During the first week of free agency, the Jets signed former Minnesota Vikings tight end Tyler Conklin to a three-year deal in free agency. Today we break him down in detail.
The 26-year old Conklin is listed at 6’3” and 254 pounds and was a fifth round pick out of Central Michigan in 2018. In four years with the Vikings, Conklin caught 93 passes for 922 yards and four touchdowns with the majority of that production coming last season.
Conklin was a two-sport star in high school, although he wasn’t regarded as much of a football prospect at the time and instead headed to Northwood on a basketball scholarship.
Midway through his first season, Conklin decided to transfer to Central Michigan and walked on to the football team, although he redshirted his first season to bulk up.
Having added 25 pounds since his arrival, Conklin saw action at tight end in 2015, catching six passes for 95 yards. He broke out in 2016 as he started 11 games and made 42 catches for 560 yards and six touchdowns, including one game-winner.
Despite missing the first five games of the 2018 season due to injury, he still had a productive season and ended up earning all-MAC third team honors with 35 catches for 504 yards and five scores in just seven games.
After a solid performance at the senior bowl, highlighted by a touchdown catch from Josh Allen, Conklin performed well at the scouting combine and was selected in the fifth round of the 2018 draft.
For most of his first three seasons, Conklin was a role player. He had started just four games and recorded just 15 catches for 161 yards and no touchdowns with four games remaining in his third season. However, he moved into a bigger role over the last month and racked up 15 catches for 168 yards and his first career score.
The Vikings were hoping he could replicate that production over the course of a full season and this became increasingly important when Irv Smith was injured prior to the season. Conklin delivered on this promise with 61 catches for 593 yards and three scores.
Despite his breakout season, the Vikings lost Conklin to the Jets in free agency, as he signed a deal worth a reported $7 million per season.
Now let’s take a look at what Conklin brings to the table, divided into categories.
Conklin isn’t very big and only ran a 4.8 in the 40-yard dash at the combine. He also only managed 18 bench press reps. However, his explosiveness and agility numbers were good and he runs well in game action.
Conklin has primarily played as an inline tight end throughout his career, although he has shown some abilities to line up in the slot or outside and produce from there. He has also played in the backfield from time to time.
Conklin isn’t what you’d consider a deep threat but does have the ability to stretch the field going down the seam on on deep crossing routes. On this play, they line Conklin up out wide against a safety and he goes up over him to make the catch.
As noted above, Conklin can do damage down the seam and on deep crossers but the majority of his production comes underneath or on dump-offs. However, he does show some ability to get separation on out-breaking routes on plays like this one (although he did fumble at the end of the play).
Conklin has soft hands and has been reliable at the NFL level with a 75 percent catch rate and only three drops in four seasons. However, this drop in preseason led to an interception.
Conklin has shown an ability to make diving or leaping catches and can hang on to the ball when taking a hit.
Conklin wasn’t really targeted in the red zone in his first three years but all three of his 2021 touchdowns came in the red zone so he may have some untapped potential in that area. On this play, he leaks to the back of the end zone and shows good concentration on the diving catch.
Yards after the catch
Conklin is effective at turning upfield with the ball, and although he’s not particularly elusive he can bounce off tacklers or drive and drag defenders for extra yards at the end of a run.
He builds up a good head of steam once he gets going, picking up 34 on this tight end screen, a play the Vikings ran regularly with him as the receiver.
Conklin has some good ability as a blocker, although he can be inconsistent at times and has been somewhat prone to holding calls with eight penalties in his four seasons.
He’s a player who uses his hands well in the running game and you can motion him to the edge of the line and run behind him as he’s capable of driving his man off his spot but perhaps needs to be more consistent at staying on his block.
He’ll often be matched up with edge defenders and can hold his own, displaying good technique here to get his man turned and kick him out to create a cutback lane.
Conklin has also matched up with edge rushers in pass protection from time to time, including some elite ones. Here, he does well to buy his quarterback enough time to get the throw off against Khalil Mack.
In 2021, he was among the league leaders in terms of pass blocking snaps and would often chip his man to slow him up even when he didn’t stay in. He did get beaten from time to time though.
Conklin has only been beaten for a sack twice in his career, including this one where he allowed a lineman to split the double-team.
Conklin has played in a variety of special teams roles during his career, although he barely played on special teams having moved into a full time role last year.
In kick and punt coverage, he had seven tackles in college, including five in his freshman year. He has two special teams tackles at the NFL level.
He’s also rushed punts and contributed as a blocker on field goals, in punt protection and on the kickoff return unit.
Conklin’s instincts seem solid. He is good at following his blocks and showcasing vision in the open field and shows an aptitude for leaking into open areas.
He didn’t seem to have many obvious blown assignments, other than four false starts in his four seasons.
Conklin has displayed good character and determination throughout his career. First of all, he had to bulk up to play football after having abandoned his basketball career. He later had to be patient and wait for his opportunities in Minnesota. Also, he battled back from an injury ahead of his final year at Central Michigan and showed toughness by playing through injuries in 2021.
On the field, his discipline has been good, as he’s averaged three penalties per year and has never been called for a personal foul or been fined or suspended.
Conklin suffered a Jones fracture in his foot ahead of the 2017 season and originally considered getting a medical redshirt but he was healthy enough to return for the sixth game of the season, in which he caught a career-high 10 passes.
At the NFL level, he’s been inactive for just one game - the season opener in his second season - but he did have to battle through some hamstring issues last year.
Conklin should be a good fit in the Jets’ system, which is essentially the same as Minnesota’s scheme. The Jets can employ both him and his fellow tight end addition CJ Uzomah almost interchangeably as they can both play inline or split out. This may mean Conklin does more of that than in the past.
With the Vikings, Conklin was a teammate of fellow tight end Brandon Dillon and the pair will reunite in the tight end room with the Jets. Conklin was also a teammate of another futures signing; offensive lineman Dru Samia.
The Jets moved quickly to add Conklin after their efforts to land Evan Engram fell short. $7 million per year is a decent-sized investment for a player who had underwhelmed until his contract year, but the fact he had already started to show signs of his untapped potential towards the end of his third year is hopefully a good sign that this wasn’t an aberration.
Conklin can contribute to the Jets with his blocking and pass catching and the Jets will hope he brings more durability to an offense that saw most of their main offensive weapons missing significant time in 2021.
Hopefully he and Uzomah can stay healthy and provide the Jets with the most consistent tight end play they’ve had for many years in 2022 and beyond.