After the opening round of NFL free agency, the New York Jets admitted that they were forced to pivot away from the wide receiver position due to a lack of availability and a league-wide price surge that inflated the market.
Instead, general manager Joe Douglas wisely shifted his attention to tight end and was able to secure two experienced pass-catchers for Zach Wilson at a fraction of the cost. Those veteran additions were C.J. Uzomah and Tyler Conklin, who played for the Cincinnati Bengals and Minnesota Vikings in 2021.
Both should do wonders for this offense in the run and pass game as dual-threat assets, but Douglas appears to be especially hyped about Conklin.
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During his June 5 NYJ roundup, ESPN beat reporter Rich Cimini included a section called “GM’s sleepers.” He explained:
Joe Douglas, in an interview with ESPN, singled out tight end Tyler Conklin and defensive tackle Solomon Thomas as potential surprises among their free-agent additions.
In terms of the tight end, Cimini quoted Douglas, who labeled him as a “nice under-the-radar- find.” Continuing: “I think C.J. [Uzomah] and Conklin are going to make a pretty strong duo in this offense.”
A fifth-round selection out of Central Michigan, Conklin only started focusing on football in college. “It seems that every year more former basketball players are moving to the gridiron,” wrote NFL draft expert Lance Zierlein in 2018. “Conklin signed with Northwood University in Michigan to play hoops but after playing sparingly for one season, decided to transfer somewhere to play football.”
To make such a late transition, you might say the ex-Viking was naturally gifted, but he still had to develop and learn the Xs and Os of the position. In other words, Conklin was drafted as a long-term project and it took four seasons for him to truly breakout — with minor contributions in year three.
In 2021, Conklin became a playmaker, posting a stat line of 61 receptions for 593 yards and three touchdowns (26 first downs). He actually beat out failed Jets tight end Chris Herndon for the starting job in Minnesota.
You might see a similar long-term timeline for 2022 draft pick Jeremy Ruckert, although the Ohio State product is further along than Conklin ever was at Central Michigan. Even so, the plan appears to be two years of Uzomah and Conklin, followed by a Ruckert-Conklin duo of the future, assuming the ex-Viking is a fit in New York.
Just like that, the Jets’ tight end position has a retirement plan.
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The Player’s GM
It’s kind of uncommon that you hear a general manager open up and talk freely about specific players like Douglas did with Cimini but the Jets decision-maker is a rare breed. He began as a former college offensive lineman turned scout who was mentored by the great Ozzie Newsome — GM of the Baltimore Ravens from 1996 through 2018.
The Jets boss once told Chris Long that he didn’t change his personality after becoming GM. “I’m gonna be me, and I’m still going to try and build a relationship with the players,” Douglas voiced on the “Green Light” podcast.
It’s a tall task to remain a player’s general manager while also constructing a winner. So far, Douglas has put together talented rosters on paper, but they have yet to come together on the field.
In 2022, head coach Robert Saleh hopes to change that. Most early predictions have the Jets finishing toward the bottom of the pack once again, but some believe this team could surprise based on these Conklin-like pickups.
A lot of times, great teams don’t just go out and acquire household names — excluding the Los Angeles Rams outlier — they develop and create their own. For example, Conklin was a solid player in Minnesota but the Jets believe he can be so much more during the second chapter of his NFL career.
This philosophy also incorporates building through the draft and trusting in coaching.
It all sounds like a dream come true, but how long until the noticeable shift in record occurs? How long until Gang Green is a consistent contender? Those are the questions most Jets fans are waiting on and 2022 is the next big test.