Well, this is quite the pickle, isn't it? The Jets were absolutely not a good team in 2021, but they didn't have any position groups so thoroughly unprepared for the start of the season as the tight ends room. Entering the preseason, their top three options were Chris Herndon, Tyler Kroft and Ryan Griffin. Then, after the final preseason game where I'm pretty sure Herndon didn't receive a snap, the Jets shipped him and a 6th round pick to Minnesota for a 4th round pick. I'd be pretty confident in saying that the Jets won the trade, as Herndon served as a backup for the Vikings, but it doesn't change the fact that the Jets were barren at the position.
Though I'd certainly like them to be aggressive in pursuing a new top receiver this offseason, the Jets absolutely need to be aggressive in pursuing multiple high-level tight ends this offseason to resolve the failures that were present with this past season's tight ends. It was honestly baffling to review how little mind the Jets paid this position over the offseason when considering how much the offense relied on 12 and 21 personnel sets in the early goings of the season. It was genuinely the main reason why the offense was so unwatchable in the first six games of the season; even when Zach Wilson was throwing four picks against the Patriots, at least the offense was generally looking good when he was handing the ball off. The tight ends, however, offered very little in the passing game and not much more in the running game.
In this entry, I will explore what the tight end position offers in free agency and the draft. I'm not paying much mind to trade possibilities, though if the Jets were to trade for one, I'd think the likeliest candidate would be Noah Fant with the Broncos, who could be entering a soft reset next year and could look to part ways with the former first round pick. Fant has failed to make the impact expected of a first round selection, though he's still a solid receiving threat. He's not a good enough blocker to justify being out there alone as a blocker (even if it would be funny to see him block alongside George Fant because they share a last name) and he's very much in need of discipline (8 accepted penalties committed in 2021, including 2 against the Jets). If they were to acquire him via trade, he would cost just over $2.2 million for 2022, and if they were to exercise his fifth-year option, just over $6.6 million for 2023 (which I think would be worth it).
However, before I begin to examine how they can upgrade, first allow me to briefly examine what they have now. I'm not going into too much detail, since there's a fairly decent chance that none of them are on the roster heading into the regular season next year any way.
Feel free to leave your feedback or suggestions below this post.
As of right now, the Jets only have three tight ends on the roster for the 2022 season, not including the two guys who signed future contracts. I will examine them in order of 2022 cap hits from highest to lowest.
Ryan Griffin, Age 32, 9 Years of Experience
Griffin is the elder statesman of the tight end room and was the second-oldest player on the team this year (behind Joe Flacco at age 37). He had a relatively decent 2021 and has been a relatively decent Jet during his three seasons here. He's played in at least 13 games every season (though in 2020, he played fewer than 400 offensive snaps), demonstrating good enough durability for a man his age, though he has spent at least some time on IR in 2019 and 2021.
He had 27 catches on 42 targets for 261 yards (9.7 YPR) and 2 TDs in 2021. That's pretty good for a guy who likely entered the final preseason game as TE3, which is a role he would fill in 2022 should he still be with the team. After all, even playing in 14 games this past season (18.6 YPG), he acquitted himself fairly well for a guy who finished 2020 with only 9 catches for 86 yards and no TDs. If Griffin is still here, his targets should be cut in half at worst, so hopefully he'd still be able to keep his YPG total and maybe even serve as an occasional red zone threat.
Griffin was also good as a run blocker while being mediocre as a pass-blocker. Though I want the Jets to upgrade their tight end room in all facets, if Griffin is their best run-blocker, that's not the worst thing in the world. PFF assigned him a grade of 65.5 as a run-blocker in 2021, which was the third-highest of his career (highest being in 2020 with a score of 68.4). He's not likely to pick up a block at the second level on handoffs, though he can be effective downfield on screen passes provided the target makes it out of the backfield. That value is visible on special teams (PFF gives him a score of 68.9 as a special teamer in 2021 after a score of 74.7 in 2020), as he has received at least 44% of the team's special teams snaps with the Jets, usually on kick returns.
The issue is his health and his contract. He ended the season on injured reserve with a knee injury, though the severity of that injury is unknown. I haven't seen any reports of him having any surgery, so it's probably not a major injury, but it did cost him the final three games when Saleh (who is notably optimistic about almost all injuries suffered by the Jets) and the Jets quickly moved to put him on IR. Beyond his injury, though, Griffin is currently set to have a roughly $3 million cap hit for 2022, which the Jets can reduce to $186 thousand if they release him outright. Griffin doesn't have much leverage to lobby for a pay cut to anything more than a nonguaranteed veteran minimum; the Jets released him as part of the 53-man cutdown last year and nobody claimed him off waivers. I doubt there are any teams salivating to offer him a job for when the Jets release him this time.
