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Scouting Jets tight end CJ Uzomah

NFL: Super Bowl LVI-Los Angeles Rams at Cincinnati Bengals Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Last week, the Jets signed former Cincinnati Bengals tight end CJ Uzomah to a three-year deal in free agency. Today we break him down in detail.

The 29-year old Uzomah is listed at 6’5” and 271 pounds and was a fifth round pick out of Auburn in 2015. He had spent his entire career with the Bengals, for whom he started 61 games and caught 163 passes for 1,591 yards and 13 touchdowns with his most productive season coming in 2021.

Background

Uzomah was a quarterback in high school and went to Auburn as a four-star recruit. In his freshman season, he mostly played on special teams but did throw a touchdown pass on a trick play.

In 2012, he moved to tight end and caught 29 passes for 435 yards and seven touchdowns over the next three seasons. At the end of his college career, he wasn’t a highly-touted draft prospect although he earned an invite to the senior bowl with his performance at the low-profile medal of honor bowl all-star game.

Uzomah wasn’t invited to the scouting combine either, but had a good day at his pro day and was eventually drafted by the Bengals in the fifth round of the 2015 draft.

He made the roster, but only played in the last five games of the season as a rookie, catching one short pass. However, in 2016, the Bengals had some injuries which led to him starting the first game of his career in the season opener. In the end, he made eight starts and caught 25 passes including the first touchdown of his career.

Uzomah moved back into a reserve role in 2017, as he started just four games and caught 10 passes. However, he started 15 games in 2018 and broke out with 43 catches for 439 yards and three touchdowns.

2019 was a disappointing year for Uzomah, as he saw less action and caught more than two passes just once in the first 14 games. However, he finished the season strong to finish with 27 catches and then made a strong start to the 2020 season only to then go down with a season-ending injury in week two.

Uzomah bounced back in 2021 with a career-year as he caught 49 passes for 493 yards and five scores. He then added six catches for 64 yards and a touchdown in the postseason win over the Raiders, but injured his knee in the AFC title game and was limited in the Super Bowl.

The Jets signed Uzomah to a three-year deal worth a reported $24 million with $15 million in guarantees.

Now let’s take a look at what Uzomah brings to the table, divided into categories.

Measurables/Athleticism

Uzomah has good height and long arms which give him an exceptional catch radius and aid him as a blocker. He has small hands, though.

He ran an impressive 4.62 in the 40-yard dash at his pro day, at which time he weighed 262 pounds. He also posted a good broad jump but the rest of his numbers were underwhelming.

Usage

Uzomah is capable of lining up as an inline tight end, either in a two or three-point stance, and is effective within that role. He can also produce in the slot, out wide and in the backfield.

As noted, he played quarterback in high school and in his freshman year. He ended up just 2-for-4 for three yards with an interception and a touchdown as a passer in college, though. However, if the Jets ever need an emergency quarterback and Jeff Smith is unavailable, Uzomah might be an option.

Downfield threat

Uzomah has the speed to get down the seam which can stretch the defense even when he isn’t targeted. He’s only had a handful of downfield catches in his career, but three of these went for a touchdown, including this 55-yarder.

Routes

Uzomah shows some ability to make good breaks on in and out-breaking routes, but is mostly employed in situations where his size can give him a leverage advantage.

He shows good physicality whenever he’s matched up against a smaller player, boxing out the defender to give his quarterback an easy target. He’s only been called for offensive pass interference once in his career.

Interesting, all five of his touchdown catches in 2021 came against man coverage even though the majority of his catches came against a zone defense.

Hands

Uzomah’s hands were inconsistent at the start of his career. In 2016 as he was starting for the first time, he dropped a pass in his first four games of the season. However, he settled down thereafter and didn’t have a drop the rest of the way.

While he has small hands and will drop a pass from time to time, Uzomah only has 16 drops in seven seasons and has a catch rate above 70 percent.

He can make contested catches when tightly covered and shows an ability to use his height and long arms to go up over a defender to make a catch.

Red zone

Prior to 2020, all seven of Uzomah’s touchdowns came in the red zone, but interestingly five of his six regular season touchdowns since then have come from beyond the 20-yard line. He did also add one red zone touchdown in the postseason though.

