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Comparing two potential NY Jets free agent WR targets

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By: Rivka Boord

These two receivers are possible New York Jets targets

What if the New York Jets can’t get a true No. 2 receiver this offseason?

The price for Mike Evans is said to be over $25 million per year, while Tee Higgins and Michael Pittman are unlikely to hit the free agent market. That means that if the Jets can’t woo Calvin Ridley or trade for Davante Adams or Courtland Sutton, there won’t be too many other options.

Two names that come up consistently in this discussion are Tyler Boyd and Curtis Samuel. Boyd has a somewhat bigger reputation than Samuel due to his play with Joe Burrow, Ja’Marr Chase, and Tee Higgins. Still, the players hold similar free-agent profiles and may receive similar contracts.

Should the Jets pursue either one? If so, which one and why?

Basic info

Samuel is nearly two full years younger than Boyd. Boyd is three inches taller and has one more year of experience. They’re coming off relatively similar deals, though Boyd’s was an extension with the Bengals during his rookie deal, while Samuel’s was a free agent contract with Washington after his rookie deal with the Panthers expired.

Measurables

All data is from 2016-17 NFL Combine.

Samuel is much faster and stronger and can jump higher, but Boyd is bigger and has longer arms and bigger hands. Boyd’s RAS was very poor, while Samuel’s was closer to average (though not great for an NFL wide receiver).

Role

Boyd has served as the Bengals’ No. 3 receiver since 2021 when they drafted Chase. Samuel was brought in to be the Commanders’ No. 2 receiver behind Terry McLaurin. In 2023, it was expected that he would be usurped by Jahan Dotson, but he posted more targets, receptions, and yards than Dotson.

However, in terms of snap count, Samuel’s role diminished in 2023 compared to his previous few seasons. He played 56% of Washington’s offensive snaps, his lowest mark in a healthy season since 2018, his second year in the league. He was at 71% in 2022 compared to Dotson’s 75%. In 2023, Dotson far surpassed him with 82% of the offensive snaps. In that sense, Samuel fell to Washington’s No. 3 receiver, even though he received a bigger workload overall.

Boyd’s snap share has been fairly stable since 2020, falling somewhere between 72-77%. He was at 76% in 2023.

Boyd has played over 84% of his snaps in the slot in six of his eight NFL seasons, including the last four. Samuel has played in the slot over 70% of the time in his last three healthy seasons. Both receivers are among the league leaders in slot percentage since 2020.

Per NFL Next Gen Stats, here is a look at the distribution of Boyd’s and Samuel’s route tree in 2023 based on the percentage of his routes run (all routes, not just targeted routes) that were classified as each route type.

It’s interesting that while both players ran far fewer go routes than the receiver average, Boyd ran slightly more posts, while Samuel ran some more corner routes. Boyd’s preference for flat routes fits Aaron Rodgers more than Samuel’s for quick hitches. Both players ran more screens than average, a fit for Rodgers. Samuel’s preference for the crossing route fits Rodgers.

2023 performance

By several metrics, 2023 was the worst year of Boyd’s career. He posted the lowest yards per reception mark (10.0), second-fewest touchdowns (2), lowest yards per route run (1.15), worst contested catch rate (40%), and second-lowest targeted passer rating (83.0) of his eight years in the league.

Among 71 qualified receivers (min. 60 targets), Boyd ranked 62nd in yards per reception, 55th in touchdowns, 59th in yards per route run, 40th in contested catch rate, and 56th in targeted passer rating. His 41.8% first-down rate was 68th, and his 4.3 YAC per reception ranked 34th. He also had a 49% target success rate, which ranked 45th.

It is worth noting that among the top 15 receivers in slot rate, eight had a first down rate at or below 50%. It is more common for receivers with a short average depth of target to gain fewer first downs.

On the plus side, Boyd’s 73.6% catch rate ranked ninth among receivers, and his 4.3% drop rate ranked 20th. He ranked 37th with a 0.7% catch rate over expected.

Meanwhile, Samuel ranked 64th in yards per reception (9.9), 40th in touchdowns (4), 46th in yards per route run (1.52), 18th in contested catch rate (50%), and 45th in targeted passer rating (89.0). His 41.9% first-down rate was 67th, and his 4.3 YAC per reception ranked 34th. He had a 47.3% targeted success rate, which ranked 50th.

Samuel also caught a high rate of his targets (72.9%, 11th), but he had a higher drop rate (6.1%, 40th) which was right at the receiver average. He tied for 17th with a 3.7% catch rate over expected.

Overall, Samuel was a more efficient receiver than Boyd in terms of yards per route run, and their yards per target marks were nearly identical (7.2 vs. 7.3). They both caught a high rate of their targets, consistent with their low average depth of target (7.1 vs. 7.2). Boyd caught more of the easy balls, while Samuel caught more of the tougher balls. Both how a low first-down rate and target success rate.

Samuel generated more separation than Boyd, but Boyd generated more overall catchpoint and YAC production due to his lower drop rate.

Comparing 2023 performance to previous track record

Boyd is often much better with contested catches than he was in 2023. From 2021-22, he caught 19 of 28 contested targets (67.9%). For his career, he’s hauled in 56 of 111 contested catches (50.5%). He also had just one drop over that time, a 0.8% drop rate. For his career, he has a 4.1% rate, far better than the 6.1% receiver average in 2023. Overall, Boyd has showcased strong hands throughout his career.

Boyd is also generally a more efficient receiver and was so even before Joe Burrow joined Cincinnati. From 2018-21, he posted yards per route run numbers of 2.06, 1.65, 1.65, and 1.58. That diminished to 1.36 in 2022 and then down to 1.15 in 2023. Still, for a No. 3 receiver, he was generally far more efficient than 2023 would indicate.