I understand that most Jets fans have tired of Griffin catching passes for this team, but personally, I'd be willing to let him stick around at least through the 2022 preseason to compete for the TE3 role, provided he is willing to accept the pay cut to the minimum (just over $1.3 million). He's a good enough special teamer that I don't mind the price tag if that's his primary role, and his run-blocking is good enough that he can be on the field for around half of running plays if they don't get a better run-blocking tight end. Plus, if he fails to win the TE3 job, the Jets could still sign him to the practice squad (assuming he'd still want to play football at that point) to serve as depth. There's no way he should be a consistently starting tight end for the Jets next year, but I think he still has some value to offer.
Trevon Wesco, Age 27, 3 Years of Experience
I'm including Wesco on this list as a TE and not a FB, since more than half of his offensive snaps were aligned at the line. He was a participant in 12 games and a starter of 7 in 2021, though he was often not found on the stat sheet for the games he appeared in. He only recorded 3 receptions on 5 targets for 35 yards (2.9 YPG) for 0 TDs (and he has zero TDs in three years, great use of a 4th round pick he's been).
He's more effective as a blocker than a receiver, recording PFF grades of 64.0, 59.4 and 69.8 as a run blocker from 2019-2021. These are fine for a backup, though you need to question if you're willing to tolerate such horrid production as a receiver from any backup on the active roster. He only received 16 pass blocking snaps in 2021 for a grade of 55.0, though only one of his games featured a pass blocking grade below 64.3 (his Week 1, single pass-blocking snap graded 3.6 heavily brings down his season grade).
Wesco's also a good special teamer, better than Ryan Griffin in that regard on about 70 fewer snaps. PFF assigned him a grade of 79.9 on special teams, half of his snaps coming on kick returns. If he were retained, that would probably be his job, sliding into the role usually occupied by Daniel Brown each of the last three seasons. I personally don't think he has enough value on offense to only be retained for special teams use, but I wouldn't be surprised if that were the route the Jets were to go down.
Wesco has only one year remaining on his rookie contract; he accounts for $965 thousand in 2022 but could be cut for a dead cap hit of only $177 thousand. Like I said before, I'd rather have Griffin serving as the third string tight end and playing on special teams, even if Wesco is the superior special teamer, so I'd advocate more strongly for Wesco to be cut and replaced (at both the tight end and fullback position).
Kenny Yeboah, Age 24, 1 Year of Experience
Yeboah did not get much playing time in his rookie season; despite playing on a team that comfortably had the worst tight end room in the NFL, he spent half the season on the practice squad after the Jets made him a priority undrafted free agent signing. That's somewhat telling of what the Jets think about him, though I suppose it is possible that the Jets wanted to hide his talents as best they could so that no one would try to claim him next season when cutdown day arrives.
Yeboah only had 54 offensive snaps and was targeted only 3 times on 31 passing routes. On his 3 targets, he caught his final 2 for 36 total yards in the home finale against the Buccaneers. He was surprisingly not utilized in the role that made him the priority UDFA for much of the season, but he did display those abilities in that game against the Buccaneers. Maybe he can build on that promise next season, though I wouldn't hold my breath for it.
Yeboah had a bit of a reputation for being a subpar blocker coming out of Ole Miss with much of his value coming as a receiving threat, and he did little to assuage those fears as a run blocker, earning a PFF score of 40.2 for the season and 39.2 in the only game (the Buccaneers) where he received more than one snap as a run blocker. His pass-blocking score was surprisingly high at 77.2, though it was only on 6 snaps; it's hard for me to imagine it holds up if he receives 10 times that amount of pass blocking snaps.
On special teams, though, Yeboah has an EXCELLENT grade of 86.7 from PFF on 114 snaps, 53 of them coming on kick returns and 40 coming on punt coverages. He officially recorded a solo tackle against the Eagles on the latter kind of play (after a very poor missed tackle by Hardee) when he forced Reagor out of bounds as the closest defender, though he wasn't the primary contributor to the end of the play really. It was the fact that he took a perfect angle that led to Reagor running out of bounds before any contact could be made that was the impressive part, not to mention his good blocking at the edge for Mann that kept the punter clean.
Though the Jets gave him some guaranteed money in his rookie season to sign him, there are no more guarantees in his contract. He costs $825 thousand and can be cut for no dead cap, though he will likely be kept around at least through training camp while the team evaluates what other undrafted free agents might be better fits for the team. He may even be able to make it into the preseason, though if the Jets are able to significantly upgrade the tight end position, his roster spot isn't secure enough to guarantee him lasting any longer than July. His special teams abilities alone are likely to get him back on the practice squad should he clear waivers, so maybe the Jets can get another season of development for him without having to dedicate a roster spot.
