Scouting Jets wide receiver Allen Lazard

Scouting Jets wide receiver Allen Lazard

Last week, the Jets announced that they had signed former Green Bay Packers wide receiver Allen Lazard. Today, we break down Lazard in detail.

The 27-year old Lazard is listed at 6’5” and 227 pounds and was undrafted out of Iowa State in 2018. He has caught 169 passes for 2,236 yards and 20 touchdowns in five NFL seasons.

Background

Lazard was a four-star recruit and a high school all-American, who opted not to redshirt his first season at Iowa State and caught 45 passes for 593 yards and three scores, earning honorable mention all-Big 12 honors.

He continued to develop over the course of his career, as he was a second team all-Big 12 selection in his sophomore year and a first team selection in his junior and senior years. He had a thousand-yard season as a junior and career highs in receptions (71) and touchdown catches (10) as a senior.

After the draft, Lazard attended the senior bowl and scouting combine, but concerns over his speed, hands and toughness remained and ultimately led to him going undrafted despite being a projected mid-round pick.

The Jaguars picked Lazard up as an undrafted free agent but he was released at the end of preseason and placed on their practice squad. He spent almost his entire rookie year there until Green Bay poached him in mid-December. He only played one game and caught one short pass with them, though.

In 2019, despite making the roster, Lazard did receive his first target until week six. However, he quickly established himself as a contributor, eventually catching 35 passes for 427 yards and a touchdown. He had the first 100-yard game of his career in a win over the Giants that sparked a five-game winning streak to end the regular season.

In 2020, Lazard put up similar numbers again despite missing six games due to an injury in the middle of the season, then had a big game in the postseason against the Rams.

2021 was his best year to that point with 40 receptions and a career-best eight touchdown catches. That included a string of five games in a row with a touchdown.

As Davante Adams departed for Las Vegas, Lazard set career highs with 60 catches and 788 yards in 2022 despite missing two games. He added another six touchdowns.

Despite his overall production being good, Lazard has only had three 100-yard games in his career. However, he’s been very consistent with 50 yards or more in 19 games.

The Jets signed Lazard to a four-year, $44 million contract with $22 million in guarantees.

Now let’s take a look at what Lazard brings to the table, divided into categories.

Measurables/Athleticism

Lazard is 6’5” with a big body, a large catch radius and big hands. NFL teams were concerned about his speed as a draft prospect but he seemed to allay those concerns by running 4.55 – a solid time for someone with his size – at the combine.

The rest of his combine numbers were solid, including a 38-inch vertical and 17 bench press reps, but his agility numbers were below average.

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Usage

Although Lazard has a reputation as a big bodied outside wide receiver, he has also played extensively in the slot and about half his production has come from there in the last few years.

A lot of this is within bunch formations or when he has lined up outside and someone goes in motion and is outside him when the ball is snapped though.

Lazard will also motion to the edge of the line and line up as an h-back in some situations. He has also carried the ball eight times on jet sweeps, picking up 70 yards.

Deep threat

Lazard has a lot of deep receptions at the NFL level as he has enough burst coming off the line to get half a step on his man and the size to keep his man at bay once he gets behind him.

In 2022 he was in the top 10 most targeted receivers on passes more than 20 yards downfield but had a lower success rate than most of the players around him.

In addition to getting behind the defense, Lazard can be targeted successfully downfield on jump balls or back shoulder throws.

Routes

Lazard has worked hard at improving his route-running skills since entering the league. Analysts said he had stiff hips, lacked explosiveness coming out of his breaks and was going to struggle against tight coverage.

With improvements to his technique, he has put those first two concerns to rest, although press coverage can still present a challenge, as this seasons’s matchup with Sauce Gardner proved.

Lazard is balanced, uses good footwork to be deceptive and breaks down well. He gets a clean release to lose his man at the line here.

This play is a good example of Lazard’s ability to change directions quickly and work his way back to the ball.

Hands

In college, Lazard dropped a lot of passes in his sophomore year but improved his consistency in his last two seasons. Nevertheless, concern over his hands remained, fuelled largely by some struggles at senior bowl practices.

At the NFL level he had a career-worst six drops in 2022 but that was acceptable since he was targeted 100 times and the drop-rate was consistent with the rest of his career. He has had dropped some catchable passes, though, due to focus or lazy technique.

As noted earlier, he has a big catch radius so he can catch passes outside his frame by going up over defenders or laying out for a catch.

He tracks the ball well and can make adjustments, as he does here despite almost slipping over.

