Three reasons why the New York Jets can make the playoffs

new york jets, zach wilson

It won’t be easy…but it can happen. ESM has three ways the New York Jets can pull off the unthinkable in 2021.

The world was a different place the last time the New York Jets partook in an NFL playoff game. It was a freezing January evening in Pittsburgh, as the Jets fell one step short of their Super Bowl dream for the second consecutive season in the AFC championship contest.

At that time, MetLife Stadium didn’t exist…well, the building itself was there, but it was free of corporate sponsorship under the identity of New Meadowlands Stadium. A basketball team called the Nets was no longer stationed at the arena next door…then known as Izod Center…but they still played under a Garden State branding. At the cinema, the Marvel Cinematic Universe was a mere three movies old and the idea of expanding the Star Wars galaxy was merely fanfiction.

In short…it’s been a while. The Jets’ playoff drought now stands at a decade, a record inherited when the Cleveland Browns clinched a spot last season. What’s scarier is that the second-most dire active drought has made to only five years, a dubious distinction shared by Arizona, Cincinnati, and Denver.

Conventional wisdom suggests that the trend isn’t ending any time soon. The Jets are trapped in a division where one reign of terror in New England gave way to another in Buffalo. Their conference’s wild card landscape isn’t any more forgiving, as established contenders pepper the other divisions. Even their own rivals in the East, Miami and New England, will be back with a vengeance. Combine that with a first-year head coach and franchise quarterback working with a mostly new cast and it’s difficult to see the Jets make major headway in the win/loss columns. Many observers agree that the Jets got better this offseason…but it comes with the caveat that the 2020 season was so brutal that there was nowhere to go but up.

But…ESM is going to look at things a little more optimistically. We have three ways the Jets’ improvements can lead to a long-awaited postseason revisit:

New York Giants, Corey Davis
Mandatory Credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

Not Sorry, Wilson

This time last year, the Jets were going into the 2020 season with an offensive cabinet that left much to be desired. Year three of the Sam Darnold era was expected to rely upon a first-round washout (Breshad Perriman), a Le’Veon Bell who was constantly denying that he was arguing with Adam Gase, and an assortment of veteran reserves in the skill positions. A rare silver lining of hope, Denzel Mims, missed almost all of the summer preparation with hamstring issues. Darnold was also working with his third different center in three NFL seasons. Needless to say, the Jets’ offense played a major role in their two-win downfall and Darnold posted the worst numbers of his career.

Granted the second overall pick in April for their troubles over the fall, the Jets opted to start from scratch (again). Before they used that premier pick on one of the touted quarterbacks of the draft…later revealed to be BYU’s Zach Wilson…management did all they could to retroactively atone for the mistakes of the Darnold era. What they’ve assembled for Wilson is, at least on paper, is better than anything Darnold had to work with.

Corey Davis, coming off a career-best year in Tennessee, is the projected top target. Free agency endeavors also brought in Keelan Cole, who tallied 2,242 yards over the last four seasons despite endless quarterback turnover in Jacksonville. They’ll welcome back Mims and reliable slot target Jamison Crowder and when Elijah Moore fell to their grasp with the second pick in the second round at the draft, they immediately pounced. At running back, they found a potential day three draft gem in Michael Carter and signed Tevin Coleman a two-time Super Bowl participant with something to prove, to a one-year deal. Though questions linger at tight end, vis a vis Chris Herndon, they did add red zone option Tyler Kroft to the fold as well.

Wilson will also be able to take in the benefits of a revamped offensive line. Mekhi Becton was well worth the risk of passing on several elite receiving talents last season. He’s now joined by USC protector Alijah Vera-Tucker, who indirectly comes from a pick used in the infamous Jamal Adams trade (a pick acquired from Seattle was traded to Minnesota to move up the board). New York enjoyed a late-offseason surprise in the form of the consistent tackle Morgan Moses, who is expected to take over on the right side.

The depths to which the Jets sank on offense last season (only six games over 300 yards, nine games with 14 points or less) should be impossible to reach at the NFL level. But those called upon are reliable names with championship panache. If the newcomers rise to their potential, the Jets could reopen the scoring floodgates and repopulate East Rutherford’s end zones.

Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

Pressure Treated

Perhaps no intermission interview during a hockey broadcast is complete without the phrase “pucks on net” being uttered, to the point it’s become a bit of a meme. The football equivalent could be “pressure the quarterback”.

The NFL is undoubtedly a league ruled by offense, evidenced by its inflated scoreboards. But, every so often, we’re reminded that defense wins championships. MetLife Stadium’s turf knows about the concept better than anyone, playing host to the Seattle Seahawks’ 43-8 dismantling of the historically explosive Denver Broncos offense in Super Bowl XLVIII. Even the might Patrick Mahomes isn’t immune to the dangers of a strong pass rush. The Kansas City Chiefs are 44-10 (including postseason) with Mahomes as their starter; half of those losses (a 7-5 mark overall) have come when he’s sacked at least three times. One of those losses came against Todd Bowles’ relentless rush in last year’s Big Game.

The Jets’ downfall has only been exacerbated by a lack of pressure. They’ve applied pressure on only 21.4 percent of opposing dropbacks over the past two seasons, ranking 25th in the league in the category last season…a bit perplexing for a unit overseen by Gregg Williams. When you’re trapped in a division that bestows you two guaranteed matchups with Josh Allen for the foreseeable future, having a fearsome pass rush will be vital.

