Denzel Mims, Zach Wilson
Jet X Graphic, Getty Images

The Zach Wilson-to-Denzel Mims connection is a natural New York Jets weapon in 2021 and beyond, thanks to particular skill sets.

Andrew Golden

Zach Wilson, the second pick in the 2021 NFL draft, hopes to be the New York Jets quarterback of the future. Like any other rookie quarterback, Wilson needs to build chemistry with his new receivers if he wants to accomplish those long-term goals and allow fans to properly exhale for the first time in 50 years. 

Additions Corey Davis and Elijah Moore are both planning to capitalize on Wilson’s presence, as is veteran Jamison Crowder, a man whose restructured contract gives him at least one more year in New Jersey. However, no receiver on the roster is better equipped to gel with Wilson than 2020 second-round pick Denzel Mims.

Coming out of Baylor, Mims was at his best using his size, speed, and length to make spectacular catches. With sub-4.4-second 40-yard speed, a 38.5-inch vertical leap and near-34-inch arms, Mims has the ideal profile of an NFL boundary receiver. Injuries limited his rookie year to nine games, but Mims still showed flashes of his potential.

In Week 8 at Kansas City, Mims made a diving grab down the right sideline against Chiefs corner Charvarius Ward.

Mims releases outside before getting vertical. Ward stays square through the shuffle and recovers nicely from a tough start. Mims gets a head start tracking the ball in the air, turning his head as soon as Sam Darnold throws, then drifts outside. The fact that he won this battle without stacking the corner is impressive.

Ward turns his head as he feels Mims drift and stays in phase for most of the route, but he can’t get outside fast enough to beat Mims to the ball. Darnold makes a great throw, and Mims high-points the ball before securing it to his frame through the tight coverage.

Against the Chargers in Week 11, Mims made a similar highlight grab against former All-Pro Casey Hayward.

Just like before, Mims releases outside, and Hayward, like Ward, stays square before turning. Also like before, Mims looks for the ball as soon as it’s thrown, and before Hayward can look for himself. With Hayward stacking him, Mims uses his frame to box out Hayward before making an acrobatic over-the-shoulder catch.

Mims waited until the last moment to attack the ball, preventing Hayward from locating it. He ultimately let his length do the rest.

Although his chances to win deep down the field were scarce as a rookie, Mims showed in college that he can win vertically with speed if given space. In his last collegiate game, the Sugar Bowl against Georgia, Mims beat UGA corner DJ Daniel for a 40-yard gain.

Again, Mims showcases his familiar release. This time, Mims gets Daniel to stop his feet before cutting inside and bursting downfield. After accelerating past Daniel, Mims shows that trademark timing by turning his head as soon as the ball is released.

With Daniel beaten, Mims snatches the ball and secures it through the tackle. It doesn’t matter if the defender is in trail, is stacked or in recovery mode—Mims can still make the play in a one-on-one situation.

Winning down the boundary—whether it’s back-shoulder or out in front—is Denzel Mims’s specialty. It’s also the skill that Wilson spent the 2020 summer mastering, and what he credits for his meteoric rise.

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Wilson’s part

Wilson spent the summer studying the film of Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees, two Hall of Fame passers with elite ball placement and the ability to throw receivers open. Wilson claims that watching this particular piece of film taught him to understand leverage, and more importantly, if the defender can’t see the ball, he can’t intercept it either.

He likely saw clips of Rodgers and Brees throwing back-shoulder fades to Davante Adams and Michael Thomas, and worked with teammate Dax Milne to replicate them. Wilson and Milne rapidly developed a “sixth sense” for each other’s tendencies and turned that chemistry into big gains.

On the first play of the game against Houston, Wilson and Milne converted a deep ball for a 78-yard touchdown.

Milne does enough at the line before accelerating to gain separation. Houston corner Shaun Lewis lets Milne eat up the cushion before giving a one-arm jam, then maintains inside position while not allowing Milne to stack him. Milne turns for the ball as soon as Wilson lets it go, just like Mims, and subtly drifts outside. Milne tracks the ball and makes the catch just past the outstretched arms of Lewis, then runs for a score.

Wilson saw Lewis with inside leverage behind Milne and put the ball high and outside where only Milne could catch it. If Wilson doesn’t put the ball in that specific spot, it’s likely an interception.

Against Louisiana Tech, Wilson and Milne turned a broken play into a 39-yard bomb with that same chemistry.

LA Tech runs Cover 4 with their corners nine yards off the line of scrimmage. BYU is running a variation of Sail with Milne running a go-route as a clear-out.

Milne releases vertically off the line to eliminate the cushion between himself and the corner, Zach Hannibal. Knowing he has no help over the top, Hannibal turns to run with Milne deep. Wilson is pressured and rolls to his right before spotting Milne downfield and letting it rip.

Wilson throws a dart perfectly back-shoulder after seeing Hannibal leveraged inside and ahead of Milne, with his back turned. He used his brain and his arm to give Milne a chance, despite pressure and LA Tech in a coverage designed to stop deep passes.

With obvious complementary talents and a full offseason program to get acquainted with one another, Zach Wilson and Denzel Mims could elevate each other early and often.

If all goes well, Wilson’s rocket arm and Mims’ speed will force defenses to respect the threat of the deep ball. When they do, Wilson will throw back-shoulder and Mims will adjust to the ball in the air for easy completions. Eventually, defenses will bracket Mims with a high and low defender, providing favorable matchups for the rest of the team.

Wilson’s ability to read leverage on the fly and deliver a throw in tight windows makes him a dangerous vertical passer. Mims’s excellent ball tracking and catch radius make him a constant threat despite any coverage he may face. Combined, Wilson and Mims could form a dynamic duo that borders on unstoppable.

Almost every great quarterback throughout history has had a “go-to-guy” that they look for first and foremost. Rodgers and Adams, Brees and Thomas, Manning and Harrison, Mahomes and Hill, Namath and Maynard, and many many others, all made careers off of chemistry. If Zach Wilson and Denzel Mims can do the same, the Jets offense could transform from nails on a chalkboard to a beautiful harmony.

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