Since the end of the 2021 NFL regular season, the New York Jets have been connected to numerous tight ends set to be available. Except, following the franchise tag being placed on Dalton Schultz, Mike Gesicki, and David Njoku, the tight end market has quickly changed. A team that has not had a real receiving threat at the position since Dustin Keller, who last played for the Jets in 2012, New York needs to add a tight end. That being said, with the free agent right end market altered, it is time to re-evaluate their approach this off-season.
New York Jets Must Double-Dip at Tight End During 2022 Off-Season
Tight Ends on the Roster
In 2021, the Jets worked without a true receiving threat yet again. Tyler Kroft and Ryan Griffin were the top two on the roster, and neither should be viewed as anything more than a number two. Kroft, who will be a free agent, hauled in 16 receptions for 173 yards and a touchdown. A quality blocker, Kroft battled injuries during his one-year deal with the Jets, appearing in just nine games. As for Griffin, he’s under contract for 2022 although, with upgrades available in free agency and the draft, his cap hit of over $3 million could be used elsewhere if he were cut. Nonetheless, Griffin remains reliable, totaling 261 yards receiving and two touchdowns on 27 catches this past season. With Kroft hitting free agency and Griffin being a potential cap casualty, the Jets should look to upgrade.
At the same time, there will be a competition between the remaining three tight ends. Trevon Wesco, who has aligned at fullback at times, has been underwhelming considering he was a fourth-round pick in 2019. With only six catches in three years, Wesco is not a lock to make the team in his fourth year. Similarly, Kenny Yeboah and Brandon Dillon will be competing for roster spots during training camp. Dillon, who joined the practice squad in December, has just 19 offensive snaps to his name in five career games. Yeboah on the other hand became a Jets pre-season legend after catching a hail mary touchdown. The Ole Miss product enters his second season and provides a receiving threat over the middle. At the end of the day though, nobody currently on the Jets roster should be looked at as a starter for 2022.
Tight Ends in Free Agency
In free agency, the Jets are going to be strategic where they spend their money. General Manager Joe Douglas wants to build through the draft, and chances are he winds up taking a tight end. Except, the Jets need a veteran at the position to mentor said rookie tight end, as well as provide an experienced pass catcher for quarterback Zach Wilson. Here are some of the players the Jets could target…
A former fifth-round pick in the 2015 NFL Draft, C.J. Uzomah has developed into a quality starting tight end with the Cincinnati Bengals. When healthy, he has proven to be an excellent blocker and pass catcher over the middle. This past season, Uzomah had five touchdowns on 49 receptions, taking them for 493 yards. Uzomah may not be lethal as a receiver, but at 6’6” and 260-pounds, Uzomah is that big weapon that the Jets desperately need. According to Spotrac, Uzomah could receive a multi-year deal worth over $8 million annually.
Gerald Everett may not be as big of a weapon as Uzomah, standing at 6’3” and 240-pounds, but Everett certainly provides an athletic weapon over the middle of the field. The South Alabama product has totaled over 400 yards receiving each of the last three seasons, although has dealt with ball control issues recently. Either way, as the Jets search for an experienced playmaker, adding Everett is worth exploring for the right price.
The 25th overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft, Hayden Hurst emerged as a receiving threat in 2020 with the Atlanta Falcons. His 571 yards receiving and six touchdowns on 56 receptions all made for career-highs for the South Carolina product. However, with the addition of Kyle Pitts in 2021, Hurst’s usage decreased. As Hurst will be 29 years old this upcoming season, he will not be a break-the-bank signing, but one that could wind up being a steal.
In the 2017 NFL Draft, O.J. Howard was viewed as a big, athletic receiving threat out of Alabama. Fast forward five years, and all that remains true… just the production has not been there. After recording 1,456 yards receiving over his first 38 career games, Howard has just 281 yards receiving since 2020. Playing alongside the likes of Rob Gronkowski and Cameron Brate certainly impacted Howard’s playing time, as his value is primarily based on his upside. Only 27 years old, Howard is another player worth buying low on for 2022, as Spotrac projects Howard to receive a one-year prove-it deal worth over $2 million.
Last but not least is Maxx Williams, a reliable blocking tight end who possesses some receiving upside. As the Jets search for a veteran tight end to complement a rookie, the team needs someone who can block given how often they use two tight end sets. Williams offers size, experience, and is only going to be 28 years old in 2022. According to Spotrac, Williams could receive a deal worth three years and about $6.5 million annually.
Tight Ends in the Draft
The NFL Draft is where the New York Jets will need to swing for the fences. With the Jets unlikely to target an aging veteran like Zach Ertz in free agency, New York will need a rookie tight end capable of playing early and often alongside a veteran signing. The earliest the Jets would select one would be with one of their second-round picks. Arguably the top tight end in the draft, Colorado State’s Trey McBride would be a perfect pick with one of the Jets second-round selections. Between his size, strong hands, and versatility, he could be a day one starter depending on who New York signs in free agency.
Should McBride be unavailable, the Jets could wait until the third or fourth round to address their need for a second tight end this off-season. Players such as Isaiah Likely (Coastal Carolina), Jalen Wydermyer (Texas A&M), Greg Dulcich (UCLA), or Cade Otton (Washington) all are capable pass catchers and blockers. Yet, the name to watch in those middle rounds will be Ohio State’s Jeremy Ruckert. The 6’5” and 250-pound Buckeye was underused in a dangerous Buckeyes offense but fits perfectly in the Jets offense. Ruckert is a do-it-all tight end who will get physical and win at the line of scrimmage.
Tight End Outlook for 2022
When the Jets off-season comes to a close, the team’s tight ends unit must look different. For over a decade, the tight end position has been a non-factor in the Jets offense. And in today’s pass-happy league, the team must modernize its passing offense. By double-dipping through free agency and the draft, the Jets can achieve just that in order to build their most versatile tight end group in years.
Main Photo: Embed from Getty Images