Denzel Mims’ stats and film are the secrets to discovering what happened in his disappointing 2021 season
Denzel Mims had arguably the most disappointing 2021 season of any player on the New York Jets roster. Mims was often chosen as a healthy scratch and did almost nothing of note in the rare instances he was trusted to take the field for extended periods of time. The once-promising second-round pick stumbled his way to a stat-line of eight catches, 133 yards, and zero touchdowns in 11 games (12.1 yards per game).
It was a stunning decline for the 59th overall pick of the 2020 draft, who had an intriguing rookie season. Mims caught 23 passes for 357 yards in only nine games (39.7 yards per game) during his rookie year. Prior to an early exit in his final appearance of 2020, Mims was averaging a respectable 42.8 yards per game over his first eight appearances.
Those numbers suggested Mims was on his way to becoming a solid starter at the very least. Instead, he became one of the league’s worst wide receivers in 2021. His 34.8% catch rate (8 catches on 23 targets) ranked third-worst among the 271 NFL players who had at least 20 targets.
What went wrong?
Here are the primary issues that plagued Mims in his stunningly woeful 2021 season.
It’s tough to gain the trust of a new coaching staff when you struggle with the most basic aspects of the game. This was a huge problem for Mims in 2021. He was incredibly penalty-prone, which not only hurt the Jets offense but surely must have had a great effect on the coaching staff’s level of trust in him.
Mims tied for third among wide receivers with five penalties despite ranking 126th at the position with only 279 offensive snaps played. His average of one penalty every 55.8 snaps was the worst among qualified wide receivers – and it wasn’t even close. The second-worst player in this category was San Francisco’s Trent Sherfield with a rate of one penalty every 88.7 snaps.
While Mims accounted for only 279 of the 3,009 offensive snaps played by Jets wide receivers (9.3%), he accounted for 5 of the unit’s 10 penalties – in other words, he had the same amount of penalties as every other wide receiver on the team combined.
Most of Mims’ penalties were just flat-out silly, often showing a lack of basic awareness.
On this play, Mims gets called for a false start after going in motion and lunging forward before the ball is snapped.
Mims is called for an illegal blindside block on this run play to his side.
Here, Mims runs a vertical route and puts his hands on the defender’s facemask, drawing a flag for illegal use of hands.
This penalty came on the very next play after the illegal use of hands penalty seen above, and it resulted in Mims being benched for the second half of the game against New Orleans. It was a deserved punishment as this is one of the most baffling penalties you will see.
Mims goes in motion and lines up on the ball even though he’s supposed to line up off of it, leading to an illegal formation penalty due to the Jets having too many players on the line of scrimmage. The Jets already have the required total of seven players on the line of scrimmage (5 offensive linemen and 2 eligible receivers on the outside). Mims needs to be off the line – at least a foot or two behind where Braxton Berrios is situated on his side. This is elementary stuff.
Mims is called for his second false start of the season as he gets antsy and flinches before the snap.
Many fans wondered why Mims was in the Jets’ doghouse throughout training camp. These plays could be a hint as to why. Perhaps these penalties are a sneak peek of what Mims was showing the coaching staff on the practice field each day. If he was similarly penalty-prone in practice, it’s no wonder the coaching staff buried him on the depth chart.
Mims only had one penalty in his 2020 rookie season (an offensive pass interference), so this was a new issue. Maybe he was having a hard time grasping the nuances of the new offensive scheme.
No matter the reason, this problem is one that Mims desperately has to fix if he wants to win back the favor of his coaches.
Mims did not capitalize on the rare opportunities he received.
With two drops (per Pro Football Focus) against only eight catches, Mims had a drop rate of 20.0%, which ranked sixth-worst out of 170 qualified wide receivers.
Mims also did not provide the contested-catching ability that was his calling card at Baylor. PFF credited Mims with one contested catch on four contested targets (25.0% catch rate).
A common theme for Mims was his tendency to try and catch the ball with his body rather than his hands. Mims rarely extended his arms and attacked the ball. Instead, he frequently let the ball come into his body. That is what led to his high rate of drops and failed contested catches.
Here, Josh Johnson feeds Mims for what should be a touchdown on a crossing route through the back of the end zone. Mims lets the ball hit his chest instead of trying to snatch it out of the air. It bounces off of his body and hits the turf.
Mims finds the soft spot in the zone and sits down for what should be an easy first down. Mims once again tries to catch with his body and flubs an easy one.
In contested situations, Mims lost more often than he won. Mims almost makes a Randy Moss-esque grab on this play as he climbs over the back of a Patriots defender, but fails to complete the catch.