New York plans to start from scratch again with head coach Robert Saleh and defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich in tow. The team is set to run a 4-3 base for the first time since the Herm Edwards/Donnie Henderson days. They spent the offseason bolstering the front seven in an effort to prepare for the transition.

For better or worse, the Jets’ most impactful free agency signing for not only the coming season but for the next few years could likely become Carl Lawson. The narrative behind Lawson is that his on-field influence goes far beyond the number in his sack column (no more than 5.5 after 8.0 in his debut campaign out of Auburn in 2017) and he has the less conventional numbers to prove it.

Though the Jets recently announced some their defensive breakouts won’t be available for the start of training camp, it’ll be interesting to see what Quinnen Williams, Foley Fatukasi, and John Franklin-Myers can do for an encore with a little extra help. The transformation in the front seven further continued with the arrival of Jarrad Davis, whose finest gridiron hours have come in 4-3 sets with the Florida Gators and Detroit Lions. While Davis has struggled to live up to his first round billing since Teryl Austin and Jim Caldwell were dismissed from Detroit, he has kept his pressure numbers consistent. A return to a familiar 4-3 setting could help him up the ante not only as a backfield invader but as a a leader as well. Championship contenders Sheldon Rankins and Vinny Curry have likewise joined the fold.

Questions, of course, still linger in the secondary. For example, Marcus Maye and Ashtyn Davis (the latter recovering from surgery) are respectively on the Non-Football Injury and Physically Unable to Perform lists, further depleting a safeties group desperate for answers. But the Jets are going to make life a heck of a lot easier for themselves if they can make quarterbacks feel uncomfortable again.

Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Meet the New Boss

Say what you will about the Todd Bowles era: its final chapters were penned in poignancy, as players were disappointed not for themselves, but that they let a strong football mind and a man of great character down. They sang of Bowles’ praises to the very end and many were upset to see him let go after the 2018 season.

Those warm feelings didn’t seem to translate to the ousting of Bowles’ successor. When the woebegone Gase was let go after two disastrous seasons, there was an aura of “good riddance”. The players’ relative silence on the matter spoke volumes, though fans were more than happy to chime in.

The hiring of Saleh, most recently the overseer of the lauded San Francisco 49ers’ defense, comes at an interesting time on the pro football timeline. It’s a move made as the league values offense, posting scoreboards that flirt with those from the defunct Arena Football League. One would also foresee an offensive mind coming in with a new franchise quarterback to mold and develop.

Yet, the players’ response to what Saleh is advertising could slowly signal the return of good vibes to Gang Green football.

Saleh had a tall task to deal with upon his arrival: convince outsiders and prospects that a two-win team that the internet turned into a football meme bank had something to work with, something that hinted at a championship climb. What he did was immediately get to work, adopt a catchy yet inspirational mantra that quickly caught on to players and fans alike, and slowly got momentum back on the green side of the New York football bridge.

What Saleh (along with general manager Joe Douglas) did this offseason was from a free agent unit of not exactly what the Jets were looking for, but finding parts that they needed. Lawson brings pressure, Davis brings knowledge of the 4-3. Saleh mostly avoided stocking up on former Bay Area pupils but the major holdover (running back Tevin Coleman) brings knowledge of offensive boss Mike LaFleur’s system and what it takes to compete for a championship. Wilson’s offensive cabinet is stocked with no true No. 1 receiver, but a series of skill players eager to proves themselves…which could well describe the state of the Jets as a whole in this point in time. Financials likely played a large role, but Saleh’s plan was apparently able to convince Jamison Crowder (by far the most consistent offensive weapon over the last two seasons) to stick around for at least one more season.

Saleh himself has admitted on several occasions that his New York restructure and tenets  are going to take some time to fully install. Votes for Coach of the Year might be more realistic at this point…after all, it won’t take much to improve upon the horrors of 2020. But faith in the right coach is capable of doing some incredible things.

Do you think the New York Jets can overcome the odds and end their postseason drought? If so, how can they do it? Follow @GeoffJMags on Twitter and continue the conversation.

New York Jets: A training camp battle at every position (Offense)

As the New York Jets inch closer to training camp, ESM looks at the offensive roster battles to watch at every position.

Competition has always been a staple at summer camp. But if you’re headed to Florham Park, leave the archery materials at home.

The New York Jets are eight days away from descending upon One Jets Drive for their training camp activities. Once camp commences, they’ll have several positional struggles to solve before Week 1 kicks off in Carolina. ESM takes a look at each spot on the depth chart, sizing up a major battle that should be solved over camp practices and the coming trio of preseason games.

Our primer begins on offense…

 Mandatory Credit: Douglas DeFelice-USA TODAY Sports

Backup QB: James Morgan vs. Mike White

Barring an epic disaster, the Jets will go into Week 1 with second overall pick Zach Wilson as their quarterback. Sitting the star rookie behind a veteran for a year has become a lost art in the modern NFL, even if Kansas City’s Alex Smith-to-Patrick Mahomes transition kept the concept alive for a few more years.

The Jets, though, are apparently planning to go in the completely opposite direction: no one in their quarterback cabinet has thrown a pass in an NFL regular season game. Immediately thrusting Wilson into the starter’s role is one thing, but backing him up with two veteran questions marks is another entirely. But head coach Robert Saleh apparently doesn’t see an issue.

“If you just bring in a veteran who doesn’t know anything about your scheme, he’s learning just like the rookie is,” Saleh told Max Goodman of Sports Illustrated. “There’s a match that has to happen. There’s a scheme familiarity that has to happen.”

