The 2022 NFL offseason is about to get into full swing and the Jets should be one of the most active teams. While the Jets have some young assets, they still have many holes to fill, as one would expect from a team that has six wins in the past two seasons. General manager Joe Douglas needs to give second-year signal-caller, Zach Wilson, as many weapons as possible. Douglas needs to go “all in” to help his young quarterback succeed.
But what is the best route to help Wilson develop in year two?
While many in the Jets fanbase and in the draft community, have New York selecting a wide receiver in the first round of the upcoming NFL Draft, is that the best move? Most draft pundits agree there is no Ja’Marr Chase in this draft class, a guy who comes in as a rookie and lights the world on fire. In fact, looking back at the past four NFL drafts, 40 wide receivers have been selected in the first two rounds. Of those 40, just four have had 1,000 yards receiving in their rookie seasons.
Rookies often face an uphill battle adjusting, not only to the speed of the game but NFL life in general. It’s a new life, a new playbook, a new city, new teammates, new coaches, the list of new things goes on and on. With so much on their plates, it is easy to see why it can take rookies a couple of years to “hit their stride.”
Adding a receiver that has already learned the NFL game, found success in the NFL, knows what it takes to get open in the NFL, knows the NFL grind, and knows what it takes to be a professional, is the best way to supercharge Wilson’s development.
A look at recent trades for pass catchers
Douglas does not need to look very far to see an example of a young quarterback developing quicker and far better than most expected with the addition of a veteran wide receiver. Division rivals, the Buffalo Bills traded for veteran Stefon Diggs prior to the 2020 season giving quarterback Josh Allen his go-to guy. Diggs, 27 during his first season with the Bills hauled in 127 passes for 1,535 yards while scoring eight touchdowns. Allen, in his first two seasons without Diggs, completed 56.3% of his passes for 5,159 yards and 30 touchdowns. In the two seasons after the Bills added Diggs, Allen has taken his game to another level. The former Wyoming Cowboy has completed 66% of his passes for 8,951 yards and 73 touchdowns. For some perspective, the Jets have 73 passing touchdowns in the past four seasons combined.
Across the country, the Arizona Cardinals took the same approach for their young signal-caller, Kyler Murray, and traded for wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins in 2020. Hopkins had recorded 1,000 yard receiving seasons five times in seven years with the Texans before being traded to the Cardinals. In his first season in Arizona Hopkins hauled in 115 passes for 1,407 yards and six touchdowns. Murray improved in completion percentage, passing yards, passer rating, touchdowns and went from five wins to eight wins.
Douglas’ mentor traded for a wide receiver
Douglas cut his teeth in the NFL as a scout for the Baltimore Ravens under legendary general manager Ozzie Newsome. In 2010, Douglas’ first season in Charm City, Newsome traded for Anquan Boldin. While Boldin did not produce any 1,000-yard seasons with the Ravens, they did win a Super Bowl with him and Joe Flacco on his rookie contract in 2012.
Adding a free agent
Douglas was the Vice president of player personnel from 2016-2019 with the Philadelphia Eagles. The Eagles had drafted quarterback Carson Wentz in 2016. To help Wentz’s development Philadelphia signed two veteran wide receivers prior to the 2017 season, Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith. Jeffery was the team’s second-leading receiver in terms of yards and third in receptions, while Smith was fourth in both categories. The effect on Wentz was dramatic. The second-year signal-caller finished third in MVP voting. He went from 16 touchdowns as a rookie to 33 in three fewer games as a sophomore. Wentz cut his interceptions in half and improved a full-yard per pass attempt.
Who should the Jets target?
Douglas has seen firsthand the benefits a veteran receiver can have on the development of a young quarterback. So who could he target? Cowboys’ wideout Amari Cooper is rumored to be on the trading block.
Cooper himself was brought in by the Cowboys to aid in Dak Prescott‘s development. I’d say it has been a success. In his first full season with Cooper, Prescott threw for over 1,000 more yards and eight more scores than in his previous season. At 27 Cooper is a very good receiver. He has recorded over 1,000-yards receiving in five of his seven years in the league and three out of four in Dallas. A wide receiver room of Corey Davis, Elijah Moore, and Cooper is a top 10 unit. Cooper has a $22 million cap number, if traded the team trading for him would likely rework that contract. Dallas could also cut Cooper, freeing up $16 million in cap space in 2022.
An interesting player enters the conversation
Texans wideout Brandin Cooks is likely to be traded during this offseason. Cooks is 28 and coming off a season where he recorded 90 catches of 1,037 yards and six scores. While Cooks would not be the wide receiver 1 most are looking for you can not deny his talent. Cooks has gone over 1,000 yards receiving in six of his first eight seasons.
The free agent market
New York could look at the free-agent market to find Wilson more weapons. Packers WR Devante Adams is the big fish. It’s unlikely he even makes it to free agency as Green Bay seems destined to slap the franchise tag on him. Two names that could interest the Jets are the Chargers’ Mike Williams and the Bears’ Allen Robinson. Williams is 27 and just recorded 76 catches for 1,1146 yards and nine scores. His 15.1 yards per reception was fourth among wideouts receiving at least 50% of his team’s targets. Williams was second with 21 contested catches and would provide an excellent red-zone target for Wilson.
Robinson is coming off his worst season as a pro. He caught just 38 passes for 410 yards. This could give the Jets a chance to “buy low” on Robinson. In 2020 Robinson had 102 receptions for 1,250 yards. The Bears struggled at QB in 2021 so that had some effect on Robinson’s numbers. At 28 the former Penn State Nittany Lion should still have a few good years left.
Douglas learned the bulk of his craft in Baltimore and Philadelphia. In both cities, the Jets GM watched as the Ravens and Eagles added veteran receivers to help the young quarterbacks. In both circumstances, the quarterbacks saw a big jump in performance following the addition of these weapons. Ultimately both teams went on to win Super Bowls.
If the Jets acquire a receiver before the draft it should not preclude them from selecting one at some point in the draft. It would allow the Jets to fill other holes at positions like edge or cornerback before adding another receiver. I think Gang Green will add two receivers to the roster this offseason, one veteran and one rookie, just not one in the first round.