The New York Jets have a lot of areas to improve on in 2022 but their thinnest position group right now might be tight end.
This unit has been unimpressive all season but it’s hit an all-time low in Week 17 with Ryan Griffin and Trevon Wesco out for the season and Tyler Kroft sidelined with COVID-19 at the moment. Kroft might be cleared before Sunday, but if not the Jets will roll with some combination of rookie Kenny Yeboah, special teamer Dan Brown, journeyman blocking tight end Joshua Perkins, practice squad pickup Brandon Dillon and fullback Nick Bawden.
Oh, and don’t forget offensive tackle Conor McDermott — who caught a touchdown as a tight end in Week 16.
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Saleh Speaks on Tight End Room
Head coach Robert Saleh addressed the situation at tight end during a press conference on December 31.
“McDermott, obviously, showed some flashes,” the Jets HC joked before speaking on the tight end room more seriously. “Someone’s got to step up,” he noted, highlighting Yeboah and Brown.
“It’s again another opportunity for those guys, whether it’s Yeboah, Dan Brown, even McDermott… so there’s going to be opportunity to be had out there,” Saleh concluded.
That response set up a follow-up from Brian Costello on whether this system has the piece or pieces it needs at the position. The beat reporter provided George Kittle as the dream example of a perfect scheme fit in San Francisco.
Saleh’s answer gave some insight into what traits the Jets may be looking at when targeting tight ends next spring.
He replied: “You know it goes back to… play-action pass game. It’s one thing to be a tight end who doesn’t really add anything from a blocking standpoint — there [are] a lot of tight ends like that in this league where they’re just kind of glorified receivers — but then you also get a guy like Kittle whose ability to capture edges in the run game and just absolutely dominate one-on-ones in the run game, and then work the play-action pass in the middle of the field, and then on third down to create, to win one-on-one. So he’s dynamic, so he’s special, he’s going to be good in any offense but it’s a combination of their ability to run block and be able to work the middle of the field in the play-action pass game that makes those guys so dynamic in this offense… There [are] guys out there, there [are] plenty of guys out there, and it’s something obviously that we’ll look into along with a lot of different other spots.”
It was a slight tell from Saleh and for anyone hoping the Jets might go after a player like Miami Dolphins pass-catcher Mike Gesicki in free agency, know that it’s probably not going to happen so long as Mike LaFleur is OC.
Gang Green wants a dual-threat, plain and simple. That will most likely be an in-line tight end that can maul in the run game and run strong routes off play action.
Kittle is the epitome of this, similar to Rob Gronkowski or Mark Andrews but as Saleh voiced, there are other available options that fit the mold.
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Sign, Draft, or Both?
Many analysts close to the team have linked Dallas Cowboys TE Dalton Schultz as the ideal scheme fit. We’ve also highlighted impending free agents like Tyler Conklin (Vikings), Hayden Hurst (Falcons), C.J. Uzomah (Bengals), O.J. Howard (Buccaneers) and Zach Ertz (Cardinals).
In terms of draft prospects, let’s look at which of Pro Football Network’s top 10 tight ends match Saleh and LaFleur’s vision.
Jalen Wydermyer (Texas A&M): PFN’s top-ranked TE flaunts an “impressive frame and ball skills in the middle of the field.” His greatest attributes are his route-running and reliable hands but Wydermyer is expected to “contribute on every down” at the NFL level, something the Jets desperately need.
Cade Otton (Washington): Their number-two ranked TE is coming off a down-campaign in 2021 but his strengths lie in his physicality as a blocker and receiver. Otton “isn’t scared to bang helmets with anyone, and his technique is more refined than most of the top tight ends in the 2022 NFL Draft.”
Jake Ferguson (Wisconsin): PFN wrote that “the receiving game isn’t Ferguson’s calling card — run blocking is. As with most Wisconsin TEs, Ferguson plays a huge role in the Badgers’ success on the ground.” Enough said, but is the sixth-ranked TE enough of a receiver?
Trey McBride (Colorado State): I’ve seen fans targeting McBride a bunch who PFN ranks seventh. His size fits NFL requirements and the Rams product possesses the necessary ability as a receiver and a run blocker.
Sam LaPorta (Iowa): Kittle’s alma matter! LaPorta may not be as talented but he fits the Iowa build to a T. “On top of being a solid run and pass blocker, LaPorta excels as an inline receiver,” wrote PFN, making him the ideal scheme selection.
Cole Turner (Nevada): 6-foot-6, 240 pounds, and a willingness to go up and get contested targets. PFN’s ninth-ranked prospect.
NO SCHEME FIT
Isaiah Likely (Coastal Carolina): Many fans have Likely on their wish list but I don’t see him as a great match. He’s “the best receiver at the tight end position in the class” according to PFN (third-ranked TE) but the poor man’s Kyle Pitts is also undersized and not known for his blocking.
Jahleel Billingsley (Alabama): Talented receiver that Nick Saban supposedly benched for “his work ethic” at practice. If there are any character questions involved, expect Douglas to steer clear.
Trae Barry (Boston College): The Eagles “[send] Barry out wide or in the slot on nearly 45% of his offensive snaps.” The Jets are looking for more of an in-line option by the sound of it.
Josh Whyle (Cincinnati): The last prospect on the list is a mismatch for defenders in the passing game, but a “below-average” run blocker. I don’t expect Douglas to go this route.