That, of course, begs the question why the Jets didn’t go after someone like fellow former 49ers Nick Mullens, but it’s probably redundant at this point. Until further notice, the backup job comes to Morgan and White.

Morgan probably has the inside edge, if only due to his status as a Joe Douglas draft pick. Chosen in the fourth round of 2020’s virtual draft, the Florida International hasn’t even worn a game jersey yet due to the cancellation of last summer’s preseason. White entered the NFL as a fifth-round pick of the Cowboys in 2018 and has been on and off the Jets’ practice squad over the last three years. By going with someone inexperienced, it’s clear the Jets aren’t going with the “mentor” route for their backup quarterback. The winner will be judged on late summer showings and their performance in preseason games could be particularly intriguing.

 Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Spell RB: Ty Johnson vs. La’Mical Perine vs. Josh Adams

The primary rushing duties could become a battle as the season goes on. Veteran newcomer Tevin Coleman will probably at least start as the top option before giving way to rookie arrival Michael Carter. It’s fair to assume that Coleman, who worked with new offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur in San Francisco, has the early edge though Carter has reportedly impressed New York brass during his first spring sessions.

In training camp, however, there are more immediate, desperate matters to attend to, namely answering the question of who will be the third back.

Behind the Coleman and Carter tandem lies a trio of young projects that could’ve gained more clarity had Adam Gase not become obsessed with a Frank Gore farewell tour. Though injuries and a late placement on the COVID-19 list turned Perine’s rookie season into a wash but Johnson and Adams, spare parts from Detroit and Philadelphia respectively, impressed when called upon, uniting for 411 yards on 83 carries, good for an average of nearly five yards an attempt.

The battle between this trio isn’t a matter of playing time, but will determine roster spots. Even though he’s a Douglas draft pick (also chosen in the fourth round), Perine could be in the wrong place at the wrong time. His north/south style may not fit in  LaFleur’s preferred systems that value agility and athleticism, creating a wrong place at the wrong time situation. Meanwhile, the re-signed Adams has worked with Douglas before, sharing a single season with the Eagles.

Mandatory Credit: Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

Top Slot WR: Jamison Crowder vs. Elijah Moore

Over the past two seasons, Jamison Crowder has been far and away the Jets’ most consistent offensive weapon. Through that endeavor, he has become one of the NFL’s most reliable slot options. But does the fact he’s been a reliable weapon in woebegone New York say more about Crowder or just how dire the Jets’ situation has become?

Douglas and Co. spent the offseason upgrading their receiving corps and that included the slot depth chart. Drafting Moore with the second pick of the draft’s second day was seen as a steal by many and he seemingly arrived at the perfect time. The Jets were due some sizable cap savings upon Crowder’s release or trade and they could’ve easily had Moore take over. Instead, they restructured the final year of Crowder’s deal to focus on guaranteed money and will keep both of them in tow for Wilson’s first deal.

Crowder faces a bit of an uphill battle to get his snaps back, as he missed almost all spring activities during his contract dispute. There should still be an opportunity for him amongst the Jets’ revamped receiving corps but it’ll be tough to hold off the rise of a touted rookie.

. Mandatory Credit: Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

Starting TE: Chris Herndon vs. Tyler Kroft 

Entering his fourth year in New York, Herndon is a rare relic in green. Nothing, however, has lived up to the production of his rookie season (502 yards on 39 receptions) as the more recent stages of his career have been beset by a suspension, injuries, and inconsistency.

Though Herndon somewhat began to resemble his rookie self in the latter stages of last season, the Jets sent him a message this offseason. While they avoided the pricier options on the free agent market (i.e. Jonnu Smith, Hunter Henry), they added goal line option Tyler Kroft from Buffalo and re-upped with Daniel Brown. During minicamp, Herndon saw his first team reps go to Kroft and Ryan Griffin. Connor Hughes of The Athletic claimed that Herndon “struggled” to adjust to the new offensive playbook, playing a role in his demotion.

It’s been a while since Kroft was the primary option at tight end, last doing so in Cincinnati during the 2017 campaign. The Rutgers alum re-established himself as a reliable short-yardage and red zone target last season in Buffalo. Time will tell if the Jets turn over the full-time tight end reins to Kroft, or even give Griffin, Brown, or undrafted rookie Kenny Yeboah (11 touchdowns over the last two seasons at Temple and Ole Miss). But If Kroft’s signing even merely lights a fire under Herndon, it will have been well worth it.

 Mandatory Credit: Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

Offensive Line: RG Greg Van Roten vs. Newcomers

A Long Island native (Rockville Centre, to be precise), Van Roten was destined to make a difference in New York. While he endured a bit of an up-and-down season in terms of production, he partook in literally every snap over the Jets’ first 11 games and emerged as a leader and voice of reason when the team’s 2020 affairs became particularly dire.

With the Jets’ left side fortified with Mekhi Becton and Alijah Vera-Tucker, the focus turns to the right. Morgan Moses is a reliable one-year solution on the outside, while Van Roten appears to have a good grip on the interior. But the Jets brought in some interesting depth options, including the New York Islanders’ most celebrated new fan, Dan Feeney. Incumbent top left guard Alex Lewis is also set to move over to the right side, while one also can’t forget Cameron Clark, a 2020 fourth-rounder who spent last season preparing to make the transition from tackle to guard.

But Van Roten, who has shockingly tallied only a single accepted penalty in his NFL career, believes that the arrival of Saleh and LaFleur should help provide stability.