With his size, Uzomah is obviously a good potential red zone threat, especially with how he can box out defenders and leak into areas where the quarterback can just throw it up for him.

Yards after the catch

Uzomah had easily his best season in terms of generating yards after the catch in 2021, placing just outside the top-10 in terms of total yards after the catch for all NFL tight ends.

On short passes and when he catches the ball in space, he can turn upfield and accelerate for extra yards. He can also use his size to fall forward or drag tacklers at the end of the run and also showcased some ability to elude and break tackles in 2021.

Run blocking

While Uzomah might not rank among the top blocking tight ends in the league according to advanced metrics, he takes on a full workload, matching up with defensive ends regularly and undertaking assignments where he has to make key blocks setting the edge, trapping or out in space.

He has good tools, strength and technique and gives a solid effort to make some key contributions.

There are times where he allows his man to fight him off or move him off his spot at the point of attack or late in a play and he doesn’t always get to his assignment in time to pick up his target, but generally his contributions are positive.

Uzomah has only been penalized for offensive holding twice in his NFL career so far.

Pass protection

Uzomah has plenty of experience of staying in to block and displays good awareness in pass protection.

He has given up three sacks in his career, as Von Miller, Ronald Blair and TJ Watt each beat him around the outside. However, his pressure rates over the course of his career have been low and he only gave up one pressure in 41 pass block snaps last season.

He can also make contributions as a blocker in the passing game by getting out in front of screen passes.

Special teams

Uzomah has played in a variety of special teams roles over the course of his career, although these duties have been reduced since he has been more of a contributor on offense.

These days, he’s mostly just employed as a blocker, on field goals and extra points, in punt protection and on kickoff returns.

In 2017, Uzomah racked up 11 special teams tackles in kick coverage, but he hasn’t been used in that way in recent years. In the past, he’s also rushed punts. In college, Uzomah fielded a couple of kickoffs, returning one 38 yards.

He has had two special teams penalties in his pro career so far.

Instincts

Uzomah is regarded as a smart player with a good command of the playbook and he showcased his instincts on this play as he found the open area downfield and ended up catching a touchdown pass.

He doesn’t make a lot of obvious mistakes, although he has had eight pre-snap penalties in his career, including six false starts.

Attitude

Uzomah is viewed as someone with outstanding character and was seen as a veteran leader in Cincinnati with the Jets expecting him to play a similar role with them.

He is positive, charismatic and popular with both teammates and fans. He took players like Ja’Marr Chase under his wing in Cincinnati and can do the same for the likes of Elijah Moore.

Injuries

Uzomah was a healthy scratch for 11 games in his first season and six in 2016, but didn’t deal with any injury issues. However, he tore his Achilles in 2020 and missed the last 14 games.

In 2021, he showed that he had recovered as he put up career-best numbers and was on the field for over 800 snaps, plus another 150 or so in the playoffs.

He showed toughness in the postseason when he was knocked out the AFC title game after injuring his MCL. He was able to recover in time to play in the Super Bowl, although he wasn’t a major factor.

Scheme fit

The Jets will clearly feel that Uzomah is a strong fit for their system. Last year, they brought in Tyler Kroft, who was Uzomah’s teammate in Cincinnati. Uzomah also had former Jets’ offensive line coach Frank Pollack running the blocking scheme in Cincinnati both before and after he was with the Jets. Although that was before the Jets were in their current system, there are similarities.

Uzomah has been a teammate of Carl Lawson, both in Cincinnati and also when they were both at Auburn.

Conclusions

This is a position the Jets were keen to upgrade and the dual acquisitions of Uzomah and Tyler Conklin should ensure this happens. Tight ends coach Ron Middleton has spoken about how impressed he is with the improvements Uzomah has made over the past few years, so the team is obviously hopeful his 2021 production is sustainable.

He should be a good pass catching weapon for Zach Wilson who was without his top three tight ends down the stretch and suffered because of it. However, he can also contribute to a Jets’ running game which has a chance to be even more formidable in 2022 and beyond.

Moreover, he’s another addition that continues the trend toward a positive team culture which should yield positivity and, hopefully, results.