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Examining Elijah Moore’s claims about being underutilized in 2022

NFL: Detroit Lions at New York Jets Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports

In week 6, the New York Jets defeated the Green Bay Packers in what was widely considered an upset. However, the story of the Jets the following week largely focused on wide receiver Elijah Moore, who tweeted his dissatisfaction with his offensive role after the victory and then was dismissed from the team that week. Notably, this was quite the fall from grace for a player who was often pegged as a breakout candidate in 2022 following a strong rookie season in 2021.

At the core of Moore’s dissatisfaction was his role in the offensive and his target share. As said by Moore in regards to his chemistry with then starting Quarterback Zach Wilson, “I don’t know, I couldn’t even tell you [what our chemistry is]. I don’t get the ball.”

Part of Moore’s argument regarding frustration over his under-utilization seemed to be he felt he was open, but not getting the ball. Now that the season has concluded, I thought it would be interesting to evaluate Moore’s 2022 season through a deeper dive into his underlying analytics. Specifically, while we know Moore wasn’t targeted often (66 targets in 16 games), I wanted to know if he was actually getting open. To evaluate this claim, I will be relying on data from fivethirtyeight’s wide receiver rankings as well as playerprofiler, both of which provide analytic data for wide receivers beyond their raw output stats (catches, yards, touchdowns, etc.).

To begin, I will detail fivethirtyeight’s evaluation of Elijah Moore. Specifically, they ranked him as the 40th best ‘overall’ receiver within their model that accounts for the regularity with which receivers get open, as the degree to which they catch the passes thrown to them, and their yards after the catch production. Details on how these scores are calculated can be found here. Related to the idea Moore was open at a better rate than his targets would indicate, he received an openness score that ranked 47th in the league. By no means is 47th a stellar outcome, but it would place him safely in the WR2 range given there are 32 NFL teams. Overall, this would support Moore was indeed better than his production as he ranked 73rd in yards receiving and 61st in targets. Additional evidence to support Moore’s claims about being underutilized can be found in playerprofiler’s data as they report Moore was 100th among wide receivers in target rate despite being 30th in route win rate.

Moreover, the data from playerprofiler provides further rationale for why Moore was so frustrated. Specifically, while Moore’s target separation (a receiver’s average yards of separation from his assigned defender at the moment the pass arrives) ranked 12th in the league at 2.14 yards, his catchable target rate (percentage of total targets that are deemed catchable) ranked 98th at 54.5%. This implies that not only was Moore not targeted at a rate aligned with his success rate on a per route basis, but that the throws were significantly off target on the relatively rate occasion when he was targeted. To hit home on the discrepancy of these figures, playerprofiler also provides a “true catch rate” statistic, which is calculated by dividing a receiver’s number of catches by their number of catchable passes. Within this statistic, Moore ranked 5th in the league with a score of 102.8%, implying Moore caught more passes this season than should have been expected based on his target quality (according to playerprofiler’s model).

Overall, while Moore’s season was a resounding disappointment, there is rationale to suggest it may not have been all his fault. In fact, we could use this data to argue Moore may be a prime ‘bounceback’ candidate in 2023, especially if the Jets acquire a high quality QB who can deliver a larger amount of targets and catchable targets for Moore.

But what do you think? Is Moore as bad as his raw output suggested or do you buy into the evaluations of fivethirtyeight and/or playerprofiler?