Jets' Denzel Mims buried on depth chart, raising questions about future

FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- After some promising moments in an abbreviated rookie season, Denzel Mims is sixth, maybe seventh in the New York Jets' pecking order at wide receiver.

Leapfrogged on the depth chart by three offseason additions, Mims is finding his way in an offensive system that might not be suited to his skill set. If the situation doesn't change in a month, the Jets will have a tough decision: Do they stash him on the roster and give him time to develop? Or, do they see what he might fetch in a trade?

It's hard to imagine Jets general manager Joe Douglas cutting a 2020 second-round pick. No doubt, this will be a storyline for the remainder of training camp and preseason.

Reading between the lines, it seems like the coaching staff wants Mims to push himself harder.

"He's learning, he's getting better," Jets offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur said. "For him, I told him the other day, 'The more you're on your stuff, the more opportunities you're going to get. And the more you're on your stuff, the more you're going to be the Denzel Mims that we all know.' What I've really liked, he's responded a lot in the last few days. He's had better practices."

Mims is running with the second- and third-team offense. Ahead of him are newcomers Corey Davis, rookie Elijah Moore and Keelan Cole, along with holdovers Jamison Crowder, Vyncint Smith and, occasionally, Braxton Berrios.

The Jets could keep six wide receivers; seven might be a stretch. Special teams will be a factor. Berrios returns punts, Smith can do kickoffs. Mims doesn't do special teams, although he's getting reps in practice -- perhaps a harbinger.

His rookie season was sabotaged by hamstring injuries, which cost him training camp and the first half of the regular season. This offseason, he missed several practices because of an illness.

Aside from the lost time, Mims might not be a scheme fit. Coming out of Baylor, he wasn't known as a polished route runner. He won his matchups with size (6-foot-3, 207 pounds) and speed (4.38 seconds in the 40-yard dash). Now, with a new coaching staff and a new offense, there's an emphasis on route running. Precision is paramount in the West Coast offense.

"It's different because in this system, we are much tighter and we're more in a phone booth as wide receivers," Jets coach Robert Saleh said. "It's not just playing out in space and having easy releases and having wiggle room. There's a lot more fighting for leverage. ... Your lower half comes into play a heck of a lot more, especially when you're in a phone booth.

"Then there's the blocking aspect of it and the strain we ask these guys to block, front side and back side. His route running is improving, it's different because he's coming in from a different location than what he's used to, being out there with normal spacing. He's getting better. ... He's put together a couple of good days and he's working his tail off."

The wide receivers rotate in practice, affording them the opportunity to learn the different positions. On Thursday (they didn't practice Friday), six wide receivers saw first-team work. Mims wasn't among them, which is quite telling. If backups play well, they get rewarded with first-team reps, as we've seen in recent days at cornerback. Maybe Mims will get that chance Saturday night in the annual Green & White practice at MetLife Stadium.

The 2020 draft was rich with wide receivers, so it will be a bad look if Mims doesn't work out. The Jets picked him 59th overall after trading down from No. 48, where they could have chosen Chase Claypool. (He went 49th to the Pittsburgh Steelers and had a very good rookie season with nine touchdowns.) Mims finished with 23 catches for 357 yards in nine games (an impressive 15.5 average), but he had no touchdowns.

The assumption was Mims would return in 2021 as a starter, but Douglas prioritized wide receiver, signing Davis and Cole as free agents and drafting Moore in the second round. That, too, was telling. Moore has displayed more in eight practices than Mims has in a year.

It's not too late for a turnaround, but soon the calendar won't be an ally.