New York Jets Training Camp Preview: Tight Ends

David Aitken previews the New York Jets tight ends heading into 2017 training camp…

David Aitken continues his training camp of the 2017 New York Jets with a look at the tight end position. Here is the earlier piece looking at wide receivers…

Projected Depth Chart/Starters

  1. Austin Seferian-Jenkins
  2. Jordan Leggett
  3. Eric Tomlinson
  4. Brian Parker

One of the main issues with organizational instability is not just the quality of the roster but the importance of it’s make up. A change in offensive philosophy can drastically change the outlook at a position. The Jets didn’t utilize pure tight ends under Chan Gailey (though Maccagnan kept around four, just in case) and thus had the worst group in the NFL last two years. With a change of offensive coordinator, now the Jets could be featuring the position quite heavily. Does John Morton have quality tools at his disposal?

The offseason didn’t bring any bona fide starters but Maccagnan made sure to dip into one of the deeper tight end draft classes in recent memory. O.J. Howard was a commonly mocked prospect at sixth overall but it wasn’t until round five where Maccagnan landed Clemson’s Jordan Leggett. Leggett was a steal where the Jets got him and could be a solid starter down the line, but tight end is often a position where rookies fail to make a significant impact. Because of that, penciled in as the starter is 2016 waiver wire pick up Austin Seferian-Jenkins – one of the roster’s most intriguing players.

Seferian-Jenkins was a top 40 pick of the Buccaneers in the 2014 draft, selected 11 choices ahead of where the Jets would take Jace Amaro. As a prospect he had several qualities leading to believe he could develop into a Pro Bowl caliber target – productive from a young age, entering the league at a young age, and in the upper echelon of physical talent for the position. Released after his second DUI in four years last September (for which he’ll serve a two game suspension to start the year), a mix of injury, attitude and off-the-field issues have led to a sputtering start to his career.

Sefarian-Jenkins enters the season with little hype but there’s the potential for him to be one of the team’s genuine surprises. The NFL offseason is filled with empty “best shape of his life” stories but reports of significant weight loss and an extended period of sobriety hint at a player that’s made significant strides in changing his life. Both time and opportunity are on his side. The starting position is his to take and run with, and he’s at a young enough age where it’s more likely something will “click.” At just 24 years old he’s in the same age range as a number of Maccagnan draftees including two rookies from this class (Maye and Donahue). He’s also one of a few players on offense that has some experience playing with probable starter Josh McCown, who has leaned on the likes of Martellus Bennett and Gary Barnidge for production in the past.

Still, nothing is guaranteed for Seferian-Jenkins, which puts rookie Jordan Leggett in as good a position for playing time as any 5th round pick. In a less strong tight end class Leggett probably is a day two pick and so this could end up being one of Maccagnan’s most savvy pick to date. Well built, a solid athlete and most productive in the biggest moments, Leggett realistically could be a starter down the line. As mentioned earlier however, due to typical tight end development tracks that’s unlikely to be this year. Leggett also has self-admitted effort issues. This can be taken as a negative or positive depending on how you look at a prospect’s room to grow. But even if his effort remains consistent, there is work to be done as a blocker before the Jets will be comfortable treating Leggett as a starter. Most likely an H-back or big slot type role is his destiny in the short term.

Are there any other sleepers? Eric Tomlinson, claimed off waivers from the Texans last year, profiles as a blocking tight end with minimal receiving upside. Brian Parker went undrafted in 2015 and has just one reception to his name, but has an intriguing athletic profile. This roster is as good an opportunity a former UDFA tight end is going to get to earn playing time, but for now Tomlinson has the advantage to round out the group fulfilling the blocking TE niche.

Position Group Strength: 3

This is an unproven group of players from top to bottom and on paper you’ll struggle to find a tight end core worse off than what the Jets have. With that said, in a season where the Jets are throwing young talent at the wall to see what will stick, there’s reason to have cautious optimism in Seferian-Jenkins this year and Jordan Leggett over the long term. Overall this position probably has the highest variety of outcomes. The Jets tight end play could be anywhere from just as bad as it was last year to being set two-deep for the foreseeable future.

Best Case Scenario: Things click for Seferian-Jenkins in a significant way and he’s one of the Jets’ surprise stories. Jordan Leggett’s opportunities are limited due to this but impresses early as a receiver during Seferian-Jenkins’ early suspension. The Jets brass feel they have their answers at the position going forward.

Prediction: Seferian-Jenkins will be one of the silver linings of the 2017 season, being the team’s most productive player in several games and eventually the team’s 2018 starter on merit. Leggett will have 15-20 receptions but ultimately will find extended playing time difficult.

 Photo credit: nj.com