The New York Jets may have found a big-play man in Denzel Mims, but the receiving picture behind him is far murkier.
The Position: Wide Receiver
On the Roster: Braxton Berrios, Lawrence Cager, Jamison Crowder, Denzel Mims,
Free Agents: Breshad Perriman, Jeff Smith, Vyncint Smith
Reserve/Future: Josh Malone, D.J. Montgomery, Jaleel Scott
With the offense at a crossroads of sorts, the New York Jets are looking for playmakers. When it comes to their receivers, they may have uncovered a diamond in the second-round rough in Denzel Mims, but things behind him a lot murkier.
Part of the reason why it’s been so hard for Sam Darnold to develop a true rhythm as the Jets’ franchise quarterback is that his targets have undergone a ridiculous amount of turnover. Upon the departures of Robby Anderson and Quincy Enunwa, no receivers from Darnold’s rookies season of 2018 remained on the roster. In the of the 2020 season, Mims eventually found his NFL footing after missing the early stages due to injury, vindicating general manager Joe Douglas’ decision to pass on first-day talents like Jerry Jeudy, CeeDee Lamb, and Justin Jefferson.
But Douglas’ free agent options didn’t fare as well. Breshad Perriman, for example, failed to recapture the glory of his final Tampa Bay days, earning only 30 receptions over 12 games. New England castaway Chris Hogan failed to make a difference and the injury bug refused to leave the Jets alone. The most consistent part of the unit, slot man Jamison Crowder, led the team in all major receiving categories for the second straight season. Crowder is under contract for one more year, but the Jets would save just over $9 million in cap space if they moved on from him through a release or trade.
Even if Darnold doesn’t return under center, the Jets needs to freshen the receiving situation for the newcomer. The unit’s last 1,000-yard endeavors came through the Brandon Marshall/Eric Decker pairing during the doomed 2015 campaign.
Signed to a one-year deal worth $8 million ($6 million guaranteed), Perriman was brought in as the potential top target after ending his single season in Tampa in style (506 yards, five touchdowns in his final five games in 2019). But he never lived up to that billing in New York. He sustained an injury in the early going and never gained any momentum, save for strong performances in the New England games (8 receptions, 185 yards, 2 touchdowns).
With a new regime coming in and Perriman struggling in his lone green season, he is likely destined to hit the market.
Undrafted out of Boston College, the former quarterback has turned into a fun project in New York. Injuries have stunted his true potential, but Smith earned 167 yards on 17 receptions last season. That included a strong 81-yard showing when he was called upon to take extended duties when ailments ate up the top of the depth chart. He could potentially return as a depth option under new receivers coach Miles Austin.
After getting some extended playing time when injuries struck in 2019 (joining in-season from the Houston practice squad), Smith himself landed on injured reserve in the early going and was limited to seven games, during which he only earned a single reception and lost his return duties to Braxton Berrios and Corey Ballentine. It’s possible he could get another go at it if the Jets want to create a special teams competition.
Will They Draft?
While there are plenty of names available to the Jets through free agency…and there are plenty of resources to bring in an elite name…the Jets’ receiving corps needs a complete makeover. With an extra pick in two of the first three rounds, it wouldn’t be shocking to see them use one on a receiver. In the event they get Watson…a happening made increasingly remote but the Texans’ apparent stubbornness to hold on to the disgruntled thrower…they likely wouldn’t have the second pick to use on Heisman winner Devonta Smith, but Jaylen Waddle, his Tuscaloosa partner-in-playmaking, might be around if they hold onto the 23rd pick send from Seattle. The speedy Waddle has seen his projections fall after enduring an ankle injury in Alabama’s October tilt against Tennessee.
Day two options open to the Jets could include Kadarius Toney, Rondale Moore, Sage Surratt, and Amon-Ra St. Brown.
Allen Robinson, Chicago
Unlike Watson, Robinson is set to be a free agent and isn’t held back by stubborn management if he wants to find new opportunities. Fresh off a career-best 102 receptions despite the Bears’ unstable quarterback situation, Robinson could be a game-changer for the Jets no matter who’s throwing to him. Additionally, Robinson hasn’t exactly been subtle about his approval of the Jets’ offseason thus far. Twitter sleuths uncovered that some of Robinson’s recent “likes” involve calling for Watson to go to New York and approval of the Robert Saleh hire.
JuJu Smith-Schuster, Pittsburgh
If there’s one thing Darnold needs right now, it’s consistency. Bridges are burned with, say, Anderson (who has become a selling point in Carolina’s ongoing rebuild), but Smith-Schuster’s Sothern California collaborations with Darnold earned rave reviews. Smith-Schuster caught some of Darnold’s earliest passes as the two guided USC to a 10-win season in 2016, capped off by the epic 52-49 thriller against Saquon Barkley and Penn State in the Rose Bowl. Smith-Schuster and Darnold united for 133 yards on seven hook-ups in that game, which afforded the Trojans the third slot in the final AP poll from that season. Some will point to Smith-Schuster’s propensity for pregame TikToks as an excuse to stay away, but that’s a small price to pay compared to the comfort and stability Smith-Schuster could provide to a quarterback in desperate need of those feelings…be it Darnold or otherwise.
Chris Godwin, Tampa Bay
For all intents and purposes, Godwin should be one of the biggest household names in football. Through no fault of his own, Godwin often gets lost in the headlines, but that might happen when your catching cohorts are Mike Evans, Antonio Brown, and Rob Gronkowski. Godwin also missed four games with a hip/quad injury but still managed to post 840 yards after a breakout year in 2019. Godwin has played a major role in the Buccaneers’ Super Bowl endeavors as well; he scored a touchdown that put them ahead for good in the Wild Card round against Washington and led the team with 110 yards in the NFC title clinch against the Packers. If Godwin is looking for a place to prove he can be a No. 1 receiver, New York would be a strong place to do it.
A makeover is definitely coming to the Jets’ receiving corps. Free agency would certainly be the better way to go, as it would provide Mims a good mentor and give the team so much-needed, experienced stability. Whoever comes into the Jets’ quarterback spot is going to be thrown into a roaring green fire. They need to do whatever they can to make Darnold or the incoming new party to feel as comfortable as possible. Providing him with a strong, elite receiving talent would be the best way to do that.
Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags