If you watched the Jets in training camp this summer, you came away with one distinct impression about what was to come once the regular season began: Elijah Moore was going to become one of the brightest young stars in the NFL and he was going to do it quickly.
If Moore — the 21-year-old receiver the Jets drafted out of Ole Miss with the 34th-overall pick in April — wasn’t the best player on the field for the Jets, he was the second best after only defensive end Carl Lawson, who spent the summer wreaking havoc until he ruptured his Achilles tendon during a joint practice in Green Bay.
The 5-foot-10, 178-pound Moore looked like a stud, like one of the steals of the draft.
It seemed like every pass that was thrown in Moore’s direction was caught; you rarely saw a ball thrown anywhere near him hit the ground.
Then funny thing happened to Moore in the transition from training camp to the real season: He’s disappeared.
Moore has caught eight passes for 63 yards in four games, missing the one Jets victory with a concussion suffered in the 26-0 loss at Denver in Week 3.
The NFL happened.
Just like with Jets quarterback Zach Wilson, Moore is experiencing the growing pains of being a rookie trying to keep up with the NFL talent around him.
Moore caught one pass for a 3-yard loss in his NFL debut, the season-opening loss to the Panthers. On Sunday in London, he was targeted twice against the Falcons and didn’t catch a pass.
“It’s the same thing [as with Wilson] — there’s transition for Elijah that he’s going to go through,’’ Jets coach Robert Saleh said Monday. “When you get off to a slow start [in games], you fall behind [and] you’re limited in plays.’’
It’s not as if Wilson hasn’t tried to get the ball to Moore. Moore has been targeted 20 times. Only Corey Davis (36) and Braxton Berrios (23) have had more passes thrown their way this season.
The Jets want to get the ball to Moore in any way they can, and they need to because of his shiftiness and big-play ability.
Perhaps part of Moore’s struggle has to do with the fact that he’s been used more on the outside than in the slot, where he excelled in college. The issue is that Jamison Crowder is one of the better slot receivers in the league and that, too, is where Berrios get most of his reps.
So, perhaps Moore is a bit out of his element playing on the outside.
Saleh said wondering whether Moore is better off playing inside “is a good discussion, but then you got Jamison Crowder who’s a seasoned veteran in the slot [and] you got Berrios who’s been a seasoned veteran in the slot … with E. Moore, you’re trying to get your best players on the football field.’’
Speaking of the “best players’’ on the field, a mysterious and curious dynamic has been playing out at receiver for the Jets with Denzel Mims, in his second season after being drafted in the 2020 second round.
There’s been much hand-wringing about how little the Jets have been using Mims, who was inactive in Weeks 2 and 3 and has been targeted only four times this season. Still, he’s caught three passes for 73 yards for a gaudy 24.3-yard average when he has played, creating questions about why he’s not being targeted more often.
Jets left tackle Mekhi Becton, who’s injured and didn’t make the trip to London, tweeted during the first half of Sunday’s game what a lot of Jets fans have been thinking when he posted: “UNLEASH MIMS!!!!’’
Mims had three catches for 33 yards against the Falcons and Saleh on Monday said, “Denzel did a good job,’’ adding, “He took some steps in earning some more opportunities moving forward.’’
When Saleh was asked Monday if he felt a need to “rectify’’ the situation with Mims, he said, “I don’t know that there’s anything to rectify in the sense that the relationship is good. We love Mims. He’s a tremendous character kid and he’s been working his tail off.’’
Something’s missing here, both with Moore, who’s been unable to validate his sparkling summer performance, and with Mims, who’s been unable to convince the coaches he needs more targets.
For the sake of all involved — particularly Wilson — hopefully Saleh and his staff figure out how to fix these issues during the bye week before the Jets play next, on Oct. 24 at New England, where life doesn’t get any easier for this struggling, young team.
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