FLORHAM PARK, N.J. — Elijah Moore has made catch after impressive catch this spring for the New York Jets, diverting some of the massive focus away from the guy throwing him the ball.
That’s no small feat, especially when Zach Wilson is being counted on as the new franchise quarterback. But the rookie wide receiver has looked every bit the speedy, sure-handed playmaker the Jets projected Moore to be when they drafted him in the second round out of Ole Miss.
“His work ethic is off the charts,” coach Robert Saleh said. “His mindset is off the charts. We’re excited to continue working with him so we can see him get better.”
Moore’s performance during organized team activities certainly has the Jets excited — and it’s not unexpected. Especially not to Moore.
“Football is football,” he said last week. “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.”
Moore followed up two excellent seasons at Mississippi with a record-breaking junior year, launching his name up the draft charts in the process. He set the school mark with 86 catches in only eight games before opting out the rest of the season. Moore finished with 1,193 yards receiving, including a school-record 238 against Vanderbilt, and eight touchdowns. He was a first-team All-America and a finalist for the Biletnikoff Award as college football’s top receiver.
The Jets had Moore high on their board leading into the NFL draft and were stunned he was still available at No. 34 overall. General manager Joe Douglas jumped at the chance to take Moore, who was the sixth wide receiver selected.
“He was a player that we were all crossing our fingers and hoping that he could somehow be in position for us to draft him, and it just happened to come to fruition,” Douglas said a few hours after taking Moore. “Excited about him, his playmaking ability, to get another player that fits the mold of a great character, great player, versatile, smart, tough.”
And all of those attributes have been on full display through rookie camp and OTAs.
Jamison Crowder has been sitting out the voluntary practices while he and the Jets negotiate his contract, and free-agent signing Corey Davis has missed some time with a sore shoulder. That has given Moore plenty of opportunities to establish a quick rapport with Wilson.
“We’re both out there learning, we’re both out there trying to critique ourselves and it’s always something we have to work on better that we could have done,” Moore said. “It’s just constantly critiquing each other, whether he could have put the ball here, if I could have run flatter there. We’re just out there working, getting better.”
While Moore mostly played in the slot at Ole Miss — where DK Metcalf and A.J. Brown were also part of the receiving corps — his overall athletic ability has the Jets excited. Offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur brought the Kyle Shanahan-style system with him from San Francisco, and it’s powered by lots of movement by the quarterback and the playmakers around him.
That makes Moore potentially an ideal fit.
“He’s a dynamic young man,” Saleh said. “One of the things that’s really been great for him, not that it’s been a surprise, but to see it actually happen, what makes those guys difficult to defend is he can line up as the Z, F or X (receiver). He can line up wherever you want, and he’s going to execute it at a very high level.”
Moore has done that throughout the spring, albeit without wearing pads or facing contact. But he has already demonstrated a knack for being able to produce while running various routes.
“He’s showcasing his ability to be as versatile as possible,” Saleh said, “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. That part is what makes it very difficult to defend those types of players.”
Special teams coordinator Brant Boyer has been impressed by the work ethic of Moore, saying “the kid has a bright future. He’s a self-starter, he’s a worker.” Boyer said Moore and rookie running back Michael Carter, a fourth-rounder, arrive at the facility at 6:30 a.m. every day to get extra work in on their own.
“The more days I go out there, the more comfortable I get running the routes, adjusting to the schemes, reading the defenses,” Moore said. “Every day, I’m trying to craft. I’m trying to get better, focus on that one thing and put my best foot forward, of course.”