“They hire Saleh and it just feels like a weight has been lifted and hope has come back into the building,” Van Roten said, per team reporter Jack Bell. “All we ask for is a fresh start in this league and no one is happier than the Jets. Now we’re on page one, so let’s write this year’s chapter.”

Which offensive training camp battles will you keep an eye on? Follow @GeoffJMags on Twitter and continue the conversation.

New York Jets: A player at each position in a make-or-break year (Offense)

This New York Jets season comes with the aura of having nothing to lose. But 2021 could mean everything for these offensive cases.

“When you ain’t got nothing, you got nothing to lose.”

Bob Dylan’s line in the final verse of his signature hit “Like A Rolling Stone” might well apply to the 2021 New York Jets as a whole. Burdened with the NFL’s longest active playoff drought and trapped in a division with an apparent Western New York juggernaut, no one would blame the Jets for going through a gap year of sorts in an AFC packed with established contenders.

But for these five green individual cases…one at each offensive position…the 2021 season could be mean everything when it comes to preserving not only their metropolitan careers but their NFL status as a whole…

Jan 18, 2020; St. Petersburg, Florida, USA; Team East quarterback James Morgan (12) warms up prior to the game between the Team East and the Team West at Tropicana Field. Mandatory Credit: Douglas DeFelice-USA TODAY Sports

Quarterback James Morgan

Little more needs to be written about James Morgan’s rookie year…or lack thereof. The fourth-round pick out of Florida International didn’t even get to wear his game jersey last season, as he was not only a healthy scratch for every game last season, but he didn’t even have the luxury of a preseason.

With a shortened exhibition slate on the horizon, it’s likely that Morgan will finally get a chance to show what he’s got. The Jets appear to be sticking with Morgan and Mike White…and their grand total of zero NFL regular season snaps between them…for their backup battle behind Zach Wilson. White, a 2018 fifth-round pick in Dallas, at least has a couple of preseason under his belt from his time with the Cowboys.

Morgan’s season-long benching, even when the Jets had literally nothing to lose, became more puzzling with each passing contest. Gabriel Davis, L’Jarius Sneed, and DeeJay Dallas were all among those who went within the ensuing 20 packers after Morgan went 125th overall. The coming preseason will be anything but irrelevant for Morgan.

Nov 22, 2020; Inglewood, California, USA; New York Jets running back La’Mical Perine (22) is congratulated after scoring a touchdown against the Los Angeles Chargers in the first quarter at SoFi Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

Running Back La’Mical Perine

It was silly enough not to at least dress Morgan for the latter portions of the Jets’ season. But if that was negligence, the Jets’ malpractice at running back was downright criminal. By this point, even the most casual Jets fan knows about the Frank Gore farewell tour Adam Gase produced after Le’Veon Bell’s release. That endeavor wiped out free research and development for the Jets’ trio of young rushing projects, a group headed by Perine.

The NFL career of Perine, chosen five picks before Morgan, is slowly falling victim to the faultless crime of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Gase’s uncanny dedication to Gore wasn’t even the start: he missed the start of the season due to a leg injury suffered late in training camp. Just when he looked like he was building a rhythm (opening Week 11’s visit to Los Angeles with 33 yards on eight carries, one of which was a score), he endured another ankle injury that kept him out of the next four games. He returned for the penultimate game of the season but missed the finale due to placement on the COVID-19 list.

That trend appears to be continuing as his sophomore season gets underway. Perine was drafted to be a north-south option, which clashes with the agility preferred in Mike LaFleur’s system. His fellow young projects (Ty Johnson and Josh Adams) are also back while the Jets added North Carolina product Michael Carter in the most recent fourth round. Gase and Gore are gone but Perine nonetheless finds himself in a precarious position.

Denzel Mims of the Jets runs after making a catch as the Buffalo Bills met the New York Jets at Metlife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey on October 25, 2020.
The Buffalo Bills Vs The New York Jets At Metlife Stadium In East Rutherford New Jersey On October 25 2020

Wide Receiver Denzel Mims

It’s truly unfortunate that injuries are held against athletes, particularly those on the gridiron, when judging their careers. Entrants like Ki-Jana Carter, Robert Griffin III, Sam Bradford, and Steve Emtman are often considered busts if for no reason other than committing the apparently mortal sin of getting hurt while playing football.

Mims is teetering on such an unjust fate. He missed the first six games of his rookie campaign after injuring both of his hamstrings before Week 1 and was thus struggled to sustain freshman momentum. A New York offense in various states of disarray certainly didn’t help his case. Hints of Mims’ big-play potential briefly emerged, but that didn’t stop the Jets from spending big offseason bucks to build their receiving corps. Mims is now suddenly trapped behind the hype of Elijah Moore and Corey Davis.

More struggles awaited Mims as preparation for 2021 got underway, as he missed time with an illness and spent minicamp on the second team. The drafting of Mims (and, of course, the performance of first-rounder Mekhi Becton) was supposed to make up for the fact that the Jets passed on elite receiving talent (including future Rookie of the Year Justin Jefferson) during the 2020 draft’s first round. With the receivers’ room looking vastly different, Mims must separate himself from the pack.

Sep 13, 2020; Orchard Park, New York, USA; New York Jets tight end Chris Herndon (89) catches a pass in front of Buffalo Bills cornerback Taron Johnson (24) during the fourth quarter at Bills Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

Tight End Chris Herndon

It was a little surprising (yet ultimately financially sensible in the long run) to see that the Jets didn’t break open the bank for some stronger competition at tight end to raise the heat on Herndon. Injuries and a suspension have prevented him from capitalizing on a strong debut season but the Jets passed on expensive names like Jonnu Smith and Hunter Henry (both newly minted Patriots). Goal-line option Tyler Kroft, the re-signing Daniel Brown, and rookie free agent Kenny Yeboah served as consolation prizes (along with the returning Ryan Griffin and Trevon Wesco).

