New York Jets 2021 offseason recap: Wide receivers

Not only are the New York Jets’ receivers the most upgraded green groups, but they may also be one of the most improved units in the NFL.

Following the conclusion of minicamp activities, the NFL offseason is officially over. The next time the New York Jets convene in Florham Park, they’ll be getting ready for preseason and regular season action for the 2021 season. 

With the offseason in the rearview mirror, ESM looks back on the green offseason that was, position-by-position. Part three centers on the revamped receiving corps…

Dec 27, 2020; East Rutherford, New Jersey, USA; New York Jets wide receiver Breshad Perriman (19) attempts to catch the ball as Cleveland Browns cornerback Denzel Ward (21) defends during the first quarter at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

How It Started

The Jets’ situation at receiver wasn’t exactly the corps’ fault. Rather, the relative state of neglect more or less served as a condemnation of the Mike Maccagnan era, as the reluctance to add blocking put them in such a dire hole in the catching front.

After letting Robby Anderson walk to Carolina with relatively little resistance, the Jets were in dire straights at receiver. In terms of veterans, they elected to use most of their offseason budget on blocking help. While the veteran blocking assistance (George Fant, Connor McGovern, Greg Van Roten) was mostly unproven, it filled a hole that desperately needed to be addressed.

But the proposed solutions on the offensive line handicapped the Jets’ options in terms of help at receiver in the post-Anderson era. Granted, the free agent offerings at receiver weren’t exactly lighting up scoreboards…Anderson, frankly, was arguably the best option…but the Jets were forced to rely on consolation prizes in the form of first-round washouts (Breshad Perriman) and antiques from New England (Chris Hogan). They would join 2019 returnees Jamison Crowder and Braxton Berrios on the top of the depth chart.

The receiving negligence was again made apparent on draft day, when the Jets chose to draft a lineman with the 11th overall pick instead of one of the elite first-round catching talents. Sure, Mekhi Becton’s debut soothed the blow of missing out on Justin Jefferson, Henry Ruggs, CeeDee Lamb, and Jerry Jeudy, but that was of little consolation to the Sam Darnold era. Day two of the virtual draft offered another consolation prize, as Baylor-based big-play threat Denzel Mims fell to the 58th overall selection. However, Mims spent most of his first Florham Park summer on the injured list, though he was able to flash some late potential. Despite partaking in only nine games, Mims was 15th amongst rookies in receiving yards (357) and the seventh-ranked freshman catcher (min. 20 receptions) in average gain (15.5).

New York Giants, Corey Davis
Sep 14, 2020; Denver, Colorado, USA; Tennessee Titans wide receiver Corey Davis (84) in the third quarter against the Denver Broncos at Empower Field at Mile High. Mandatory Credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

How It’s Going

No matter if Darnold came back or if the Jets opted to start a new franchise quarterback era, the Jets were going to make sure their primary passer had a strong posse.

Blessed with a cap space surplus, the Jets wasted no time in upgrading their receiving corps. It was understandable that they’d miss out on the big-name targets. Opting out of the Julio Jones sweepstakes was for the best and it was going to be hard to lure top guys like JuJu Smith-Schuster to an ongoing rebuild. While the Jets emerged from the offseason without a true No. 1 target, they have several players who have established potential to fill that role.

The additions were headlined by the arrival of Corey Davis, a key contributor in the Tennessee Titans’ recent playoff runs. While he lost top receiver duties to A.J. Brown, Davis is coming off a career-best season (984 yards on 65 receptions, five of which went for touchdowns), one that could’ve ended in quadruple digits in yardage had he not dealt with placement on the COVID-19 list. Davis also knows how to perform in the postseason, or at least on a winning team, an uncannily common theme in the Jets’ free agents signings (Tevin Coleman, Sheldon Rankins, the recently reportedly signed Morgan Moses). The same goes for Keelan Cole, a slot option that earned over 2,000 yards over the last four seasons despite constant quarterback turnover in Jacksonville.

In the draft, the Jets were once again blessed with a big-play receiving talent landing in their grasp. The team had a first-round grade on Ole Miss catcher Elijah Moore and was overjoyed when he fell to the 34th overall choice. He’s now on pace to top the depth chart after the strong minicamp showing.

