The New York Jets have changed their plans for Garrett Wilson and Elijah Moore
Three games into his career, it seemed like Garrett Wilson had already established himself as the engine of the New York Jets‘ offense. Through Week 3, Wilson was averaging 6.0 catches for 71.3 yards per game. This is despite playing less than half of the team’s snaps in the season opener and being consistently missed by quarterback Joe Flacco.
A decline in production followed. Over the next four games, Wilson averaged only 2.5 catches for 25.0 yards.
In the meantime, fellow receiver Elijah Moore was also struggling to produce – although his slump was lasting for the entire season. Moore was averaging 2.7 catches for 33.8 yards over his first six games. He was only averaging 4.8 targets per game, including just 2.7 targets over his final three games. That was punctuated by a 0-target game against the Packers in Week 6.
Frustrated with his lack of involvement in the offense, Moore requested a trade ahead of the Jets’ Week 7 game against the Broncos. The Jets responded by benching him for the game in Denver.
Moore’s trade request caused a domino effect that ultimately changed how the Jets utilize their top receivers – for the better. Because of this, Moore’s trade request could turn out to be a blessing in disguise when it’s all said and done.
Through Week 6, Wilson was primarily playing in the slot while Moore was primarily playing on the outside (although both players moved around). Here is a comparison of how they were used through six games:
With Moore sidelined against the Broncos in Week 7, the Jets gave Wilson a significant boost in snaps on the outside. He played a season-high 65% of his snaps on the outside. It didn’t provide immediate results on paper, as Wilson finished with 4 catches on 4 targets for 24 yards, but on film, you could see Wilson’s burgeoning potential as an outside receiver. His numbers were limited by poor games from QB Zach Wilson and the Jets’ offensive line.
Offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur clearly liked what he saw from Wilson as an outside receiver against Denver. Over the following two games, Wilson shifted into an even more outside-heavy role, jumping to 73% against New England and 75% against Buffalo. This was despite Moore returning to the field for both games – firmly establishing that Wilson has overtaken Moore’s role on the outside.
The new role has rejuvenated Wilson. He is back to looking like a budding superstar since LaFleur started playing him on the outside for over 70% of his snaps. Across his last two games – coming against a pair of elite pass defenses in New England and Buffalo – Wilson averaged 7.0 catches for 103.5 yards.
Wilson’s production spike is accompanied not only by an uptick in outside reps, but a dramatic shift in his route distribution, too. Check out the difference in how Wilson was used over his last two games versus the previous four:
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Looking at the changes in Wilson’s route distribution, what stands out most is the number of “Go” routes he has been asked to run. The Jets are giving him a lot more chances to use his speed and contested-catch ability on vertical shots down the field.
It’s important to note that NFL Next Gen Stats generalizes its route labels, so the “Go” category actually includes many other vertical routes in addition to the traditional “Go” itself. In Wilson’s case, his increase in “Go” routes includes a few different vertical routes we have seen him make big plays on over the past two weeks, such as his 54-yard out-and-up against New England and his 24-yard seam route against Buffalo.
Meanwhile, it appears the Jets are converting Moore into the slot role that was vacated by Wilson. Moore played a career-high 50% of his snaps in the slot against New England (5 of 10 snaps). Against Buffalo, that number skyrocketed to 70% (19 of 27).
Jets head coach Robert Saleh confirmed the team is moving Moore into the slot in a recent interview.
#Jets HC Robert Saleh confirmed to @JosinaAnderson that they’re moving WR Elijah Moore to the slot, ‘it’s a new position because we’ve been playing him outside for the most part’ + ‘we’re trying to find ways to utilize his strengths’: 🎥 @CBSSportsHQ #TakeFlight pic.twitter.com/jXqpFkezqa
— Paul Andrew Esden Jr (@BoyGreen25) November 9, 2022
Saleh says “it’s a new position [for Moore] because we’ve been playing him outside for the most part.” He is on the money with that statement.
Moore played no fewer than 67% of his snaps on the outside in each of his first 17 career games. Overall, he played 76% of his snaps on the outside over that span. Considering these numbers, Moore’s slot-heavy usage over the past two games is a drastic change compared to what he’s been used to in the NFL.
