Jets 2021 Position Breakdown: New York needs more out of its tight ends

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Chris Herndon/Ryan Griffin Treated Image
Chris Herndon/Ryan Griffin Treated Image

Heading into the 2021 season, the Jets have made a series of moves to improve the state of their roster and overall depth, but are they ready to compete for a playoff spot?

In this series, we’ll break down the depth chart for every Jets position group. This time, we’ll go in-depth on the tight ends…

Projected depth chart

“Y” tight end: Tyler Kroft, Trevon Wesco
“F” tight end: Chris Herndon, Kenny Yeboah
Depth: Daniel Brown, Ryan Griffin

- Key additions/losses: Signed Kroft, re-signed Brown.

- Top Performer in 2020: Chris Herndon - 31 receptions, 287 yards, three touchdowns.

- 2020 end of season rank (via PFF): No players ranked in the top 32.

What Jets tight ends have going for them

The production from the tight ends last season was disappointing for the Jets, as Herndon struggled badly for most of the season, while Griffin and Brown barely contributed anything on offense. They’ll hope for more in 2021.

Kroft could be a useful addition, although he’s only caught 22 passes over the past three seasons. He’s mostly been brought in for his blocking, though, because that’s where he excels. Since catching 42 passes in 2017, Kroft has dealt with numerous injuries, but he could make some good contributions if healthy.

Wesco has also only really contributed as a blocker in his first two seasons, and the Jets will hope for more consistency from him. It was good news for Wesco’s roster chances when the Jets didn’t sign a fullback because he plays extensively in that role too.

Key concern: Consistency and production

Several of the Jets’ new coaches came from San Francisco where the tight end position was crucial to their offense. The Jets don’t have a player anywhere close to George Kittle’s level to lead the way though.

As they rely on a group of players to bounce back or step up, the Jets will hope that this offense provides these players with an opportunity to raise their game.

Player who must step up in 2021: Chris Herndon

After a promising rookie season, Herndon took a step back in 2019, as he struggled to stay on the field due to injuries. However, he was expected to be a key contributor in 2020. That failed to materialize, though, as Herndon dropped five passes and fumbled twice in an error-filled season.

As a result, the Jets basically removed him from their gameplan in the passing game, targeting him just four times from Week 6 to week 13. Instead, they opted to use him more as a blocker, where he led the entire NFL in pass protection snaps for backs and tight ends. While he’s definitely improved as a blocker, this seemed like a waste of his abilities.

Herndon rediscovered his confidence down the stretch and caught 14 passes in the last three games, more than doubling his yardage total for the season and scoring two touchdowns. He’s hopefully trending up heading into his contract year, but can he keep the momentum going?

Biggest Camp Battle: Kenny Yeboah vs. Daniel Brown vs. Ryan Griffin

The undrafted rookie, Yeboah, has been getting plenty of buzz after the Jets outbid several teams for his services in the undrafted free agency process. The Jets may be hoping he rises to the challenge and claims a role for himself because he arguably has more upside than any of the other five tight ends on the roster.

Yeboah is a work in progress as a blocker but was extremely productive in the passing game after transferring from Temple to Ole Miss for the 2020 season. His main competition for a roster spot will come from Brown, who was used almost exclusively on special teams last season, and Griffin who has been a big disappointment since signing an extension in 2019.

The Jets could save money by releasing Griffin, so if Yeboah can prove himself as a potential special teams contributor, he might have the inside track on a role.

Jan 30, 2021; Mobile, AL, USA; National tight end Kenny Yeboah of Mississippi (88) runs a route in the second half of the 2021 Senior Bowl at Hancock Whitney Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Vasha Hunt-USA TODAY Sports
Jan 30, 2021; Mobile, AL, USA; National tight end Kenny Yeboah of Mississippi (88) runs a route in the second half of the 2021 Senior Bowl at Hancock Whitney Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Vasha Hunt-USA TODAY Sports

2021 Outlook

It’s always useful for a young quarterback to have a reliable safety valve at the tight end position, so the Jets will need that aspect in their offense, along with someone who can go down the seam to stretch opposing defenses. They may be targeting the tight end position as a priority in the 2022 offseason if nobody steps up for them in the passing game this season.

Of course, the running game will also be a key factor this year and the Jets will also be relying on their tight ends to make contributions as blockers.

If the tight ends don’t make much of an impact, it will be interesting to see whether the coaching staff schemes around this, perhaps by using more spread formations.