The Jets had to spend at least one more week without their so-called quarterback of the future in their 24-17 loss to the Dolphins on Sunday, but at the very least, they got a good, clear look at who very well may be their receiver of the future.
Elijah Moore, chosen by Joe Douglas in the second round of the 2021 draft, made the very most out of becoming Joe Flacco’s favorite target, contributing eight catches for 141 yards, including a 62-yard catch-and-run touchdown.
It was the first time a Jets rookie had amassed more than 130 receiving yards since Laveranues Coles did it in 2000. For fans who have watched Moore progress through this first half of the season, it was a bright spot for a team that has made no secret of its dedication to the future and its youth.
His touchdown — in which he quickly got open downfield as the Dolphins blitzed — was his fifth score in five games and his third receiving touchdown in as many games. After bursting past Byron Jones and making the catch, with Jones diving in vain in an attempt to break up the play, Moore ran for another 47 yards, beating Jamal Perry and Jevon Holland before somersaulting past the pylon.
"I just kind of felt it and adjusted," Moore said of the blitz, adding that he picked up speed as soon as he sensed Flacco under pressure. "It’s definitely a feel thing. If you feel like the quarterback is about to get hit, you don’t want him to get hit, you want to get the ball out, so I just did whatever I could."
And Flacco, not quite the quarterback he was in his youth but certainly capable of reading the field and getting rid of the ball quickly — especially against the Dolphins’ cover-zero defense — made the most of Moore’s abilities.
The rookie’s 11 targets were three more than his previous game high, which came with the three other Jets quarterbacks who have played this season.
“I think he’s starting to develop into a really good wide receiver," Flacco said. "From what I heard early on, he kind of got caught up in doing a lot with his feet and hands and he’s kind of gotten to the point where he’s modified it just enough and taken out just enough to leave his quickness and all that due to the work. I think he’s really good.”
And though coach Robert Saleh was terse after the loss to one of the worst offensive teams in the league — a game marked by mistakes that indicated that the Jets beat themselves far more than the Dolphins did — he had praise for Moore and the rest of his first- and second-year players, including Michael Carter, who rushed for 63 yards on nine carries before exiting with an ankle injury in the third quarter.
"You want to play youth when you know that that youth is going to be special, and it’s a good test, it’s a good litmus test to be able to play all these guys and get a good evaluation to see which ones have a chance and which ones don’t and all that stuff," Saleh said. "We’re going in the right direction. I believe that in my heart."
Saleh made it clear that the Jets view Moore as a piece of the future. And that matters plenty, especially as they work to get the kinks out of Zach Wilson.
"Elijah’s been getting better every week," Saleh said. "I’m really pumped for him. He’s starting to get into a rhythm. He had the explosive play, which we all know he’s capable of, so he’s stacking up days and he’s only going to get better. He’s going to be a special kid."