In 2018, 4.3% of offensive plays in the NFL used jet motion according to data from Sports Info Solutions. Two teams (the Rams and Chargers) used it on at least 10% of their offensive plays. Three teams used it on fewer than 10 total plays. Those rates increased in 2019. 6.5% of offensive plays used some type of jet motion and five teams used it on at least 10% of their plays. Last season, 8.7% of total plays used jet motion. Two teams (the Rams and Ravens) used it on over 20% of their offensive plays and nine teams used it at least 10%.
There are a number of benefits for offenses using motion at the snap. As the jet sweep and jet motion continue to gain popularity and wider use across the NFL, the role of the sweeper is becoming a bigger part of the job description among some players. Last season, running back Tyler Ervin ran 60 routes for the Green Bay Packers. 19 of them, nearly a third, included jet motion. Nearly a quarter of Isaiah McKenzie’s routes with the Buffalo Bills stemmed from jet motion.
Ervin was not retained by the Packers this offseason, but Green Bay selected Clemson’s Amari Rodgers in the third round, a receiver with a running back build, who could easily slide into the role. The Packers were fourth in the use of jet motion and one of three teams to use jet motion on at least 10% of pass plays. McKenzie was brought back to Buffalo on a one-year deal even as the Bills continued to add to the receiver room with Emmanuel Sanders. The Bills used jet motion on 10% of their offensive plays, which ranked 10th in the league.
The Jet Guy is nearly a position of its own now in some NFL offenses and if the 2021 NFL Draft is any indication, the teams that need the role filled aren’t afraid to value it highly. Day 2 was littered with receiver picks that could easily fill the jet role. This was especially true for teams transitioning to an offense that should feature more jet motion. That happened to work out in a draft class that was light on prototypical receiver builds, but was robust with smaller, shifty players.
Elijah Moore would be a high pick on just his receiving ability alone but when the New York Jets selected him with the 34th overall pick, they got a player who could step into an integral part of the offensive scheme the Jets will switch to under offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur. LaFleur comes from the Kyle Shanahan system, one of the biggest adapters of jet motion over the past few seasons. The 49ers used jet motion on 17.6% of their offensive plays last season, which ranked third. Last year’s Jets used it on just 6.2%, which ranked 21st.
During Moore’s final season at Ole Miss, he had the fourth-most routes in college football that came from jet motion. He was also a threat as a ball carrier, which included a one-yard touchdown run on a jet sweep against Vanderbilt. The use in the red zone, especially up against the goal line, can be such a dangerous weapon by forcing defenders to read the play and run through traffic at the same time.
Jet sweep passes can be free completions and yards, but much of the 49ers’ use of jet motion was to open plays up in the run game. The entire Shanahan run scheme is built around opening gaps and the jet motion has been an integral part of manipulating defenders to open them up more frequently. Per SIS, 49ers runs with jet motion produced positive EPA 46.2% of the time, while runs without jet motion produced positive EPA just 39.1% of the time.
An inclusion of jet motion in the passing game could also help out rookie quarterback Zach Wilson, who used jet motion on 8.8% of his dropbacks at BYU in 2020. On those plays, Wilson averaged 13.4 yards per attempt.
The NFC West influence here is undeniable. The Rams have been the biggest adapter and innovator with the use of jet motion under Sean McVay and that is now likely to have shifted over the Seattle Seahawks. After serving as the passing game coordinator under McVay since 2018 (and the tight ends coach in 2017), Shane Waldron will be Seattle’s offensive coordinator in 2021. The Seahawks used jet motion on 7.7% of their offensive plays in 2020, which ranked 15th. The Rams were the league-leader at 23%. Neither team had a first-round pick in the 2021 draft nor the need for a receiver, but with back-to-back picks in the second round, the Seahawks selected Western Michigan’s D’Wayne Eskridge 56th overall and the Rams selected Louisville’s Tutu Atwell 57th overall.
Both Eskridge and Atwell might have been two of the most surprising picks in terms of value, especially with other receivers still on the board, but it’s clear the Seahawks and Rams were targeting a specific skillset these two players bring.
Eskridge was a yards after the catch monster at Western Michigan, though most of that came on slants — he had more yards after the catch on slants than any receiver not named DeVonta Smith had total on the route in 2020. The jet sweep wasn’t a huge part of the Western Michigan offense with just six passing plays that used it, but Eskridge was the designated target on four of them, all jet sweep passes. He also had a 27-yard gain on a reverse as a runner against Northern Illinois.
With a shift in scheme under Waldron, those jet plays are likely to be a bigger part of both Seattle’s offense and Eskridge’s game. It also gives the ability to get the ball in a player’s hands, something Pete Carroll mentioned during his post-draft press conference.
