NY Jets: 5 under-the-radar free agents to target in the 2021 offseason

NY Jets Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports
NY Jets Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports /
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To say the NY Jets have a ton of resources this offseason to fix the roster would be a massive understatement.

An equally large understatement, though, would be to say that Gang Green has a lot of needs.

Because of the stark lack of talent on this roster, general manager Joe Douglas will not be able to address every need in a big way this offseason.

Here are five relatively under-the-radar free agents for Douglas to target this offseason so larger focus can be paid to other positions.

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5. The NY Jets could target Ahkello Witherspoon

Ahkello Witherspoon would not fix the NY Jets’ problem at cornerback but would provide very solid depth.

Witherspoon, drafted 66th overall in 2017 by San Francisco, has not been the reliable piece the 49ers had hoped for when they drafted him.

At 6-foot-2 and 200 pounds, Witherspoon brings good size to the cornerback corps and would immediately be the largest player at the position for New York. Additionally, he offers respectable 4.45 speed.

Injuries have kept Witherspoon down during his career, though, as he has only logged 47 games through his first four seasons.

Along with injuries has come unreliable play. Witherspoon started his career well with a Pro Football Focus grade of 74.5. The next two seasons saw a dreadful 44.5 and passable 61.0.

Witherspoon seemed to thrive this season, however, logging an excellent 80.2 grade, a score higher than any Jets cornerback this season.

David Wyatt of Gang Green Nation points out that “[Witherspoon’s] attitude was applauded by Kyle Shanahan after he sought out Robert Saleh’s help to improve his game.”

Wyatt goes on to note that Witherspoon allowed only two touchdowns in coverage and missed just one tackle, likely due to Saleh’s help midseason.

Of course, the main draw for Witherspoon is his experience with Saleh. The Colorado product has spent his entire four-year career with Saleh as his defensive coordinator.

PFF predicts an extremely modest one-year, $1.75 million contract. The Jets would be wise to take a flyer on Witherspoon at this value. Personally, I think Witherspoon is worth up to $5 million per year considering the breakout season he had.

Next: 4. Tyus Bowser

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4. The NY Jets could target Tyus Bowser

The Jets have lacked a good pass rusher for quite some time. Like Witherspoon, Bowser would not fix their problems by any means, but he could provide useful depth and versatility.

Bowser was drafted 47th overall in the 2017 NFL Draft by Baltimore after a productive senior season at Houston. He has failed to live up to his second-round draft stock but could still serve an important role on the Jets defense.

This season, Bowser logged 14 QB hits, three interceptions, and five pass deflections but failed to put up many sacks, logging a mere two after putting up five last year.

In addition, in each of the past two seasons, Bowser has received solid PFF grades of over 70.0. Along with pass rush, Bowser could provide another useful skill in another area that is sorely lacking among current Jets linebackers — pass coverage.

In 2020, Bowser actually performed well in coverage despite being a pass rusher. He was praised by his coaching staff for improvement in the area.

Back in Week 14, he had a spectacular interception against Baker Mayfield, reading the QB’s eyes perfectly and plucking the ball out of the air with one hand. Bowser also brings 4.65 speed (nearly identical to that of San Francisco’s Fred Warner) to the linebacking corps.

Standing at 6-foot-3 and 242 pounds, Bowser may be a little undersized to put his hand in the dirt. Still, he is only 10 pounds lighter (and an inch taller) than Dee Ford, a major piece of Saleh’s San Francisco pass rush.

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Clearly, Bowser is an extremely versatile player — he can rush from the edge, drop back into coverage, or blitz from a stand-up linebacker position.

While he is not particularly dominant in any one of these skills, at only 25-years-old, he would likely improve under Robert Saleh, who cultivated a dominant front-seven in San Francisco.

PFF predicts a three-year, $21 million contract for Bowser. With the versatility and upside he brings to the table, it would be a wise move to nab this up-and-coming defender on that contract.

Next: 3. Jamaal Williams

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3. The NY Jets could target Jamaal Williams

The Jets desperately need a running back. After running it up the gut with Frank Gore for minimal gains for 16 games, change is necessary.

Williams has established himself as the league’s best backup running back over the past few seasons in Green Bay and has earned an opportunity to start. The BYU product has logged 650 total yards in each of his four career seasons.

Over the past two years, Williams has boasted over 4.0 yards per carry and an impressive average PFF grade of just under 75.0.

While Williams’ role has primarily been Green Bay’s backup running back, he has performed well in the few chances he’s gotten as a starter. In four of the five games this season in which Williams received 10 or more carries, he had four yards per carry or more.

In other words, when Williams has gotten starting running back touches, he’s done well with them.

In terms of traits, Williams can basically do it all. Standing at 6-foot and 213 pounds, he’s succeeded as an explosive runner and reliable receiving back in Green Bay,

Along with speed and catching ability, though, Williams brings some power. Rotowire credits Williams for 2.6 average yards-after-contact this season, which places him in the top 30 percent of running backs in the stat.

