesn’t stack defenders well deep. That was an issue for him coming out of college.

Therefore, as good as Wilson is, I don’t know if it makes sense to expect Adams-level production from him, even with Rodgers throwing him the ball. Then again, it took Adams a few years to become Davante Adams, so Wilson could certainly pick up his play another notch or two.

Wilson averaged 13.3 yards per reception in his rookie season but fell to 11.0 in Year 2. With his targets coming more in the intermediate area of the field, I expect his average to climb closer to his rookie-year totals.

To answer the question from the Jets’ social media team, I don’t see Wilson as a big-time touchdown producer. He’s not going to win contested catches consistently, and he’s a bit small for the red zone. With three other big targets in Williams, Allen Lazard, and Tyler Conklin, I don’t think Wilson will see as many red zone targets as other top-tier receivers. Still, I expect him to get those scores he should have had in 2022-23 with more accurate passing.

  • Wilson: 153 targets (9.0 per game), 98 receptions, 1,312 yards, 6 TD

Who’s behind the top two?

I’ve seen speculation that either Breece Hall or Tyler Conklin will be the second-most targeted player in the Jets’ offense. If Williams is healthy, I doubt that will be the case. As much as Rodgers likes to throw to running backs, he’ll utilize his receivers more frequently if they’re available.

For example, when the Rodgers-to-Christian Watson connection took off starting in Week 10 of the 2022 season, here was Rodgers’ target distribution per game:

  • Watson: 6.4 per game
  • Lazard: 6.0
  • Jones: 4.0
  • Cobb: 3.0
  • Robert Tonyan: 2.3
  • A.J. Dillon: 2.1
  • Romeo Doubs: 2.0

Even though Rodgers loves to throw to backs, he still used Lazard as his No. 2, not Jones. Perhaps Hall will take both Jones’ and Dillon’s targets, in which case he’d be at roughly the same level as the No. 2 receiver. Still, with Garrett Wilson commanding so many targets per game, it’s hard to imagine that Hall or Conklin would be the No. 2 if Williams is healthy.

My guess is that Hall and Conklin will finish the 2024 season with roughly the same number of targets if they’re both healthy. Hall’s 90 targets in 2023 were inflated by the Jets’ poor receiving corps and inability to pass-block. Meanwhile, Conklin has posted 83 targets in three straight seasons, making that a reasonable estimate for 2024.

I don’t think Conklin will ever be a big red-zone threat. He had only three touchdowns in his final season in Minnesota and has just three in two seasons with the Jets. Still, he’ll snare a few more touchdowns than the zero he corraled in 2023.

  • Conklin: 83 targets (4.9 per game), 58 receptions, 551 yards, 3 TD
  • Hall: 80 targets (4.7 per game), 68 receptions, 551 yards, 4 TD

Lazard vs. Corley

I think it’s fair to assume that Hall and Conklin will both have more targets than the Jets’ No. 3 receiver, although it’s not a guarantee even if everyone is healthy. Rodgers’ defiant response about why Jets fans should trust Nathaniel Hackett — that Jets fans should trust him and he trusts Hackett — could indicate that he feels the same way about Allen Lazard, which could push Lazard up the target tree.

Then again, from 2019-21, Lazard was more of a complementary piece in the Packers’ offense. He averaged 52 targets per season. I think it’s reasonable to place him somewhere in that area in 2024. Meanwhile, Malachi Corley‘s spot is more tenuous simply because he’s a rookie and played in the slot over 90% of the time throughout his college career. The Jets will likely want to get both Wilson and Lazard some time in the slot, which means that if Corley can only play in the slot, his playing time will be diminished.

Michael Nania predicted that Corley will see 45 targets in his rookie season. That’s certainly a possibility; it just depends on how much Rodgers uses Lazard, if he holds Wilson to the Davante Adams standard, and how Mike Williams’ health and play level hold up.

  • Lazard: 55 targets (3.2 per game), 29 receptions, 375 yards, 4 TD
  • Corley: 50 targets (2.9 per game), 37 receptions, 361 yards, 3 TD

Remaining players

  • Jeremy Ruckert: 25 targets (1.5 per game), 15 receptions, 143 yards, 1 TD
  • Braelon Allen: 12 targets (0.7 per game), 8 receptions, 55 yards
  • Xavier Gipson: 9 targets (0.5 per game), 4 receptions, 28 yards
  • Jason Brownlee: 9 targets (0.5 per game), 5 receptions, 30 yards

Totals

  • Aaron Rodgers: 383-for-576 (66.5%), 4,262 yards, 29 TD, 10 INT, 7.4 YPA, 97.9 passer rating
  • Garrett Wilson: 153 targets (9.0 per game), 98 receptions, 1,312 yards, 6 TD
  • Mike Williams: 100 targets in 14 games (7.1 per game), 61 receptions, 856 yards, 8 TD
  • Tyler Conklin: 83 targets (4.9 per game), 58 receptions, 551 yards, 3 TD
  • Breece Hall: 80 targets (4.7 per game), 68 receptions, 551 yards, 4 TD
  • Allen Lazard: 55 targets (3.2 per game), 29 receptions, 375 yards, 4 TD
  • Malachi Corley: 50 targets (2.9 per game), 37 receptions, 361 yards, 3 TD
  • Jeremy Ruckert: 25 targets (1.5 per game), 15 receptions, 143 yards, 1 TD
  • Braelon Allen: 12 targets (0.7 per game), 8 receptions, 55 yards
  • Xavier Gipson: 9 targets (0.5 per game), 4 receptions, 28 yards
  • Jason Brownlee: 9 targets (0.5 per game), 5 receptions, 30 yards

What do you think, Jets fans? Did I do my prediction justice? Overdoing it with Williams? Under with Wilson or Conklin? Too much for Lazard? Am I too optimistic or pessimistic about Rodgers?

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