But minicamp saw Herndon lose valuable starting reps to Kroft, setting up an intriguing battle once training camp begins. Per Connor Hughes of The Athletic, Herndon has struggled with his new playbook, causing him to lose valuable ground on the depth chart.

To his credit, Herndon is going the extra mile to rectify his mistakes prior to his vastly important fourth season, as he is reportedly attending the Tight End University summit in Nashville. It will mean nothing, however, unless his work starts to make itself apparent on the field.

New York Jets, George Fant
Nov 20, 2016; Seattle, WA, USA; Seattle Seahawks offensive tackle George Fant (74) participates in pregame warmups against the Philadelphia Eagles at CenturyLink Field. Mandatory Credit: Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

Offensive Lineman George Fant

Several Jets blockers might be at their New York breaking points in 2021. Potential outs lie in the contracts of Fant, Greg Van Roten, and Connor McGovern, outs that would lead to over $20 million cap savings.

Fant is a late addition to this and is in a particularly prickly situation after the team signed Morgan Moses last week. Moses, coming off a career-best season in Washington, is projected to take over the right tackle spot, which would relegate Fant to the second team. Set to turn 29 this month, that could hinder Fant’s chances of securing another long-term deal.

But a new opportunity awaits: Fant could prove himself to be a reliable depth option and veteran mentor, which could convince the Jets or another team to offer him that presumably desired stability. To do so, Fant could look to pull out all the stops. For example, is it possible we could see him lineup as a tight end, as he did in Seattle? LaFleur’s offense in San Francisco previously used a veteran blocker in such a role, employing the services of Joe Staley.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags 

New York Jets 2021 offseason recap: Tight ends

New York Jets, Chris Herndon

The New York Jets added a goal-line target, but will they regret their failure to add competition for Chris Herndon?

Following the conclusion of minicamp activities, the NFL offseason is officially over. The next time the New York Jets convene in Florham Park, they’ll be getting ready for preseason and regular season action for the 2021 campaign. 

With the offseason in the rearview mirror, ESM looks back on the green offseason that was, position-by-position. In part four, we analyze the Jets’ tight ends…

Sep 20, 2020; East Rutherford, New Jersey, USA;New York Jets tight end Chris Herndon (89) is tackled by San Francisco 49ers cornerback K’Waun Williams (24) during the first half at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

How It Started

The 2020 season marked Chris Herndon’s third official year on an NFL roster. It was, technically speaking, only his second professional campaign as injuries and a suspension limited him to 18 snaps the year before, robbing him of a true sophomore season.

Yet, Herndon was a New York antique by Sam Darnold’s service standards: the 2018 fourth-round pick out of Miami was the only player on the Jets’ most recent opening day roster that caught passes during the departed franchise quarterback’s rookie season.

One could wax poetic about what that fact says about New York management in the new decade, but looking back toward that rookie season shows what Herndon is capable of. Despite working with a rookie Darnold and aging backup Josh McCown, Herndon led all rookie tight ends with 39 receptions and was second in the same group in yardage (502, 50 behind Baltimore’s Mark Andrews).

Alas, a suspension for a substance abuse policy violation and hamstring woes made his 2019 season a wash, and he failed to recapture the glory upon his reinsertion into the lineup last year, earning only 287 yards on 31 receptions. The early stages of his season were defined by a series of brutal drops, but things got better once things got truly dire for the Jets. Over the final three games (during which the Jets amassed a 2-1 mark), Herndon put up 145 yards on 14 receptions (17 targets). He also scored in each of the Jets’ final two games.

To his credit, Herndon blamed no one but himself for his struggles, even as some tried to pin his issues on his usage in Adam Gase’s systems.

“I feel like I’ve been used fairly,” Herndon said in October, per ESPN’s Rich Cimini. “It’s a team game. I can’t sit after every game and be upset and mad and try to point fingers. This time last year I wasn’t even on the field, so at this point, I’m honestly just thankful to be out there.”

The tight end group as a whole failed to make much of a dent in the Jets’ offensive woes. Veterans Ryan Griffin and Daniel Brown united for 117 yards on 11 receptions. Meanwhile, injury issues prematurely ended the Trevon Wesco experiment at fullback.

Nov 24, 2019; Orchard Park, NY, USA; Buffalo Bills tight end Tyler Kroft (81) warms up prior to a game against the Denver Broncos at New Era Field. Mandatory Credit: Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

How It’s Going

The Jets apparently have enough trust in Herndon to pocket their wallet, especially when looking at the foreign market. New England, for example, spent over $56 million combined in guaranteed money on Jonnu Smith and Hunter Henry. The Jets mostly kept things small, re-signing Brown to another year at just over $1 million and adding rookie free agent Kenny Yeboah after the draft.

Their big arrival in the tight end room is former divisional rival Tyler Kroft, as the former Buffalo Bill was added on an affordable one-year deal ($2 million). The Rutgers alum has developed a sizable NFL career as a goal-line option, which will undoubtedly help an offense that earned touchdowns on a league-worst 42 percent of its red-zone possessions last season. But is Kroft suitable competition for the primary role? He hasn’t been the starting tight end since 2017 in Cincinnati.

