In the first half of last season, Braxton Berrios saw regular playing time as starting slot receiver Jamison Crowder missed four games and had to play more on the outside in those games when he was available due to injuries to other players.
Berrios produced well, albeit often just by catching dump-off passes in Adam Gase's unimaginative horizontal passing game. However, once the receiving group got healthier in the second half, he was relegated to an afterthought.
In 2021, that has a strong chance of happening again. The Jets added Corey Davis and Keelan Cole to a group that already includes Crowder and Denzel Mims and, yet, there are still calls to use a high pick on another receiver. This leaves Berrios in a position whereby he probably won't get to play much unless there are more injuries.
In fact, Berrios' roster spot might not even be safe. The team kept him in a punt returner role last year but - after having been 2nd in the NFL for punt return average in 2019 - he was extremely ineffective in that role in 2020. He ended up with just 86 punt return yards, having had to fair catch 24 of 34 attempts. Maybe that's the fault of the other special teams personnel and the addition of players like Justin Hardee will help matters but he certainly didn't perform well enough to secure his role.
Are the Jets burying a player who could potentially be even more productive than those ahead of him though? Berrios' per-snap production actually stacks up with some of the better players in the league - and it ramped up in the second half even as his snap count dwindled.
There's two ways to view this. On one hand, perhaps this displays Berrios' determination to keep contributing even though his reps dried up and making the most of whatever opportunities he got. On the other hand, perhaps the Jets mostly just used him in situations where they were looking to target him, thereby inflating his per-snap production.
You'd always expect diminishing returns in a situation such as this, so if they tripled Berrios' snap count, you couldn't rely on this tripling his statistical production, or even doubling it.
Nevertheless, he stands out among a group of top level receivers as the only one who produced at the rate he did last year without being an established offensive star.
Berrios was 16th in the NFL for yards per route for wide receivers. The rest of the top 20 were basically all established starter-level players who have produced at a significant clip.
Of those 20, apart from Berrios, only four had less than 700 receiving yards in 2020 and in all four cases the player in question (Kenny Golladay, Deebo Samuel, Michael Thomas and Antonio Brown) only fell short of that number because they missed at least half of the season and each of them had over 700 receiving yards last season (apart from Brown, who only played one game in 2019, but had a big year in 2018).
Berrios caught 70 percent of his targets last year and over half of his catches went for a first down. He was also tied for second on the team with three touchdown catches. And yet, after midseason, he played fewer than 50 offensive snaps, managing to generate 14 catches.
The Jets may have considered releasing or trading Crowder - which would save them a lot of cap space - and may yet do that if they draft another receiver, in which case Berrios might step up. However, Cole generated most of his production from the slot last year, so this might simply lead to him getting more reps with the starters instead of coming off the bench.
Considering how much cheaper Berrios is than Crowder, perhaps it would have been wise to consider whether he could generate equivalent production. However, the team doesn't appear to be going down this route, so Berrios looks set to head into his contract year with his role uncertain.