So, of these guys, I'd like to retain Griffin (on the pay cut) and Yeboah through the start of the preseason at a minimum, though their roster spots are far from guaranteed. I'd also like to bring both of them back on the practice squad if they don't make the roster but can clear waivers. Beyond them, though, this tight end room is in need of a serious upgrade. The Jets must bring in two new bodies at a minimum, possibly even three if Griffin intends to retire after this season or refuses to return at the lower contract.
I will first begin in free agency and list my three favorite options from two different tiers. Spoilers: my favorite options in the first tier are probably the same guys you've already considered as options, so I'm likely not offering unique opinions. For the first tier, the only guys that I consider off-limits are Rob Gronkowski (for obvious reasons) and Zach Ertz, who I believe will want to sign with a contender that can pay him (the Chargers, maybe?), but if the Jets are able to swing him for a multi-year contract, then shoot, I'll be happy. I'm making the assumption that all of these guys reach unrestricted free agency.
With that in mind, let me first begin with the upper tier and list my three favorite options from it.
Free Agency 1st Tier
Dalton Schultz, Age 26, 4 Years of Experience
This one's a no-brainer; Schultz is widely believed to be the best available tight end in free agency this offseason after four years spent with the Cowboys. I suppose the Cowboys could fight to retain him, but it will be difficult for them considering that they're already $13 million in the red for 2022 and need to add more guys to their roster with only 42 currently under contract for next season. If they franchise tag him, he would account for more than $10.8 million fully guaranteed, and considering that their last franchise tag resulted in Dak Prescott only playing in five games the following season before getting a raise in an extension the following year, they may not want to go down that route again.
No, Schultz is likely to hit free agency and will be the most prized tight end on the market. Legitimately, you could argue that Schultz was a top 2 TE in 2021 behind Mark Andrews of the Ravens, though you might say that he was behind Travis Kelce of the Chiefs and George Kittle of the 49ers as well. In the receiving game, he was outstanding with 78 receptions on 104 targets for 808 yards (10.4 YPR) and 8 TDs. He played in all 17 games (47.5 YPG), continuing his iron man run of never having missed a game due to injury in his career (he was a healthy scratch a few times as a rookie), and he was on the field for at least 80% of the Cowboys' offensive snaps each of the last two seasons.
The funny thing about his production is that it was never the plan for the Cowboys to have him be their top tight end; after drafting him out of Stanford in 2018, he was barely able to make the roster as a 4th TE behind Geoff Swaim, Blake Jarwin and Rico Gathers. In 2019, Swaim was gone, but future HOF Jason Witten ended his one-year retirement to become the Cowboys starter, relegating Schultz to TE3 status and primarily only seeing him used as a run-blocker. In 2020, after Witten departed in free agency, the Cowboys extended Jarwin with a then-big contract for the TE position with the intention of having him be their starting TE for the future. Jarwin, unfortunately, suffered an ACL tear in the first game of the season, allowing Schutlz to step in and have his breakout 2020 that was so impressive that he retained the starting job the following season over Jarwin.
Schultz was only ever supposed to be their blocking tight end, a role he has still managed to fill while showing off his receiving skills the last two years. He recorded a run blocking grade of 69.9 in 2021 from PFF and has never graded below 65.3 in his four seasons. He needs to smooth out his penalties (only one false start in his career, but he's been flagged for offensive holding six times in the last three years), but his upside as a run blocker is good enough for being the only tight end on the field on running plays. As a pass-blocker, he's been generally good with only one season below a 65.3 PFF grade, though that one season was a horrid 35.2 grade from 2020 where he was credited with allowing 2 sacks; that's just an aberration, so hopefully it doesn't repeat if he signs with the Jets.
If Schultz were to sign with the Jets, I project it would be on a four-year, $52 million contract with $32 million guaranteed at signing, tying him to the Jets through the 2025 season. I'd also include vesting guarantees so that portions of his 2024 and 2025 salaries would become guaranteed to incentivize the Jets to decide on his roster spots early in the offseason. I'd also include an additional $8 million in incentives for playing time and production, raising the total value of the contract to $60 million. The contract could look something like this (page may not work on mobile).
