One early standout has been tight-end convert Lawrence Cager, a former undrafted wide receiver that originally began his career with the Jets in 2020. After one failed season in Cleveland, the 6-foot-5 target returned — but not before making some alterations.
They say insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. In that case, Cager is saner than most. Instead of giving it another go as a wideout, he transitioned his game by gaining 21 pounds and focusing more on his blocking.
The results have been eye-opening — at least so far — but does Cager have a realistic shot of making this roster in 2022? In all honesty, a similar physical weapon could be the number one player standing in his way.
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Crunching the Numbers
ESPN NYJ beat reporter Rich Cimini put out an early roster projection on June 21 and there were a couple of surprises. For example, defensive linemen like Bryce Huff and Vinny Curry didn’t have a place in the 53-man group.
Another general note was that Cimini kept 26 offensive players and only 24 defensive players, including three quarterbacks.
Let’s focus on the task at hand though — playmakers. Cimini kept four running backs and a fullback, leaving nine spots available for both wide receiver and tight end. This assessment seems fair and typical of an NFL roster. The question is: How do you split those two positions?
Cimini went with a six-three split in favor of the wide receiver position, keeping Garrett Wilson, Elijah Moore, Corey Davis, Braxton Berrios, Jeff Smith and Denzel Mims. That only left enough space for C.J. Uzomah, Tyler Conklin and Jeremy Ruckert at tight end.
The beat reporter reasoned:
Does Mims get another chance, or does he become the latest in a long line of Jets second-round failures? He slips through for now, but he shouldn’t get comfortable because this could go either way. Typically, they have six receivers, dressing five for games. Special teams, where Smith has an advantage over Mims, is a consideration for the WR5 job.
At this point, most would agree with Cimini’s projections of these positions but the exercise uncovered a potential camp battle that no one saw coming. Forget UDFA wide receivers like Calvin Jackson Jr. and Irvin Charles for a moment, it could be Cager — a fourth pass-catching tight end — that gives Mims a run for his money this summer.
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Think About It…
The idea of four tight ends may sound farfetched after the past decade but if you think about it, this could be more likely than it seems. Offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur used two-tight end sets often at the start of the 2021 season. He only ditched this plan because the Jets did not have the talent to support it at the time.
Let’s be real, Tyler Kroft and Ryan Griffin weren’t exactly terrifying opposing defenses.
If you consider that LaFleur may deploy a two-tight end formation more often than not, Uzomah and Conklin may both receive starter-level snap counts. This would make sense, based on the franchise’s strategy in free agency, and would mirror the famed New England Patriots offense that has frustrated New York for years.
It would also behoove the Jets to carry four tight ends if they operate in this fashion, especially when you consider the added fact that Ruckert will have a lot to learn in year one. Is Cager the bridge that can spell Uzomah or Conklin in passing situations? Another option is forgotten 2021 UDFA Kenny Yeboah.
LaFleur and head coach Robert Saleh could even go the blocking route and keep Trevon Wesco as a fourth tight end. Although, that feels redundant with fullback Nick Bawden already on the roster.
Right now, Cager is the guy that most threatens the 6-foot-3 Mims. To make things more interesting, the two actually flaunt similar skill sets. Both are physical, lanky, rely on athleticism, and are above-average blockers in space.
Of course, Mims has the higher potential as a former second-round pick and his name carries more weight, but this coaching staff has made it clear that they won’t choose their roster based on stuff like that. The Baylor product will have to put in the work, and the early signs have been positive.
Unfortunately for Mims, fellow bubble candidates like Smith and Cager aren’t making it easy on him. There are no free passes in the NFL.