Deep Dive – New York Jets Passing Game Flexibility

Joe Caporoso on the New York Jets passing game options and flexibility with their current depth chart

The New York Jets have an intriguing collection of pass catchers heading into the 2019 NFL Draft. It is a far from a perfect group and could use further depth but there has been a tangible improvement in talent, explosiveness and versatility compared to last year’s group. Last season the top five most targeted players on the team were Robby Anderson, Jermaine Kearse, Quincy Enunwa, Chris Herndon and Elijah McGuire. This season (and this is unlikely to change regardless of what happens in the draft) Kearse and McGuire have been swapped out with Jamison Crowder and Le’Veon Bell, respectively. 

Adam Gase’s favorite personnel grouping is “11,” which he ran 74% of the time last season (we further discussed his love for “11” with Travis Wingfield in last week’s podcast). This personnel grouping is three wide receivers (Anderson, Enunwa, Crowder), one tight end (Herndon) and one running back (Bell). Miami threw 62% of the time out of this grouping last season. Their second most used personnel grouping was “12” which swaps out one receiver for a second tight end, Miami did this 17% of the time last season. The only other grouping they used more than 5% of the time was “21” personnel which utilizes two backs instead of three receivers. As it stands now, the Jets second tight end is a combination of Jordan Leggett and Eric Tomlinson and their backup running back is the recently added Ty Montgomery.

When focusing on their presumptive base personnel group, we are likely to see something like this frequently.

As a baseline projection, Jamison Crowder is going to be the primary slot receiver (he played over 70% of his snaps there last season), Quincy Enunwa is likely to be the primary Z receiver, meaning he will regularly line up off the line of scrimmage and be able to be moved around the formation which plays best to his strengths (he played 36% of his snaps from the slot last season). Robby Anderson is likely to be the X receiver (the split end) who the Jets try to isolate in single coverage on the backside of the formation. Anderson only played 13% of his snaps from the slot last year. Outside of the receivers, you’d have Chris Herndon as your primary Y tight end (he took 23% of his snaps from the slot last year) and last but certainly not least, chess piece, switchblade, can catch it like a receiver Le’Veon Bell in the backfield.

While everybody is going to have a default position in the offense, the Jets are going to have the benefit of versatility with their primary pass catching options and if Gase is going to get the most out this offense, he won’t be shy about taking full advantage of it.

Jamison Crowder is probably the most one dimensional of the five options but is likely to be primary benefactor of a short passing and screen game to receivers that is an extension of the running game. For a slot receiver, he possesses a unique ability to attack down the field but his bread and butter is still the yards he can create after the catch. In his last healthy season, 2017, he was 11th in the NFL in yards after the catch with 366. Watch Albert Wilson before he got hurt last year and Jakeem Grant if you want an idea of how Gase is likely to use Crowder who should see a high volume of targets in the short passing game and periodically be used as a runner on Jet Sweeps and reverses. For Sam Darnold, moving from plodding Jermaine Kearse in the slot on most reps to Crowder is a massive upgrade.

Robby Anderson has the reputation of being a one trick pony but that stereotype is over exaggerated, particularly when he was used by a more imaginative Offensive Coordinator than Jeremy Bates. Anderson will always be at his best outside of the numbers but that doesn’t mean a smart coach won’t occasionally put him in motion or release him down the field from the slot to help free him up. In 2017, Anderson ran 138 routes from the slot and showed he could create chunk plays when targeted from that alignment. Last year Miami’s closest comparable to Anderson, Kenny Stills, ran nearly 23% of his routes from the slot, indicating that Gase won’t put Anderson in a strictly outside the numbers box.

Quincy Enunwa is a movable chess piece who should not be boxed into only being a slot receiver. He has too much size and speed not to be utilized outside the numbers and with Crowder on the roster, should have the flexibility to move between Z, X, H and periodically slot for certain formations. The ascendance of Anderson opposite him and the presence of Bell in the backfield is only going to free up more one on one matchups for him on the outside. There should be no player on the Jets offense more frequently on the move pre-snap than Enunwa.

Chris Herndon is too athletic and too good of a receiver to be strictly utilized as an-line tight end. Especially in the red zone, Herndon can be flexed out as a split end or used as a move tight end (H-Back) to take advantage of his speed and get him into space. If the Jets can get better at their second tight end spot and find a player who can hold down the Y while Herndon is bumped outside in certain sets, it will only make their offense that much harder to defend. Also when the Jets want to experiment with things like Anderson in the slot, Herndon is more than capable of bumping outside.

Le’Von Bell is the most versatile, explosive offensive playmaker on the team and is likely to be treated as such. We know what Bell can and will do running the football but he is also the favorite to lead this offense in targets, through a mix of check downs, screens, wheel routes and formations that utilize him as a slot receiver. If a team’s primary slot corner is already matched up on Crowder, the Jets can motion Bell out of the backfield to the opposite slot and have him in an unquestionably favorable situation. They also can roll out a two back look with him and Ty Montgomery, a former receiver himself, with both bouncing between halfback and slot receiver.

Overall, if the Jets can stay healthy they have equipped Darnold with a versatile group of pass catchers, who have the positional flexibility to regularly create mismatches against any defense. The biggest question is now, can they block for him and them?

Author: Joe Caporoso

Joe Caporoso is the Owner and EIC of Turn On The Jets. His writing has been featured in the New York Times, Huffington Post, MMQB and AdWeek. Caporoso played football his entire life, including four years at Muhlenberg as a wide receiver, where he was arguably the slowest receiver to ever start in school history. He is the EVP of Content at Whistle Sports