NY Jets: The drama, strategy, and inside story behind the Elijah Moore pick

Elijah Moore, NY Jets
Elijah Moore, NY Jets / Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

The dust has settled on the NY Jets' 2021 NFL Draft, and a picture of the team's strategy heading in has become crystal clear. Of all the players the franchise drafted last month, the one player they felt most fortunate in selecting was Ole Miss wide receiver Elijah Moore.

And it almost didn't happen.

Months before the draft took place, Jets general manager Joe Douglas, the team's scouting department, and coaching staff knew that they would be selecting Zach Wilson at No. 2 to take the reigns as their new franchise quarterback.

For newly-minted offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur, passing game specialist Greg Knapp, quarterbacks coach Rob Calabrese, and the entire Jets offensive staff, it was love at first sight. Throughout the process, the team fell in love with Wilson as a player and as a person. 

Barring any last-second hiccups or a curveball by Jacksonville at No. 1, Zach Wilson was the team's choice for months. He would be the Jets' pick at two even if Sam Darnold remained on the roster.

A scenario that Douglas and his staff entertained, but thanks to Carolina, it's one that ultimately the Jets didn't have to put to the test. 

Once the Jets decided to move forward and draft Wilson second overall, the team's strategy for the rest of their draft took shape.

The NY Jets planned to build around Zach Wilson, and that plan included Elijah Moore

The ultimate goal was for the franchise to build around their new quarterback, and heading into the draft, one of the top targets they wanted at 23, USC offensive lineman Alijah Vera-Tucker, was seemingly out of their reach. 

So Joe Douglas, days before the draft, sent out feelers to all the teams selecting in the 12-18 range of the first round. The feeling was that Vera-Tucker, a player the Jets had rated in the top-10 on their overall draft board, would be selected in that area.

And with that knowledge, Douglas and the Jets were ready to make a move. Provided that the price to move up wouldn't be a costly one.

Things got a bit complicated on draft day for the Jets when the Philadelphia Eagles moved up two spots in Round 1 and gave up a third-round pick to Dallas to go from 12 to 10.

Then to add to the drama, the Chicago Bears leaped nine spots from 20 to 11, sending the New York Giants a future first-round pick, a fourth, and a fifth rounder. 

The value to move up from 23 into the teens went up on draft day and could have derailed a trade. Still, as it turned out, it ultimately didn't hinder the Jets, as they found a trade partner in the Minnesota Vikings, who were willing to slide down to 23 and give up a fourth-rounder in exchange for both of the Jets' third-round selections.

The value was too good for the Jets to pass up, and they ended up drafting Alijah Vera-Tucker at 14. A player that the Jets believe will be a foundation piece for years to come. 

The truth is that if the Jets had stayed at 23, New York was prepared to deal with the reality of losing out on Vera-Tucker and standing pat to make another selection.

And the player that they were all set to take at 23 was wide receiver Elijah Moore.

During the draft process, the Jets' scouts were extremely high on Moore as a prospect. And it didn't take long for everyone else on the Jets to come on board in seeing Moore's value. 

The front office and coaching staff identified Moore as a dynamic playmaker that the team lacked. And Moore's route running, knowledge of defensive coverages, elite speed, and ability after the catch were seen as perfect fits for the Jets' new offense.

The fact that Moore dominated in the SEC didn't hurt his cause, but his all-around game is what ranked him so high on the Jets draft board. 

The concession that the Jets made by trading up with Minnesota was that they would be conceding the possibility of drafting Moore.

New York was faced with what they thought at the time was an either-or situation, and they never imagined that they would end up with both Vera-Tucker and Moore when they pulled the trigger on their trade.

But that's precisely what ended up happening. 

Leading into the draft, several areas of the team appeared to be clear-cut needs with their early selections, but the receiver position didn't seem to be a top priority.

Especially with Corey Davis, Denzel Mims, Jamison Crowder, and Keelan Cole penciled in as the Jets' top four pass-catchers. The need wasn't as glaring for the Jets at wide receiver as other positions on the roster. 

The fact that the Jets planned on taking Elijah Moore at 23, despite all of this, tells you all you need to know about how much they valued him. 

But these are not the only indicators of how much the Jets' wanted Elijah Moore. Consider this when the Jets made to move to 14 to select Alijah Vera-Tucker.

Once the draft got into the 20s and Elijah Moore was still available, the team started to monitor his slide closely. So much so that a trade back into Round 1 to get Moore was discussed in the Jets draft room.

The problem was that, with no third-round picks as ammunition, the Jets would've had a hard time moving from 34 to select Moore. So they had to cross their fingers and wait it out. Moore's fall was too good to be true, and the Jets were powerless to do anything about it.

That's until the first round of the draft ended, and Moore was still on the board, and in the time between Day 1 and 2 of the draft, the NY Jets were still fearful that he wouldn't make it to their selection at 34.

So much so that the Jets were afraid that word would get out that they wanted Elijah Moore and that a team would leapfrog ahead of them at 33 to select him. That's if Jacksonville didn't draft Moore themselves to kick off Round 2. 

Although the wait to see if they would get Elijah Moore was only a day for the Jets, it must've seemed like an eternity. And in the time between, several teams called Joe Douglas about moving up to 34 in the draft.

The Jets received several enticing offers to move down, but they were steadfast in not moving and taking Eliah Moore.

Teams figured that the Jets would be apt to trade down because they had no picks in Round 3 by virtue of the Vikings deal, but Gang Green was committed to selecting Elijah Moore no matter what. 

There was a genuine fear by the Jets that some team would steal Moore away if the secret got out.

The Jets were so secretive about their strong interest in Elijah Moore that even the player himself wasn't aware of how highly coveted he was by them.

Not until the Jets made the call and spoke with Moore after making the selection official did he realize how relieved they were to have drafted him. And how close it came to not happening.

As Robert Saleh told his new receiver, Elijah Moore, on the phone when they selected him. "We thought we lost you when we moved up." Joe Douglas echoed his coach's sentiments by telling Moore the same thing.

Next. NY Jets: 4 undrafted free agents who could make the roster. dark

"We never thought that this was going to happen."