Amidst a slew of injuries to the Jets receiving corps in the middle of the 2020 season, the cupboard was bare. Braxton Berrios, Vincent Smith and Jeff Smith trotted out as starters on meaningful midseason Sundays.
So when the offseason came, it became clear that one of general manager Joe Douglas’s top priorities was to address the wide receiver position.
Early signings of Keenan Cole and Corey Davis helped bolster the group. Another offseason for Mims after a promising late stretch should improve New York’s pass-catching as well. And then there’s Jamison Crowder, a mainstay in the slot who acted as Sam Darnold’s best friend over the middle when healthy.
But none of those guys were present at OTAs on Thursday morning. Instead, it was the rookie of the group, second-round draft pick Elijah Moore, who was all over the practice field. And with the extra reps he’s been getting from Zach Wilson in the absence of his fellow receivers, Moore might just take that spot as his quarterback’s new best friend.
So far, the rookie out of Ole Miss has caught a touchdown in each of the past four practices, looking like the best player on the field throughout. Last Friday, he took the first passing play of team drills to the house, beating Bryce Hall on the outside.
He’s shown his aptitude returning punts, taken handoffs in the backfield, lining up in the slot and running go-routes on the outside. Every step of the way, he’s looked more like a five-year veteran than a guy showing up to his first set of OTAs.
For the Jets, who have raved about Moore since he slipped to pick No. 34 in the second round, it’s hard to hide their excitement.
“He’s a dynamic young man,” said Coach Saleh in Thursday’s press conference. “What makes those guys difficult to defend is that he can line up in Z, F or X. He can line up wherever you want and he’s going to execute at a really high level.
Saleh’s assessment of Moore is exactly what made him such a coveted player coming out of college. He can create chaos no matter where he lines up because of his shiftiness and his top-end speed that are both on display after the catch. He can beat guys over the top, but is just as effective running crossing routes and making defenders miss.
The nonattendances of the other top four receivers at various practices throughout the last couple weeks of training camp are giving Moore the opportunity to gain those extra reps across the formation. More importantly, they’re allowing him ample time to generate a rapport with Wilson. To the Jets’ new franchise quarterback, every face is a new one. He has to develop chemistry with each of his receivers individually, and Moore is the guy who has gotten the most face time.
The early relationship is reminiscent of that between Joe Burrow and Tee Higgins for the Bengals in 2020. Higgins was entering a receiving corps that featured both AJ Green and Tyler Boyd, but just a few games into the season, it became clear that he was their top option in the passing game. Extra reps in rookie camp and injuries to Cincinnati’s other wideouts throughout the offseason certainly played a role.
For the Jets, Crowder might be the best returning receiver, and Davis is the big money guy of the group, but if OTAs are any indication, it very well could be Moore that ends up being the most productive of the bunch. If he is, these early reps to increase comfortability between quarterback and receiver will be a big reason why.
“He can line up wherever you want and he’s going to execute at a really high level, even though the routes may be different, the stems may be different, the releases might be a little bit different,” Saleh said. “His work ethic is off the charts. His mindset is off the charts.”
Moore’s proven that much through the first wave of practices. He and Michael Carter were reportedly the first two players in the facility on Friday, showing up at 6:30 AM to get extra work in.
Of course, OTAs are voluntary, and the Jets aren’t about to forget about the money they spent on Davis, or the pick they invested in Mims, and certainly not the production they’ve received from Crowder. Adding Moore to the receiver room ensures that Douglas has done his job in prioritizing pass-catchers for his new signal-caller.
He wanted to make sure that wide receiver wouldn’t be a weakness again in 2021. If Moore continues to shine the way he has, that perceived weakness could become a major strength for New York.
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