Why Jets need to give Elijah Moore, Denzel Mims more chances on gameday

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Elijah Moore looks up with helmet off vs. Broncos
Elijah Moore looks up with helmet off vs. Broncos

The Giants found plenty of reasons not to play Kadarius Toney through the first four games of the season, and all of them seemed like they made sense. Then, Toney had his remarkable, 10-catch, 189-yard breakout game in Week 5 in Dallas, and suddenly it was clear the Giants had made a mistake.

That should be a lesson for the Jets as they return from the bye this week for how they should handle their young, talented receivers going forward.

Robert Saleh has buried second-year pro Denzel Mims on the depth chart. Offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur has turned dynamic rookie Elijah Moore into an afterthought in the offense.

Those are mistakes, too.

The Jets have had their reasons, of course, and they all sound reasonable. Mims struggled to learn the playbook and didn’t contribute enough on special teams to earn a spot on the gameday roster. Moore has battled injuries since training camp which, like Toney, drastically reduced his practice time.

All NFL coaches tend to be rigid that way. They want players to do what they’re expected to – learn the plays and be available for practice. If they can’t, it becomes easy to push those players aside.

But look what happened on the other side of town. All of a sudden, two weeks ago, the Giants needed Toney after all their other receivers and offensive weapons got hurt. And just like that, all that practice time he missed since he was drafted didn’t matter.

All that mattered was that he was really, really good.

There’s no reason why the same can’t be true with Mims and Moore, who sure seem like the kind of players the offensively-challenged Jets could really use.

Moore, a second-round pick back in April, seems to be the easy one to work in more often. He was one of the Jets’ best players and clearly their best receiver early in training camp before a quad injury kept him out of preseason action. The Jets had high hopes for him to be perhaps rookie quarterback Zach Wilson’s best playmaker. He’s even started three of the four games he’s played.

But his impact has been minimal after dropping two passes in the regular season opener, in which he ended up with just one catch for minus-3 yards. He was targeted more often in Weeks 2 and 3, though still without great results (14 targets, seven catches, 69 yards). But a concussion kept him out the next game. And when he returned two weeks ago in London, he was targeted just twice. Other than the one play where he drew a big pass interference penalty, it was like he was barely there.

On Monday, Saleh indicated that will soon change.

“We’re going to get our best players on the field,” Saleh said. “And Elijah obviously is one of them. He’s been affecting the game. His speed is felt there on the football field. He’s going to continue to get opportunities. We’ve just got to find creative ways to get him on the football field and get him in position to go make a play.”

They should do the same with Mims, though his situation is more complicated. He’s only been active in three games, and only out of necessity when injuries forced Saleh’s hand. The coach made it clear that Mims is sixth, at best, on the depth chart at receiver because he struggled to learn multiple positions and is non-factor on special teams.

But here’s the thing with Mims: He performs. He has had four passes thrown to him this season on the 21 snaps he’s played so far and he has three catches for 73 yards. That included a 40-yarder in the opener and a 27-yarder against the Falcons. Whatever his failings are, the Jets’ second-round pick from last year seems to have a knack for making big plays.

And that’s why the Jets need to use these two receivers and make a real effort to get them involved. Both of them seem to be overflowing with big-play potential. The Jets can’t seem to get out of their own way on offense. Even their No. 1 receiver, Corey Davis, has been having a lot of trouble holding onto the ball. So why would they ignore a receiver with the moves and speed of Moore, or a big target like Mims (6-foot-3, 207 pounds) who has sub-4.5 speed, too?

New York Jets wide receiver Denzel Mims (11) gains yards after a catch against New York Giants linebacker Trent Harris (93) during the second half at MetLife Stadium.
New York Jets wide receiver Denzel Mims (11) gains yards after a catch against New York Giants linebacker Trent Harris (93) during the second half at MetLife Stadium.

It won’t be easy, of course. Davis is the No. 1 receiver for a reason and Jamison Crowder might be the best option out of the slot. The Jets do have high hopes for Keelan Cole, even though he’s basically done nothing (seven catches, 160 yards) so far. And it's not going to be easy with a rookie quarterback who is clearly struggling, or with an offense that’s so bad it’s only averaging 59 plays per game.

But it’s also not that hard. Creative coaches have ways of using dangerous players. They can design a handful of plays for each of them, and make sure to use them. Could it really hurt to force, say, half-a-dozen plays to Mims and Moore every game, just to see if they’re as good as they sometimes look? It’s not like it’s going to hurt the Jets to take those plays away from somebody else.

And who knows? Maybe one of them will look like Toney, who for a brief flash – before he hurt his ankle – looked like he was on his way to being the best receiver the Giants have had in years. He looked like a player who could transform their offense, consume the thoughts of a defense, and be the kind of reliable receiver every quarterback needs.

The Jets won’t know if their last two second-round picks have that ability if one of them is being used as a decoy and the other is riding the bench. This whole season is supposed to be about developing players for the future, finding out if the Jets have enough talent to compete the next few years. They can’t do that if they leave some of their most talented players standing on the sidelines.

They can’t ignore the potential of these two players. At the very least, they have to find a way to find out what they really have.