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Can Elijah Moore break out with Zach Wilson in 2022?

NFL: New York Jets at Philadelphia Eagles Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

Jets fans are hoping that wide receiver Elijah Moore will break out in 2022, following a rookie season where he had a slow start but ended up having some spectacular performances.

Some media members are also optimistic about Moore’s potential to break out. For example, Pro Football Focus had Moore as their number three breakout candidate in a recent article.

Interestingly, though, they did not have Zach Wilson in their top-15 in the same article. While this raises a question as to whether Moore will be able to break out if Wilson doesn’t himself have a break-out campaign, it potentially raises an even more interesting issue.

Looking at Moore’s splits from last year, it’s immediately apparent that he generated most of his production when Wilson was out of the line-up. This becomes doubly intriguing now there’s a possibility Wilson could miss some time.

Wilson missed four starts in the middle part of the season, which coincided with Moore’s mini-breakout last year. In games against Cincinnati, Miami, Buffalo and Indianapolis - with the likes of Mike White, Josh Johnson and Joe Flacco at quarterback - Moore caught 24 passes for 336 yards and four touchdowns.

If Moore could produce at that level over the course of a full season, he’d be one of the elite receivers in the league. That extrapolates to over 100 catches, about 1,400 yards and over 16 touchdowns.

For the entire rest of the season, Moore had just 19 catches, 202 yards and one touchdown, so it would be understandable if there was concern over Wilson potentially holding Moore back.

Some hope can be gleaned from Wilson and Moore’s last game together, in the loss to the Eagles. Until that game, Moore hadn’t caught a touchdown pass from Wilson, nor had he caught five passes or racked up 50 receiving yards in a game that Wilson had started.

Hopefully, Moore’s output in that game - six catches for 77 yards including a three-yard score - is a sign that they had finally started to generate some good chemistry. Unfortunately, Moore missed the rest of the season due to injury though, so there was no chance to see if they could build on that. (As encouraging as it is, it’s worth noting that he averaged six catches, 84 yards and a touchdown in the four games Wilson didn’t start, though).

Something similar had happened during last year’s offseason, as Moore and Wilson had great chemistry in camp, but then Moore missed some time and when he returned, Corey Davis had emerged as Wilson’s top target with Moore and Wilson not quite on the same page for the first month or so.

One other potentially positive sign from the end of the season was Braxton Berrios’ success. It’s a misconception that Berrios can only play in the slot. In fact, over the last month, as he emerged as Wilson’s new top target, he was mostly playing Moore’s role with Jamison Crowder remaining in the slot.

In the four games after Moore’s last game of the season, Berrios produced well with 20 catches for 180 yards and a touchdown, adding 25 yards and two touchdowns on five carries. Hopefully this is a further sign that Wilson was figuring out how to get the player in that role the ball and that Moore’s return will see him continue in this vein.

Numbers aside, every Jets fan saw Moore’s development over the course of the season and he’s reported bulked up from his listed weight of 178 pounds to 190, presumably in an effort to improve his durability and reduce the possibility that he’ll miss further time and set back his chemistry with Wilson.

Of course, now that Wilson is injured, he’s going to miss time and an opportunity to develop their connection. If Wilson misses a game or two at the start of the year and Moore produces, but then Wilson returns and Moore is less productive this will be disappointing.

It’s fair to suggest that there is more optimism that Moore will break out in 2022 than there is for Wilson and this is perhaps in part because Moore has shown he can produce even without Wilson. However, the Jets will be hoping that this is a situation where the pair can elevate one another once Wilson is back in the line-up.

Even though he’s going to need to share targets with the likes of Garrett Wilson, CJ Uzomah and Tyler Conklin in addition to the players returning from the 2021 Jets, Moore still has a good chance to be the Jets’ most productive receiver this year and the Jets will hope he delivers on the potential to put up number one receiver-level production.

Let’s hope this translates to a much more potent offense, leading to a significantly more competitive team during the 2022 season. Early signs from camp seemed to indicate this could be the case, but it will be interesting to see what effect the setback from Wilson’s injury has.