Over the next few weeks, we’re going to take an in-depth look at each of the Jets’ offseason acquisitions, continuing today with tight end Tyler Kroft.
The 28-year old is listed at 6’6” and 252 pounds and was a third round pick out of Rutgers in 2015. In six NFL seasons, he’s started 42 games, catching 85 passes for 851 yards and 12 touchdowns. About half of that production came in the 2017 season, but he’s dealt with some injuries since that time.
Kroft was a three-star prospect in high school and eventually committed to play college football for Rutgers, with whom he redshirted his first season.
In 2012, he played in 11 games but caught just three passes. However, one of these was a 42-yard gain and another was a touchdown.
He moved into more of a playmaker role in 2013, racking up 43 catches for 573 yards and four scores as he started 12 of 13 games. This saw him voted as an all-AAC first-teamer.
His 2014 season saw his production slip as he moved into more of a blocking role. He ended up with 24 catches but no touchdowns. At the end of the season, he decided to enter the 2015 draft.
Despite being injured at the scouting combine so he couldn’t do a full workout, Kroft had a good pro day and established himself as a possible day two pick. The Bengals eventually selected him with the 85th overall pick in the third round.
Kroft’s career got off to a bit of a slow start as he caught 21 passes with just one touchdown in his first two seasons, although he did start 17 games.
He became a full-time starter and broke out in his third season in 2017 with career-highs in catches (42), receiving yards (404) and touchdowns (seven). However, his 2018 was cut short due to an injury and he caught just four passes in five games.
In 2019, the Bills signed Kroft to a three-year deal worth almost $6 million per year and were hoping he’d become their starter. Unfortunately, he got hurt again in OTAs and struggled through another season where he was banged up and caught just six passes. The three-year deal was reworked into a two-year pact during the offseason.
Last season, Kroft caught 12 passes in 10 games, including three touchdown passes. However, he was a healthy scratch down the stretch. The Jets signed Kroft to a one-year deal after he became a free agent at the end of the season.
Now let’s take a look at what Kroft brings to the table, divided into categories.
Kroft has decent size and, despite being unable to perform a full workout at the scouting combine, was able to put up some good numbers at his pro day.
His 40-yard dash (4.75) and vertical jump (34 inches) were above average and his broad jump (120 inches) was very good. However, his agility and strength numbers were less impressive.
Kroft is primarily used as an inline tight end, although he does play occasionally in the slot or at fullback. It’s rarer that he’ll line up out wide. He’s also seen some action at tackle in unbalanced line formations while in Cincinnati.
Kroft also played as a wide receiver when he was at high school.
Kroft isn’t much of a big play threat down the field. In fact, he didn’t record the first catch more than 20 yards downfield of his career until last season. On the play, the Jets blew a coverage and Kroft might have scored a 58-yard touchdown if he didn’t lose his balance because he had to reach for a high throw.
Nevertheless, he’s adept at running down the seam and catching back shoulder passes and has also been able to stretch the defense on deep over routes. There have been a few plays in his career where he was all alone for a potential big gain but the quarterback didn’t see him.
Kroft does a lot of damage underneath or in the flats, so he doesn’t get many chances to showcase route running ability. He has had some success on out routes though.
He has good enough size and speed to exploit a mismatch depending on whether he’s picked up by a linebacker or a defensive back. He has had one offensive pass interference penalty in his career so far.
Kroft has a good catch radius and can go over defenders to catch passes that are thrown up to where only he can get them. He may not make many highlight reel grabs but can hang on in a crowd or when falling to the ground.
He hasn’t had a lot of dropped passes in his career. In fact, 2017 was the only season where he had more than one. His concentration let him down here though.
Last season, Kroft was also the victim of a controversial call on a downfield throw that he initially juggled. The safety was awarded an interception even though it appeared they had simultaneous possession as they fell to the floor.
Yards after the catch
Kroft isn’t particularly elusive, but shows a good ability to fall forward and get to the marker after making catches underneath. He can also make consistent chunks of yardage on short throws although he isn’t really a threat to break a big gain on such plays.