“His work ethic is off the charts,” Jets head coach Robert Saleh said in a report from Dennis Waszak Jr. of the Associated Press. “His mindset is off the charts. We’re excited to continue working with him so we can see him get better…He’s a dynamic young man.”

While Perriman opted to follow his father’s footsteps in Detroit and Hogan traded in his receiving gloves for a lacrosse stick, the Jets do welcome back both Crowder and Mims to their proceedings. Medical misfortune has befallen Mims once again…a non-COVID illness kept him out of minicamp…but the Jets maintain high hopes for him.

“He’s eager, he’s a really cool dude to work with,” offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur said of Mims in a report from Max Goodman of SI.com. “But he’s just gonna have to get out there. And again, it’s just going to be reps and just going and understanding the speed of the game.”

The Crowder situation was even more interesting. A reliable slot prescience, Crowder was, by far, the most potent and consistent weapon of the two-year Adam Gase era. That, however, probably says more about the futility of the Gase era than it does about Crowder. With the Jets due about $10 million in cap space upon Crowder’s removal, dishing him off to a contender would’ve made sense, but the team instead opted to rework the last year of a three-year deal inked in 2019. Crowder’s now getting about $5 million guaranteed as opposed to $10 million with no assurances.

Jamison Crowder, New York Jets

Are They Better Off?

Not only is the receiving group the most improved unit on the Jets, but it may also be one of the most improved units in the whole NFL.

Time and time again, especially in this era of prioritized offense, we’re told that a receiver is only as good as his quarterback. It’s hard to argue that when you wonder what Larry Fitzgerald’s numbers could’ve been if not for the Arizona quarterback carousel from the football underworld after Kurt Warner’s retirement.

But the right offensive arsenal can do wonders for an incoming quarterback, especially a rookie quarterback preparing to take his first NFL snaps. What the Jets have assembled for Zach Wilson is, on paper, better than anything Darnold ever had to work with. There’s no clear-cut No. 1 man on the current depth chart. Even the touted Moore shouldn’t be crowned before putting on his game jersey. The way this season appears to be shaping out, however, the receiving situation couldn’t be better.

Even though the Jets got a lot better as a team this offseason…if only because there wasn’t much further to plummet after last year…making the playoffs is still going to be a lot to ask for. This receiving corps is perfect in a season of development. It’s more or less a 17-game audition to hold a major role in the potential good days ahead. This time around, those auditioning actually have sizable resumes to display.

Final Offseason Grade: A

How important was it for the Jets to upgrade their receiving corps? Continue the conversation on Twitter @GeoffJMags

New York Jets Position Group Grades: Wide Receivers

Breshad Perrimen, New York Jets

As the season looms, I decided to take a deep dive into each New York Jets position group within the organization and grade each group. Today’s group is one I had to do before I had a meal in my stomach because of the extreme lack of depth this group has. For a team that values putting pieces behind its franchise quarterback, this group is fairly pathetic. Nonetheless, I’m going to evaluate each target and grade the group as a whole.

WR 1: Breshard Perriman

Perriman joined the team on a prove-it deal after finishing the season in Tampa on a really strong note. Perriman was a blue-chip prospect that has struggled to truly make an indent on the league. At 26, you could firmly make the case that he’s just on the cusp of his prime. After struggling in Baltimore and Cleveland, he had a really impressive end to the season in 2019 and now looks to build on that with the Jets.

Perriman put up 36 catches for 645 yards and 6 TDs but only played 56 percent of snaps. Perriman now has to adapt to a new offense on a shortened practice schedule because of COVID. To make matters worse, he’s had injury issues throughout camp, and that’s not a good sign. I truly think Perriman would be a solid second option, but his potential as a lead target is worrisome to me because he isn’t as proven as you would hope for. Then, add in the severity and longevity of his injury issues, and I don’t have the highest of hopes for Perriman.

WR 2: Chris Hogan

Hogan was a late roster addition due to the depletion of the initial receiver core. The former Super Bowl champion was a favorite option for Tom Brady in his years in New England. His crisp route running style and high football IQ made him a valuable commodity when he hit the free-agent market in 2019. After finding a home in Carolina, he was sidelined for the year with a knee injury. Now, Hogan is back and has reportedly picked up the offense quickly. The journeymen receiver may end up being the number one option until Perriman and Mims are at a hundred percent. Hogan will inherit a lot of pressure and will be forced to form an in-game connection with Sam Darnold quickly. I do think Hogan is a good player, but I’m worried about the change of scenery this offseason and the quickly acclimation and how he’ll handle that.

