With Austin Seferian-Jenkins off to Jacksonville after a solid if unspectacular season for the Jets in 2017, the team is facing yet another wide open competition at the position with a group stocked full with unheralded names. Who are the candidates to take over the position?
My current pick to win the job, based solely on his advantage in the experience department. Walford’s receiving role in Oakland diminished last season, but he still has been decently efficient when targeted in his career. From 2015 to 2016, Walford averaged 22 receiving yards per game as he caught 61 of 102 (60%) targets for 688 yards (11.3 per reception) and 6 touchdowns. In 2015, he posted a 40% first down to target rate, and stayed solid with a 37% rate in 2016. To compare, Austin Seferian-Jenkins posted a measly first down rate of just 24% in 2017.
Pro Football Focus also shared the following stat, lauding his blocking ability even if only utilized sparingly:
Walford is a decent tight end with versatility and experience, and is still only 26. Right now, I’d bet on him to own the position for most of the year, but it’s a deep group with a lot of potential.
Herndon did not help his case with a DUI arrest, but the Jets did invest a fourth-round selection in him this year, and the rumblings on him have been positive.
Herndon’s blocking fundamentals and willingness are certainly his primary weaknesses. His motor in that department came and went, and he struggled to set a strong base at times.
However, Herndon brings a lot to the table with his athletic profile and open field ability with the ball in his hands. He is likely already the most athletic tight end on the roster, which Mike Maccagnan himself hinted at.
“We thought [Herndon] had enough functional ability to be an effective blocker, so we kind of liked him in the sense that he’s sort of dual guy,” Maccagnan said. “He’s not a specialist in one or the other [receiving or blocking]. He’s probably a little more athletic than some of the tight ends we have, and probably a better pass receiver.”
Here’s a look at some of Herndon’s best traits on display. Nice one-handed catch followed by some speed and power in the open field to pick up the first down. Though a lot of his production was manufactured, he showed a lot of intriguing signs on plays like the one below.
A fifth round pick a year ago, injuries held Leggett out of competing for a role last year. Hopefully with good health this offseason, he’ll have a shot to make a play for a role. Leggett is already 23 years old before playing an NFL snap, so it seems he’ll have to claim a role sooner rather than later to stick around.
Though only an average athlete, Leggett possesses great size, hands, and a track record of production at Clemson.
Over his four-year Tigers career, Leggett compiled 1,598 yards (14.3 per reception, 36.3 per game) and 18 touchdowns. He took a big step up in his final season, posting career highs of 46 receptions and 736 yards (16.0 per reception, 56.6 per game) in addition to 7 touchdowns a year after posting 8 touchdowns in 2015.
His receiving upside is tantalizing relative to his draft position, but there are a lot of questions Leggett needs to answer. With such a dearth of proven tight end production, Leggett couldn’t ask for a better shot, so we should get a true read on where he is as an NFL player based upon where he ends up on the depth chart.
The ultimate wild card. Hodges was a sixth-round selection out of Virginia Tech by the Vikings only one year ago. Physically, he offers a lot to be excited about at 6’6/257 with a 4.57 forty time.
Hodges was similarly productive as Leggett in college, collecting 1,747 yards (13.1 per reception, 44.8 per game) and 20 touchdowns over three seasons with the Hokies. However, even more so than Leggett, he had fundamental concerns surrounding his route-running, blocking, and overall technique. Obviously, he failed to answer those questions in Minnesota as the Vikings didn’t even bother to hold on to him longer than one season.
Still, as the athlete he is, Hodges will have a shot to stand out in practice among this group.
Over the first sixteen weeks of the season, Neal Sterling saw a grand total of only 2 targets (1 catch against Oakland) while never playing more than 11 snaps in a game. He finally got a chance to start in Week 17, and put out a performance that statistically was arguably better than that of any Jets tight end over the Todd Bowles era. Sterling caught 5 of 8 targets for 74 yards, four of which were for first downs and overall culminating with an efficient 9.3 yards per target average. Sterling also freed himself open for what should’ve been a ~20 yard first down, though Bryce Petty missed the throw.
Here is one of Sterling’s best plays. Standing up tight to the right side of the formation, he makes a great cut on this out route to execute the pick play, then showing the speed and awareness to hit the sideline and pick up the first down.
Though a small sample size, when Sterling’s 2017 is coupled with his 2016 in Jacksonville, he has turned 11 of his 26 career targets into first downs, a very strong 42% rate. Could he sustain that efficiency over extended time - or more importantly for his future, on to the training camp field?
Though he will likely never lead the roster’s tight ends in receptions, I still think Tomlinson is the best best of this group to make the team based solely on his blocking. Tomlinson was an overall decent blocking tight end last year, faring better in the run game than in the pass game with his blocking impact. The Jets also turned him loose for 8 receptions, totaling 121 yards and 4 first downs, including 1 touchdown against the Falcons. As of right now I expect Tomlinson’s blocking reputation to earn him a roster spot, but after watching him more closely, he’s not exactly as spotless a blocker as I may have thought. He can be an asset, but I’m not sure he’s great enough of a blocker to be guaranteed a spot, either.
So, what are your thoughts on the tight end group?
Who will lead Jets tight ends in targets in 2018?
This poll is closed