But minicamp offered an interesting twist: according to Connor Hughes of The Athletic, Herndon worked primarily with the second-team group during the spring sessions. Kroft and Griffin earned the top reps, and even Yeboah reportedly took some snaps. Herndon has indirectly responded by, per Jordy Fee-Pratt of SI.com, voluntarily partaking in Tight End University, a Nashville-based tight end summit hosted by George Kittle, Travis Kelce, and Greg Olsen.

It’s interesting to see the Jets work in non-Herndon names at the tight end spot. But are they working in the right names? One would probably feel more comfortable with such experimentation if they added a veteran name like newly minted Seahawk Gerald Everett.

Nov 17, 2019; Landover, MD, USA; New York Jets tight end Daniel Brown (87) celebrates with Jets tight end Ryan Griffin (84) after catching a touchdown pass against the Washington Redskins in the first quarter at FedExField. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Are They Better Off?

Again, the Jets’ unwillingness to shell out the big bucks for a tight end probably says more about deep of a hole they dug themselves in other spots (i.e. wide receivers) than it does about their full trust in Herndon. New York, according to ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler, made an attempt to add Smith but dropped out of the bidding for financial reasons (Smith later earned a four-year, $50 million deal from the Patriots).

But the new staff has made it clear that they have plans for Herndon…he just has to earn his opportunity to partake.

As training camp ended, new offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur (who previously worked with the elite Kittle in San Francisco) was asked about Herndon’s prospects going into the 2021 campaign. LaFleur offered sympathy for Herndon, as his system will be the third in three seasons for the fourth-round pick (who is a rare leftover from Todd Bowles’ final season). A summer of opportunity awaits.

“It was documented last year just how he came on towards the back half and had a good rookie year that put him on the scene,” LaFleur said, per notes from the Jets. “He’s a talented dude…He missed a little bit of time with some things but it’ll be huge for him when he gets back and rehears this system, talk to him again, and gets in there with pads and we’re out there in those unscripted periods where he has a chance to go out there and make those plays.”

Elsewhere, the signing of Kroft should improve the goal-line situation while Yeboah (11 touchdown receptions over his last two college seasons) could prove to be a diamond in the rough. But since the uncertainty that lingered in the form of Herndon has only amplified, it’s hard to give the Jets a truly strong grade for this offseason’s adjustments, at least for the time being.

Final Offseason Grade: C

Should the Jets have added more competition for Herndon? Continue the conversation on Twitter @GeoffJMags

New York Jets: The best point to draft each offensive position

The New York Jets will definitely take a quarterback second overall, but where could they take some other offensive roles? 

The New York Jets know what they have to do when it comes to the NFL Draft, which begins on Thursday night (8 p.m. ET, ABC/ESPN/NFL Network). Questions, however, still linger. Who will they pick? When will they address each position and need?

ESM attempts to answer the latter question, starting with the offensive end…

Quarterback

It’s more or less a foregone conclusion that the Jets are taking a quarterback with the second overall pick, and John Beck has all but confirmed that it’s going to be his pupil and fellow BYU legend Zach Wilson. Whether it’s Wilson or a non-Provo surprise, the Jets have no other choice. The Deshaun Watson sweepstakes are over and their current options are James Morgan and Mike White, they of a combined zero NFL passes. Everything they’ve done this offseason has led to this: it’s quarterback or bust with their highest choice since 1996.

The Jets are in desperate need of a backup, but the draft is definitely not the place to get that, a la the Washington draft in 2012 (Robert Griffin III at No. 2, Kirk Cousins in the fourth round). Besides, they’re already burdened with one unnecessary quarterback, inexplicably draft Morgan in the fourth round before instant contributors like Gabriel Davis and DeeJay Dallas. There’s no need to add another after Wilson.

The Perfect Spot: No. 2 pick

Running Back

No matter who the Jets draft at second overall, his job can be made a whole lot easier if they have a serviceable run game to help him out. They had a trio of young projects (La’Mical Perine, Ty Johnson, Josh Adams) but enjoyed a sizable veteran upgrade capable of making an impact through the addition of Tevin Coleman. While Coleman is only in town on a one-year deal, the addition allows the Jets to bide their time in finding a long-term solution at running back. Adding another young rusher to the mix sounds fair, but Coleman and a deep rushing class allow the Jets to address other needs with their early picks.

The Perfect Spots: Day 3

Wide Receiver

The receiver spot was one of the most drastically upgraded areas on the Jets’ roster through free agency. While the Jets might still lack a true No. 1 target, they now have four guys who can realistically fill and compete for that role (newcomers Corey Davis and Keelan Cole join incumbents Denzel Mims and Jamison Crowder). Much like Coleman, the free agency haul allows them to be patient, though they could still be inspired to take a receiver after they fulfill their early needs.

The Perfect Spots: Round 3 and beyond

Tight End

The last survivor from their ill-fated fashion show, Chris Herndon is perhaps the most prominent face left over from the Todd Bowles era. Though he has struggled to maintain his rookie year production thanks to a suspension and injuries, last season ended on a promising note (11 receptions, 97 yards, 2 touchdowns over the last couple of games). That might be enough for them to wait a little bit before they add a potential replacement.

Beyond the brief Herndon resurgence, there’s a drastic talent drop in this position class after the highly coveted Kyle Pitts, who will likely be long gone by the time the Jets make their second pick in the 23rd slot. The addition of Tyler Kroft and re-signing of Daniel Brown also ensures that the Jets can wait to add another tight end. It’s not an elite group on the current roster by any stretch, but there’s enough solid personnel here that the Jets can worry about more desperate areas come Thursday and Friday.