“There were a number of smaller receivers, fast speedy guys in this draft, but we saw him as 5-9, but he was 190-something too, and he looks physical, plays strong, plays a dynamic style with the ball in his hands and all that,” Carroll said of Eskridge. “That was one of the attributes that I know that John liked early on when he first picked him up, and it’s been really obvious that he’s got a uniqueness to them in that regard that we’ll be able to hopefully use in a number of ways.”
With the next pick, the Rams selected Atwell, the 5’9”, 155-pound receiver who ran the second-most routes with jet motion in college football last season, according to SIS. While McVay and the Rams spoke highly of Atwell’s downfield ability after drafting him, there’s little question he’ll be heavily involved in the jet game.
Unlike some of these other prospects, Atwell won’t be the jet guy for the Rams, but only because it’s now a prerequisite to play receiver in that offense. Robert Woods led the NFL in routes off jet motion in 2020. Cooper Kupp was third. Jet motion is such a fundamental part of the Rams’ offense, it’s often used to set everything else up and rarely used to get those cheap completions. Despite running the most routes with the use of jet motion, Woods had zero receptions on jet sweep passes. Kupp only had two. Woods, though, did have 15 carries for 121 yards on jet sweep runs, but those aren’t factored into the routes run.
Like the 49ers, the Rams had a much better run game with the use of jet motion. Rams runs without jet motion averaged -0.13 EPA per play in 2020 with a positive play rate of 40.8%. Runs with jet motion averaged 0.07 EPA per play with a positive play rate of 48.7%.
With Atwell now in the fold, the Rams have three receivers who could be the jet guy on a given play. Especially in that offense, it’s not just about getting the ball in that player’s hands, but the Rams easily go three-deep on players who could be a threat if they choose to do so.
Perhaps the most interesting jet development happened a few picks earlier in the second round when the Arizona Cardinals drafted Purdue’s Rondale Moore with the 49th overall pick. Moore was arguably the most explosive receiver in the draft but had problems staying healthy throughout his college career. Moore’s career at Purdue featured the perfect example of how the jet can be used to get a playmaker in space.
During his injury-shortened 2020, Moore saw 44 targets and the average depth of target on those throws was just 2.6 yards past the line of scrimmage. Purdue used a number of screens, slants, and motions to get Moore the ball in space. Even during his limited time on the field, Moore showed how his speed could help change a game.
During the first offensive drive of Purdue’s midseason game against Minnesota, Moore lined up in the slot for a 1st & 10 on Purdue’s own 20-yard line. Moore motioned across the formation and as the ball was snapped, took the jet pass. He cut back inside and after a few more cuts, gained 33 yards to bring the ball to the Minnesota 47-yard line.
Six plays later, from the Minnesota 8-yard line, Moore lined up as the outside receiver to the left. He again ran in jet motion and this time, with the quarterback under center, took a handoff. After a slight adjustment to avoid a block, Moore turned the corner and brought the ball into the end zone.
41 of the 91 yards on Purdue’s drive came from Rondale Moore on jet action. In that game, Moore had seven receptions for 63 yards while using jet motion to go along with two carries for nine yards and the touchdown.
“You want to get the ball in his hands and let him create on the perimeter,” Cardinals general manager Steve Keim said of Moore in his post-draft press conference. “We’re going to move him around and make sure he gets his fair share of touches.”
Moore will bring explosiveness missing in the Arizona passing game outside of DeAndre Hopkins but he could also be a key in more pre-snap movement. In 2019, Kliff Kingsbury’s first year with the Cardinals, Arizona used jet motion on 8.9% of its offensive plays, which ranked as the fifth-most in the league. The Cardinals did not often use motion overall, though, just 30% of the time, which ranked 28th.
With the acquisition of Hopkins and his alignment often as an outside iso-receiver, the Arizona offense got even more static. During the 2020 season, 7% of the Cardinals’ offensive plays used jet motion (18th) and a league-low 21% of all plays used any type of motion.
Bringing Moore into the fold can open up that part of the offense, which could bring improvements all over. It was a small sample of attempts, but on passes with jet motion, Kyler Murray averaged 9.3 yards per attempt. More jet motion could also be used in the quarterback run game, where Murray only had seven runs in 2020 that used jet motion. Those turned into two touchdowns and four first downs, including on a 4th and 1 against the Dallas Cowboys in Week 6. For comparison, the Ravens were the second-most jet-heavy team behind the Rams and 42 of Lamar Jackson’s rushing attempts used jet motion in 2020.
Jet motion is just a small part of an offensive philosophy and a small part of what these receivers bring to the field. But as jet motion continues to increase across the NFL, teams have been looking for players who can fill a very specific role in the offense. As that role also grows, it’s clear the offenses that know what they’re looking for don’t have a problem paying up to get it.