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The Tight End Disconnect

NFL: New York Jets at Carolina Panthers Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

Jets playcalling has received a lot of criticism after a rough opener on the offensive side of the ball. In the immediate aftermath of the loss, however, my attention is more focused on player deployment.

During the game I was struck by the frequency the Jets were putting two tight ends on the field. The website Sharp Football Stats keeps track of personnel groupings.

In the opening game against Carolina they charted the Jets with 2 tight ends and 2 wide receivers on the field 40% of the time. That was the third highest rate in the NFL behind Atlanta and New England.

The dominant personnel grouping in today’s NFL is 1 tight end and 3 wide receivers. The Jets only used this 50% of the time, which was the 11th lowest rate in the opening week.

This stands out in part due to the Jets’ roster construction. It is widely acknowledged that the Jets have a more talented group of wide receivers than tight ends.

It certainly seems that way by design. The Jets didn’t expend resources in a way that suggested they wanted to lean on tight ends like New England and Atlanta. The Patriots and the Falcons rank third and fifth respectively in the NFL when it comes to cap space spent on the position. New England signed two pricey tight ends in free agency, while Atlanta drafted a tight end with a top five pick. The Jets rank 25th in tight end spending.

Meanwhile the Jets rank sixth in cap space spent at wide receiver, and that is probably underselling how much they have invested in the position. Two straight years they have selected a wide receiver in the second round of the Draft. These players don’t count for much against the cap, but an early round pick is a significant investment and suggests the position is a major focus.

With this sort of asset allocation for team building it’s difficult to see why the Jets were using wide receivers less and tight ends more than your typical NFL team.

There are a couple of plausible explanations you might counter with.

The team was without a pair of wide receivers in the opener, Jamison Crowder and Keelan Cole, and perhaps more prone to lean on tight ends. I’m not sure how well this explains things, however. Part of the reason you spend big at a position is to build depth so that you can withstand losses. Indeed, the Jets imported three potentially starting caliber receivers this offseason while retaining two incumbent starters. A week ago I would have argued that wide receiver was the deepest position on the team.

Another plausible argument is that the Jets felt they needed to utilize tight ends more frequently to help a struggling offensive line with blocking assignments. I can see the logic to this argument, but Jets tight ends were doing more than blocking in this game. Ryan Griffin and Tyler Kroft were third and fourth in respective targets for the offense on Sunday. In the opening weekend of the season, only three teams had more tight end targets than the combined 11 passes thrown in the direction of Griffin and Kroft.

I am not here to make any sweeping proclamations. One game is one game. This might have been an anomaly. The Jets might have taken this as a temporary approach for one reason or another. All we can do is continue to watch to see whether it continues.