If Chris Herndon has truly rediscovered his rookie form, the New York Jets’ tight end situation could be one of their smaller concerns.
The Position: Tight End
On the Roster: Chris Herndon, Ryan Griffin, Trevon Wesco
Free Agents: Daniel Brown, Ross Travis
Reserve/Future: Connor Davis
— Robby Sabo (@RobbySabo) November 23, 2020
Chris Herndon is set to enter his fourth season on the New York Jets’ roster, which might as well make him a relic in green.
To put things in perspective: of the 17 men to catch a pass during the 2018 season…Sam Darnold’s debut campaign…the tight end is the only one still on the active green roster. He was second on the team in most major receiving categories, picking up 502 yards on 56 receptions, four of which went for scores. Since then, however, Herndon has struggled to maintain that kind of consistency. A four-game suspension and a subsequent injury limited him to 18 snaps in his sophomore year. He struggled to find his footing for the majority of the 2020 campaign, but the final stages started to bring out the Herndon of old, as he tallied 145 yards on 14 receptions, a couple going for scores.
At a crossroads on offense, the Jets could use a veteran playmaker to help stabilize things ever-so-slightly. He’s entering the final year of his original rookie deal and is clearly the best of what the Jets’ tight ends have to offer.
Chris has a lot of ability and it’s just like everybody else, you’re fighting the battle with yourself to go out there and be able to do it,” veteran quarterback Joe Flacco said of Herndon, per Max Goodman of SI, after the Jets’ November loss to the Los Angeles Chargers. Herndon had a pair of receptions in that game, including a highlight-reel touchdown, his first score since December 2018. “He’s a young player with a ton of ability.”
Elsewhere on the Jets’ roster, Ryan Griffin failed to live up to the $10 million contract extension afforded to him in the midst of 2019. Second-year man Trevon Wesco dealt with injuries and inconsistency and the Jets more or less ended a plan to use him as a fullback in the early stages of the season.
Used primarily as a blocker and a special teamer, Brown has earned nine receptions over two years in New York, though one went for a touchdown in the Jets’ November 2019 visit to Washington. He was part of the team’s final training camp cuts last year but reinstated shortly after.
Travis played 10 snaps with the Jets last season, mostly on special teams, after shuttling on and off the practice squad (as well as the reserve/COVID-19 list).
Kyle Pitts is phenomenal, but do not forget about Brevin Jordan down in Miami.
Jordan bolsters a strong frame with room to add more muscle if he chooses.
— Damian Parson 🏈 (@DP_NFL) January 11, 2021
Will They Draft?
Depends on their faith in Herndon, but, even if it’s strong, no one would fault the Jets for using one of their excess draft picks on a tight end. Florida’s Kyle Pitts is the consensus top choice and likely won’t be on the table for the Jets (who have far greater needs to fill), but the latter days are rife with possibilities. Herndon’s fellow former Miami Hurricane, Brevin Jordan, may be the next best option and someone to potentially target with the extra third-round choice yielded from Seattle. Hunter Long (Boston College) and Matt Bushman (BYU) could be worth keeping an eye on, while small school choice Quintin Morris (Bowling Green) upped his stock at the Senior Bowl over the weekend (3 receptions, 52 yards in Saturday’s exhibition).
Jared Cook, New Orleans
Set to turn 34 in April, Cook can be a Frank Gore-like addition to the Jets’ tight ends…but he would contribute far more on the field. Over the past two seasons with the Saints, Cook has scored 16 touchdowns and earned a Pro Bowl berth in 2019. He can serve as a calming influence for Herndon, whom the Jets apparently still envision as the long term option, and help him maintain consistency. If the Jets can get him on a short-term deal, this would be a strong match.
Gerald Everett, LA Rams
Everyone knew about Everett’s catching prowess coming out of South Alabama, and he’s lived up to that hype so far by catching 74 percent of his targets to date. But Everett’s improved blocking, particularly in the run game. Everett figures to be one of the top tight end free agency targets after the Rams re-upped with Tyler Higbee. If he’s willing to face a training camp competition for more snaps, this could be an intriguing match. Head coach Robert Saleh has no doubt studied Everett extensively during his time as San Francisco’s defensive coordinator.
Ross Dwelley, San Francisco
Constantly overshadowed by George Kittle in San Francisco, Dwelley got a bit of an extended opportunity over veteran Jordan Reed when Kittle’s injury woes forced the Niners to turn to their bench. Dwelley is a restricted free agent, but a reunion with former Niners overseer Mike LeFleur, as well as an extended opportunity to contribute in New York, could serve as a selling point.
For the time being, Herndon is going into the future as the Jets starting tight end, but he will likely have one of the hottest seats in Florham Park. Expect the Jets to add some help from outside at tight end, especially with the current backup help struggling and extensive cap space.
Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags