Elijah Moore solo close up green jersey
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Robert Saleh has said all along that there would be a lot of pain this season as the Jets prioritized growing a remarkably young roster, even over wins. But he also promised there would be exciting, eye-opening moments that would make all the agony seem worth it.
Like on Sunday, in the midst of another disappointing loss, when Elijah Moore had his breakout performance, catching a 62-yard touchdown on his way to eight catches and 141 yards.
“I’m really pumped for him,” Saleh said in one of his few upbeat moments after the Jets’ 24-17 loss to the Miami Dolphins. “He’s starting to get into a rhythm. He’s stacking up days. He’s only going to get better. He’s going to be a special player.”
Yes he is. That much was clear over the summer when the Jets’ second-round draft pick was blistering the Jets defense and often looked like one of the best players on the field. Still, it’s nice to see it in action because he has the same rocky start to the season as most of the Jets young players. He look even looked a little overmatched at times before the Jets’ bye.
But the last month has been a reminder of why the Jets were so thrilled he was still available 34 picks into the last draft. He’s caught 24 passes for 336 yards in the last four games, with four touchdown catches in the last three. The Jets could’ve turned their attention to veteran slot receiver Jamison Crowder when Moore was struggling, or focused their passing game more on vets like Corey Davis or Keelan Cole.
Except they knew Moore is a big part of their future. And building a better future is what this season is supposed to be all about.
“You want to play youth when you know that youth is going to be special,” Saleh said. “It’s a good litmus test to play all these guys and doing the evaluation to see which ones have a chance and which ones don’t.”
Asked if performances like Moore’s justify his decision to stick with the kids, no matter what, Saleh said “I don’t know if justified is the word, but we’re going in the right direction. I know that in my heart.”
Despite the 2-8 record, it’s hard to argue he’s wrong considering how many young players are starting to play well. Running back Michael Carter was on the verge of joining Moore with a breakout game, rushing nine times for 63 yards, including a 39-yarder that set up a touchdown. The only thing that was able to stop him was an ankle injury on the first play of the second half.
And he was running behind left guard Alijah Vera-Tucker, who has played so well this season he might get a few Pro Bowl votes around the league. The other Michael Carter, the rookie slot corner, has been a the brightest spot in a struggling secondary all season. And cornerback Brandin Echols had his promising moments too before a quad injury landed him on injured reserve.
There are more too, especially when the second-year players are added in – plenty of young players getting valuable experience they wouldn’t have gotten on a veteran team. And that includes their Quarterback of the Future, Zach Wilson, who very likely will return from his four-game absence in Houston next Sunday afternoon. Saleh said “We still have a lot of faith” in Wilson, “and still think our quarterback’s going to special.”
He’s certainly shown enough flashes of brilliance to believe there’s at least a chance that will be the case.
Of course there have been plenty of ups and downs. There certainly were with Moore, too. Way back on opening day he had a dismal debut, catching one pass for minus-3 yards with a couple of drops. Like Saleh said, everyone knew there would be days like that with all of the Jets’ young players. They just hoped that the more they let them play, the more they’d all have their breakout moments.
Clearly, it’s happened for Moore.
“Really, just the more games I get, the more comfortable I feel like I’m getting,” he said. “I don’t feel like a rookie.”
Don’t be fooled: He’s still a rookie. He’s just a really talented rookie who’s starting to come into his own. The same is true of Vera-Tucker and the Carters. The same may soon be true of Wilson, too.
The Jets always knew the talent was there. It was just going to take time and patience to grow it.
“There’s a lot of first- and second-year players doing a lot of good things,” Saleh said. “Are there frustrating moments? Sure, there are. But at the same time, these are all scars that they’re getting and they’re learning.”
And that was always the point of this season. It was going to be a painful experience. But as Moore showed on Sunday, it could still turn out wonderful in the end.