There is a false narrative I occasionally see surrounding Denzel Mims. It claims he is a one-dimensional vertical threat who does not fit into a Mike LaFleur offense that is built around over-the-middle passing and presenting playmakers with opportunities to create in space.
That could not be further from the truth.
Mims is not just some tall, athletic guy who’s without nuance and is only capable of sprinting down the sideline on a go route or catching a jump ball on a fade route. It’s easy to immediately point to Mims’ vertical prowess and contested-catch proficiency as his greatest strengths since his physical traits lend themselves to excellence in those two areas, but Mims offers more than merely the low-hanging-fruit abilities you would expect him to have.
In his rookie season with the New York Jets, Mims showed that he is a very good after-the-catch playmaker – one that LaFleur is likely chomping at the bit to unleash in his offense.
Mims’ YAC numbers
LaFleur’s San Francisco 49ers gained 53.2% of their passing yards through after-the-catch yardage in 2020, the fourth-highest portion in the NFL.
Contrary to popular belief, Mims will have no problem fitting into that type of offense. He averaged 5.0 YAC (yards after the catch) per reception in 2020, according to NFL Next Gen Stats, which ranked 35th out of 98 qualified wide receivers (65th percentile).
That mark is solid enough in itself, but it is even more impressive when you consider that many of Mims’ catches were deep sideline throws in which he had no chance to create YAC, hurting his average.
NFL Next Gen Stats’ “YAC Above Expectation” statistic accounts for this dilemma. It compares a player’s YAC total to the YAC total that the league-average player would be expected to gain in the same situations, using tracking data to calculate expected YAC totals (location of the catch, momentum at the catch, how many defenders are around, how many blockers are around, et cetera).
Mims was only expected to gain 3.5 YAC per reception, tying for 66th at his position. He ended up ranking 31 spots higher in actual YAC per reception. His YAC Above Expectation of +1.5 (5.0 YAC vs. 3.5 expected YAC) tied for 10th-best among qualified wide receivers (91st percentile).
The 49ers placed a heavy emphasis on that statistic. Wide receiver Deebo Samuel (+4.4) and tight end George Kittle (+2.3) led their respective positions in YAC Above Expectation this past season.
Thanks to his ability to create after the catch, Mims was one of the most efficient short-range receivers in the league. He gained 10.7 yards per reception on catches made from zero to nine yards beyond the line of scrimmage, which ranked sixth-best among wideouts.
Ranking one spot ahead of Mims was LaFleur and the 49ers’ Kendrick Bourne (10.8), further displaying the parallels between Mims’ YAC strengths and the YAC needs of San Francisco’s offense.
The proof that Mims is a good YAC receiver is sitting right out there in the open. It’s time to bury the narrative that he cannot fit into a YAC-based offense.
Mims’ YAC film
Here is a great example of Mims creating more YAC than what was presented to him. He catches a wide-open pass on a drag route and meets a defender only seven yards downfield.
Mims feels the defender bearing down aggressively, so he halts his momentum, plants, and uses the defender’s momentum against him as he throws him away. A short gain is turned into a first down.
At the front of a bunch formation, Mims comes off the line patiently before getting into his inside break on the drag route. He catches the ball in stride and shows off a solid amount of speed as he turns upfield and separates from the trailing linebacker.
Mims runs a pivot route and shows good awareness as he adds depth to his route in order to separate from the underneath linebacker. Sam Darnold puts the ball out in front and Mims fully extends for a smooth all-hands catch, grabbing it in-stride and continuing downfield on his way to 30 yards.
Over-the-middle catches like the one above are where Mims’ 4.38-second 40-yard-dash speed flashed the brightest, even more so than when he ran vertical routes down the sideline.
LaFleur will certainly be looking to create plenty of opportunities for Mims to catch the ball in stride and maximize his speed after the catch.
Mims snatches a slant route from Joe Flacco, extending his arms over the middle to pluck the ball out of the air and run through it. He then goes back to the move we saw in the first clip. Mims slows up, plants, and throws the defender against his momentum, striking him by the shoulder. After clearing the obstruction, Mims continues rumbling for bonus yards above expectation.
Is Mims a guy who the Jets will be featuring on screen passes and jet sweeps? Probably not.
That does not mean Mims is a poor fit for the Jets’ offense. Not every receiver in a Kyle Shanahan/Mike LaFleur offense needs to be a Deebo Samuel-esque dynamo. They just need to be capable of separating over the middle on short-to-intermediate routes and then making plays after the catch in those situations.
Mims fits that bill.