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Jets' Elijah Moore Could Be NFL's Top Rookie WR in 2021

Gary Davenport@@IDPSharksNFL AnalystJune 19, 2021

New York Jets second-round draft pick Elijah Moore works out during NFL football rookie camp, Friday, May 7, 2021, in Florham Park, N.J. (AP Photo/Bill Kostroun)
Bill Kostroun/Associated Press

There's plenty being said (and written) about the wide receiver class of 2021 and with good reason. This year's crop of wideouts was as deep and talented as any in recent memory. Beginning with LSU's Ja'Marr Chase at No. 5 overall, there were three wide receivers taken inside of the top 10: Chase and Alabama teammates Jaylen Waddle and DeVonta Smith.

Two more pass-catchers came off the board before the end of the draft's first day: Florida's Kadarius Toney at No. 20 and Minnesota's Rashod Bateman at No. 27.

As we saw last year with Justin Jefferson of the Minnesota Vikings (fifth receiver off the board), the first wideout taken doesn't necessarily have the biggest rookie season. In fact, as we saw two years ago with A.J. Brown of the Tennessee Titans and DK Metcalf of the Seattle Seahawks, sometimes the kings of a class aren't selected in the first round at all.

It's a scenario we could see play out yet again in 2021—with yet another Ole Miss product, no less. Elijah Moore has the perfect mix of talent and the scenario necessary to take the league by storm.

He might not have dominated the conversation about wide receivers before and just after the 2021 draft. But don't be surprised if come January a few NFL teams aren't kicking themselves for failing to see what the New York Jets did.

Mind you, it's not like Moore flew under the radar. Lance Zierlein of NFL.com ranked him as a borderline first-round prospect, comparing the 5'9½", 178-pounder with 4.35 40-yard-dash speed to Tampa's Antonio Brown.

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"Ultra-competitive slot target with the talent and mindset to handle a heavy amount of targets and shine in the process. He's not very big, but he's stronger than his measurables might suggest and he's shown a fearlessness to make the catch despite impending punishment. Moore has the short-area quickness to snap off crisp routes underneath for separation and the play speed to challenge over the top as well as work the deep middle. He has soft, sure hands and above-average ball skills with a great feel for spatial awareness to hit the sweet spots when working against zone."

Moore slid out of the first round but just barely. The Jets took him with the second pick of Round 2. All he's done since is impress his new coaches and teammates, seemingly making a big play every day at OTAs.

New York Jets @nyjets

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He has been so impressive that ESPN's Rich Cimini went so far as to write that the Jets "have been waiting two decades" for a prospect like Moore.

It's not just Moore's athletic ability that has been on display. Per Cimini, new Jets head coach Robert Saleh praised his versatility and ability to line up all over the formation:

"He can line up wherever you want, and he's going to execute it at a very high level, even though the routes might be a little bit different, the stems might be different, the releases might be a little bit different. He's showcasing his ability to be as versatile as possible in terms of being at different parts of the field, being at different positions, understanding what needs to get done, so when the ball gets to his hands he can still do what he does best -- and that's run after catch."

As Randy Lange reported for the team's official website, offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur continued the love-fest, talking up Moore's work ethic and desire for greatness.

"This guy wants to be really, really good in this league. He wants to make a name for himself. He's so internally motivated and driven. It's always the next play, what can I do better? ... You can see it with some rookies that come into this league — 'Give me a year and I'll figure this game out.' He doesn't want to wait a year. He wants it now.

[...]

"The cool part about Elijah is that this guy just works. I know a lot of people say that, but he puts in a lot of time, whether it be 7 in the morning, on the JUGS in the indoor, taking it to the meetings or being prepared with the scripted plays. [...] Elijah's a fun dude to coach. And whatever success he has he's going to earn it."

For his part, Moore said he's just doing whatever it takes to succeed.

Kathy Willens/Associated Press

"Football is football," Moore said. "At the end of the day, I know that obviously it's going to be played at a higher level here, but you've got to adjust. You know, I'm here for a reason."

Rookie quarterback Zach Wilson has also noticed Moore's natural ability and his attention to detail.

"Elijah wants to be great," Wilson said, per Lange. "I spend a lot of time with him. He's someone I want to be around because he wants to be great. He's definitely a motivating person, and we're going to have a good time doing this thing together because he's going to be a good player."

That last comment is the most important of the lot. Moore isn't the team's No. 1 receiver yet. Or even necessarily the No. 3 receiver. The Jets signed Corey Davis to a three-year, $37.5 million contract in free agency and already had second-year pro Denzel Mims and veteran Jamison Crowder in town.

But Davis has yet to notch a 1,000-yard season since being drafted fifth overall in 2017 by the Titans. Mims' first season in the pros wasn't especially impressive (23 receptions for 357 yards over nine games). Crowder's career high in receiving yards is 847, and he has missed at least four games in two of the past three seasons.

If he continues to impress in practices, Moore could earn not only a spot in the starting lineup but also the trust of the No. 2 overall pick out of BYU.

And if that's the case, look out.

Bill Kostroun/Associated Press

Chase may be a generational talent with a built-in rapport with Joe Burrow from their time together at LSU. But he's competing with Tyler Boyd and Tee Higgins for targets with the Cincinnati Bengals.

No. 6 overall pick Waddle not only has to compete with Will Fuller and DeVante Parker on the Miami Dolphins, but he's also playing with a quarterback (Tua Tagovailoa) who was 30th in the NFL in yards per attempt (6.3) last year.

Smith faces a similar dilemma. The No. 10 overall pick should get targets in Philadelphia, but Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts completed just 52 percent of his passes as a rookie and had a passer rating south of 80.

Toney of the Giants is a raw prospect who's buried at the bottom of a deep receiver room. Bateman will start his NFL career on a Baltimore Ravens team that checked in dead last in pass attempts in 2020.

Is Moore's situation ideal? No. There's a rookie quarterback. Davis will get his share of targets. And Moore would need to displace either Crowder or Mims for a full-time role.

But that can be done, especially if Moore continues to build a rapport with the Jets signal-caller who could be playing from behind quite a bit.

This doesn't mean that three years from now we'll look back at Moore as the best player at his position from the class of 2021. Or that the Bengals, Dolphins and Eagles will ultimately regret taking Chase, Waddle and Smith.

But early indications are that the Jets chose well when they used their second-round pick on Moore.

And there's a real chance he'll outproduce every other rookie receiver in 2021.      

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