One pervasive issue throughout Boyd’s career is that he’s had many interceptions on targets in his direction. From 2019-23, he’s had 23 interceptions on throws his way, or 4.5 per 100 targets; for reference, the league average in 2023 was 2.7 interceptions per 100 targets. While this could be due to the routes he ran out of the slot, it’s worth noting that Samuel has averaged 2.4 interceptions per 100 targets over that same period.

Meanwhile, Samuel has never managed to replicate the production from his final season in Carolina (2020) which led to his three-year, $34.5 million free-agent contract in Washington. In 2020, Samuel posted career-highs in receptions (77), yards (851), yards per route run (1.94), contested catch rate (63.6%), and targeted passer rating (111.1). He has not exceeded 64 receptions or 655 yards in any other season (both came in 2022).

For his career, Samuel’s yards per route run stands at 1.37; the 2023 average among receivers was 1.77. He averages 4.0 YAC per reception and has never exceeded 4.6 in a full season; the 2023 average was 4.4. His career average in contested catch situations is 45.2%, somewhat above the 42.3% receiver average in 2023. He averages just a 35.6% first-down rate compared to the 60.1% average.

The biggest career problem for Samuel has been drops. He has a 7.6% career drop rate, well worse than the 6.1% average mark for receivers in 2023. Still, most of that comes from his first three years in the league, as he’s been at 6.1%, 4.5%, and 6.1% in his last three healthy seasons. His hands are roughly at the league average at this point.

For Samuel, 2023 was roughly an average year. For Boyd, it was worse than his career norms in many ways.

Scheme fit

If the Jets were seeking a No. 3 slot receiver, either player could fit the role. Boyd’s preference for flat routes and Samuel’s for crossers compared to the league average could both work well with Rodgers.

Still, that’s not the primary role the Jets are seeking in a free-agent receiver right now. They’re looking for a No. 2 to complement Garrett Wilson and take some of the pressure off him. Neither of these players is a good fit from that perspective.

The Jets need a deep threat; these players combined for 13 deep targets in 2023 and 15 in 2022. The Jets want someone who can move the chains; both of these players put up low first-down rates. Neither one can prevent double coverage from going Wilson’s way. Additionally, neither receiver has shown a proclivity for YAC, which is what Rodgers wants from his pass-catchers.

If the Jets were signing Boyd or Samuel together with someone like Ridley, it would be a good fit. They could start in the slot and push Allen Lazard off the field, thereby relegating him to the No. 4 receiver role in which he was most efficient with Green Bay. Without a true No. 2, though, standing pat with Samuel or Boyd will not fill in the Jets’ holes.

Flag check

Both of these players have similar red and green flags when it comes to whether they would be good free-agent signings. They have fairly stable floors of production, but that floor is No. 3 receiver material. Boyd has a history of strong hands, while Samuel’s have been stronger of late but are still average. Contested catches are generally more Boyd’s forte than Samuel’s, but Samuel outperformed Boyd in that area in 2023.

Boyd comes with slightly more red flags than Samuel because he’s coming off a worse season than usual. Even though it came without a healthy Joe Burrow, Boyd was more productive as a receiver in the pre-Burrow years than he was in 2023. Boyd is also two years older than Samuel, which makes a multi-year deal with him somewhat more risky.

Samuel, meanwhile, has performed about the same with some poor passing situations. He went through Carolina with its unstable quarterbacking and then Washington with its own. At 27, he’s still a bet to give you similar production to what he put up in 2023.

Samuel has had some more injury problems than Boyd. He’s played in 91 of 115 possible career games, primarily due to groin and hamstring injuries that limited him to five games in 2021. However, he also missed eight games in his rookie season due to a hamstring strain, back injury, and ankle fracture, the last of which also cost him three games in his second season.

Boyd has played in 120 of 131 possible career games, playing in at least 15 games in six of eight seasons. His lone injury blip was in 2017 when he missed six games, four due to an MCL sprain.

In the last two seasons, both players have played in 33 out of a possible 34 regular-season games.

Cost

Pro Football Focus projects that Boyd will receive a two-year, $17.5 million deal, or $8.75 million APY. They have Samuel at two years and $18 million, or $9 million APY. In other words, PFF expects these two players to command very similar deals. Spotrac predicts three years and $26.1 million for Boyd, or $8.7 million APY, and three years and $34.6 million for Samuel, or $11.5 million APY. They likely see Samuel as more valuable due to the two-year age difference.

How much money these players receive may depend on who else is available on the market. If Michael Pittman and Tee Higgins are franchise-tagged and Mike Evans returns to Tampa (which is ultimately expected), these two may be the best options available after Calvin Ridley. That could push up their price. On the other hand, as virtually slot-only players, their markets could both be depressed.

Still, it’s fair to expect a 2-3 year deal in the $9-11 million APY range for both players.

Verdict

Signing both of these players would be redundant, so the Jets would need to choose. The only way it’s worth signing either one is if they have another way of securing a true No. 2 weapon. Both Boyd and Samuel can be starting slot receivers in the NFL if they’re the No. 3 weapon, but they’re not meant to be No. 2 targets.

Boyd has a longer history of consistent production, less of an injury history, and better hands, which could make him a more appealing option. On the flip side, Samuel is two years younger and seems to have more of a knack for getting open.

If I had to choose between these two, it would come down to which player is cheaper. With the same cost, Samuel’s age makes him more of a keeper. If it’s a $2-3 million APY difference, the cheaper one is the better option, especially with all the Jets’ other needs.

Still, if the Jets settle for one of these players and no one else, they will still have a big receiver problem on their hands in 2024. They need a true complement to Garrett Wilson, not just a slot-only WR3. It’s important for the Jets’ front office and for fans to recognize this.

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Originally posted on Jets XFactor