Speculation about third year Jets wide receiver Denzel Mims has been growing recently in the media. The former second round pick’s career has been disappointing to date. Though two seasons Mims does not even have a touchdown reception. Multiple hamstring injuries forced him to miss the first seven games of his rookie season. A rough offseason program which included a bout of food poisoning was the start of a disaster second season that saw Mims fall way down the depth chart. By the end of 2021, he couldn’t even seem to get lined up correctly.
Mims had some relatively promising games in the second half of his rookie season once he took the field, but his career stat line of 31 reception for 490 yards is an ugly place to be two seasons in.
What are the chances Mims can turn his career around?
Of course anything is possible in theory. Mims could conceivably develop into a receiver greater than Jerry Rice.
But some outcomes are obviously more likely than others. Looking at the career trajectories of comparable players can offer us insight into how much improvement can be reasonably expected.
Using the Stathead database, I pulled up a list of every wide receiver drafted in round one or two since 2011 who had less than 600 receiving yards his first two years in the league. This can give us a sense of how likely a big bounceback is from a struggling early round pick.
The list is unfortunately rather uninspiring.
Early round picks other than Mims to fall short of 600 yards in this timeframe are Stephen Hill, Jonathan Baldwin, Dante Pettis, Breshad Perriman, Josh Doctson, Aaron Dobson, Brian Quick, KJ Hamler, N’Keal Harry, Andy Isabella, Ryan Broles, Paul Richardson, JJ Arcega-Whiteside, Laquon Treadwell, John Ross, Parris Campbell, Kevin White, Devin Smith, AJ Jenkins, and Cody Latimer.
There isn’t an impact receiver on that list. A year ago many of us had Pro Bowl hopes for Mims. A common question was whether he would be a true go to guy or merely a high end sidekick. That type of outcome would now be unprecedented in the last decade.
Now let me rebut a few of the criticisms I’m sure are coming about the methodology.
There are a few reasons I limited this search to first and second round picks. First of all, these are players who are likely to see action. An early round pick almost has to play his way off the field for his team to bench him. Later picks have to earn their way on the field. Teams are frequently hesitant to allocate playing time to later draftees so a slower career trajectory is more common. It comes frequently from a lack of opportunity that simply isn’t applicable to first and second round picks.
I also wanted to limit this to first and second round picks to take the talent discussion out of it. When an early pick underperforms, there is frequently talk about how talented they are. Virtually every first and second round pick has a lot of physical talent. This list is a reminder that merely having the physical tools a great receiver does not make.
I’m sure the next point to be raised will be the specific hurdles Mims has faced. No other player on this list has had a path quite like Mims. Who else had multiple hamstring injuries his rookie season then followed it up with food poisoning in the offseason while trying to learn a new playbook?
It is true that Mims had some unique obstacles. That could be said of every single player on this list. Nobody had the exact same path. All of these guys had things working against them. And two years into their careers, they all had fans pointing out why their struggles are so much different from every other struggling young receiver.
Take Stephen Hill. I can’t tell you how many times I heard Hill’s struggles were different because he came from an option offense in college. He hadn’t run the full route tree so we needed patience as he developed. And he was put at a major disadvantage because he ended his rookie season with an injury which made preparation for year two more difficult. People pointed to a handful of productive games he had as proof things would eventually click for him. But it’s one thing for a player to produce occasionally. That doesn't necessarily mean it is going to be a regular occurrence.
I think in some ways all of the differences actually prove the value of the comparisons. These players are all very different. The only things they have completely in common is that they were early Draft picks, and they didn’t produce their first two seasons. If none of them eventually grew into impact players, it probably tells you something.
When a Draft pick fails, it usually isn’t 100% the player’s fault. There are typically some factors that contributed to the failure. However, there is a difference between failure not being 100% the player’s fault and the failure being 0% the player’s fault. In many cases the impact of the external factors is overstated. The biggest reasons a player doesn’t produce are the player’s failures.
The other problem I see for Mims is that even the most generous interpretation of his first two years isn’t that promising. Let’s say we take the view that Mims is a big talent who was thrown off by his hamstring injuries and food poisoning. In this case, Mims is a guy who seems easily thrown off the top condition he needs to produce. Maybe it isn’t his fault in this scenario, but can you count on something not popping up to throw him off his game again?
Sometimes the team’s actions tell you more about a player than the coaching staff’s words to the press ever will. What do the Jets think about Mims? Well, as the offseason began the team already had two of its starting receivers under contract, Corey Davis and Elijah Moore. The Jets used a top ten Draft pick on a wide receiver, Garrett Wilson, to fill the third starting spot. The team also gave Braxton Berrios a lucrative new contract. Yes, part of that is for Berrios’ value in the return game, but with the value of kickoff return men continually going down, I think we can surmise the Jets wouldn’t have given Berrios a $6 million annual salary unless they were expecting him to be part of the offense. If the Jets saw a Mims breakout coming, would they have blocked his path to playing time like this? He entered training camp with no realistic path to being higher than fifth on the depth chart barring injuries.
This is actually where things get a bit more promising for Mims. If we are willing to dispense with the notion that Mims is likely to ever become an impact receiver, we can think about what the Jets actually need from him.
That list of early round disappointments isn't full of Pro Bowlers. There are, however, a few who eventually produced 500 yard seasons. They include our old buddy Breshad Perriman, Josh Doctson, Brian Quick, and Paul Richardson.
Now most players on the list never amounted to anything, but it does seem like there’s an outside chance an early round disappointment can reinvent himself as a depth player. And isn’t that really what the Jets could use at the bottom of the depth chart right now? If there’s an injury, could Mims step in and give the Jets a couple of solid games? That’s really the hope.
Of course the fifth receiver on a roster usually needs to contribute on special teams, and reports from camp indicate Mims is getting a look there.
As always I concede anything is possible. Mims could end up an extreme outlier, beat the odds, and end up an impact receiver. I don’t like to count on extreme outlier outcomes, though.
The odds seem stacked against Mims ever becoming the receiver the Jets wanted him to be. But maybe if he can produce on special teams and lock down that number five job, he can be the receiver his team needs.