The Perfect Spots: Day 3

Offensive Line

When it comes to their blocking, the Jets should draft early and draft often.

Had the Jets kept Sam Darnold, the second overall pick could’ve well been used on a blocker (i.e. Penei Sewell). While the Jets made some improvements throughout the roster, the blocking went mostly unaddressed as they added only Dan Feeney and Corey Levin, who likely won’t provide the blocking revolution the Jets need when making the transition to a new franchise quarterback. They have the capital to make up for lost time in the draft to put some heat on the incumbent blocking group and give the thrower, Wilson or otherwise, a solid foundation to work with.

Drafting Mekhi Becton and passing on elite receiving talent with the 11th overall pick was last season was a necessary move that paid big dividends. But more work is needed. Any pick used on a blocker after the inevitable quarterback at No. 2 can be a wise investment that continues Joe Douglas’ quest to make amends for the blocking negligence of the Mike Maccagnan era.

The Perfect Spots: Any pick beyond No. 2

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

What are the New York Jets getting in TE Tyler Kroft?

The New York Jets have added another offensive playmaker to the fold. This time in the form of 28-year-old former Bills tight end Tyler Kroft. Kroft has been with Buffalo as part of their tight end room for the past two seasons totaling 18 receptions for 190 yards and 4 TDs. Kroft now joins the Jets, where he will likely walk into a decent-sized role.

What does this mean?

The former Rutgers product joins the green and white after two seasons in Buffalo, where he did not play as well as he did in his original home of Cincinnati. After being selected with the 85th pick in the 2015 Draft, Kroft spent four years in Cincinnati.

In that time, Kroft played some pretty good football, but his best year came in 2017, his lone year as a starter. In that season, Kroft started all 16 games putting up 42 receptions for 404 yards and 7 scores. Kroft was an animal in the red zone and provided a key threat to that Bengals offense. When given a chance to show what he can do, Kroft has shown flashes of starting-level talent.

Now, as the Jets enter a new season with a new offense and potential new quarterback, the tight end position is all the more important. The Jets will hope for a resurgence from former breakout star Chris Herndon, but they will now have Kroft in the mix to compliment him. Kroft will bring another good red zone threat into the fold while also providing some experience for Herndon to lean on. Kroft will be a nice addition for gang green as it is a one-year deal.

New York Jets positional preview 2021: Tight ends

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

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.

Free Agents-to-be

Daniel Brown

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.

Ross Travis

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).

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).

Veteran Possibilities

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.

Outlook

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

New York Jets: Three Stars from Sunday’s finale at New England

The New York Jets’ 2020 season ended on an appropriately sullen note, as they fell to the New England Patriots in a snowy slog.

If there was ever a perfect day to end the 2020 New York Jets’ season, it was an overcast, cold, snowy, sloppy day at Gillette Stadium…where the Jets were on the wrong side of the scoreboard.

Cam Newton put up 322 yards of total offense and threw for three scores in the New England Patriots’ victorious season finale, topping the Jets by a 28-14 final in a meaningless game in Foxboro. The Jets (2-14) were paced by 84 receiving yards on a trio of receptions by Breshad Perriman. In what could his final game as the Jets’ franchise quarterback, Sam Darnold threw for 266 yards, a touchdown, and two interceptions.

The Jets end this season with their lowest win total since 1996, when they won a single game under Rich Kotite. New York also endures their fifth consecutive sweep at the hands of the Patriots (7-9).

For the final time this season, ESM issues the game balls, as multiple eras come to their potential end in Florham Park and East Rutherford.

3rd Star: WR Breshad Perriman

3 receptions, 84 yards

Last season, Perriman earned himself de factor WR1 duties with a strong finish to the regular season. It wasn’t as impressive this time around, but he provided the Jets a strong potential parting gift by serving as their deep ball threat in Foxboro. This comes after he was kept off the stat ledger in last week’s win over Cleveland.

2nd Star: RB Josh Adams

11 carries, 47 yards, 1 TD, 2 receptions, 11 yards

It truly is a shame that, with all due respect to Frank Gore, that consequence-free football in Florham Park and East Rutherford wasn’t dedicated to exploring the Jets’ rushing future. During their brief time together, Adams and Ty Johnson formed a dynamic pair, and it was the former who wound up scoring the final touchdown of this wretched season. He and Johnson united for 92 yards in New England (4.2 average carry) after previously putting up a collaborative 178 in the infamous December loss to Las Vegas.

1st Star: TE Chris Herndon

7 receptions, 63 yards, 1 TD

The case for keeping Sam Darnold often covers the ridiculous amount of turn over he has experienced in only three years at the New York helm. No receiver remains from his rookie campaign, with the exception of the tight end Herndon. Darnold’s former rookie camp roommate had struggled to replicate the success of his rookie season, hampered by injuries and other calamities. But Herndon managed to recapture a little bit of his 2018 spark toward the end of the season, capping things off with a game-best in receptions and a touchdown in each of his last two games.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

Three stars from the New York Jets’ Sunday loss at Los Angeles

Far removed from the playoff picture, the New York Jets engaged the Chargers in a strong duel despite another defeat.

