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Are NY Jets planning big things for Xavier Gipson?

Xavier Gipson, NY Jets, NFL, New York Jets
Xavier Gipson, New York Jets, Getty Images

Should New York Jets fans expect more from Xavier Gipson?

Garrett Wilson is the New York Jets’ No. 1 wide receiver. As long as he’s healthy, Mike Williams is next in line. These things are set in stone.

But who’s the No. 3 wide receiver? That remains a mystery as the Jets wrap up mandatory minicamp.

When the Jets used the first pick of the third round on Malachi Corley, most fans immediately penciled him in as the third wheel behind Wilson and Williams. It makes sense despite Corley’s status as a rookie third-round pick. Outside of Wilson and Williams, the rest of the wide receivers on the Jets’ roster combined for two receiving touchdowns last season. The competition is seemingly razor-thin, paving an easy road to the WR3 role for Corley.

If not Corley, the next-likeliest player to win the WR3 role would seem to be Allen Lazard, who spent five years with Rodgers in Green Bay and caught 20 touchdowns. While Lazard had an abysmal 2023 season, his familiarity with Rodgers and his large contract ($12.2 million cap hit in 2024) make him a strong candidate to emerge as the third option at wide receiver. It’s easy to imagine the Jets betting on a Lazard resurgence.

So, you have the dynamic rookie in Corley, and you have the experienced, well-paid Rodgers buddy in Lazard. The Jets’ WR3 will certainly be one of these two guys, right?

Not so fast.

Based on what we’ve seen in practice so far, no Jets fan should count out second-year man Xavier Gipson in the race for WR3. Earlier this week, Jets X-Factor’s Robby Sabo said that he would view Gipson as a starter in 11 personnel (3 WR sets) as of this exact moment.

In his detailed recap of Wednesday’s minicamp practice, Sabo opened with heavy praise of Gipson, writing, “The understandable Malachi Corley hype has Jets fans excited for improved weaponry this season, but don’t forget about Xavier Gipson for one moment. As of this moment—considering the injuries and pace of the rookies—view Gipson as the New York Jets’ No. 2 wideout.” Sabo particularly praised Gipson for his “improved route running,” describing multiple reps in which Gipson created separation in various ways.

With Gipson gaining steam as someone who could have a much larger role in the Jets’ offense than many anticipated, I wanted to look back on his rookie year to get an idea of why the Jets might be so intrigued by him. Was there anything he displayed in 2023 that put him on this track? Or are the Jets purely gambling on untapped potential?

Here are some important numbers to know about the player who is set to enter the 2024 training camp as New York’s quasi-WR2.

Tremendous upside in the elusiveness department

By far, the greatest strength in Gipson’s game as a rookie was his elusiveness. While it didn’t amount to much production in the box score, Gipson did have an excellent knack for making people miss.

According to Pro Football Focus, Gipson forced six missed tackles on his 21 receptions. Gipson’s average of 0.286 missed tackles forced per reception was fifth-best among the 112 wide receivers with at least 30 targets. It’s more than double the league average for wide receivers (0.120).

With a quarterback who loves to throw flat routes, WR screens, and crossing routes, Gipson’s elusiveness could shine in this offense. At this stage of his career, Aaron Rodgers is a quarterback who prefers to get the ball out quickly and rely upon safe, YAC-friendly routes. Perhaps the Jets are intrigued by the idea of featuring Gipson in the shallow passing game.

Weapon in the run game

Gipson showed the ability to be a highly efficient gadget weapon in the run game. The Jets gave him eight rush attempts and he turned them into 68 yards (8.5 yards per attempt). One went for a touchdown and three more went for first downs. Five of the eight attempts gained at least eight yards.

Gipson’s elusiveness as a receiver translated to the run game. He forced three missed tackles on his eight attempts, an average of 0.375 per attempt.

Needs immense improvement with his hands

Before the Jets can trust him as a fixture in their offense – especially if it’s in a gadget-type role, where he’ll be spending a lot of time carrying the ball in the open field – Gipson must prove that he’s strengthened his hands. This was the biggest weakness in his game last year.

Gipson put the ball on the ground five times. He had two muffed punts, one fumble on a punt return, one fumble on a kickoff return, and one fumble on a rush attempt. Ultimately, he had five fumbles on 84 total touches between offense and special teams, which is one fumble every 16.8 touches. That rate would be completely unacceptable for a WR3.