On the longest play of his career, Kroft span out of a tackle to break into the open field.
At 6’6”, you’d expect Kroft to be a good red zone threat and that’s proven to be the case as all 12 of his NFL touchdowns have come in the red zone, including five from the one-yard line.
His size makes him a good option to run fades and have the quarterback throw the ball up for him to go get it. He’s had a few game winners in his career, including this one with 16 seconds left against the Rams.
Kroft entered into the league with a reputation as a good blocker and has shown some good abilities over the course of his career so far.
He shows good strength at the point of attack on this play, setting the edge with an emphatic down block.
He can also block well on the move, motioning down and moving a defensive lineman off his spot to open a running lane here.
Kroft can also block well on screen passes and down the field and has an ability to contribute from the fullback position.
He has been called for eight penalties for offensive holding during his first six seasons.
In 2017, Kroft stayed in to pass protect over 100 times. This is significant because that doesn’t happen much these days. In fact, the only NFL tight end to do this in 2020 was Chris Herndon.
Within that role, he initially had some struggles but has shown improvement over the course of his career. Most of his reps required him to either drop into his stance and pick up a rusher on the edge or to pull across the formation and pick up a rusher off the opposite edge. When doing the latter, he would sometime have issues in squaring up and anchoring himself.
Earlier on in his career, he had some issues in staying in front of edge rushers and a bad habit of bending at the waist rather than moving his feet. Here’s a play where he fails to stay in front of an inside move.
His progress in this area has been encouraging though. Here’s a play where he managed to anchor against a bull rush, leading to a long touchdown pass.
Early on in his career, Kroft was used a lot in kick coverage and was extremely productive, racking up 17 tackles in his first two seasons, although he did also miss several tackles. He hasn’t done this much in recent years though.
These days, his main special teams contributions have been as a blocker, either on the placekicking unit, in punt protection or on kickoff returns.
Kroft has had one holding penalty while blocking on special teams.
Kroft has displayed a good ability to leak out into open space when a play gets extended and a good ability to find soft spots in the defense and sit down in open areas.
He doesn’t seem to blow many assignments when blocking or running routes, but has false started four times in his career.
Kroft is regarded as a player who loves the game and isn’t afraid of hard work. He’s been the sort of teammate who will lead by example, dating all the way back to his college days.
He showed he was a team-first player in his final year at Rutgers, when he moved into more of a blocking role having been more of a playmaker in the previous season. His teammates voted him as the winner of the Loyal Knight award, given to the player who sacrifices personal goals for the good of the team.
Injuries have seriously disrupted Kroft’s career over the past few years. After his 2017 breakout, he was limited to just five appearances in 2018 after breaking his foot. Then, he re-broke his foot on the first day of OTAs after having signed for the Bills, then tweaked his ankle as soon as he was ready to return.
Until that foot injury, Kroft hadn’t had to deal with many injury issues, although he had an ankle issue at the end of his final season at Rutgers that carried over into his pre-draft preparation and he dealt with a concussion and a jammed knee in his second year with the Bengals.
Kroft missed six games last year, but most of these were as a healthy scratch. He also had two stints on Covid-19 reserve.
Kroft will compete for playing time with Herndon and may even face a battle to win a roster spot if the Jets retain Ryan Griffin or use a high pick on a tight end. However, assuming he earns a role, he can contribute in multiple tight end packages and as a blocker in 11-personnel sets.
He has been a teammate of Carl Lawson and Josh Malone while with the Bengals and Del’Shawn Phillips, Conor McDermott, Tanzel Smart and Chase McLaughlin in Buffalo.
Robert Saleh and Mike LaFleur won’t exactly be expecting Kroft to have a George Kittle-like impact on the Jets in 2021, but they will be relying on his blocking contributions to add something to the Jets’ offense while also holding out hope that he still has some untapped potential as a playmaker in the passing game.
This is another low-risk move that could yield good dividends, but for Kroft to be a success with the Jets, he’ll need to stay healthy. That has proven to be a challenge for him in recent seasons.