The base AAV is $13 million, which would be fifth-highest in the NFL. However, since all of his incentives and roster bonuses are considered LTBE, his total contract AAV would be $15 million, tied with George Kittle for highest among TEs. He would also have the highest guaranteed amount among veteran TEs on his contract (only Kyle Pitts has more guaranteed, as first round picks these days have their entire four-year contracts guaranteed along with fifth year options if exercised). I don't think I'd be willing to raise either his total pay or guaranteed pay; I'm not setting the market for the position (because I still think Kittle is a better player) and I'm already offering to make him the highest-guaranteed veteran TE. I don't know if he's set to get better offers than this one, though he may always choose to take less money on a one-year deal to remain in Dallas and try to cash in next year. If he does that or he does get a better offer elsewhere, the Jets will have to shift their focus to the rest of the TE market.
David Njoku, Age 26, 5 Years of Experience
The gap between Schultz and everyone else in the upcoming FA TE class is large, but I want to include three options in the upper tier. I think Njoku fits into the upper tier, as he has been a solid TE each of the last two years for the Browns even while serving as a backup to Austin Hooper. The former first round pick didn't quite live up to expectations in Cleveland, but he's probably still capable of being an effective TE in a rotation.
Njoku is coming off a 2021 season where he played in 16 games (missing one due to COVID-19) and recorded 36 receptions on 53 targets for 475 yards (13.2 YPR and 29.7 YPG) for 4 TDs. He's a fairly safe target, only having dropped 18 passes in his five years and 233 targets by PFF's count, and he's never fumbled the ball in his professional career. Like Schultz, he needs to attain a better discipline, having been flagged three times for offensive holding in 2021, but hopefully that can be corrected in New York.
As a blocker, Njoku might be comparable to Schultz, having been graded by PFF with scores of 64.1 and 72.4 for run blocking and pass blocking respectively (with around 85% of the snaps in both categories). The Jets would probably still need to get a more run-blocking oriented TE to work in rotation with him since his career high from PFF as a run blocker is 65.4 from 2018, but this is still fine for a starter.
Njoku had a major injury limit him to only four games in 2019 (prompting the Browns to give a sizable contract to Austin Hooper in free agency while still exercising Njoku's fifth year option), but he's only missed five games in the last two years, so hopefully his run of good health continues on his next contract. He's decent in every facet of the game while not being exemplary, but at his age, there's still room for him to grow.
If Njoku were to sign with the Jets, I project that it would be on a three-year, $24 million contract with $10 million guaranteed (no contract constructor needed: just evenly divide the money into $8 million each year). He'd be somewhere around the 12th-highest salaried TE in the NFL assuming Schultz and other guys get new contracts of high values. Even if he only serves a rotational role, that's still fine assuming he's providing the value at whatever facet the Jets want him to fill; if he doesn't provide enough value, he could be cut after one year for minimal cap hit in the second year. I could even see Njoku wanting only a one-year deal with the Jets for less money (on a hometown discount as a New Jersey native) for a chance to get a bigger extension in 2023, which I would be fine with assuming the Jets actively address the position elsewhere in free agency or the draft. If Njoku gets a better offer elsewhere, though, the Jets will have to find a different TE to work in their offense.
Mike Gesicki, Age 26, 4 Years of Experience
The former 2nd round pick from Penn State has been an effective receiving option for the Dolphins each of the last four years, so he has a lot of division experience to offer the Jets. In 2020 and 2021, he has averaged 46.3 YPG, which is very nice and where he derives most of his value, as he absolutely should not be counted upon as a blocker. Truthfully, he's likely miscast as a TE, as more than 85% of his offensive snaps in 2021 saw him work either out of the slot or out wide. Still, though, the fact that he is such an effective receiving option is enough to consider pursuing him in free agency.
In 2021, he played in a full 17 games and recorded 73 receptions on 112 targets for 780 yards (10.7 YPR and 45.9 YPG) and 2 TDs. He's only missed one game in his entire career due to a separated shoulder in 2020, so his durability and increasing role as a receiver with the Dolphins should make him a target for the Jets. He has only dropped 8 total passes in his career on 318 targets by PFF's total, making him a sure-handed option who can make contested catches (15 of his receptions in 2021 were deemed contested catches by PFF). He's not likely to be evasive in the open field with only 2 broken tackles in his whole career and 9 forced missed tackles, but he has a keen sense of where to find seams in coverage and the ability to come down with the ball through contact.
As previously mentioned, he's not a good blocker; PFF has him graded no higher than 52.8 as a run blocker (from 2020) and scored him 46.2 in 2021 with him receiving close to 100 more snaps as a run blocker in 2021 than he'd ever received in his other years. He's also not going to be effective as a pass blocker, with only one season graded by PFF above 50.0 and no seasons with more than 14 pass blocking snaps since his rookie season.