Gipson was only credited with one drop against 21 receptions, giving him a solid drop rate of 4.5%. However, he had two drops against nine receptions in the preseason, bringing him to three drops against 30 receptions for the entire year. That’s a 9.1% drop rate, which is poor.

Additionally, Gipson only caught 2-of-7 contested targets, a 28.6% rate. He was 0-for-2 in the preseason, dropping him to 2-for-9 (22.2%) overall. That must improve if the Jets are going to use him in a key slot role. He doesn’t have to be a monster in this area, but as a slot receiver, you’ll be asked to make some tough catches in traffic over the middle of the field. Gipson won’t be a reliable WR3 if he’s only grabbing two out of every nine tight-window targets.

Can he get open?

Gipson played 17 games and was on the field for 45% of the Jets’ offensive snaps, but he finished the year with only 21 receptions for 229 yards and zero touchdowns. Why was his stat line so unimpressive relative to his playing time? Mainly because the ball rarely ever came his way.

Despite a lack of competition for targets in the Jets’ offense, Gipson still struggled mightily to generate opportunities. Gipson was targeted on just 10.5% of his routes run, ranking 109th out of 112 qualified wide receivers. This is despite the fact that six of his targets were screens. Take those out and his rate drops to 8.7%.

These were the worst wide receivers in target rate (min. 30 targets):

  • 104. Isaiah Hodgins, NYG (11.6%)
  • 105. Chris Moore, TEN (11.5%)
  • 106. Van Jefferson, ATL (11.2%)
  • 107. Allen Lazard, NYJ (10.5%)
  • 108. Braxton Berrios, MIA (10.5%)
  • 109. Xavier Gipson, NYJ (10.5%)
  • 110. Alec Pierce, IND (10.4%)
  • 111. Jalin Hyatt, NYG (10.3%)
  • 112. Marquez Valdes-Scantling (9.0%)

Was this entirely Gipson’s fault? Probably not. The Jets’ quarterbacks weren’t exactly known for their field vision last season. It’s possible that Gipson was missed a few times and should’ve been targeted more often.

Still, that is an incredibly low target rate, especially for a slot receiver who mostly works underneath, which is a role that makes it easier to demand targets. If you’re a deep-threat receiver (like Valdes-Scantling), a low target rate is more understandable, as that role is low-volume/high-reward. But an underneath player like Gipson should be open pretty often, leading to plenty of targets – especially when he’s only competing against one good wide receiver on his team.

Even if you cut Gipson some slack and say he should’ve gotten a handful of extra targets that were missed by the Jets’ QBs, his target rate would still be extremely low. Given the context, Gipson’s poor performance in this category suggests he needs to improve at getting open and presenting himself as an appealing option for the quarterback.

Further supporting this hypothesis is ESPN’s “Open Score” metric, which placed Gipson 98th out of 109 qualified wide receivers with a rating of 31/100.

For him to be the WR3, Gipson has to show he can become a more reliable short-target magnet. Sabo’s reports are a sign that he’s progressing in this area, but we need to see it on the field in the preseason before we can buy into him as a legitimate WR3 option going into the regular season.

Takeaways

Overall, while Gipson is an intriguing player due to the high-level elusiveness he displayed as a rookie, he has a lot to prove before he can be trusted as a viable option in the Jets’ WR3 role. His ball security, catching, and separation each need immense improvement.

Gipson’s rave reviews in practice seem to suggest the Jets are happy with his progress in these areas. For now, outsiders will have to trust the Jets’ judgment, but the preseason will give us an opportunity to see if Gipson has truly taken steps forward in the areas where he needs to. If Gipson can pass the preseason test, fans can feel more comfortable about him as the potential WR3 going into Week 1.

There is also still plenty of time for Corley and Lazard to make impressions. Nothing is set in stone on June 14. For all we know, the Jets have every intention of using Corley as the WR3, but they’re just making him work for the role, which is something they often do with rookies. Going into training camp in 2022, Sauce Gardner had to compete against Bryce Hall for a starting cornerback spot. This regime rarely gift-wraps roles for rookies from the get-go.

Regardless of how things play out, Gipson’s performance in OTAs and minicamp is a positive. If Gipson’s development makes it tougher for Corley to earn a spot on offense, it’s all the better for the Jets. Competition brings the best out of everyone, and besides, you can never have enough weapons in the NFL.

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