Denzel Mims’ New York Jets career is rapidly wasting away
We’re 13 games into what was supposed to be a breakout second year for Denzel Mims, a second-round pick in the 2020 NFL draft who many analysts pegged as a steal for general manager Joe Douglas with the 59th overall pick.
The Baylor product has eight catches in eight games with zero touchdowns.
Ever since a promising start to his rookie year that saw him average 54.0 yards per game over his first six appearances, hitting the 40-yard mark in every game, Mims stopped showing signs of hope. He has only 166 yards over the Jets’ past 17 games, missing six of those games and averaging only 15.1 yards per game in the 11 contests he did play.
Recent developments have continued Mims’ collapse.
Since returning from the reserve/COVID-19 list in Week 13, Mims has played a decent number of snaps due to the absence of starter Corey Davis. Mims relieved Davis for 21 snaps against Philadelphia and began the following game against New Orleans in Davis’s place, but hit the bench after an ugly start, ultimately playing 22 snaps.
Over 43 offensive snaps across those two games, Mims had three times as many penalties (3) as catches (1).
Mims is blowing his chance to show the Jets that he deserves a surefire spot on the 2022 roster. If he continues down his current path, he will be far from a lock to crack the opening-day roster next season; if he even lasts on the team that long.
Here are three areas where Mims is struggling and needs to improve if he wants to get his career back on track.
1. Eliminate basic mistakes
Mims ranks 135th among wide receivers in offensive snaps played this season (189). Yet, he is tied for fourth in penalties (4). He is committing one penalty every 47.3 snaps, which is egregious.
In Week 8, Mims had a false start against Cincinnati. An illegal blindside block against Philadelphia in Week 13 wiped out a big run by Tevin Coleman that may have still happened even without Mims’s blindside block.
Late in the first half of the Jets’ recent loss to New Orleans, Mims committed penalties on back-to-back plays to knock the Jets out of field goal range. He was first called for illegal use of hands. Then, he was called for illegal formation due to lining up on the line of scrimmage after coming in motion when he should have been set back from the line.
This is basic stuff. Committing four penalties in under 200 snaps as a wide receiver is flat-out terrible. A bubble player like Mims cannot afford to make these elementary mistakes.
Mims already paid the price for his penalty woes, as the Jets essentially benched him following his blunders against the Saints. If he allows the issue to persist over however many snaps he is lucky enough to still receive in the future, he may not be able to bounce back from it. Surely, the Jets’ leash for him is short at this point.
When Mims was buried on the Jets’ depth chart throughout the offseason, many fans scoffed at the notion that Mims was being devalued by the coaching staff due to his inability to grasp the scheme and execute the finer points of the position. Well, now we’re seeing exactly what the coaches saw on the practice field.
Mims only had one penalty over 439 offensive snaps in 2020 (an offensive pass interference), so these issues are new for him, but they do correlate with the concerns that were heard coming out of Florham Park in the offseason.
The talented 24-year-old has to get the mental and fundamental aspects of the game down before any of his unique physical traits can shine.
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2. Improve at creating separation
The main reason that Mims has barely produced this year is that he is not creating opportunities for the ball to come his way. He is usually blanketed by his defender, prompting the quarterback to move past him to the next read.
Mims has been targeted on only 10.4% of his routes run this season; or once every 9.6 routes run. That places him 137th out of 145 qualified wide receivers.
Creating little separation in a scheme that depends on its wideouts to get open in the short-to-intermediate range, Mims is stockpiling a ton of un-targeted snaps because there is a defender draped over him the majority of the time that the quarterback looks at him. He’s not shaking people on out or in-breaking routes.
While Mims still wasn’t great at drawing targets in 2020, he was much less brutal than this year. He was targeted on 16.6% of his routes, or once every 6.0 routes run, which ranked 89th out of 145 qualifiers (39th percentile).
Part of that has to do with the scheme. Adam Gase’s offense placed more emphasis on vertical routes than Mike LaFleur‘s does, so that helped Mims get quite a few targets on go routes. Those routes are not nearly as prevalent in the Jets’ new offense.
But it is worth wondering whether Mims’ health is a factor here. While he was not a good route-runner overall in 2020, he showed a lot of flashes and did pick up impressive wins every once in a while. This year, I’m not sure he has recorded a single route-running win that jumped off the screen.
Mims battled food poisoning in the offseason followed by a hip injury. He dealt with COVID-19 throughout November, telling the media that he was highly symptomatic. Is he at one-hundred percent?
Poor health does not excuse silly penalties, but perhaps it is affecting the physical aspects of Mims’ game. It’s just something worth keeping in mind.
3. Fulfill his potential as a contested-catch receiver
Target totals are mostly earned by the individual player through his route-running efforts and ability to earn the quarterback’s trust, but that fact does not stop some fans from calling for their favorite team’s offense to feed more targets to a player that they think deserves more of them.
Mims is that guy for the Jets. Many fans think he just needs more targets and all will be right in the world. “Just throw it to him!”, they say. (As if it were that easy.)
Here’s the problem: Mims is not as likely to deliver on those “just throw to him” kind of targets as many seem to believe.
Mims’ 2020 highlight reel is largely made up of fantastic contested catches that flash his sky-high potential. These are the plays that come to mind when fans think of how good Mims could be, prompting the belief that he will deliver great results if given more chances to make plays even when he is tightly covered.
While Mims made some tantalizing 50-50 catches in 2020, what fans forget is that he also lost his fair share of 50-50 situations. In fact, he lost far more of those situations than he won.
Pro Football Focus credited Mims with catching only 27.3% of his contested targets last season, which ranked 71st out of 78 qualified wide receivers.
I think that number is underselling him a bit – I went back and tracked all of Mims’ targets myself and found that he caught 38.5% of his contested targets based on my personal opinion of what that description entails – but nevertheless, a sub-40% contested-catch rate is still not nearly enough to warrant drawing a high total of jump balls.
This year, Mims has been credited by PFF with catching just one of his four contested targets (25.0%). He also has two drops already despite catching only eight passes total (20.0% drop rate, more than double the WR average).
With these numbers, why on Earth would a quarterback have the confidence to say “screw it, he’ll bail me out” and chuck 50-50 passes to Mims? He has not earned that trust from his quarterbacks yet.
There are only four games left for Mims to make an impression on Joe Douglas and the Jets. That is too small of a sample size for him to make up for 14 weeks of struggles without doing big things to reestablish confidence in his potential.
Contested-catch ability is the type of eye-popping, game-changing trait that can make a front office give a player second and third chances. Mims needs a few of them over the next four games to generate significant positive momentum in his favor.
Next Article: The alarming truth about Robert Saleh’s defensive vision
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