He's been generally disciplined in his career with only 7 accepted penalties by PFF's count, though 4 of them happened in 2021 (2 OPI calls against the Jets, 1 declined), so it's something to consider. He would need to return to his prior discipline in previous seasons, as multiple OPI penalties is not good at all, no matter how many targets he receives.
If Gesicki were to sign with the Jets, I project it would be on a three-year, $27 million contract with $10 million guaranteed (same contract as Njoku with another million each year). He's been very reliable in his career for a division rival and would be a nice piece to steal away for this offense, though he should not be relied upon as the starting inline TE. Maybe he could be a much-better-receiving version of Trevon Wesco with him being able to work out of the backfield, though his lead blocking would probably not be up to par. Still, with him getting this contract, he would be working it off as a receiving option, so a blocking TE would also need to be added. He is likely to get a better offer elsewhere or could get franchise tagged to remain in Miami, so the Jets would still need to collect a tight end early from the draft.
Free Agency 2nd Tier
Before moving to that, however, let me delve into the 2nd tier in free agency and pull out my three favorite options. In this tier, I am working under the assumption that both Jimmy Graham and Jared Cook will look to either join a contender or retire after this season; both would be on this list if I thought there was a real chance the Jets could sign them. I'm not going into too much detail here, as these guys should not be expected to be starters.
C.J. Uzomah, Age 29, 7 Years of Experience
Uzomah may not reach free agency after spending the first seven years of his career with the Bengals, as they do have a lot of money to spend. They do, however, have a lot of draft capital in a year in which there are expected to be a lot of tight end prospects worth taking, and they may decide that it is time to move on from him after all this time, even with him coming off a career year (they currently only have one TE on the roster for 2022 in Drew Sample).
Uzomah played in 16 games (the Bengals rested their starters in Week 18 with the division locked up), caught 49 of his 63 targets for 493 yards (10.1 YPR and 30.8 YPG) and a career high 5 TDs. He had 4 drops on those targets, which is not ideal, but it's survivable for a guy who would not be expected to start every game. He was above average as a pass blocker in 2021 with a PFF grade of 66.6, though he was about average as a run blocker with a grade of 60.9.
If he were to sign with the Jets, I project that it would be on a one-year, $4 million contract. He tore his Achilles in 2020 and played in only 2 games that year, but he didn't miss any games in 2018, 2019 or 2021 due to injury, so you can probably count on him to remain healthy. He's a decent receiver who had his best season in that regard and could hopefully have half the numbers he put up in 2021 as a backup with the Jets.
Tyler Conklin, Age 27, 4 Years of Experience
The Vikings are likely not going to be able to afford to keep their top tight end of 2021 after he played 81% of his team's offensive snaps that season. Conklin has served them well over four years, missing only 1 game out of 65 and increasing his target share each season. 2021 was definitely his best season, being thrust into the starting role after an injury to incumbent Irv Smith Jr. cost him the entirety of the season.
He recorded 61 receptions on 87 targets for 593 yards (9.7 YPR and 34.9 YPG) and 3 TDs. Not exemplary, but still comfortably good enough that he could be the Jets' go-to on passing plays. He only had one drop per PFF, so he demonstrated sure hands in his starting opportunity, though his YPR is low for an every-down player. He's not a particularly effective pass-blocker, having been graded 58.5 by PFF on a career high 98 snaps, nor is he a good enough run blocker to be trusted with the most run blocking snaps (career high 56.1 grade in 2020 on only 190 snaps).
If Conklin were to sign with the Jets, I project it would be on a two-year, $10 million contract with only the first year guaranteed. He would have to earn the second year by showing that his 2021 season was no fluke and that he can be an effective tight end, and even still, I'd like to pair him up with an early round rookie to see which one is the better run blocker in 12 personnel groupings.
Mo Alie-Cox, Age 28, 4 Years of Experience
Alie-Cox is fairly old for a player with only 4 years of experience- entering the league in 2017 and only being elevated to the active roster in 2018- but consider that they are the only 4 years of organized football he has ever played after only playing basketball in college. He's demonstrated skills in all facets, though he's not been a starting player for much of his time with the Colts.
In 17 games in 2021, he caught 24 of his 45 targets for 316 yards (13.2 YPR and 18.6 YPG) and 4 TDs. He dropped two passes, which is good enough, though if his target share goes up in 2022, hopefully his drop count stays where it is. He's also been an above average blocker in the NFL, with a run blocking grade of 71.1 and pass blocking grade of 64.0 from PFF this past season (and on his pass blocking, his average is severely lowered by one game graded at a ridiculously stupid 0.0 on his lone pass blocking snap that day). He'd make a fine complement in 12 personnel to a more receiving-oriented player, so he'd hopefully serve the same role the Jets hoped Tyler Kroft would fill with them.
