Amidst all the Elijah Moore drama, how the Jets got to this point needs to be revisited
By this time tomorrow, Elijah Moore could very well no longer be a New York Jet.
After using Moore on just 10 snaps vs. the Patriots (1 target), the Jets are signaling that they are clearly still unhappy with him. Moore, for his part, made some disparaging comments about his connection with Zach Wilson and his lack of targets.
How did the Jets get to this point? How did we get from hailing Elijah Moore as the Jets’ next true No. 1 receiver to clearly phasing him out of the offense?
It’s easy to blame Moore for this situation, and he definitely deserves blame for how he’s handled things. But there’s no way to overlook the fact that the Jets had criminally underutilized and misused him in the early part of the season before his erratic behavior and trade request went down.
As detailed multiple times on this site, 33% of Moore’s routes were go routes through six games. What other team is running a 5’9″, 180-pound receiver on go routes a third of the time?
As it is, the Jets had insisted on using Moore on the outside between 75-80% of the time over his first two seasons. Ironically, Moore likely fell to the second round of the draft despite being recognized as a first-round talent due to his small size, which led to the perception that he was going to be a slot receiver. Michael Nania detailed how Moore might benefit from playing in the slot and running horizontal routes rather than vertical ones.
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This strange usage of Moore leads to questions about the Jets’ other disgruntled former second-round pick. Denzel Mims came out of Baylor with tantalizing size, speed, and contested-catch ability. The Jets presumably drafted him to be a vertical threat on the outside. Then, they buried him on the depth chart prior to the 2021 season because he couldn’t play all the receiver positions or on special teams.
Sounds like a recurring theme in a way: take a wide receiver high in the draft, put him in a position that doesn’t utilize his skillset, and then blame him for not rising to the occasion. Though the Jets hadn’t outright said anything about Moore’s play in the offense, they essentially let Garrett Wilson replace his primary usage, the same way they signed Corey Davis to essentially replace Mims.
These questions start to make me wonder about Mike LaFleur. In the offseason, I wrote multiple articles about how players’ skillset should take precedence over scheme and conventional NFL wisdom. Look at how Andy Reid utilizes his players. He could’ve easily called Mecole Hardman a first-round bust, but instead, he schemes plays for his particular skillset into the offense. The Chiefs clearly didn’t trade for Kadarius Toney to keep him on the bench considering what they gave up for him.
However, once again, the Jets seem married to their scheme. This time, it’s not on the defensive side of the football, where they have actually adapted to suit the skills of their players (the defensive line rotation notwithstanding). On offense, the Jets have two receivers with skills that they could use in this offense: contested-catch ability and the combination of route-running and sure hands over the middle. Instead, they’ve phased both players out.
I’m not a Denzel Mims truther. I watched the film last season, and I saw how crippling he can be to the offense. But I also watched his block on Breece Hall’s 62-yard touchdown last week and his 63-yard catch-and-run this week. I see a guy who could bring value at the Z position. I know the Jets love Corey Davis, but they can move Davis to the slot at times to give Mims some reps.
Elijah Moore’s demotion within this offense makes absolutely no sense. Every single Jet X writer predicted that he’d lead the team in receiving yards this season, and several of us even picked him for team MVP. It’s not to say that we can’t be wrong, but we’ve still seen flashes of the Elijah from last season on the rare occasions that the Jets deign to run him on intermediate routes over the middle.
It might be strange to write this article now, after the Jets played a game in which the receivers got open. But we saw what happened last week against Denver, where the Jets could have sorely used a receiver to win underneath or down the middle of the Broncos’ two-high coverages.
With the trade deadline approaching, it’s easy to see the Jets moving on from Moore. It remains to be seen what they’d get in return, but yesterday’s offensive gameplan showcased what the Jets’ plan would be without Moore: open up Garrett Wilson and utilize Tyler Conklin over the middle. It’s not a bad plan, but having Braxton Berrios on the field over Elijah Moore significantly limits the Jets’ depth.
After having written an article defending Mike LaFleur’s play-calling last week, I’m wondering if he deserves a strong share of criticism in a different area. Knowing how to utilize the skillset that your players have is one of the most crucial responsibilities of a coach. LaFleur has shown flashes of that at times, but it appears he’s failing with his receivers.
Robbie Anderson made a career out of running go routes. Although that limited his potential to ever develop into a true top receiver, his top-end speed made him hard to cover even if the defense knew what was coming. There are countless NFL receivers with route-running and blocking limitations, whether due to their physical or mental skills. Good coaches find a way to utilize those players.
The Jets still need a true vertical threat. Mims could be that guy, at least from a contested-catch perspective. Yes, he wasn’t great at it (or at anything) last season, but with the injuries along the Jets’ offense, he’s worth at least a chance. He has far more talent in his pinky than Jeff Smith has as a receiver, not to mention the fact that Smith’s size and speed mirror Elijah Moore’s far more than Mims’s.
Regardless of what the Jets do with Moore and Mims, the question will linger. The Jets have a long history of failed second-round receivers, but these two, especially Moore, should not be among them. Zach Wilson is the biggest problem with the Jets’ offense right now (with their offensive line definitely taking a fair share of the blame). But going forward, you wonder if the Jets will ever be able to succeed offensively, regardless of who the QB is, if they can’t utilize the talent that they have on the team.