The New York Jets are entering the 2021 NFL season having to complete a lot of work in order to bounce back from a historically disappointing 2-14 campaign. Joe Douglas did just that during his first full offseason in charge, addressing many of the club’s severe needs – from the receiving corps to the offensive guard post. His greatest accomplishment may have been in the former department – New York picked Ole Miss pass-catcher Elijah Moore with an early second-round pick that could turn out to be the steal of the 2021 NFL Draft. Moreover, the Jets’ Elijah Moore could make his way amongst Douglas’s best acquisitions this past spring/summer.
Across last year’s lowly campaign, the team’s abysmal receiving core put a nail in the coffin of Sam Darnold‘s efforts to prove his talent. That resulted in Darnold’s swan song as a Jets playmaker before the eventual trade that sent him to Carolina, New York’s Week 1 opponent this upcoming season. Furthermore, this noticeable shortcoming saw the Jets’ offense end the 2020 campaign amongst the league’s bottom-ranked units. Gang Green’s offensive group finished with the third-worst collective passer rating and completion percentage, as well as the second-fewest accumulated yards through the air.
The free-agent period that followed witnessed colossal changes. Firstly, Breshad Perriman departed in free agency after a rough and unsuccessful stint as the unit’s main long-threat weapon. Secondly, he was replaced with a much more short distance-focused pass-catcher such as Corey Davis, who is coming off a season with a nearly 70% catch success rate. The Jets Elijah Moore gamble is a move in a similar direction, although many receivers of his caliber usually start off in niche roles, whether that is near the line of scrimmage or down the field.
Nevertheless, upon further review, Moore has all it takes to be amongst the draft class’s best wide receivers in the long term. That will resemble a significant boost for a once-embarrassing receiving group.
Jets Elijah Moore: What To Expect
What Makes a Promising Receiver
Heading into this fateful draft, the New York Jets desperately needed reinforcements in the receiving department. Even after signing Corey Davis to a three-year deal, anything past the star duo of him and Jamison Crowder was just not sufficient enough. That is regardless of whether Sam Darnold, or Zach Wilson, or whoever else would have ended up as the team’s starting QB in 2021.
At first sight, drafting a pass-catcher in the second round is barely significant enough to ensure another reliable target through the air. In most cases, it really is true that the second-round picks that get meaningful playing time, let alone use it to impress, during their rookie years are a minority. Even that could be an overstatement.
However, if anyone could be characterized as an extremely strong candidate to be among that minority, Elijah Moore is certainly a front-runner when it comes to the 2021 NFL Draft class. While he ended up in the early selections of the second round, he was initially projected to fall somewhere near the late stages of day one. What caused this slight downward move is unknown but the achievements that established him as a first-rounder, and still keep his ceiling very high, should not be overlooked.
Although he only played three seasons for the Rebels, Moore was one of the most dominant receivers in 2020. Also, the components in which he registered immense success bore resemblance to the strengths of many other collegiate prospects who went on to have an enormous impact in the short term and, potentially, in the long term.
Last year, Elijah Moore had 86 receptions. This was the second-most in the NCAA for the 2020 campaign after Alabama star and Heisman Trophy winner DeVonta Smith. Yet, Moore was selected about half-round after the Eagles draftee, with neither player being amongst the first two drafted pass-catchers. If that pattern sounds all so familiar to you, you would be on the correct path. The same happened to Justin Jefferson when he was coming out of LSU in the 2020 NFL Draft. The former Tigers prospect finished 2019 tied for the most catches in Division I with SMU’s James Proche. However, four receivers were drafted ahead of Jefferson on Draft Day.
That didn’t prevent him from unveiling the potential that, apparently, the front offices of eighteen NFL teams had missed or underestimated. With 88 receptions and a catch percentage north of 70 percent, Justin Jefferson was not only the best rookie receiver but one of the most reliable in all of NFL football. The LSU alum finished 15th in both receptions and catch efficiency rate (at least 100 targets). The sharpest contrast can be observed with the second drafted pass-catcher that night, Denver’s Jerry Jeudy, who, across nine fewer targets, had a catch percentage of just 46 percent.
Jeudy wasn’t an isolated case, though. Of the other three, CeeDee Lamb was the only one with a catch percentage of more than 60 percent. Meanwhile, Jalen Reagor averaged 57% in a more short-distance role than Jefferson.