If Alie-Cox were to sign with the Jets, I project that it would be on a two-year, $10 million contract (same as Conklin). Maybe he could be the tight end version of George Fant, who also never played organized football before entering the NFL as a UDFA and spent four seasons with another team before coming to the Jets and flourishing. I don't view him as a complete package, but he's good enough in all areas to serve as a spot starter and TE2 for the Jets.
Honorable mention: Maxx Williams, Age 28, 7 Years of Experience
Williams missed the majority of the 2021 season after tearing his LCL in Week 5, but he was making a case in his five games played to get paid this offseason, having a 94-yard game and a 66-yard game on route to a 193 yard season on 16 catches (catching all but 1 target) with 1 TD. His 12.1 YPR and 38.6 YPG are both very good for a guy who was always known as a better blocker than receiver.
And he was still a good blocker in his five games played, achieving a 74.1 run blocking grade and 70.0 pass blocking grade from PFF. He was penalized for OPI against the Jaguars, but he's been very disciplined as a blocker, being penalized only once for holding since joining the Cardinals in 2019 (30 games played). I think he'd be a low-risk, high reward signing, assuming he's willing to join the Jets.
If Williams were to sign with the Jets, I project it would be on a one-year, $2 million contract, a quarter of it guaranteed. He'll have had more than eight months to rehab, so hopefully he'd be fully recovered from his LCL tear by the time training camp starts so that he can work with the offense before the season begins.
The Jets should totally be in on at least one of the free agent options, and depending on which of them they sign, they may also need to spend an early pick on a TE in the draft. Even if they sign one from each tier, a third option in the later rounds of the draft could still yield a future starting TE considering how deep the 2022 class is. If they fail to sign any, they need to draft one in the first three rounds to be a starter either as a rookie or down the line once the tight ends from the second tier are gone. They may even need to draft two tight ends should they spend elsewhere in free agency, in which case, there are still some good options.
I'll organize the draft tiers into orders of where I think these guys will be drafted. There's some debate about a few of the mid-round ones about whether or not they could end up going in the first half of the draft. I'll first list my three favorite 1st tier options, as I think these guys are bound to be taken in the first three rounds barring an injury suffered between now and the draft.
Draft 1st Tier
Jalen Wydermyer, Age 21, Texas A&M
Wydermyer became a starter for the Aggies as a true freshman in 2019 and proceeded to play in all 35 possible games in his college career. He tallied 1,468 receiving yards (41.9 YPG) and 16 TDs in his collegiate career, having a good final season where he caught 40 of his 70 targets for 515 yards (12.9 YPR and 42.9 YPG) and 4 TDs. He had 8 drops, which is... concerning. He dropped more than 10% of his targets, including five drops in his first six games. He cooled down and had three in the final six, but even that is a lot. He had surer hands in his previous years, so hopefully that was just an outlier of a season in that regard; he had the same number of contested catches, meaning that 20% of his catches were deemed contested. He has the size to be a mismatch and make leaping catches, but making sure he comes down with the ball is not as simple as it should have been in 2021.
He's not likely to be a good run-blocker at the next level. Playing in the SEC against many NFL prospects, he recorded a 50.6 run blocking score from PFF; I doubt that will get better playing against actual NFL players, so you'd probably want to keep him either on the opposite end of the line from the run or split out in the slot to serve as a rebound blocker on outside zones against slot corners. I don't know if he needs to add mass to his frame to improve his blocking (I actually think he should look to shed about ten pounds to improve his agility), but he probably shouldn't be tasked with too many run blocking assignments anyway.
In that sense, he might not be the best scheme fit for what this offense intends to run, but I think there's a good chance Wydermyer is the first tight end off the board in April. The Jets would likely have to spend one of their second round picks on him, though at this point ahead of the Senior Bowl (he's not a part of it) and the combine, he's expected to go in the middle of the second round. I'd like the Jets to try trading back to acquire him in the middle of the round should they decide they want him. There are teams out there that believe him to be one of the best receiving threats at the position in the draft, though with his diminished blocking skills, I don't think he would go much higher than where he is slated to go now.
Trey McBride, Age 22, Colorado State
McBride also has a real chance of being the first tight end off the board and could solidify his chance with a standout performance on the Jets' National Team in the Senior Bowl. Like Wydermyer, he didn't miss a single game in his collegiate career, playing in all 40 possible games for the Rams over four years and starting 31 of them. He's also coming off one of the greatest seasons a college TE has ever had, making him the hottest figure at the position ahead of the Senior Bowl and the guys most scouts will watch.
