Since 2008, the tight end responsibilities for the Jets have been manned primarily by Dustin Keller. While he never fully developed into anything more than average, he was a constant on a lot of bad teams when he wasn't injured. Sadly him staying healthy and being able to play didn't happen often enough.
Keller also had the honor of being Sanchez's security blanket since 2009 when the Jets grabbed Sanchez in the draft. Flash forward four years with Sanchez and he never developed into a bigtime player and now finds himself on a one year deal with our bitter enemy, the Miami Dolphins. So long Dustin Keller and all our hopes of you developing into something more than well average....hello new guys.
(For the record, I'm not going to expect anything out of the UDFA class besides being camp bodies. If I'm wrong and one does step up... well that makes it a lot easier.)
Basically what we're left with is Jeff Cumberland, proud owner of these stats: 19 games, just a hair under 400 yards, and 3 TD's with a long TD of 39 yards. That's not a year, that's his entire Jets career: yikes. All three TD's did come last year so he has shown some progress into a bigger role, but still that's a leap of faith. Much like Keller, he also has an injury history: a blown achilles in 2010 ended a promising season and has never made it a full 16 game season. If he is going to be the guy, he's got a lot of work ahead of him to fill in Keller's shoes.
So we're left Cumberland as the guy with the most NFL experience.. If that's not bad enough... well here are the other two guys stats who will be vying for the starting/backup role: Reuland: 11 yards 0 TD's; Smith: 16 yards and 0TD's. Needless to say, both barely saw the field much last year, and when they did, didn't make a big impact. Basically we're looking at three very big question marks going into next year with two out of three probably playing a good sized role in the offense.
With the WCO coming into town, TE play will be important. The starter will have to keep the QB upright but also catch a pass as an tertiary option. So that means one of them needs to step up and not only be somewhat better than they were last year, but somehow turn themselves into an average NFL starter right away. The Jets no longer have Dustin Keller as Sanchez's security blanket who can make a catch in the middle of the field. This means whoever does step up must, at the minimum, start 16 games and be able to be a reliable target for whatever QB the Jets start. The TE isn't a integral part of the WCO but will still be needed to provide protection and run solid routes. This allows a multitude of options for formations and plays when you can have solid TE play.
Another problem is the Jets must also have a good backup in case the starter goes down. (Despite Cumby coming close last year, he has yet to play an entire 16 game schedule, ditto for everyone else). So not only do the Jets need one person to be a number one, they need someone to be basically a 1B. This is a lot to ask from the current crew, who are all ideally suited to be a backup or spot starter IMO. Needless to say, that means we need one to step up huge and another to step up.
Looking at this current crew, Reuland and Smith seem to be going after the backup role. Smith, the former rugby guy, probably still has a lot of work to do just to make it onto the Roster. Reuland seems to be the favorite for a backup role, just because this is his sport he's most familiar with. Cumberland probably gets the starting role.
Frankly if Cumberland doesn't have a productive year, I personally believe he will be replaced by next year. I think Smith and Reuland have a little more wiggle room only because they are developmental players. Despite Cumberland having some potential, we've been down this road before with Keller. If you have potential it's time you realize it and start becoming a big part of the offense.
Looking at this position it's obviously a very big question mark on a team full of them. For the Jets to have success, one TE must turn himself into a constant reliable target that plays 16 games. Another must also become good enough to start in a pinch and be a good blocker in the backup role. If this doesn't happen, it severally limits the types of plays the Jets can run and formations available. Plus our already thin skill possession players will be forced to carry more of the offensive load. That doesn't exactly sound like a recipe for success. If this offense is to have any success, the TE position is one that needs just about everyone to step up who plays the position.