Ever since Dustin Keller left via free agency after the 2012 season, the Jets have not been able to get any kind of consistent play out of the tight end position. That’s not to say they haven’t tried. They drafted Jace Amaro with a second round pick in 2014 and after he busted they picked up another second rounder from that year, Austin Seferian-Jenkins during the 2016 season. Seferian-Jenkins may have been the most successful since Keller’s departure but still had inconsistencies in his game before signing with Jacksonville in March.
This left the team with a bunch of question marks at the position. Those question marks include Chris Herndon, Bucky Hodges, Jordan Leggett, Neal Sterling, Eric Tomlinson and Clive Walford. While there are no names that really stand out, let’s take a look at the players that have the best chances of playing in green and white come September.
Eric Tomlinson – 6’6, 263 pounds, 4th season
As it seems at this moment, Tomlinson looks to have the early lead at the starter’s job. Playing just under 40% of the snaps last year he proved to be an asset as an inline blocker. Not only is he able to set the edge in the running game but also provides help as a sixth blocker in the passing game from time to time. With Rick Dennison coming in and implementing an outside zone running scheme, having a player with Tomlinson’s capabilities could be vital to an offense that will look to run more often next season.
Meanwhile his ability as a pass catcher is subpar. In the 2017 season he only reeled in 8 catches, 4 of them going for 20 yards or more. Going back to look at each one of the four, three were blown coverages and the other was the result of very good blocking on a tight end screen. He lacks ideal athleticism and a variety of routes to his repertoire, mostly consisting of hitches and seam routes. Not being able to create separation on his own as a receiver could be what holds him back.
Chris Herndon – 6’4, 253 pounds, Rookie
The Jets selected Herndon with a fourth round pick in April, making him the first new target for Sam Darnold. Late last season Herndon suffered a torn MCL that kept him out for the entire pre-draft process and is expected to keep him limited throughout the summer. What Herndon did show in his first season as a starter at Miami was the ability to be a solid all around tight end. Known to be both willing to get physical in the trenches as well as a reliable threat as a receiver.
I’m not going to say that he’s on Tomlinson’s level as a blocker, but he displayed good pad level, strength and the willingness to get dirty. On the other hand, his hand placement and control can get inconsistent and could definitely stand to improve at this level. It’s the willingness to block that tells me he will be inclined to continue to work on his craft as a blocker.
As a receiver he lined up in the slot, in-line and even in the backfield at times. He has soft hands bringing in 40 catches for 477 yards and 4 touchdowns before missing the last two games of the season. Many of those catches were behind or around the line of scrimmage, being asked to make plays in space. He is a threat to create yards after the catch but it wasn’t by making crazy moves or out running the defender, but more so of him dropping his pads to get physical with the tackler.
Update: This past Saturday night Herndon was arrested and charged with DUI. With this arrest we should expect to see the league discipline him sometime in the future. Seferian-Jenkins was picked up by the Jets right after a DUI so this shouldn’t stop Herndon from getting a chance to get serious playing time. This flat out was not a good look for the rookie. Hopefully he has learned his lesson and will walk the straight and narrow from here on out.
Jordan Leggett – 6’5, 258 pounds, 2nd season
Entering his 2nd season after being a fifth round pick last year, he seems to be the fan favorite to take the job. What probably helped was Todd Bowles mentioning that Leggett was one of the reasons for letting Seferian-Jenkins walk in free agency. But after drafting Herndon with their third selection, it doesn’t seem like the job is a lock for him. Leggett is also coming off a knee injury, this one kept him on the sidelines his entire rookie season.
He wasn’t a particularly good blocker to say the least. Despite good size he had a hard time sustaining blocks with poor instincts, leverage and hand placement contributing to that. Leggett’s willingness to block came into question around the league when he was going through the pre-draft process, making many wonder if he will spend the time to work on his blocking ability.
Leggett’s skills as a receiver are much better than his blocking skills but there is still work to be done. While he shows solid hands and the ability to bring in balls away from his body, he needs to work on his route running as well. He doesn’t have great flexibility to be able to break down and break out of cuts. With linebackers and safeties being as athletic as they are, Leggett will struggle to create space against man coverage unless he works on the nuances of route running.
Clive Walford – 6’4, 250 pounds, 4th season
After being waived by the Oakland Raiders, here is another Miami alum trying to find his place on the roster. He has the most experience of the group, playing in 44 games and starting in 10 during his first three seasons. Over that time he showcased his solid ability as a run blocker using his strength and athleticism. He could be a solid blocker in this outside zone scheme they will be using this year.
Off a down year, playing only 130 snaps, he still managed to bring in 70 catches while in Oakland. His hands have improved since college but still not great, dropping five balls on 65 targets the last two seasons. The routes he runs tend to be rounded off allowing defenders to get angles to the ball. This was a problem in college as well hoping that it would have been fixed, so it would be tough to still expect it to get much better at this point. On the bright side, he is good athlete that will allow him to get some big plays down the field every now and again.
When it comes down to it, we should expect Mike Maccagnan to ultimately keep three on the roster on final cuts. The only lock is Chris Herndon but knowing that he likes to keep his own guys expect Jordan Leggett to stick around as well. That leaves one more spot open and because of what he can provide as a blocker, Eric Tomlinson will likely take the last slot. It may not be the most enticing group of tight ends at the moment, but the organization is hopeful that Herndon and/or Leggett can turn into a solid security blanket for that first round quarterback they just selected.
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