McBride was PFF's top graded college TE with an overall score of 94.7 with a receiving grade of 95.0. In 12 games, he was targeted 122 times and caught 90 of those passes, tallying 1,121 yards (12.5 YPR and a stunning 93.4 YPG), but stunningly only had 1 receiving TD (plus 1 rushing TD that he ran for 69 yards on his only carry of the year) in being named Colorado State's only ever Unanimous All-American. He had 3 drops which is good for his number of targets, and he was also a guy who could make contested catches (17 of them in 2021). I'm certain he's a much better red zone threat than that season implies, as he had 4 TDs in his school's four games in 2020. He's not particularly evasive (only forced 5 missed tackles in 2021 per PFF), but he has the ability to find his way to being open and making catches even when not open.
As a blocker, he posted a 69.1 run-blocking grade from PFF, though in the Mountain West Conference, he might not have been playing that many NFL caliber defenders. If he continues his strong blocking at the Senior Bowl, he could prove to be the blend of blocking and receiving that this offense needs from a three-down tight end. He added some mass between his sophomore and junior seasons per his athletic department, so perhaps there's some room for him to go up or down depending on what the team that drafts him wants.
The Jets will almost certainly have to use one of their 2nd round picks on him. Though he is like Wydermyer in that he is currently projected to go in the middle of the 2nd round, a strong Senior Bowl performance could bump his stock all the way up to the top of the 2nd or even the end of the 1st round. He has the ability to play a variety of roles, whether they be at the line, in the slot or in the backfield; proving he can do those things at a high level will get him drafted higher.
Jeremy Ruckert, Age 22, Ohio State
Ruckert chose to return to Ohio State for his senior season rather than enter the 2021 draft, and right now, that decision doesn't appear to have boosted his draft stock in any significant way. He was likely to go in the middle of day two last year and still appears poised to go that way this year. Though the New York native played in 44 of a possible 49 games in his four years at Ohio State, he only recorded 54 receptions in his entire college career. His senior season saw him catch 26 of his 39 targets for 309 yards (11.9 YPR and 25.8 YPG) and 3 TDs. He dropped only 1 pass, compared to making 5 contested catches and forcing 5 missed tackles in 2021 per PFF. He's not overly dynamic and doesn't have much of a sample size to make any broad determinations, but he does appear to be able to make some big plays on his receptions.
He's got a good frame to be a viable blocking option at the next level at 6'5'' and 250lb, and playing in the Big Ten should have seasoned him against a plethora of NFL prospects. In 2021, PFF assigned him a grade of 68.3 as a run blocker. When in 12 personnel, he'd likely be in the wing beyond another tight end to work against the DBs on defense, but he could be tasked with being the first inline blocker outside the tackle. The Jets could hopefully develop him into a good blocker for this offense, and he could do it both at the line and rebounding from the slot on the outside zone.
Before the Senior Bowl and combine, Ruckert is expected to go somewhere in the upper half of the third round, so the Jets might be able get him with their 3rd round pick. There's still time for him to boost his stock, but I don't think he has a real chance of being the first TE off the board like Wydermyer and McBride. Today's NFL values receiving TEs much more than blocking TEs and there's not enough proof of him being effective as a receiving threat for him to be taken ahead of either of them. Still, he's a worthy prospect that could be developed into an all-around TE with the right coaching. He's reportedly grown up a Jets fan, so perhaps putting him on the team would provide him all the motivation he needs to show out for this offense.
Draft 2nd Tier
Jake Ferguson, Age 23 (Happy Birthday, today), Wisconsin
After redshirting his first year with the Badgers, Ferguson has played in all 47 games and is heading to the Senior Bowl to play on the National Team. His redshirt senior season saw him get targeted 61 times in 14 games and pull in 46 of them for 450 yards (9.8 YPR and 32.1 YPG) and 3 TDs. His best statistical season was actually his redshirt freshman when he had 6 more yards on 10 fewer receptions, so he did technically get worse as his role expanded, but he was still good. He had only one drop per PFF and forced 12 missed tackles, so he was capable of making big plays when targeted.
He was also a good run blocker, having a PFF score of 77.6. He has the potential to be a three-down player, but it is not clear if his pass blocking is up to par. The Jets could develop him into an upper tier blocker on both fronts with playing time, though they need to also test his receiving, which hopefully he would display in the Senior Bowl.
I think Ferguson is likely to go in the third round, meaning the Jets would have to draft him with their 3rd at 69 or trade a few picks back. If he falls further and makes it to the second half of the draft and the Jets haven't found their blocking TE in free agency, he would be an easy pickup with whatever pick they could get him in the fifth. Still, I expect him to go in the first three rounds.
