(Editor’s note: The New York Jets are expected to agree to a one-year deal with former Green Bay Packers receiver Randall Cobb on Wednesday.)
FLORHAM PARK, N.J. — The NFL draft probably had a familiar feel for quarterback Aaron Rodgers — Day 1, anyway. Since 2012, his teams have picked a defensive player with 12 of their past 13 first-round picks.
With an obvious need at offensive tackle, and with fans pining for a top wide receiver, the New York Jets opted for pass-rusher Will McDonald IV with the 15th pick. As it turned out, they didn’t take a receiver with any of their seven picks. That, coupled with the ill-fated pursuit of Odell Beckham Jr., raises a question: Did the Jets drop the ball?
In win-now mode with a 39-year-old quarterback, who is on record as saying he wants to add some company to the “lonely” Lombardi Trophy in the team’s lobby showcase, the Jets’ objective is to surround Rodgers with as many weapons as possible. They replaced Elijah Moore and Braxton Berrios with 6-foot-5 Allen Lazard and Mecole Hardman Jr., adding size and experience (nine combined NFL seasons) to the position, but the Jets’ top four receivers have combined for only 15 100-yard performances out of 209 career games.
The Jets’ hope, of course, is that Rodgers elevates everyone around him. At his introductory news conference, on the eve of the draft, Rodgers sounded content with his supporting cast.
“Stud running back, stud receiver, depth in the receiver room, stud tight end,” he said. “I don’t know the O-line as much, but I really feel like there’s a lot of guys that can make a jump and be special.”
In Green Bay, Rodgers was accustomed to excellent line play, as the Packers recorded the highest pass block win rate over the past five seasons, according to ESPN Stats & Information research. The Jets, who finished 21st last season, have a bunch of moving parts as they attempt to settle on a starting five. Rodgers also had one of the best receivers in the sport, Davante Adams, for eight years. The Jets are counting on Wilson, the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year, to be That Guy.
“It’s going to be important for him to that take that jump because we always have an opportunity to take that big jump,” Rodgers said. “Years 1 and 2, and 2 and 3, are really important. This is an opportunity.”
The fan base certainly is excited. On Monday, the Jets posted a slow-motion video of Rodgers throwing to Wilson on the practice field, generating over 2 million views on Twitter.
since #JetsTwitter asked so nicely…@AaronRodgers12 ➡ @GarrettWilson_V pic.twitter.com/2UocepKe2o
— New York Jets (@nyjets) May 1, 2023
Rodgers already has a comfort level with Lazard, a Green Bay teammate for five seasons and his hanging-out buddy at New York Knicks and New York Rangers games last week at Madison Square Garden. The Jets invested a lot in Lazard (four years, $44 million) and expect him to be a major factor.
Aside from catching passes, Lazard will be the “translator,” as Rodgers called him — someone who can teach the quarterback’s hand signals and idiosyncrasies to the receiver room.
Davis is the most seasoned receiver at six seasons on the team, but he’s coming off two injury-plagued seasons. That he’s still on the team is a mild surprise. Because of his lack of production (66 catches in two years) and relatively high cap charge ($11.2 million), his roster spot could have been in jeopardy. Unless the Jets add a starting-caliber receiver before the season, he’s not going anywhere.
Hardman, rehabbing from core-muscle surgery, provides a new dimension with his sub-4.4 speed in the 40. Asked what Hardman brings to the offense, coach Robert Saleh said, “Gas.” The Jets hope to expand his role. Hardman wasn’t an every-down receiver for the Kansas City Chiefs; he was mainly a “gadget” player used on quick screens and an occasional deep shot.
Beyond the top four, the Jets still have Denzel Mims, who enters the final year of his contract. They have a deep backfield, led by Breece Hall (who is coming off ACL surgery), and an experienced tight end room. It’s probably their most talented offense since 2015, when Ryan Fitzpatrick was throwing to Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker.
“‘Potential’ is one of those fancy words. We haven’t done anything yet,” offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett said. “Right now we have some very good pieces and some very good people. There has to be cohesion, there has to be a mesh. Aaron runs things out on the field very unique, so there’s a lot of things the guys are going to have to learn and get used to. Where that goes, I’m not sure, but there’s going to be some growing pains. There’s going to be some bumps.”
With the 15th pick, the Jets had their choice of any receiver in the draft. They could’ve given Rodgers an explosive pass-catcher, starting a run at the position. Four receivers went off the board soon after the Jets chose McDonald — Jaxon Smith-Njigba (20th), Quentin Johnston (21st), Zay Flowers (22nd) and Jordan Addison (23rd). All told, 33 receivers were drafted.
Clearly, they wanted a receiver, evidenced by their flirtation with Beckham, who wound up with the Baltimore Ravens on a one-year, $15 million contract. The Jets didn’t draft a skill-position player until the fifth round, Pitt running back Israel Abanikanda. That might seem like an oversight, considering they finished 29th in scoring, but they did add a future Hall of Fame quarterback and one of his favorite receivers in Lazard. They’re also hoping a healthy Hall can spark the running game.
Rodgers gushed about the team’s talent, saying the Jets have “exciting” pieces. But do they have enough?