WR 3: Jamison Crowder

My favorite receiver on the roster and overall the most talented one, Crowder, is likely facing his biggest season yet. The vet took very little time finding a role within the Jets as the premier slot option. Now, as he enters his second year in the green and white, more teams are aware of his connection with Darnold. If teams give Crowder more attention, that could open up opportunities over the middle for guys like Herndon and even opportunities over the top for Perriman. As long as Crowder can continue to stay healthy, he is the most talented receiver on the roster and the most important to Darnold’s development.

WR 4: Denzel Mims

Mims is the highly anticipated rookie. Mims, though has missed significant time in camp. Now, in terms of true quantity, it was not that significant. In terms of lack of time to get a grasp on the playbook, it is truly impactful in a season like this. With minimal time to adapt to the roster and the lack of in-game reps, how quick Mims picks up the offense fully is something to watch. Still, Mims is a really talented receiver. Mims is a deep threat and a physical receiver. He fights for 50/50 balls and has an insane catch radius. Mims is everything Darnold needs as a long term option. It’s just a matter of how quickly Mims can get acclimated to the offense and proper usage by Sam Darnold.

The Rest

The rest of the receiver room shows a complete lack of depth. Braxton Berrios is a special teams stud and solid burner as a backup. Aside from him, there isn’t much here, though. Donte Moncrief is likely going to have to hurry to pick up the offense before getting any real reps. Vyncnt Smith will be back quicker than expected, but he is still going to miss a few games early. When he does get back to 100%, he will likely play a big factor. Jeff Smith and some of the other practice squad pieces could play a role, but the fact I’m reaching for names that deep should say something. The receiving group lacks serious depth, and with the injury history of all four lead receivers, that is not encouraging. The Jets need to watch the trade market and waiver wire actively because upgrades are needed desperately.

Grade: C-

If all of the Jets receivers stay healthy, this group could be a solid one. That also factors in proper usage by Adam Gase and consistency with Darnold. All of that feels like too much uncertainty to give this group a high grade. The potential is there, and I’m hoping for the best. I just have a lack of faith in Gase to use these guys properly and for all of them to stay healthy.

New York Jets add receiver with Championship experience

New York Jets, Chris Hogan

Per Tom Pelissero, the New York Jets have signed a wide receiver! After Adam Gase talked briefly on Friday about wanting another veteran target, Joe Douglas went out and got one for him. In lieu of Denzel Mims’ injury and now Vyncnt Smith not practicing today with a core muscle issue, adding another receiver was of the utmost importance. Adding 31-year-old veteran, Chris Hogan, with two Super Bowl rings could be a game-changer to the team’s receiving corps.

What Hogan Brings to the New York Jets: 

The Jets’ receiving room is in a unique spot currently. They have, as I’ve previously highlighted, a lot of boom or bust players. If Breshard Perriman is on, he could be a dangerous weapon for Sam Darnold. If not, he could be a significant liability to the young QB.

As for Jamison Crowder, last season he was the receiver the Jets hoped he would be, but with a history of injuries, he’s no sure thing. Denzel Mims is going to be far behind when he does return due to his injury and an abbreviated offseason. Vyncent Smith was supposed to be the fourth option, but with him not only being inexperienced, now he has core muscle tightness which could be an issue. 

Then, the rest of the group is highlighted by other guys like Lawerence Cager and Braxton Berrios who could make an impact, but more than likely are backups for this season.

So, adding another receiver was paramount. The Jets signed Chris Hogan, who’s coming off a year where he spent a lot of time on the IR after getting arthroscopic surgery on his left knee. Prior to that, he had 8 catches for 67 yards.

So, looking back to 2018, his last full season, Hogan was very productive. Hogan had 532 yards on 35 receptions, adding 3 touchdowns. This role was also not as a starter in the Patriots’ offense. So, in a likely starting role, his production could increase a lot more. Now, as he joins his 4th AFC team, Hogan still is no sure thing. He’s bounced around the league, he’s coming off a fairly serious knee injury, and he only has a short amount of time to refresh himself on Adam Gase’s playbook. If the former college lacrosse player can do that, then this addition could be just the boost that the receiving room needs. If he can’t, then he adds himself to the list of the other boom or bust receivers on the Jets roster.