Charlie Kolar, Age 23, Iowa State
As a redshirt senior, Kolar has spent a lot of time developing with Iowa State's offense, and has been named an AP Third-Team All-American each of the last three years and will have the chance to impress the Jets coaching staff as yet another member of the National Team at the Senior Bowl. He missed only two games in four years for the Cyclones, demonstrating good durability in addition to his good play. In 12 games for the Cyclones in 2021, he had 62 receptions for 756 yards (12.2 YPR and 63.0 YPG) and 6 TDs. He had only 2 drops on his 95 targets per PFF, and he led the nation in contested catches by TEs with 18 of them. As a run blocker, PFF gave him a grade of 69.3, so he probably can be a decent run blocker in the NFL against weightier opponents.
I think Kolar could go in the 4th round ahead of the Senior Bowl and combine, and he could be a good prospect to take even if the Jets were to add multiple TEs in free agency. They could spend a year developing him behind other TEs to become an eventual starting TE the same way the Chiefs developed Travis Kelce, as I'm uncertain that Kolar would be an immediate contributor to their offense.
Isaiah Likely, Age 22-23, Coastal Carolina
Likely has been among the top graded TEs in college football each of the last three seasons with the Chanticleers. He has worked as part of a rather dynamic offense and still found his way to plenty of targets. He was targeted 77 times in 13 games in 2021, catching 59 passes for 912 yards (15.5 YPR and 70.2 YPG) and 12 TDs. I believe the only reason why he doesn't get more attention is that he might not be able to work as much of a blocker at the next level. Playing against Sun Belt teams, he had a PFF run blocking grade of 75.0, so maybe he could translate that into blocking against bigger-bodied defenders.
Likely could go in the same range as Kolar, though he has perhaps the biggest opportunity to raise his stock playing for the American Team in the Senior Bowl. If he is available in the later rounds and the Jets haven't found their true receiving TE, he could be a worthy swing, potentially able to work both at and behind the line as well as in the slot.
Bonus Options in the 2022 Draft
This draft class is loaded a TE with several intriguing options in the later rounds. Guys to bring in as UDFAs if they are not drafted could become role players on the right offense next year, so there are some guys I'd like to keep a close watch on in the later stages of the draft. Should they reach UDFA status, I would like the Jets to bring in one of Nick Muse of South Carolina, Cole Turner of Nevada and (shocker) James Mitchell of Virginia Tech (I'm really trying to stop using Hokies, I swear). I think Mitchell is the likeliest of the three to be a UDFA after a knee injury limited him to only two games in 2021, but he was a very effective player for his college in 2020 and 2019 and could be a nice receiving FB for the Jets. Muse could hit UDFA if he doesn't perform well in the East-West Shrine Bowl, and he is a guy who was effective as a receiver in 2020, though he was not particularly good at blocking. Turner probably won't make it to UDFA, but we thought the same about Yeboah in 2021 and he was available as a UDFA; he's slowly fallen down some draft boards and will need a good Senior Bowl and combine to remain in the first half of the draft.
As I mentioned previously, I would like to give Ryan Griffin one last chance to latch on with the Jets in 2022 after reducing his salary to the veteran minimum, but I would clean the slate of everyone else except Yeboah. Those two would compete for the TE3 spot with the other guys that they would bring in during the offseason.
In free agency, I absolutely want to bring in Dalton Schultz to be the Jets new top TE. He is good in all areas and has proven that he can be great as a receiver in a high-powered offense, which is something that the Jets will hopefully have next year. I think that the contract I previously described is reasonable and could see him jump from Dallas to New York to power this offense.
If they can manage that, I would be okay with not bringing in a true TE2 until the draft, where they can target a guy from the 2nd tier like Jake Ferguson. In that scenario, the Jets could have a depth chart with Schultz at the top, Ferguson as TE2, and either Griffin, Yeboah or one of the rookie UDFAs as TE3 with the other two on the practice squad. The Jets would have guys who can block as part of their 12 personnel groupings and they could hopefully develop Ferguson into being an all-around TE that could assume more responsibilities in his second season.
The main point, however, is that the Jets have a lot of options to pursue this offseason to upgrade the tight end room that should make us happy. In coaching the Senior Bowl, they have unique access to a bunch of prospects that they can evaluate for their own offense and should be able to find at least one of them to be a future Jets player after April. There are also a bunch of enticing free agent options they could take flyers on for the 2022 season, as it would be very hard for them to come up with a worse showing than the Jets' 2021 TE room.
Thanks for reading if you've made it this far.