Rich Cimini, ESPN Staff Writer 60d

Crunch time for New York Jets and wide receiver Denzel Mims: Is this the week?

FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- It's a bad optic for the New York Jets. They're struggling on offense -- like, really struggling -- and yet they refuse to play a healthy, 2020 second-round draft pick.

Yes, this Denzel Mims situation is perplexing on multiple levels.

He was inactive the past two games because, according to the team:

  • He's still learning to master all three wide-receiver positions, a pre-requisite for being a top backup.

  • He doesn't play special teams, lessening his game-day value.

  • He fell behind after missing the offseason, due to a bout with food poisoning.

There's truth to A and B -- sorry, C expired in training camp -- but the unspoken reason is the coaching staff simply doesn't believe Mims is doing enough to warrant a spot on the game-day 48. Ultimately, the decision belongs to coach Robert Saleh, not general manager Joe Douglas, who drafted Mims 59th overall in potentially one of the best wide receiver drafts in history. If Saleh is right -- if Mims isn't one of their best five receivers -- it's a huge blemish on Douglas' drafting record.

Mims, who has declined interview requests, is said to be frustrated (hardly a surprise) and you get the feeling the situation has reached the critical stage. If he doesn't play Sunday against the Tennessee Titans, when?

Elijah Moore (concussion) almost certainly won't be available and Jamison Crowder (groin), who hasn't practiced in more than a week, remains iffy. If he can't play, they would have only five healthy receivers. In theory, Mims could get a uniform for the game.

"With [Moore] and Jamison being up in the air, for sure," Saleh said Monday, responding to a question about whether Mims could play. "Obviously, we’ve got Denzel, trying to keep mentioning him for a role to see if he can get on the field and produce."

Call me skeptical. It's still not a lock he plays if Crowder and Moore are out. They could dress only four receivers or call up one from the practice squad, perhaps Vyncint Smith. That would be the ultimate slap in the face for Mims.

If it gets that far, they might as well trade him by the Nov. 2 deadline. The Denver Broncos, who just lost KJ Hamler to a season-ending knee injury, would be among the teams interested if the Jets make him available. Would they deal him? Doubtful. Douglas is telling people around the league he's not interested in moving him. Of course, Douglas has said that before (see: Jamal Adams) and look how that turned out.

Publicly, Saleh and offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur have praised Mims, claiming he continues to make strides in practice. If that's true, and they keep him on the bench, it damages their credibility.

Mims isn't a finished product -- the coaches got on him in camp about his route running -- but the man is 6-foot-3 and runs the 40-yard dash in 4.3 seconds. There's an old saying in coaching and scouting: Don't tell me what a player can't do, tell me what he can do.

Mims can rip the top off a defense. He showed flashes as a rookie, making 23 receptions for 357 yards (15.5 average) in eight games. Clearly, the Jets are rebuilding. They won't admit it, of course, but this season is about player development as much as it is about wins and losses. They should find out what they have in Mims, and the only way to do that is to put him on the field.

They should put him on the outside with Corey Davis, sliding Moore (when healthy) into the slot, his natural position. What about Crowder? He has value because he knows how to get open, which benefits rookie quarterback Zach Wilson, but soon that will be trumped by his value on the trade market. Assuming the Jets fall out of contention, Crowder, in the final year of his contract, could be dealt by midseason. That would loosen the log jam at receiver.

LaFleur needs to find a way to get his unit untracked. The Jets have gone two games (23 possessions) without a touchdown. Forget the end zone; they've reached the red zone only twice in the past two games. All told, they have only 20 points, the worst three-game start since 1976 -- Joe Namath's final year with the Jets.

Ironically, Mims contributed to the last touchdown, catching a 40-yard pass late in the season-opening loss to the Carolina Panthers. That set up Wilson's second scoring pass to Davis. It was one of only three snaps for Mims, who was active only because Crowder had tested positive for COVID-19 and Keelan Cole was dealing with a knee injury.

So, basically, they were desperate and had to play him.

The offense is off to a historically bad start, and it would be the definition of insanity if they kept trying the same thing and expecting different results. There was a play in last Sunday's 26-0 loss to the Denver Broncos that typified everything. Let's call it the multiple-choice play.

On a third-and-6 in the first quarter, tight end Tyler Kroft, Davis and wide receiver Braxton Berrios ran similar routes and wound up bunched together in the middle of the field -- one, two, three, all in a row. Presumably, that's not how the play was designed. They were hysterically choreographed, like three synchronized dancers.

Wilson, perhaps hypnotized by what he saw, never released the ball. He was sacked for a 14-yard loss.

And they don't want to play Mims because he's an inconsistent route runner? It's laughable.

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