Red zone

Lazard has 20 regular season touchdowns at the NFL level and 15 of these were in the red zone, including eight from inside the five. However, it’s not just a case of throwing jump balls or fade routes, as he’s scored in a variety of ways, including a dump-off to the flat, a shovel pass and on quick slants.

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His size enables him to box out defenders and he can be a red zone threat on throws to the back shoulder.

After the catch

Over the years, Lazard hasn’t generally offered much after the catch, other than being someone who can accelerate downfield when you hit him in stride or fall forward at the end of a run due to his size.

He doesn’t break or elude many tackles, but here’s a play where he did slip a tackle to get into the end zone.

To date, Lazard has never fumbled at the NFL level but he did lose a fumble in the senior bowl game.

Blocking

Lazard has gained a reputation as one of the best blocking wide receivers in the NFL with his ability to handle defensive backs on the outside and down the field and to block down on safeties and linebackers.

As noted, the Packers would sometimes motion him to the edge of the line and sometimes ran behind him as he blocked down to set the edge. Here’s a play where they pulled him across the formation and he made a punishing block on the defender coming off the edge to open a lane.

Despite his reputation, Lazard graded out poorly as a blocker in 2022, although that’s perhaps in part because they gave him more difficult assignments than a typical receiver due to the abilities he has. While his effort is consistent and he’ll often peel off to a second assignment, he can lean into blocks sometimes, allowing his man to fight him off and get in on the play.

He has had five blocking penalties in his career; Two for holding, two for an illegal block in the back and one for a crackback block.

Physicality

Lazard is a big-bodied receiver with a physical style, so it’s surprising some teams reportedly had toughness concerns on him coming out of college. He gives a good effort as a blocker, stays strong at the catch-point and isn’t afraid to go over the middle or take a big hit.

On this play, Lazard makes a tough one-handed catch with a defensive player draped all over him.

Advanced analytics suggest that his catch percentage on contested catches is below average, although that may be because many of these are down the field and therefore lower percentage throws in general.

Lazard has three offensive pass interference penalties in his career.

Special Teams

Lazard’s special teams days are likely in the past, although he has done a solid job in the past, notably as a blocker in punt protection and on kickoff return units. He had four special teams tackles in 2019.

Instincts and Intelligence

Lazard does a good job of improvising to get open when plays are extended and comes back to his quarterback to give him an option. He also seems to have a good nose for the first down marker.

Here’s a play where he is uncovered but smartly leaks to the open area to make life a lot easier for his quarterback.

He has had three pre-snap penalties in his career; two false starts and one for illegal formation.

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Attitude

Lazard is yet another player with a massive chip on his shoulder having gone undrafted and with this big-money deal in his pocket he can say once and for all that he proved everyone wrong. That’s a testament to his work ethic and his drive and desire.

Packers coached and teammates have regularly praised Lazard’s attitude and determination to get better.

He’s been fined twice at the NFL level; once for violating Covid-19 protocols and once for taunting. The latter was after a viral play that saw him take out three Miami players with a block and then pointing at each of them in turn.

Injuries

The most disruptive injury of Lazard’s career has been a core muscle injury in the middle of the 2020 season which required surgery and landed him on injured reserve for six games.

Other than that, he’s dealt with some minor issues both in college and the pros. He missed one game with a rotator cuff injury in college and dealt with a broken hand in the offseason one year. In 2022, he missed one game because he got stepped on in practice and another due to a shoulder injury.

Scheme Fit

Lazard broke out in Green Bay with current Jets offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett in the same role for the Packers. He has called Hackett “the best teacher I’ve ever had in my life” so that was obviously a major factor in his decision to sign here.

The Jets are transitioning from the scheme operated by the Packers head coach’s brother to Hackett’s system so he should be completely comfortable within it.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of Lazard’s scheme fit is how the Jets’ other pass catchers will fit around him. We’ll see what other moves they make between now and the summer.

In addition to his familiarity with Hackett, Lazard has been a teammate of incumbent Jets Adam Pankey and Malik Taylor.

Conclusions

One thing not mentioned yet is the relevance of the Jets’ pursuit of Aaron Rodgers, who has been Lazard’s quarterback throughout his evolution to becoming a quality starter. Obviously, that’s a massive factor in this move, both in terms of the Jets bringing in an expensive player at a position not considered a major need and in terms of Lazard being keen to come here.

Nevertheless, with or without Rodgers, Lazard brings a lot to the table and even if Rodgers is a Jet for a few years, Lazard’s four-year deal means he could outlast him.

This is a reasonably-priced deal for a solid player, which could be worth even more if it leads to other moves that prove successful. We perhaps shouldn’t sleep on Lazard’s upside though. He is motivated to keep improving and could take his game to the next level as he enters his prime.