Williams is a true three-down back that will thrive in a starting role wherever he goes. Pairing him with a mid-round rookie would make this an exciting, potential-filled running back room.

He’s also a cheap option at a position where teams (like the Jets for instance) fall into traps during free agency. Signing big-ticket free-agent running backs has proven unwise for many teams, making the under-the-radar signing the best scenario.

Williams has been given limited chances to prove himself, yet he’s done well with those opportunities. With him being only 25, the sky is the limit.

PFF predicts a two-year, $6 million contract for Williams. With the gobs of cap space that GM Joe Douglas has to work with this offseason, signing Williams for this price tag should be something he considers no matter what his other plans at the position are.

Next: 2. Curtis Samuel

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2. The NY Jets could target Curtis Samuel

Speed is something that is lacking in the Jets’ receiver corps. Fortunately for Gang Green, Curtis Samuel will likely be heading to free agency.

Samuel ran the 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine in 4.31 seconds — a blazing-fast time that would immediately make him the Jets’ fastest receiver by a good margin.

With the 40th pick in the 2017 NFL Draft, Carolina selected Samuel who was a bit of a draft bust until the past two seasons. After two slow years, Samuel picked it up a bit in his third year, logging 757 total yards and seven total touchdowns.

This season, however, saw even more growth as Samuel put up 1051 total yards with an incredible catch percentage of 79.4 — the highest number for any receiver with over 40 targets.

This incredible catch percentage is made even more impressive by the fact that Samuel was targeted almost 100 times.

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Samuel’s PFF grades have been very inconsistent throughout his career, jumping from 56.9 to 71.5 to 62.7 before reaching his very impressive 2020 score of 77.0.

It is important to note that Samuel was primarily used in the slot this season. Samuel’s signing would likely be contingent on the release of current slot receiver Jamison Crowder which would save the Jets around $10 million in cap space.

Samuel brings potential game-stretching ability that was extremely lacking last season after the departure of ex-Jet and Samuel’s teammate in Carolina, Robby Anderson.

He is a particularly interesting option when you consider the contract. PFF predicts an AAV for Samuel of just over $8 million.

Other options in free agency are Allen Robinson, Chris Godwin, and Kenny Golladay, all of whom are predicted to sign for $21 million per year or more.

Being only 24-years-old with blazing speed, Samuel offers exciting upside. If the Jets would like to save money at the wide receiver position, the former Buckeye is a terrific route to go.

Next: 1. Carl Lawson

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1. The NY Jets could target Carl Lawson

Lawson isn’t as “under-the-radar” as the guys preceding him on this list but he still fits the description — he was hardly top-50 in sacks this season despite playing every game.

Still, Lawson’s low sack numbers are not at all indicative of how productive of a pass rusher he is. Lawson wasn’t expected to immediately make a significant impact on the field after being drafted out of Auburn in the fourth round of the 2017 NFL Draft.

In his rookie year, though, Lawson recorded 8.5 sacks and 21 QB hits. He immediately looked like a hit for Cincinnati and fit in well next to Geno Atkins and Carlos Dunlap.

The sack numbers for Lawson decreased from there but his level of play has only gotten better. In his sophomore season, Lawson notched a stellar PFF grade of 79.4.

After a down third year due to nagging injury, he returned to form in 2020 recording 5.5 sacks, 32 QB hits, two forced fumbles, and a PFF grade of 76.3.

Still, Lawson’s impact as a pass rusher is not portrayed accurately by the usual counting stats. The Auburn product finished with 64 pressures which ranked fourth among all edge defenders in the NFL.

But the story goes even further.

Seth Walder of ESPN keeps record of the “sacks created” stat, which credits the player who first beat their blocker rather than the guy who brought the quarterback to the ground.

This stat is intended to adjust for the luck that is involved in some sacks. A rusher may force the QB to move in the direction of another defensive player.

In this scenario, the work was done by the first player yet only the second player receives credit. This stat works to give this first rusher the credit.

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According to Walder, Lawson recorded 10.5 sacks created, which ranks seventh in the league behind the likes of Aaron Donald, Myles Garrett, T.J. Watt, and Khalil Mack.

This is no niche cherrypicked figure that bears little meaning— the top-ranking players in this statistic are known to be the league’s best pass rushers.

Lawson has missed 13 games in his four-year career, which is a bit concerning but is no cause for panic. His 2020 season saw zero injuries and his greatest success.

Lawson is a prototypical 4-3 edge rusher who would thrive in a Saleh defense that calls for massive pressure from the edge.

While his run-stopping ability is not as refined as his pass-rushing ability, Lawson is absolutely the man the Jets should target at pass-rusher this offseason.

Next. NY Jets: 5 under-the-radar wide receiver targets in free agency

PFF predicts a four-year, $55 million contract. That AAV would make him the 20th highest-paid edge rush — a fair amount for a guy who produces far more than sacks.