With that in mind, it makes a little more sense why the Jets used Moore so infrequently over the past two games. They could be trying to slowly ease him into his new role – and it does seem that progress is being made each week. After missing the Denver game, Moore was on the field for 17% of the Jets’ offensive snaps in his first game back against New England. The Jets then pushed him up to 45% against Buffalo.
Perhaps Moore takes one final step forward against New England next week to finally return to a starter-level diet of snaps, especially with a whole bye week to continue mastering the nuances of his new position. Even more importantly than the snap count, perhaps Moore can finally get back to seeing a starter-level diet of targets.
Back on October 19 – the week after the Green Bay game and shortly prior to Moore’s trade request – I proposed that the Jets should swap Wilson and Moore’s roles. My take was that Wilson would significantly outplay Moore in Moore’s shoes while Moore would either match or slightly beat Wilson in Wilson’s shoes.
It appears the Jets are, at last, seeing things the same way.
I applaud LaFleur and the Jets for making this adjustment. This is the optimal way to maximize these two players. Going forward, the Jets should be able to get the best out of both wideouts now that they are each in the role that suits them best.
Moore simply can’t get it done on the outside with the diet of routes that the Jets ask their outside receivers to run. New York wants its outside weapons to be vertical threats, and Moore proved incapable of being that due to natural restrictions presented by his small frame. He struggled to beat physical coverage and make contested catches.
Moore’s outside woes led to a bunch of problems beyond merely the plays where Moore was targeted and did not convert.
Quarterbacks did not trust him on vertical routes because of what he showed when he was targeted. Because of this, he rarely got targeted and was often a useless read in the progression. This was a big reason teams continuously played a lot of aggressive, press-man coverage against the Jets. They didn’t fear Moore. In turn, defensive coordinators felt comfortable with playing an extremely high amount of single-high coverage, which allowed them to consistently drop an extra safety into the box to help stop the run.
Wilson, though, can be a tremendous vertical threat thanks to his slick releases to beat press coverage and his stupendous knack for making acrobatic catches in contested situations.
Contrary to Moore, the threat posed by Wilson on the outside creates a positive ripple effect for the rest of the offense. As Vitor Paiva pointed out in his film breakdown of the Buffalo game, the Bills started bracketing Wilson in the second half of the game. They’d play an underneath defender on him tightly while rolling safety help over the top, essentially doubling him. This created an immense amount of room for the rest of the offense.
Wilson’s potential remains sky-high in the slot, but there were some holes in his game as a slot receiver. Most notably, he had a bad habit of cutting his routes short of the sticks in medium-distance third-down situations, which is supposed to be a slot receiver’s bread-and-butter.
Moore has never shown this problem on his film. He’s always been a smart route-runner with a good feel for the sticks. He is also a great separator on routes that are common for slot receivers, capable of making sharp breaks on routes such as slants and hitches. We just haven’t seen him get to run many of those routes in 2022.
Most importantly for Moore, a slot role can simplify things: both for him as a player and for LaFleur as a play-caller.
I know the Jets were enamored with Moore’s potential to be an explosive route-runner who could win at all levels of the field, and they were justified to try and tap into that potential, but things didn’t work out. The results simply weren’t there for Moore as an outside receiver and downfield route-runner. It’s time to accept that and stop overcomplicating things. Just let this talented playmaker make plays. Rework his role around what you know he can do to help your team win, which is doing damage with the football in his hands.
If Moore is in the slot, it becomes easier for the Jets to simply feed him the football and let his physical gifts take over. End-arounds, jet sweeps, screens, trick plays, and quick-hitting routes all come into play. Moore has 4.34 speed and ranks as one of the NFL’s most efficient receivers at forcing missed tackles this year. Playing Moore in the slot places a greater emphasis on his known strengths and significantly reduces the emphasis on the areas he’s been struggling with.
In regards to where he lines up, the Jets are headed in the right direction with Moore. Now, they just need to actually get him the football.
It’s encouraging that the Jets have done the right thing in regards to how they are utilizing Wilson and Moore. The decision is already paying tremendous dividends for Wilson. If they can start maximizing the benefits of having Moore in the slot, this duo will realize its full potential – raising the ceiling of the Jets’ offense to new heights.