Plays like the one above provide a fleeting glimpse of the potential that Mims has due to his size, length, and leaping ability, but at the end of the day, you have to actually make some of these catches every now and then. Even in his rookie year, Mims was only credited with catching 3-of-11 contested targets (27.2%). He has had a hard time bullying NFL defensive backs the same way he bullied college DBs.
Mims runs a slant and does a decent job of using his size to push off the DB and get open, but, yet again, he lets the ball come into his body instead of attacking it. This allows the DB to jar the ball loose.
Star cornerback Marshon Lattimore beats Mims for a pass deflection on this drag route. Admittedly, it’s not an accurate throw by Zach Wilson, but it is another example of Mims waiting for the ball to come to him rather than going after it.
No receiver should be expected to catch every single one of these tough passes, or even close to it. But Mims has to be better in these situations when you consider how gifted he is, both physically and athletically. Through two seasons, Mims has now caught 4-of-15 contested targets, per PFF (26.7%).
That’s just not going to get it done – especially when you’re a receiver who struggles to separate from defenders.
Lack of separation/Poor route running
Mims was one of the least targeted wide receivers in the NFL. The ball came his way on just 12.2% of the plays in which he ran a route (once every 8.2 routes run). That ranked 137th out of 146 qualified wide receivers.
When a player has a severe lack of targets, it is often a signal of the player’s lack of ability to create separation. Most likely, these players rarely get the ball thrown their way because they struggle to get themselves open.
Mims’ film supports this claim. He rarely created wide-open windows.
Mims tries to win on the comeback route here after first faking the out and then faking vertical, but he’s completely blanketed and then falls down. This ends up affecting the play as Wilson scrambles to Mims’ side and Mims is the only option over there. Since Mims is locked up, Wilson cannot confidently get rid of the ball and he is forced to take a sack.
I’m not sure if it was due to lingering injury/health issues or just a lack of effort, but there are many times when I watched Mims run a route and felt like there was no way that he was running it to the best of his ability. This go route by Mims feels pretty lackadaisical. He sure doesn’t look like a guy with 4.38 speed here.
You’ll rarely see much subtlety from Mims in his routes. He’ll usually just run along his instructed path without putting much pizazz into it.
Here, Mims (lined up at H-back) is isolated against a safety on a deep corner route. Mims could beat this safety with some sort of double move – whether it’s giving a hard outside or inside step, stacking vertically and then breaking outside, or just something – but he simply runs the route without any flair and the safety easily covers him.
We see both lackadaisicalness and a lack of creativity in this next play.
Mims runs a post against the outside corner, who is playing way off with outside leverage. Mims gives a lousy outside step at the apex of the route and that’s about it. He’s extremely upright as he throws the outside foot, limiting his explosiveness and making himself easy to read. The corner easily identifies his route and covers him. Mims looks like he is running at 80% speed here, too.
Admittedly, the cornerback might get away with some contact on this next play, but most of it is within the five-yard contact window, and there is a ref standing right there and no flag is thrown.
Regardless, the main point is that Mims gets jammed up on a slant route by the physical coverage of a cornerback who is much smaller than him (6-foot-0, 190-pound Rock-Ya Sin). Mims (6-foot-3, 207 pounds) should be beating people up in these situations, not the other way around.
This final play is not necessarily a “bad route” by Mims. It’s more an example of poor awareness upon the ball’s arrival.
Mims runs vertically up the sideline and is left free between the underneath defender and the safety. Wilson tries to squeeze the ball into the hole, which isn’t a good decision as the safety reads it and nearly picks it off.
However, I think Mims should have made a better play on this ball. Instead of attacking the ball to at least break up the interception (or maybe even draw a penalty from the safety), Mims slides and waits for the ball to come to him. Upon clearing the initial defender, Mims should know that there’s a safety waiting for him, but it almost looks like he has no knowledge of the safety’s presence and thinks the ball has an unimpeded lane to reach him.
Maybe I’m nitpicking with this one. I feel like Mims should have been aware of the safety and gone after the ball aggressively with the goal of boxing out the safety and making a jump-ball catch. Mims seems to assume the ball is going to reach him in stride. It looks like poor awareness to me. (Still a poor throw, though.)
Denzel Mims has a long way to go in 2022
Denzel Mims is loaded with natural talent. Unfortunately, in 2021, he showed no feel for how to maximize those talents. He struggled mightily with almost all of the fundamental aspects of the position.
Mims was far more promising in his 2020 rookie season, so he can’t be completely written off. Perhaps his 2021 season will eventually be chalked up to his bouts with food poisoning, COVID-19, or perhaps an unknown injury he was quietly playing through.
With that being said, we cannot ignore the body of work that Mims put out there in his second season. It was rough. Regardless of how high his ceiling might be, the floor he showed in 2021 was disastrously low.
Will Mims get back on track or will his second year turn out to be a sign of who he really is?