A role reversal is in order for New York Jets wideouts Elijah Moore and Garrett Wilson
But that doesn’t mean they should rest on their laurels. They should still continue looking for ways to improve.
When scanning for areas where the Jets can get better results, no part of the team stands out more than the wide receiver duo of Elijah Moore and Garrett Wilson. Moore and Wilson are two of the most talented players on the Jets’ roster, but the results have not been there to show for it.
After catching one pass for 11 yards over his past two games (with just 4 targets over that span), Moore is officially in the midst of a disappointing second season. He’s averaging 2.7 receptions for 33.8 yards and has not scored a touchdown. This is the same guy who averaged 5.6 catches for 76.5 yards with five touchdowns over his final six games as a rookie.
Wilson’s rookie year got off to a hot start. Through three games, he was averaging 6.0 receptions for 71.3 yards. Since then, he has gone silent, averaging 2.0 catches for 25.3 yards. He’s also been extremely inefficient over that span, catching just 6-of-15 targets (40.0%).
What is going on with these guys?
Well, earlier in the year, I thought Moore was quietly playing some pretty good football. His separation over the first four games was solid. It seemed like he was just getting unlucky that the ball wasn’t coming his way, and that a breakout was due to come soon.
After the Jets’ Week 4 win over Pittsburgh, I put out an article showing a plethora of plays in which Moore got himself open but did not get the ball. Moore’s main obstacle was that the Jets were asking him to run a lot of long-developing routes but did not have the pass-blocking to get him the ball on those plays.
However, over the past two games, the Jets’ pass-blocking was much better, but Moore was somehow targeted even less frequently. That’s because Moore has not been getting open nearly as often. I have not seen a single play over the past two games in which Moore was open but did not get the ball.
In turn, Moore ended up with one catch over the last two games. His first-four-game stretch (3.8 catches for 48.0 yards) seemed disappointing at the time, but now, even that underwhelming stat-line feels like it’s out of Moore’s reach.
It’s starting to seem as if Moore’s slump is something more than just a stretch of bad luck.
As for Wilson, his separation has worsened as well.
Three games into the year, I thought Wilson was playing even better than his average of 71.3 yards per game indicated. As many catches as he made, he got himself open for countless more, but Joe Flacco kept missing him.
Since then, though, Wilson has been less effective at creating separation. It’s a big reason why he has only caught 40% of his targets over the past three games: corners are starting to blanket him.
How can the Jets get these young studs back on track?
I believe the solution is relatively simple: swap their roles. Put Wilson in Moore’s shoes and vice versa.
Here’s a comparison of each receiver’s role this season, with data courtesy of NFL Next Gen Stats.
Note: the route data includes all routes run by the receiver, not just the plays they were targeted on.
I firmly believe that each of these guys would be better if their numbers in the table above were swapped – or if the Jets at least found some sort of middle ground between where they each are right now.
Let’s start with Moore. He is primarily lining up outside (80% of his snaps) and spending most of his time running deep vertical routes. Moore has been asked to run a “go” route on 33% of his passing plays, which is tied for 11th-highest among qualified wide receivers. His aDOT (Average Depth of Target) is a whopping 14.4, ranking 14th-highest.
This role is not working for Moore. It’s leaving him as a non-factor on most passing plays.
Moore is not the guy I would want as my primary deep threat from the X position. His small frame limits his catch radius in contested situations and is also resulting in a lack of separation against physical coverage. Moore should certainly run go routes occasionally, but to have him doing it on a third of his snaps is a complete mismanagement of his skill-set.
On this play against Green Bay, Moore (top) fails to track down a decently placed deep ball from Zach Wilson as he struggles to fight through the cornerback’s physicality mid-route.
Here, Moore (top) loses a fairly winnable 50-50 situation on a go route.
Plays like these cause the quarterback to not trust Moore on these routes, which is a big reason why he rarely gets targeted on go routes even if he does win them sometimes (see the Pittsburgh film). If the quarterback does not trust him, they aren’t going to look his way. Trust is crucial on deep balls. The quarterback has to believe his receiver can help him out if the ball isn’t perfect.
Now picture Garrett Wilson in Moore’s shoes on the two plays above. It’s much easier to picture Wilson making the catch in those situations – and more importantly, it’s much easier to picture the quarterback trusting Wilson to make the catch. He’s got slightly better size, much longer arms, considerably better leaping ability, and a far better knack for winning contested catches.
