The New York Jets offense has not prominently featured the traditional tight end or fullback position in recent years. In 2013 and 2014, they dealt with the incompetence of Jeff Cumberland and Jace Amaro. In 2015, they creatively utilized Quincy Enunwa as a hybrid H-Back to supplement the position. In 2016, when Enunwa shifted out to receiver, the positions fell into complete irrelevance. Will the hiring of John Morton at Offensive Coordinator change the prioritization of tight end or fullback and do the Jets have the resources to utilize the position?
One of the few things that has been assumed about Morton is that he will emphasize tight end and fullback more frequently. This seems to be driven by his brief tenure as Offensive Coordinator at USC and the New Orleans Saints offense in recent years. It is worth remembering that Morton was only the receivers coach over the past few years. The Saints offense was Sean Payton and Drew Brees’ offense, so making too many projections to how it will translate to New York could be presumptions.
Regardless, it is almost impossible for the Jets not to use tight end and fullback more than they used it in 2015 and the coaching staff has publicly talked up a deeper integration of the position. Despite this, the Jets did not prioritize either position this offseason when it came to acquiring talent. The only two rostered fullbacks are Julian Howsare, a holdover converted linebacker who has never played a meaningful snap and UDFA Anthony Firkser, who played in the Ivy League.
At tight end, despite Austin Seferian-Jenkins being suspended two games to start the season, the only addition made was fifth round pick Jordan Leggett. The overall investment into these apparently now critical positions was pennies.
So, what gives?
The story of spring practice was Seferian-Jenkins, who lost twenty pounds and repeatedly flashed. A former 2014 second round pick, ASJ had a few moments over three years in Tampa but was largely a disappointment. Last year for the Jets, he was hurt or ineffective when on the field. Seferian-Jenkins has terrific size but a sluggish, slow footed game that struggles to block. The weight loss should help with his speed and his height is a valuable asset in the middle of the field.
Outside of Seferian-Jenkins, the Jets may go back to utilizing Enunwa at H-Back when the situation calls for it. An athletic freak, Enunwa can hold up well enough as a blocker to slide inside and then be able to take advantage of mismatches when a safety or linebacker ends up on him. It is not crazy to think we will see formations that feature Robby Anderson and Chad Hansen on the outside, ArDarius Stewart in the slot and Enunwa at H.
Leggett will have an early season opportunity to grab some attention due to Seferian-Jenkins suspension. He is versatile enough to be moved around the formation and play in combination with him when he returns. The biggest question around Leggett is if he can hold up as a blocker or will be relegated to just being a passing game specialist.
At fullback, if either Howsare or Firkser are going to stick, they are going to need to also show special teams value. The Jets could utilize tight ends (Eric Tomlinson and Brian Parker remain on the roster behind ASJ and Leggett) or Enunwa as a lead blocker depending on the situation. The Jets have kicked the tires on veteran free agent Zach Line and could still make an addition at some point this summer.
Despite a big spring from ASJ, expectations should probably be tempered for output at either of these positions in 2017. Two of the Jets best young offensive players, Quincy Enunwa and Robby Anderson, will command targets, along with team’s two middle round picks at receiver (Stewart and Hansen). At running back, both Bilal Powell and Matt Forte should be active in the passing game and hopefully Morton is finding creative ways to get both on the field at the same time, rather than giving 40-50 reps per game to a player like Firkser.
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