Adding a vertical WR presence can help open up Jets passing game

The New York Jets need to add to their wide receiver room this offseason, but more specifically, what they need is a downfield presence, along with improved overall depth behind Garrett Wilson.

Wilson led the way last season with 1,042 yards on 95 receptions. The second-leading receiver was Allen Lazard with only 311 yards, followed by Xavier Gipson with 229 yards.

Wilsons’ seven receptions of 20-plus yards were the most on the team, but ranked 30th overall. Gipson and Lazard each had two downfield catches, ranking 82nd out of 90 eligible players.

“We’ve got some great young guys,” said Wilson via The Athletic, “we’ve got some great vets,” he said. “I think another infusion of someone that brought different things to the table that gives the defense something to worry about, that would be beneficial to everyone, not just me.”

Of course, the Jets’ wildly inconsistent quarterback play was a massive factor in those results. So, simply having Aaron Rodgers back will create more of those downfield opportunities.

However, from a skill-set standpoint, there isn’t a pure vertical presence on the roster currently. With how talented Wilson is, he can certainly win those routes when needed – and will be asked to do so – but that’s also not a role that the Jets are going to have him primarily fill, either.

Having a vertical threat versus not can greatly impact how a defense defends an offense–having a trickle-down effect to other parts of the passing game and the run game as well.

When a defense has to account for vertical speed, it creates better spacing for the offense to operate within. Defenses play a little bit softer to provide some additional cushion so that they aren’t getting beat over the top.

For the offense, this means more space underneath for receivers and tight ends to work within and potential one-on-one opportunities with a safety having to worry about the downfield throw.

On the flip side, when a defense doesn’t fear getting beat downfield, it allows them to play closer to the line of scrimmage–shrinking the field. This then muddies things up over the middle in the passing game and can even make running the ball more difficult with an additional defender or two closer to the line of scrimmage.

Wilson is always going to garner the bulk of the attention from opposing defenses, but having a downfield threat alongside of him can provide some reprieve at times, and for a player of Wilson’s caliber, that’s all he needs to make a play.

As far as free agency goes, Marquise Brown is the top available name when it comes to filling this role. At his best in 2021, Brown ranked seventh in targets of 20-plus yards. PFF projects that Brown will earn a one-year deal with $12 million.

Another name to watch is Marquez Valdes-Scantling, who was released by Kansas City, and of course, was teammates in Green Bay with Aaron Rodgers. Valdes-Scantling has been a home run hitter throughout his career, averaging 17.0 yards per catch.

The NFL Draft is also absolutely loaded at the wide receiver position overall, giving the Jets the opportunity to address this specific need there.

However, depending on how the board falls or whether the Jets make a trade and accumulate an additional pick, they may not have the chance to do so until Day 3, with only two picks in the top 100 and presumably the first selection going towards the offensive line.

Some of the more productive downfield pass catchers from the 2023 college football season that are draft eligible include UCF’s Javon Baker, Washington’s Ja’Lynn Polk, South Carolina’s Xavier Legette, Pittsburgh’s Bub Means and Brian Thomas from LSU.

Story originally appeared on Jets Wire