Denzel Mims
(Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

Rookie wide receiver Denzel Mims always seemed to deliver when given a chance, but the New York Jets rarely looked his way in 2020. Why?

Young Denzel Mims always seemed to come through when presented with a feasible opportunity to make a play down the field. His average of 15.5 yards per reception ranked at the 85th percentile among 116 qualified wide receivers, while his 10.9 air yards per reception ranked at the 83rd percentile. Mims also impressed with soft hands, dropping just one pass against his 23 receptions. That’s a drop rate of 4.2%, good enough for the 74th percentile.

However, Mims was never able to truly break out due to a severe lack of targets. Seeing just 44 passes thrown his way over nine games (4.9 per game) even while playing 83% of the team’s offensive snaps on average, Mims’ lack of involvement in the offense was puzzling.

Mims’ 44 targets came over 247 routes run, giving him an average of one target per 5.6 routes run. That placed him 67th among the 99 wide receivers to see at least 40 targets.

In comparison, Braxton Berrios received 55 targets over 185 routes run. That’s a star-level frequency of one target per 3.4 routes, trailing only Davante Adams (3.1) among wide receivers with 40+ targets.

Mims was involved at a solid level to start out his career, but his involvement took a drastic dip over his final four games, which was strange after how promisingly he started the season. After getting 33 targets over his first five games (6.6 per game), delivering on those opportunities with 56.8 yards per game, Mims got just 11 targets over his final four (2.8 per game).

On a per-route basis, Mims dipped from one target per 4.3 routes over his first five games (equal to Cole Beasley‘s 22nd-ranked mark on the season among 99 qualifiers) to one target per 9.6 routes over his final four games (would be second-least frequent among the 99 qualifiers).

What’s going on here? Why was Mims targeted at such a low rate despite his flashes of brilliance within a Jets passing attack that desperately needed a spark?

Here are the three primary reasons for Mims’ lack of targets.

1. Mims was missed when open at a high rate

There were far too many plays in which Mims got open and did not have the ball thrown his way. Sam Darnold just wasn’t finding him.

On this play against Miami in Week 12, Mims beats Xavien Howard over the middle on a pivot route, but Darnold bails the pocket and misses him, scrambling and throwing a brutal interception.

Later in the Miami game, Mims cooks handsomely-paid cornerback Byron Jones on a slant and is open, but Darnold never checks the left side of the field, locking on to Breshad Perriman and throwing another bad interception.

On a first-and-10 play in Rams territory, Mims is left with plenty of room between the deep and underneath defenders on a fade route (as the underneath CB stays home to play Jamison Crowder‘s whip route to the outside), and Darnold gives him a look, but he strangely opts to tuck-and-run for only nine yards instead of taking advantage of a golden opportunity to hit Mims for an easy 20-or-so yards.

Mims clears the linebackers on a crossing route and is wide open for 15+ yards as the intermediate option on a first-and-10 play-action rollout, but Darnold instead goes conservative and hits Crowder for a much smaller gain that ends up shy of the first down marker.

This one isn’t Darnold’s fault, but nonetheless, it is an example of an open Mims being left out in the cold. Mims burns Denzel Ward on a stutter-go and creates plenty of separation for a potential touchdown on the left side, but the pressure (Olivier Vernon versus George Fant with Chris Herndon failing to help out) forces Darnold to scramble to his right and miss Mims (although Darnold never looked left anyway). We can pin this one on the offensive line over Darnold, but yet again, Mims gets open with nothing to show for it.

Here’s another one that can be pinned on the offensive line. Mims eventually breaks wide open on a post route for a likely touchdown as the single-high safety makes an incredibly poor decision to break on the intermediate route by Crowder, but Darnold doesn’t get enough time to potentially find him as the entire offensive line (save for Fant) collapses.

Make no mistake about it: if he were hit when open at a normal rate, Mims’ numbers would have been substantially more impressive.

2. Adam Gase‘s misusage of Mims

Adam Gase did not do a good job of drawing up favorable opportunities for Mims. Oftentimes, Mims had no chance whatsoever of making a play due to the assignment that was called for him, and there are a lot of examples of this on film.

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