Justin Herbert threw for 366 yards, with 145 of those tallies and 16 receptions going to Keenan Allen, and the Los Angeles Chargers doomed the New York Jets to yet another defeat, topping Gang Green by a 34-28 final in the latter’s first visit to SoFi Stadium. Joe Flacco had 205 yards and two scores for the Jets (0-10), who managed to earn three sacks on the rookie Herbert. If anything, Jets fans certainly see Sunday as a win if only because they hold their ground in the battle for the top overall pick in 2021. In contrast, Los Angeles (3-7) now sits in sixth after their victory.

ESM looks back on three stars for the Jets in their latest, entertaining defeat…

3rd Star: WR Denzel Mims

3 receptions, 71 yards

It took a while to truly get things rolling, but the Jets did enjoy some production from their healthy top receiver trio. Jamison Crowder was mostly held in check, but Breshad Perriman hauled in 54 yards on a pair of receptions, one of which was a 49-yard grab that started the Jets’ second half surge. Mims had his moments to shine in the second half, earning a trio of receptions in dramatic fashion, as his highlight reel grabs are perhaps the Jets’ strongest beacons of hope going forward. One could argue that Mims probably could’ve had the game-tying score, but no penalty was called despite contact from Tevaughn Campbell.

Once Mims learns how to play a full game, he’ll truly be dangerous. Perhaps the return of Sam Darnold could help unlock the final stages of his rookie development in the coming weeks, consisting of games that become far more watchable with Mims in tow.

2nd Star: TE Chris Herndon

2 reception, 32 yards, 1 TD

Sunday began to offer some hope for the career of Herndon for perhaps the first time since his promising rookie season. Last year was a wash due to a suspension and injuries, while this ongoing campaign has been defined by some tough drops in less-than-ideal situations. But while the stats were pedestrian to the naked eye, the visit to the west coast could serve as a good chance for Herndon to mentally prepare himself for a big final stretch, especially with his rookie camp roommate Sam Darnold possibly set to return in the near future.

Herndon had two receptions, but both came in major opportunities. A diving grab in the second half netted 26 yards and he later scored the Jets’ final touchdown of the late afternoon, trimming the Los Angeles lead to one possession in the fourth quarter. Herndon is one of the few Jets with his 2021 status more or less secure. If he can build some momentum that he can take into next season with him, this woebegone campaign can still produce a win.

1st Star: DE Henry Anderson

5 tackles, 1 blocked punt, 0.5 sacks

Early in the game, it was hard to tell if either Anderson or Herbert was going to spend more time in the Los Angeles backfield. Anderson’s antics allowed the Jets to keep pace with the Chargers in the early going, ending the first Los Angeles possession with a blocked punt that set up La’Mical Perine’s early score. Toward the end of the first half, Anderson came up big again with a crucial, nine-yard sack of Herbert that limited the Chargers to a far less costly field goal on the final play.

Anderson is perhaps one of the biggest cases the Jets have against tanking. With his 2021 release bringing the Jets over $8 million in cap savings, he has to do every possible to prove himself essential to the Jets in these final hours. Even if the Jets do opt to cut ties, if only for financial reasons, Anderson would be wise to treat the last seven weeks as a potential audition for 31 other employers.

The Jets return to action next Sunday afternoon against the Miami Dolphins (1 p.m. ET, CBS). 

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

 

New York Jets position group evaluations: Tight Ends

New York Jets, Chris Herndon

As the season looms, I decided to take a deep dive into each New York Jets position group within the organization and grade each group. Today’s group is one of the most encouraging groups on the roster. That is the tight end room. From a highly anticipated bounce back tight end to a standout veteran, to a potential diamond in the rough, this group is one of the best on the roster. So let’s get into it.

TE 1: Chris Herndon

Without a doubt, the most anticipated return on this roster is Chris Herndon. Last season, Herndon entered the year with very high hopes. After a suspension and an upper buddy injury, Herndon’s sophomore season was a bust. Now, he’s back, and he’s been a star of camp. Reporters have been consistent across the board in their lauding of how he will be the critical piece to Sam Darnold’s success. With the lack of receiver depth, Herndon will be counted on to play a significant role. As I previously wrote, Herndon will either be the X-Factor of the offense and the key reason Darnold takes the next step or the reason Darnold has nobody to turn to when the play breaks down.

TE 2: Ryan Griffin

Last season, without Herndon, many analysts wondered who’d step up at tight end. Those questions were quickly dispelled with the impressive play of Griffin. With 34 catches for 320 yards and five touchdowns, Griffin proved to be a huge red zone threat. If Herndon can be the dynamic threat over the top and outside (when need be), then Griffin will be able to play a huge role in red zone success. As long as both guys can stay healthy when the Jets put out two tight end sets, they could be a force to be reckoned with. Griffin does tend to struggle with consistency, though, so as long as he doesn’t become a non-factor, he’ll be a great piece of the offense.

TE 3: Trevon Wesco

The West Virginia product was a curious selection by the former front office regime when he was picked in the fourth round of the 2019 draft. Wesco wouldn’t have been a controversial pick if he was known as a dynamic threat in the red zone or over the middle like the two other tight ends in the room, but he was traditionally known as a blocking tight end. Then, this offseason, he became a much more well-rounded athlete as Adam Gase has stated, and he’s found a real rhythm in camp reportedly. If Wesco can show in-game that he can be a weapon, that would only make the offense all the better.

Grade: A-

This group is FAR from a proven group. With that said, the way Douglas and Gase have built this group, they have potential to complement each other very nicely. Not only that but with the lack of depth at receiver, these guys will be counted on to step up. I truly believe this group has potential to shock some people this year and mask some of the Jets offensive inadequacies.