The receiver’s predicament is worth keeping an eye on, but the New York Jets have bigger, broader things to worry about.
— Optimistic Jets (@OptimisticJets) September 16, 2021
For all the talk about the New York Jets’ perpetual search for a franchise quarterback, metropolitan football has been equally bereft of a homegrown big-play receiver.
It has been nearly 15 seasons since a receiver that originally began his career with the Jets reached four digits in yardage (Jerricho Cotchery in 2007). The Jets have had some offensive teases since then: Robby Anderson was a diamond in the rough of the undrafted, but the Adam Gase era caused him to “lose his love” for the game. Day three Quincy Enunwa came close but saw his metropolitan career eaten away by injury.
Denzel Mims was supposed to end that streak during 2020’s virtual draft. Brought in from the offensive Valhalla that is Baylor, Mims’ arrival was the sweetest of consolation prizes: the Jets passed on several elite receiving talents to draft offensive line anchor Mekhi Becton. While the offensive line required undeniable assistance, it left the Sam Darnold era without the talents of a high-profile receiver. Jamison Crowder had done well in the slot but Darnold’s top options by conventional means consisted of first-round washouts (Breshad Perriman) and antiques from New England (Chris Hogan).
When Mims fell into their lap at 59th overall, Joe Douglas appeared to have pulled off an Ocean’s-style heist: he not only got Darnold his protection but topped it off with weaponry, a potent talent that contributed 28 touchdowns and nearly 3,000 yards to Waco’s gridiron cause. His name is frequently mentioned in the offensive chapters of the Bears’ record books, appearing alongside collegiate legends like K.D Cannon, Corey Coleman, Tevin Reese, Terrance Williams, and Kendall Wright. That group brought Baylor football to unprecedented modern heights: Mims’ senior squad, for example, went to Sugar Bowl and finished 13th in the final Associated Press poll, the program’s best showing since 1960.
Through the Waco experience, Mims knew what it was like to prop up one historically downtrodden green football franchise. Many expected him to do so with another up north. Alas, Mims has instead become the latest victim of whatever gridiron demon has refused to loosen the grip it has held on the Jets for the last five decades.
True to metropolitan form, Mims’ professional career was beset by factors behind his control. Issues with each of his hamstrings kept him out of training camp activities already handicapped by the COVID-19 pandemic. Such ailments cost Mims nearly half of his 2021 season but he left an impact in his limited time: his 357 yards were good for fourth on the woebegone 2020 Jets despite his early absence with 106 of that haul tallied after the catch. The 15.5 yards earned per catch was seventh amongst rookie receivers with 20 catches.
Mims’ mini-emergence didn’t stop the Jets’ new powers that be on the coaching staff from revamping the receiver’s cabinet. They added Corey Davis and Keelan Cole through free agency and used another second-round pick on Elijah Moore. The emergence of the newcomers shifted Mims into the background during training camp and his role has been furthered reduced in the infantile stages of the regular season.
By now, anyone with a passing interest in Jets football knows that Mims partook in only three snaps of the Jets’ opening weekend loss in Carolina. Mims carried on the theme of taking advantage of making the most of whatever scraps were offered to him: his 40-yard reception in the fourth quarter set up the Jets’ final touchdown of a 19-14 final.
I loved the composure Zach Wilson displayed on the Denzel Mims completion:
– Advances through progressions
– Steps up to evade pressure
– Lofts a dime overtop the defense
– Embraces contact after the throw
If protected, Wilson has the mental and physical fortitude to win games. pic.twitter.com/8420bfF3vB
— JUN (@jetupnationcrew) September 14, 2021
Asked about the brewing controversy as the Jets prepare for Sunday’s home opener against New England (1 p.m. ET, CBS), head coach Robert Saleh addressed the Mims restriction. He first blamed the Jets’ stagnant pace in the first half but a far more blunt reveal awaited.
“In that first half, (there were) a lot of three-and-outs, a lot of short drives…Because of it, those (starting) receivers were able to play,” Saleh said, per notes from the Jets. “You roll with your top three guys and if they need a break, that’s where the other guys step in.”
“Mims (has) been doing a good job getting himself a little bit better every day but, he’s got to know, when you’re not one of the main guys, you got to know all three spots and you’ve got to know it at a high level so you can step in and take advantage of all those opportunities,” Saleh continued. “If the Z, the F or, the X needs a break, you’re the first one that goes in because you know all three spots, you can execute at a high level and you can roll.”
Saleh continued to insist that the timing of the game was the primary reason behind Mims’ de facto benching, but his comments suggested something slightly more troubling: Mims simply hasn’t earned extended opportunities.
To that end…there’s little issue.
After the sad circus atmosphere of the Gase era, one no doubt exacerbated assistants like Gregg Williams, Jets fans yearned for accountability from the team’s new boss. Todd Bowles, reborn in Tampa Bay, was beloved by his players but his stoic to a fault personality ran its course. Gase spent half of his public comments insisting that he wasn’t verbally sparring with the franchise’s more renowned faces.
Now, a new coach comes armed with a quotable promise: All Gas, No Brake. If a player isn’t living up to those requirements, it stands to reason that the offender will not earn prime opportunities. It just so happens that a well-invested, supposedly indispensable part of the eternal rebuild’s latest chapter is the subject this time around.
Isn’t this form of accountability that Jets fans wanted and yearned for?
It’s fair for frustration to linger, especially when one looks back at the post-Mims draft board: Carolina safety Jeremy Chinn and Washington rusher Antonio Gibson were among those chosen in the immediate ten picks after him. Mims’ situation is definitely worth monitoring for the rest of the season. But the Jets have far greater, immediate issues to worry about.
If the Jets’ biggest issue was a receiver at an early crossroads in Week 2, they would be very, very lucky. Alas, that’s not the New York way. There are far bigger issues to worry about at this point in time, including how the offensive line is going to tread water until Mekhi Becton comes back…and the group is already reeling from a performance that saw them let up six sacks with Becton in town. The Jets’ defensive issues are also broadly on display through a lack of experience in the secondary, and those issues don’t even account for the vital financial decision looming around Marcus Maye’s future.
The soothing about this situation is that there’s plenty of time for Mims to restabilize his infantile NFL career and his attitude has never been a problem. He’s had every reason to curse the football gods for his current predicament…a chance to prove himself during training camp was partially erased by a bout with food poisoning…but he’s been ready to embrace all opportunities presented to him.
“You always got to battle each and every day no matter where you’re at,” Mims said during camp, per Max Goodman of SI.com. “You can be starting at X or (be the) number one receiver, you gotta battle each and every day because you slack and someone else can come take your spot.”
“I just got to focus on my job and just continue to be myself and focus on my craft so I can get better. If you worry, you won’t get (any) better.”
The apparent experiment in discipline isn’t to say that Saleh and his staff are infallible. If anything, this further shortens a metropolitan honeymoon that’s never lengthy. The pressure particularly rises on offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur, who must find forge a role for a pricey, talented target.
But this is nowhere near the Jets’ largest issue. If only, many inside and outside the organization likely believe, that was the case.
Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags