FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- New York Jets wide receiver Jamison Crowder did his homework on Adam Gase during the offseason. He studied the coach's history with slot receivers, going through tapes of Wes Welker and Jarvis Landry with the Denver Broncos and Miami Dolphins, respectively. He imagined himself in that offense -- in that role -- and his excitement level went up a few notches.
Then came last Thursday night at MetLife Stadium.
On a first down from the New York Giants' 39-yard line, Crowder lined up in the left slot and ran a "jerk" route -- a stutter step and a shallow cross. Somehow, Jets quarterback Sam Darnold, his vision partially obscured by the pass rush, found Crowder in stride with a perfectly lofted pass over the big fellas. He was only 1 yard beyond the line of scrimmage when he made the catch, but he scooted another 27 to set up a touchdown. See the play, as provided by NFL Next Gen Stats:
"That's one of the plays I think we'll do really well when the regular season comes," Crowder said.
Mark this down: The smallest man on the Jets' offense will make a big impact.
He's only 5-foot-9, 177 pounds, but Crowder is perfect for Darnold because, unlike fellow receivers Robby Anderson and Quincy Enunwa, he can separate quickly from defenders. This will help Darnold improve his efficiency on short passes -- a trouble spot last season.
On throws in the range of 1 to 10 air yards, Darnold completed a league-low 62.9%, according to ESPN Stats & Information research. Drew Brees was the best in the NFL, at 79.8%. Darnold might not get to Brees territory, but his accuracy should get a bump with Crowder and running back Le'Veon Bell as short-area targets.
"He's so quick," Darnold said of Crowder. "Everyone knows how quick he is, but he's fast, too. I think he can hit another gear, too."
Slot receivers are growing in importance, and Crowder is part of the league-wide trend. In free agency, Adam Humphries (Tennessee Titans) received $19 million in guarantees, Cole Beasley (Buffalo Bills) $14.4 million and Crowder $17 million. The AFC East is loaded at the position, lest we forget about New England Patriots star Julian Edelman, the Super Bowl LIII MVP.
"It's the evolution of the receiver position," Crowder said. "Now a lot of plays are made inside, from the inside guy, whether it's a slot receiver or a tight end. I think the main thing is, slot receivers are really called upon on third down. Third down is vital in this league."
An effective slot receiver needs to be quick enough to beat man-to-man coverage, but he also needs spatial awareness -- the ability to read soft spots in zone defenses. Crowder has those traits. Over the past three seasons, he produced 12 touchdowns out of the slot (tied for fifth) and 109 receptions (15th), per ESPN Stats & Information research.
Historically, Gase's offense is a slot machine. From 2016 to 2018, the Dolphins ranked first in receiving yards (3,472) from slot receivers and second in catches (276). That he had Landry for two of those seasons was a big factor.
"Two different guys, different skill sets," Gase said of Landry and Crowder. "Jarvis had a different body type to where, when he went inside, he was playing physicality games with the linebackers. That's why he caught 112 balls. He could handle it, his body could handle it. With Jamison, I don't think we can do as much of the inside stuff that shallow. We were doing some stuff where Jarvis would do a lot of the dirty work. It wasn't always fun for him, but he loved catching footballs, so he was all right with it."
Listed at 20 pounds lighter than Landry, Crowder isn't built for that kind of pounding, but he's more elusive than mercury on ice. He's an upgrade from Jermaine Kearse, last season's slot receiver, and he complements Anderson and Enunwa.
"I think we all bring a unique characteristic to the game, to the offense," Crowder said. "Robby is the speed guy. Quincy is speed, but he's more physical. I try to be the short-area-quickness guy. It's kind of tough for defenders to defend when you have three different body types and playing styles to guard. I think we complement each other really well."
Gase doesn't want his skill position players to have the same body types. As he said, "We want five different guys. We want a basketball team."
Crowder is part of that team. Short player, big job.