Rich Cimini, ESPN Staff Writer 31d

Curious case of Denzel Mims shines harsh light on Jets' 2020 NFL draft

FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- A look at what's happening around the New York Jets:

1. Shrinking draft class: Joe Douglas' first NFL draft as general manager in 2020 produced one Hall of a result -- and that's not meant as a compliment.

There's a chance on Sunday that only one player from that nine-man draft class -- cornerback Bryce Hall -- is active for the Jets' home opener against the New England Patriots (1 p.m. ET, CBS). That is absolutely crushing for a franchise in the midst of major rebuilding.

This isn't a sweeping indictment of Douglas' ability as a talent evaluator, as four of the nine picks are on injured reserve -- tackle Mekhi Becton, safety Ashtyn Davis, guard Cameron Clark and punter Braden Mann. Injuries happen, although you wonder why they keep happening to the Jets.

Two of the draft picks -- wide receiver Denzel Mims and running back La'Mical Perine -- could be healthy scratches for Sunday's game. That's troubling. Two already have been cut: defensive end Jabari Zuniga (practice squad) and quarterback James Morgan (Carolina Panthers' practice squad). That, too, is troubling.

Forgetting about the injuries for a second, only two of the nine (not counting the punter) have provided enough evidence to make you believe they can be long-term starters for the Jets -- Becton and Hall. Mims should be with them, but his future is murky after a mysterious fall on the depth chart. Even Becton, who had an uneven training camp before getting hurt, no longer projects as a can't-miss star.

The Jets like to advertise their 2021 draft class, which shows tremendous promise, but we can't forget about 2020 when assessing this giant rebuilding puzzle -- one that has too many missing pieces.

2. Give the man some snaps: The Mims situation is puzzling.

Coach Robert Saleh, explaining why Mims had three snaps last week, said the backup wide receivers must have a grasp of multiple spots in order to be a viable fill-in if one of the top three needs a break. Translation: Mims doesn't know the playbook well enough to have a significant role.

Two questions: Where is it written that a team is limited to a three-receiver rotation? Why not give Mims some early reps on the outside? The Jets are determined to turn rookie Elijah Moore into an outside receiver even though most of his college production came from the slot.

True, Mims still is developing as a route runner, but he's 6-foot-3 with 4.3-second speed in the 40-yard dash. Surely, they can find a role for someone with that skill set. He flashed potential as a rookie, showing the ability to win 50-50 balls.

With Jamison Crowder and Keelan Cole ready to return, Mims probably won't dress against the Patriots -- unless they go with six wide receivers and he leapfrogs Jeff Smith as the WR6. It wouldn't be a good look for anyone if the Jets, hardly rich with talent, keep a second-round draft pick on the bench.

Obviously, Mims is frustrated. Other teams are monitoring the situation, and I know of two that could have interest. It wouldn't shock me if the Jets get calls before the trading deadline.

3. Fancy footwork: In Week 1, Zach Wilson lived up to the hype as a quarterback who can extend plays. He had five pass attempts in which he took at least four seconds to throw, according to NFL Next Gen Stats, which defines those as "extended" plays. Only two quarterbacks had more such attempts -- the Arizona Cardinals' Kyler Murray (eight) and the Kansas City Chiefs' Patrick Mahomes (six).

Wilson turned one of those plays into a touchdown -- his 22-yard pass to Corey Davis. There were only eight touchdowns on extended pass plays in Week 1.

"Watching him play physically right now, you can see he has the ability to make throws when his feet aren't completely set," said former Jets quarterback Chad Pennington, a guest on ESPN's Flight Deck podcast. "You have to have that in today's NFL with the run-pass options and some of the things they're doing from the spread offenses."

Those scramble plays make for nice highlights on ESPN's SportsCenter, but the offensive line -- abysmal last week -- needs to do a much better job of protecting the franchise's most valuable commodity.

4. Hurting on D: The Jets have some bad luck when it comes to signing defensive free agents. Douglas signed five in the offseason, and three of them are out for the year -- safety Lamarcus Joyner (torn triceps), defensive end Vinny Curry (blood clot) and defensive Carl Lawson (ruptured Achilles). Linebacker Jarrad Davis (ankle) is out for another month.

Ironically, the player with the longest injury history -- defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins -- is the only healthy one.

5. Ode to Bill: Saleh referred to Patriots coach Bill Belichick in reverential terms, claiming it's "an honor to share the same field as him" and saying he has to "get ready to play chess with one of the best chess players in the world."

Once upon a time, another first-year Jets coach -- Rex Ryan -- brought a totally different attitude to the Jets-Patriots rivalry. You may recall Ryan's famous line: "I never came here to kiss Belichick's rings."

The rivalry, if you can call it that, was a lot more fun (and competitive) in Ryan's days. Now Saleh, with his gentlemanly demeanor, gets his chance to swing the pendulum.

P.S.: There's an irony to Saleh's "chess" comment. When he was younger, Saleh reached an 1,800 in the chess rating system, not far from a master level.

6. Imperfect 10: The Patriots' recent dominance in this series is mind boggling -- 10 straight wins and 16 of the past 18. There isn't a single player on the Jets' roster who has experienced a victory over the Patriots in a Jets' uniform. Safety Marcus Maye and long-snapper Thomas Hennessy, the longest-tenured players on the team, are both 0-8.

If you think the players don't care, you're wrong. Back in 2008, in the waning moments of their 12th straight loss to the Patriots, defensive end Shaun Ellis lost his cool and flung his helmet across the field -- a display of frustration that stunned teammates. Three years later, he signed with the Patriots. If you can't beat 'em ...

7. Did you know? The last time the Patriots (0-1) started 0-2 was 2001, a pretty famous game that involved the Jets. Yep, that's the game when Mo Lewis took out Drew Bledsoe, opening the door for Tom Brady. The Patriots dropped to 5-13 under Belichick, fueling speculation about his job security.

Seems funny now, doesn't it?

8. Thinking cap: Want to know why teams like to have wiggle room under the salary cap? The Jets have 13 players on IR, counting nearly $34 million on the cap -- about 19% of the total cap.

9. Buzzkillers: The Jets have dropped 10 straight games in the month of September. The last win was the 2018 opener, Sam Darnold's debut. It's really hard to stay relevant and keep the fan base excited when the team falls on its face out of the gate.

It reminds me of that old episode of "The Family Guy," which mocks the New York Mets: "Opening day. Here's the first pitch (sound of a home run) ... and the season's over." The Jets have a wonderful opportunity to reverse the trend by upsetting their longtime nemesis.

10. The last word: "It's definitely a game that's circled every year, not only because it's a divisional game, but we haven't been able to beat them since I've been here." -- Maye on the Patriots.

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