Garrett Wilson made this unreal catch as a TRUE freshman 🤯 pic.twitter.com/x0hh5l7l4F
— ESPN College Football (@ESPNCFB) May 27, 2020
Garrett Wilson flashing the jump ball ability in #Jets training camp.
— Brandon Carr (@bcarr_13) August 20, 2022
I think Wilson would do a lot of damage in Moore’s role. He could unlock the vertical game that has been missing from the Jets’ passing attack.
Not only do I believe Wilson would separate more frequently, but I think the quarterback would have greater trust in him to win 50-50 balls, leading to more shots down the field even when he is not “open”. And knowing how talented Wilson in these situations, I think he would catch a lot of those 50-50 balls. He would also draw some penalties in the process – which is an underrated plus of throwing deep passes that are contested. Moore is not contesting passes closely enough to draw flags.
For the Jets to get the most out of Moore, they need to get him the ball in situations where he can grab it and make a play after the catch. He’s got 4.34 speed and incredible elusiveness. Right now, Moore ranks sixth among wide receivers with 0.313 missed tackles forced per reception (5 on 16 catches), and that’s with most of his receptions coming in situations that are not conducive to producing YAC. He’s a YAC monster, and that’s his most reliable trait right now.
Don’t forget about the time Moore cooked highly-paid Dolphins cornerback Byron Jones for a 62-yard touchdown last season, with 48 of those yards coming after the catch. The Jets need to give Moore more quick-hitting throws like this one – throws that maximize his quickness off the line and then allow him to get the ball in space.
Moore hit a max speed of 20.48 miles per hour on that play, per NFL Next Gen Stats. His career-high top speed is 20.52 miles per hour. Wilson, on the other hand, has only hit a top speed of 19.70 miles per hour in his rookie season so far.
That is why Moore needs to be playing Wilson’s role.
Wilson is used both inside and outside, but he leans toward the slot at 62%. His route diet consists mostly of short stuff as he ranks 70th out of 93 qualified wide receivers with an aDOT of just 9.1 yards. Two of Wilson’s most commonly-used routes in comparison to league average are slants (10% vs. 7% avg) and crossers (14% vs. 10% avg): two in-breaking routes that set the receiver up in a position to gain yards after the catch.
Obviously, Wilson is an outstanding YAC player as well (he’s fifth among WR with eight missed tackles forced), so it’s not as if Wilson is miscast in this role. It’s just that Moore can probably produce similar results in this role while Wilson would be a much better fit for the role Moore is playing.
Despite Wilson’s apparently excellent fit in the slot, there are some questions beginning to emerge for Wilson as a slot receiver, which make me wonder whether Moore may actually be better than Wilson in the slot/in his role.
Wilson has a bad habit of not knowing where the first down marker is. It’s been happening all season and is only becoming more common. That’s a troubling trait for a slot receiver, who is supposed to be your most reliable chain-mover.
Wilson cuts his route short of the sticks on third down way too often. Here are examples from the Steelers and Packers games. Wilson is lined up slot-left on both plays.
I have not noticed this tendency from Moore throughout his first two years in the league. He’s a smart reader of coverages who knows where the sticks are and knows how to find the soft spot in the zone. These traits were core elements of his breakout to close the 2021 season. See here as Moore (top) flattens his route about two yards past the first down marker.
So, this is what I contend: Not only would Wilson likely be better than Moore in his role, but Moore just might be better than Wilson in his role, too.
I know it’s easier said than done to just change players’ roles as if we’re sliding pieces around on a chess board. This is real life, not Madden.
With that being said, I think Moore and Wilson are each ready to handle such a change. They each have extensive experience switching between the inside and the outside throughout their collegiate and NFL careers. Wilson moved from a primary slot as a sophomore to a primary outside receiver as a junior. Moore moved from a primary slot in college to a primary outside receiver in the NFL.
Elijah Moore is too talented to continue being an invisible decoy who is on the field to do nothing but get some cardio in. His current role is not working for him. Switch it up. Garrett Wilson is more than equipped to successfully assume Moore’s role, and all signs point to Moore thriving in the role Wilson is playing.