You want to be remembered as a star athlete and primetime performer? The NFL's just the venue for you. You want to be forgotten and drop off the face of the earth? Unfortunately, the NFL is a very effective platform for those kinds of leaps as well.
Severe injury, mystery illness, circumstances within your control, circumstances out of your control. Players disappear for those reasons and more every year.
Denzel Mims struggled through his first two seasons as a Jets wide receiver, so his career could go either way. But he is determined not to be forgotten. He even has a goal that, if he realizes it, will get him remembered.
"I see myself on top," Mims said after Friday's eighth practice of training camp. "I think I've put in enough work to be there. Obviously, that's a coach's decision. But starting receiver, that's my goal. That's my only goal."
At one time, in the 2020 offseason after he was the Jets' second-round pick (59th overall) out of Baylor, that was surely the plan. But Mims battled hamstring injuries as a rookie that kept him out of much of August and the first six games of the season before he got his career under way. Then came the severe case of food poisoning last offseason, which dropped his 6-3, 207-pound frame down 20 pounds and his position on the depth chart down several rungs.
Thus, Mims, in his first two seasons combined, has played in 20 games (11 starts, 718 offensive snaps) and has 31 catches for 490 yards. He has yet to score his first NFL touchdown. Such numbers are not of the memorable variety.
Yet he also has seven 25-yards-plus receptions, which give him an odd distinction in recent franchise history. His 22.6% rate of 25-plus catches to all catches is the best by a Jet at any position with a minimum of 20 catches since 1994.
So Mims still has some explosiveness to his game. And that isn't his only positive on display during these dog days of summer.
"Denzel's doing a really good job, fighting his tail off in the run game because he's so well-conditioned now," head coach Robert Saleh said. "He's doing things with his body in the passing game from a route-running standpoint that he wasn't able to do in the past. He's battling on [special] teams — that'll be a big part of it, too.
"I really liked the way he approached the offseason. The coaching, he's accepted, he doesn't make excuses. He's grinding, approaching it like a professional, and for that I'm grateful."
"Oh, most definitely," Mims confirmed of his almost maniacal approach to training. "Last year with the sickness, I wasn't able to get back to where I used to be. This offseason I worked like crazy to get ready for this season. I feel like I've grown in each area as a receiver, worked my tail off catching everything I can and becoming the best receiver I can, and even with my health, eating all the right things. I'm just trying to do everything right."
See the Green & White on the field in full pads during week two at training camp.
We'll see if all that tail-working is enough to elevate Mims into memory-worthy territory. Jamison Crowder and Keelan Cole departed from last year's WRs room but Corey Davis is back and healthy, Elijah Moore is preparing for a blockbuster sophomore season, Braxton Berrios (who we like to refer to as "the Miami Multitool") re-signed, and Garrett Wilson was picked 10th overall in the draft.
If Mims wants to start for the Jets this season, he's got a lot of bodies to climb over. But he's doing all the right things, including checking in with QB Zach Wilson, who advised him: "I'm going to look for you, just be yourself and be ready to come to work."
And he's ready to throw himself into whatever role Saleh, OC Mike LaFleur and STC Brant Boyer have for him. Next stop is a big milepost for him — Saturday night's Green & White Practice at MetLife Stadium.
Mims knows he may have to prove himself in kick coverage before he gets that shot to reach his goal for the season. But he knows what the difference between here and gone is in the NFL and he plans on being here this season.
"I like to do everything I can to help the team," he said. "But I'd love to be a starting receiver. Honestly."