What Nathaniel Hackett brings to Jets, with or without Aaron Rodgers
The New York Jets seem to be prioritizing experience with their new offensive coordinator, Nathaniel Hackett. He replaces Mike LaFleur, who was let go earlier this offseason. The Denver Broncos fired Hackett during his first season as a head coach when the team was 4-11 in a year in which they expected to make the postseason.
Hackett will be in charge of creating competency in New York’s offense, with a focus on getting the passing attack into a more consistent place. Technically, the passing offense was better than the rushing offense — which is surprising considering how much the Jets seemed to emphasize their running backs to start the season. Still, New York finished with 219 passing yards per game (15th in NFL) and just 99 rushing yards per game (seventh-fewest).
The sum of the offensive parts: 17.4 points per game, fourth-worst in the NFL.
“It was important for us to hire an experienced guy — a guy who has put it together not just at one spot but at several spots,” Jets head coach Robert Saleh said Thursday after announcing Hackett’s hire. “We know we’re going to come in with a basically revamped offensive line, we’ve been talking about getting a veteran quarterback in here if we can, we’ve got a really good group of skill guys. So it was very important to us to look at [candidates] who have done it before.”
Recency bias might indicate that Hackett is a poor candidate. After all, his brief stint with the Broncos was an abject disaster. There’s no way around it. Even after investing money and draft assets in Russell Wilson, the Denver offense flopped under Hackett’s leadership.
But look at the offenses that Hackett coordinated in Green Bay in 2021 (10th in yards, 10th in scoring) and for the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2017, when Blake Bortles — of all quarterbacks — led the franchise to the AFC Championship Game. With that context, you’ll see a much more competent candidate. And it’s important to remember that some great coordinators aren’t ready to be head coaches. Maybe that’s what happened with Hackett.
The Jets’ offensive rebuild will have to start at quarterback, as Saleh alluded to. It’s unclear which quarterback will be at the center of that passing offense in 2023. New York worked to develop Zach Wilson and Mike White over the past few years, but neither has proven he can be a starting-caliber QB for longer than a few games at a time. It seems likely that White will continue to develop as a backup. The team should probably trade Wilson, given how hard he fell out with the locker room.
It’s unclear whether Hackett signed on with the idea that New York will keep working with those two quarterbacks — or whether he’ll have some say in finding the right candidate outside the building. I’d expect the Jets to pursue every available starting-caliber quarterback, from Jimmy Garoppolo (in free agency) to Aaron Rodgers (in the trade market).
Having served as the offensive coordinator in Green Bay prior to joining the Broncos, Hackett has a relationship with the Packers QB. In fact, when Hackett joined Denver, speculation was that maybe he’d lure Rodgers. But Rodgers signed an extension with Green Bay and the Broncos decided to trade for Wilson. Soon after, it all fell apart.
Perhaps Hackett’s recruitment efforts will be more successful this offseason. Perhaps Rodgers will find his way to New York, given the quarterback’s openness to a trade. Perhaps Hackett and Rodgers will reunite in New York with star power on the offensive line and a high-potential group of young skill players, including receivers Garrett Wilson and Elijah Moore and running backs Breece Hall (returning from his ACL tear), Michael Carter and Bam Knight.
It’s fun to consider — and in a division with Josh Allen, Bill Belichick and Tyreek Hill.
The beauty of Hackett’s offense, however, is that he’s going to bring plenty of emphasis on the run game. And perhaps that — more than any other reason — is why the Jets landed on Hackett rather than one of the 15-plus other candidates that they interviewed. Even if the Jets settle for an option like Derek Carr, they might be OK for 2023 by focusing on their backs, because of how special Hackett’s offenses have been in generating rushing production.
The 2020 Packers, for example, had Aaron Jones post more than 1,400 yards from scrimmage alongside Jamaal Williams amassing more than 750 yards from scrimmage in the same season. And getting back to that 2017 Jaguars team, Leonard Fournette went wild, with 1,040 rushing yards and 300 receiving yards in just 13 games played.
It’s likely that Hackett and LaFleur will run similar offenses — at least in terms of the scheme. Saleh said there’s plenty of overlap between the West Coast system the Jets ran in recent years under LaFleur and the one Hackett will bring in 2023. But Hackett will be dedicated to the run, no matter who plays quarterback. And rather than waiting for LaFleur or another young OC to develop, the Jets now believe they have a savvy playcaller and playbook designer in hand with Hackett.
Given that the Jets were one of about a dozen teams hunting for a new OC, Hackett’s résumé was as appealing as any other option out there.
Prior to joining FOX Sports as the AFC East reporter, Henry McKenna spent seven years covering the Patriots for USA TODAY Sports Media Group and Boston Globe Media. Follow him on Twitter at @McKennAnalysis.
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