The Cleveland Browns have traded pick No. 42 to the New York Jets for Elijah Moore and pick No. 74. Essentially, the Browns will slide back from the second round of this year’s NFL Draft to the early-third to acquire Moore, who is heading into his third year as a pro.
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A promising rookie season followed by a Year 2 faceplant
Over a few-week stretch as a rookie, Elijah Moore put together one of the most impressive stretches we’ve seen from a young wide receiver. From Weeks 9-13, Moore averaged 9.0 targets, 5.6 receptions, 78.4 yards, and a touchdown per game. That equated to 20.1 fantasy points per game, and only Justin Jefferson outscored him during that stretch. After Week 13, a quad injury landed him on IR, and that was the last we saw of Moore as a rookie.
A reasonable hype train started in the 2022 offseason. A 21-year-old Moore had displayed elite traits as a separator and exciting abilities after the catch. Even with the addition of Garrett Wilson in the NFL Draft, Moore was projected to build off of his Year 1 success. He stayed relatively healthy in his sophomore campaign but finished the year with just 446 yards and a lone touchdown. The disappointing season has pegged Moore as one of the most polarizing players to analyze from a fantasy football lens.
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On one hand, we’ve seen an elite stretch of play most receivers could never accomplish. On the other hand, removing that five-game sample leaves us with these per-game averages over his other 22 career outings: 4.4 targets, 2.4 receptions, 26.9 yards, and 0.045 touchdowns. Still just 22 years old, Moore has the ability to develop, and that’s why the Browns were willing to make a deal to acquire him.
Moore was drafted 34th overall, missing the envied first-round draft capital by just two picks. A 4.35 40-yard dash at his Pro Day and a sophomore-year breakout at Ole Miss gave him plenty of deserved praise. His agility score ranked inside the 97th percentile, and his touts regularly talked about his abilities as a route runner. At 5-foot-9 and 178 pounds, he profiled small but hoped to follow the footsteps of Golden Tate, Tyler Lockett, and other undersized receivers who had found NFL success. Looking at his career production, he’s come up well short of his lofty Draft profile.
So what went wrong in 2022?
As for why he faceplanted in 2022, there isn’t a clear answer. Garrett Wilson usurped his role as the Jets’ WR1, but that was expected. The Jets attempted 627 pass attempts, the sixth-most in the NFL. There were more than enough targets for Moore to get his fill. He simply couldn’t draw targets when on the field. On a per-game basis, Wilson, Tyler Conklin, Corey Davis, and Breece Hall all out-targeted Moore. Moore was on the field for over 50 percent of the team’s snaps in all but three games. His 96.3 route participation rate was in line with Wilson’s 96.7. The opportunity was the for his seizing. He was on the field often, getting snaps, and running routes, three things you want to see from a young wide receiver. He just couldn’t get open or command targets. That is highly problematic. PFF graded him as the team’s worst receiver in 2022, even behind Denzel Mims, Braxton Berrios, and Jeff Smith.
The Jets tried to move Moore around the formation to inspire hope last year. After a 28.3/70.8 slot/wide split as a rookie, Moore played 49.6/50.2 in his second year. He dominated out of the slot in 2021, started the 2022 season in that role, struggled, and was moved out wide. Despite rookie phenom Garrett Wilson finding his best success when lining up wide, the team moved Moore there in hopes of snapping his slump. That didn’t help. Regardless of who played under center, Moore couldn't produce. When you look at the range of problems, Moore was the common denominator. Eventually, Moore became an afterthought in the Jets offense and finished the season unrosterable in fantasy football.
What does this mean for the Browns offense?
The Browns have a recent history of bringing in players the league has soured on: Kareem Hunt, Odell Beckham Jr, and Deshaun Watson, most noticeably. The high-risk/high-reward strategy hasn’t worked so far, but they’ll try again with Moore. On a team with Amari Cooper, Donovan Peoples-Jones, and David Njoku, Moore likely finds himself an afterthought again. But after a highly disappointing season from Watson, the Browns are desperate. With $230M guaranteed to the quarterback through 2027, they will hope that another weapon will help him improve from last year’s embarrassment. Watson will have an entire offseason to build rapport this year, something he lacked in 2021.
What does this mean for the Jets offense?
Not that Garrett Wilson wasn’t already projected for a huge role, but the team has declared their unwavering faith in him to be the guy. There were hopes that Wilson and Moore would be a dynamic 1-2 punch for years to come, but Allen Lazard is the one person standing in Wilson’s way from dominating the target share on a pass-happy offense. Considering Moore’s lack of contribution last year, not much projects to change in New York.
The Jets, who have had an up-close look at Moore for the last two years, cut bait. That’s probably the biggest takeaway from this move, making him an extremely risky asset going forward.
Moore has the skill set to be an elite weapon. But it was impossible to ignore his massive falloff in 2022. Moore falls in as our WR74 in dynasty rankings. At that cost, he’s worth a flier. You can probably get him for a late-round rookie pick. Still young, there is reason to believe that he can improve. But we rarely see a player do as poorly as Moore at such a young age and go on to have a successful career.
Moore's only reasonable path to fantasy relevance is that he and Deshaun Watson return to a form we haven’t seen in years. Unless you have confidence in Watson rewinding the clock and Moore being the guy we saw in a five-game stretch as a rookie, Moore probably isn’t worth a draft pick in 2023 fantasy leagues. A Year 3 breakout with a new team isn’t impossible, but it shouldn’t be counted on.