It’s likely no returning New York Jets has a hotter seat than tight end Chris Herndon, but the new staff has faith in him.
— Robby Sabo (@RobbySabo) November 23, 2020
Spring cleaning took on a whole new meaning for the New York Jets’ lauded offseason. For example, half of the starting lineup that they put out for last year’s opening weekend contest in Buffalo isn’t partaking in this summer’s training camp activities in Florham Park.
Tight end Chris Herndon is part of the other, Jersey-active half. By Jets standards, he’s practically a relic, set to enter his fourth season in green. Speaking of those jerseys, Herndon is the sole leftover from the Jets’ J.B. Smoove-hosted fashion show that unveiled the new look, marketed as one of the future faces of the franchise alongside departures like Sam Darnold, Robby Anderson, and Leonard Williams.
It’s understandable as to why the Jets have bid most of their models farewell: the team’s perpetual rebuild has hit drastic new depths, including a two-win valley that triggered an in-season fire sale. Any reminder of that past few seasons is better off miles away from One Jets Drive, especially with a new quarterback and head coach set to forge a new path back to NFL respectability.
Yet, Herndon remains and is currently engaged in one of the most intriguing battles of camp. The current staff didn’t move on from Herndon as they did from three of his 2018 draft classmates (including Darnold, the first-round choice and Herndon’s training camp roommate), but they did raise the heat on Herndon through the addition of reliable red zone option Tyler Kroft. Spring’s minicamp was an ordeal for Herndon, who lost his premier team reps to Kroft and Ryan Griffin.
The status of Herndon, a rare survivor of the Robert Saleh-induced rapture, was a hot topic as the Jets embarked on their first full week of training camp practices. Saleh, whose energy and attention to detail has been one of the early highlights of camp, believes Herndon simply needs some consistency to get his NFL career back on track.
“(We want) him to just be consistent and try to find ways to get better every day,” Sahle said earlier this week, per notes from the Jets. “Iâ€™m not going to put any expectations with regards to result.”
Herndon is best known for his rookie year output, where he was among the top ten rookies in receptions (39) and yardage (502). But the past two seasons have been riddled with inconsistency and absences of both the medical and disciplinary sort. Injuries and a suspension limited him to 18 sophomore snaps in 2019. He partook in all 16 games last season (13 starts) but earned only 287 yards on 31 catches.
For his part, Herndon knows about the challenges that lie ahead and won’t sugarcoat how tough things got in 2020.
“Those types of years, they humble you,â€ Herndon said of last season in a report from Brian Costello of the New York Post. â€œThey remind you no matter how hard things get for you or the team to just keep your head down and keep working and never give up on yourself, never lose confidence.â€
Despite the brutality of 2020, Herndon did manage to somewhat resemble his rookie form over the Jets’ final three games, earning 145 yards on 14 receptions, two of which went for scores.
“Heâ€™s had moments where heâ€™s looked very good in his career. Heâ€™s had moments where heâ€™s kind of disappeared and heâ€™s had injuries. But at the same time, (we want to) let him get into a rhythm,” Saleh said in looking back on Herndon’s career to date. “Letâ€™s get some consistency going and just play with the effort, the technique, and the violence that we look for. If he can do that day in and day out, we think Herndon can have a pretty darn good year.”
Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags