What can the New York Jets expect from new OC Nathaniel Hackett? – The New York Jets Blog
FLORHAM PARK, NJ — Imagine making $80,000 a week for doing nothing. Sweet, isn’t it?
Nathaniel Hackett could have opted for the soft lifestyle, collecting a reported $4 million a year through 2025 from the Denver Broncos. But no. Instead of sitting out and kicking back, he’s digging in as the new offensive coordinator for the New York Jets.
Eager to restore his reputation after a disastrous season as the Broncos’ coach — he went 4-11, fired with two games remaining — Hackett last week accepted a position that historically offers little security. He’s the Jets’ ninth offensive coordinator in 13 years, but he put that aside — along with their well-documented quarterback woes — because he loves coaching and isn’t afraid of a formidable challenge.
“We’re really fortunate how much he believes in us as an organization,” coach Robert Saleh said. “He could have sat on the sofa too [three] year.”
This is Hackett’s fifth NFL team in 10 years, but it’s a unique situation for him because it marks the first time he’s started a season as a playcaller under a defensive-minded head coach. (He did that for seven games under Gus Bradley for the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2016, but that was as the interim coordinator after a midseason coaching change.) In a sense, he’s the CEO of the offense, with the ability to shape the coaching staff and shape the unit to match his vision.
The Jets finished 29th in scoring, just three spots ahead of the Broncos, and are in “Help Wanted” mode at quarterback. It’s a big job for Hackett. He didn’t leave any money on the table — he’s still making his head coaching salary, with the Jets — but he’s got to earn it now.
Some key questions as he embarks on his new gig:
Can he convince old friend Aaron Rodgers to play for the Jets?
This is the question on everyone’s mind.
Hackett was the Green Bay Packers’ coordinator from 2019 to 2021, and received a golden seal of approval from the legendary quarterback, who won two of his four NFL MVP awards with Hackett on the staff. He didn’t call the plays, but they formed a close relationship. Now the assumption is that Rodgers will want to reunite if he goes on the trade block.
On Tuesday, Rodgers said it’s too early to make that leap, claiming he still hasn’t decided whether he wants to continue playing. But he left no doubt about his feelings for Hackett, calling him one of his favorite coaches.
“Love Hack. Hack is my guy,” Rodgers said during his weekly appearance on “The Pat McAfee Show.” “Love him and Megan and the kids. They are very special to me. We really bonded when he was in Green Bay. He made it fun. He made the room fun. He made the weeks fun.”
As much as he admires Hackett, Rodgers acknowledged there was a learning curve in 2019. In an interview in October, he said, “We had kind of an up-and-down year the first year, and then we really took off the second year .”
The Jets have made no secret of their desire to add a veteran quarterback. Rodgers is one of their main options.
For a variety of reasons, former coordinator Mike LaFleur was unable to connect with the former first-round quarterback, who struggled in his first two seasons. The job falls to Hackett, who will look to add an offensive assistant or passing coordinator to help with the quarterbacks. Quarterbacks coach Rob Calabrese remains on staff.
Hackett has no track record of developing young passers, but let’s be fair: He has yet to hit the quarterback lottery. His former quarterbacks include EJ Manuel, Thaddeus Lewis and Kyle Orton with the Buffalo Bills, and Blake Bortles with the Jaguars. With Denver, he had a seemingly diminished Russell Wilson.
Unprompted, Saleh noted that Hackett has had “tremendous relationships” with all of his quarterbacks. Like Saleh, Hackett is an energetic, upbeat coach who appreciates the teaching aspect of the job. Wilson is said to be excited about Hackett – he knows how much Rodgers likes him – but it’s fair to wonder if it’s the right arrangement.
“The foundation of this offense is rhythm and timing. So was Mike LaFleurs,” said ESPN analyst Dan Orlovsky, a former NFL quarterback. “If Zach is going to be a part of this football team as long as Hackett is the coordinator, he really, really, really needs to get better at attacking what he hasn’t shown.”
In which area can Hackett have the greatest impact?
The rushing attack, no doubt.
The Jets were terrible (25th in yards), and it had a domino effect on the entire offense. Hackett led the NFL’s No. 2 rushing attack in 2013 (Bills) and No. 1 in 2017 (Jaguars). Even though the Broncos were a hot mess in 2022, they still managed to rank 17th in yards per carry. And that was with just four games from leading rusher Javonte Williams, who suffered a season-ending knee injury.
Hackett, who uses an out-of-zone system (as did LaFleur), has a knack for setting up yards on the ground. He knows how to camouflage formations, so that runs and passes look the same. This bodes well for running back Breece Hall, who thrived in the scheme before a season-ending ACL tear in his left knee. The Jets hope the addition of veteran offensive line coach/run game coordinator Keith Carter, known for his high intensity, will also speed things up on the ground.
By the way, Hackett has not been married to a backfield-by-committee before. In 2017, then-Jaguars running back Leonard Fournette had 268 attempts, seventh in the league.
Will Hackett make Garrett Wilson a superstar?
In six seasons as a playcaller (two in Buffalo, three in Jacksonville, one in Denver), Hackett has failed to have a single player selected to the Pro Bowl. That covers everyone — quarterbacks, skill players and linemen. He has only had one 1,000-yard rusher (Fournette) and no 1,000-yard receivers. This does not count his three years with the Packers, who had many outstanding individual seasons during that span; their playcaller was – and is – coach Matt LaFleur.
Should Wilson, coming off a 1,103-yard receiving year as a freshman, be concerned?
Know this: Hackett has a knack for combining route concepts to get receivers into space. On targeted passes, the Broncos finished first in average separation (3.9 yards) and first in “open” receivers (54%), according to NFL Next Gen Stats. (An open target is when the separation between receiver and nearest defender is 3-plus yards.) They also had a high opening rate out of the slot (50%), which should appeal to receiver Elijah Moore, who was so unhappy with his target last season that he asked for a change.
So, yes, Hackett’s Denver offense had open receivers all over the field. The problem was getting the ball to them.
What is the biggest concern with Hackett’s system?
The Broncos allowed a league-high 63 sacks, including 52 in the shotgun. Despite injuries to the offensive line, Hackett stubbornly used heavy doses of the three-receiver package, even if they couldn’t block it. He was criticized for not adapting, and those problems were compounded after he was fired because Russell Wilson looked more comfortable in the last two games than he did with Hackett in charge.
The Jets plan to revamp their line, which could have two or three new starters. Hackett, who will have a say in the process, must be more flexible with regard to the adaptation scheme for personnel. The addition of a senior assistant could provide a check-and-balance system that helps Hackett flourish. While interviewing with the Jets, he acknowledged that last season was a learning experience and that there are “things he wishes he could go back and fix,” according to Saleh.
Now Hackett gets a fresh start.