At the same time, the same trend was on point across the rest of the rookie WR class. James Proche and Devin Duvernay, second and third in catches in 2019, respectively, didn’t enjoy nearly the same accolades as Jefferson. However, what curbs their number of opportunities is the Ravens using the air less than any other team in the league. What also affected the way they were utilized were their positions as sixth and third-round picks, respectively. And still, while Proche was targeted just three times, Duvernay caught 76% of the 26 passes intended for him. In the meantime, another one of the great findings of that draft, Michael Pittman Jr., was fourth with 101 receptions for USC.
The pattern is very clear: the best means of measurement for the potential of a receiver in the pro game is the workload and efficiency seen throughout his college tenure. Therefore, Elijah Moore has just the level of experience and air reliability that established Jefferson and Pittman as promising assets with immediate impactful roles last year.
Role Within the Air Raid
Elijah Moore’s collegiate identity, in addition to the example of a similar rookie receiver like Denzel Mims last year, raises many questions as to what Moore’s role will be within the new-look Jets offense come September.
Firstly, Elijah Moore was, without any doubt, a prolific weapon in the intermediate portion of Ole Miss’s air attack not only during the 2020 season but throughout the entirety of his SEC stint. The Fort Lauderdale native averaged 13.9 yards per catch across his latest campaign. That figure clearly indicates that he was relied on more frequently on shorter distances as compared to long-threat wide receivers. Also, this was the direction the Rebels had previously indulged in with his utilization – Moore caught an average of 12.9 yards over 186 receptions across a three-year NCAA tenure.
New York has already nodded at changing the style of play of their air raid by virtue of their acquisitions this past offseason. The team brought in a pass-catcher like Davis, who has enjoyed his uptick in the short game. Moreover, this was at the expense of Perriman, a deep threat. Keelan Cole, another free-agent addition, was in the same boat for the last three seasons he spent in Jacksonville.
On the one hand, due to the aforementioned shift in philosophy, Moore remaining in his usual role wouldn’t be a considerable surprise. On the other hand, with Perriman’s departure, Mims is the only downfield weapon left on the Jets’ receiving corps heading into training camp. He and Perriman were the only two NYJ pass-catchers with an average per-catch distance north of 15 yards.
Even if new head coach Robert Saleh and his offensive coordinator Mike LeFleur dedicate their work to transforming the offense to a shorter, more methodical style, they will still need to cover a substantial workload down the field with a set of talent they currently don’t possess. Therefore, since the Jets didn’t draft another WR, and are unlikely to find a significant asset on the market, Moore could be the much-needed support in that department.
Furthermore, the way New York used Denzel Mims, also a gun used all around the field in Baylor, could further shed light on the possibility of Moore being a deep threat. Mims averaged about 15.5 yards per reception during both his last campaign with the Bears and his debut year in East Rutherford. One would notice that this figure has stayed the same and, consequently, jump to the conclusion that the role must have been the same.
However, the defenses within the collegiate game are much more vulnerable, allowing about 12% more yards per game and 3.6% more yards per play. Furthermore, a passing attempt gains an average of 8.5 percent more distance in the NCAA (2019) than in the NFL (2019). Therefore, if 15.0 yards/catch is the NFL cutoff point for the short game/deep threat distinction, it would equal 16.3 yards/catch per NCAA offensive standards. This means he was a member of the intermediate unit in Baylor but was thrown downfield after his injury-delayed professional debut.
Mims would go on to turn in a disappointing display, catching just 52 percent of the throws intended for him. Nevertheless, it could indicate coaches are willing to experiment with such drastic role changes.
Importance to the Offense
Eventually, wherever he ends up playing, the Jets Elijah Moore move could turn out to have a crucial role. The Jets, despite acquiring three wide receivers they can potentially feature in their attack full-time, still lack depth at the position. Moreover, this point of the offseason offers no sufficient response to this issue. Beyond him and the aces of the staff, Crowder and Davis, New York can only boast the presence of Denzel Mims in the deep threat position and Keelan Cole and Braxton Berrios in the intermediate game.
It had been vital for Joe Douglas to grab a high-profile receiving boost entering the 2021 NFL Draft. Elijah Moore might have been amongst the best options to choose if a discount by means of a second-round selection was the condition. New York’s next major task is to figure out the most suitable spot for a promising pass-catcher of his caliber.
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