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

Should the New York Giants consider trading Evan Engram?

New York Giants, Giants, Evan Engram

The New York Giants did not have many players selected to the Pro Bowl in 2020. One Giants player who was selected to the Pro Bowl, though, was a very controversial selection. The Giants’ offense was putrid this season, averaging only 17.5 points per game. But one player on their offense must have stood out to Pro Bowl voters.

New York Giants tight end Evan Engram was selected to his first career Pro Bowl in 2020 to the surprise of all Giants fans. Most fans felt Engram endured a down season this year, arguably the worst season of his career. Engram posted a career-low in touchdowns this season, reaching the end zone just twice. He also recorded a staggering 11 drops on the year, pulling frustration from Giants fans all season long.

Many fans thought Green Bay Packers tight end Robert Tonyan was far more deserving of a Pro Bowl selection after scoring 11 touchdowns, but he was snubbed in place of Evan Engram. Engram is still a young, talented player for the Giants. However, he is entering a contract year and has yet to meet the expectations set out for him after his incredible 2017 rookie season. Now, before New York has to pay Evan in 2022 potentially, the Giants need to decide whether or not they want Evan Engram to be a part of the team’s long-term future.

Should the Giants trade Evan Engram?

Despite his frustrating, drop-filled season, Evan Engram was arguably the most explosive and talented playmaker on the Giants’ offense last season, with Saquon Barkley on injured reserve. Engram still managed to rack up 654 receiving yards in 2020, despite leaving plenty of yards dropped onto the field.

Evan Engram is a talented player who cannot seem to get out of his own way. Maybe a change of scenery is what is best for him. But should the Giants really consider trading their starting tight end?

Replacement on the roster?

The Giants would be thin at the tight end position if they traded Evan Engram. Behind Evan is Kaden Smith and Levine Toilolo. Kaden Smith is a young tight end with decent run-blocking capabilities but is not likely to emerge as a starting-level receiving talent. Toilolo is a pure run-blocker from the tight end position and is in danger of being a cap casualty this offseason.

Drafting a tight end

The Giants do have options to replace Evan Engram if they decide to trade him. One popular name connected to the Giants this offseason if draft prospect Kyle Pitts from the University of Florida. Pitts is a phenomenal tight end prospect that will likely be drafted in the first round of the 2021 NFL Draft. Kyle Pitts totaled 43 receptions for 770 yards and an insane 12 touchdowns in only 8 games in 2020.

The Giants might not want to spend their coveted eleventh overall draft pick on a tight end, though, with much more pressing needs on their roster. New York is in need of a wide receiver and could target one with that pick or use the pick to improve their defense. But maybe the Giants could trade Evan Engram for a high-to-mid-round draft pick and replace him in free agency.

Finding a tight end in free agency

There are a few veteran options that the Giants could consider at tight end in free agency. In his twelfth career season, Jared Cook managed to rack up 504 yards and 7 touchdowns on 37 receptions in 2020. Cook has been one of the NFL’s best tight ends over his entire career and went to back to back Pro Bowls in 2018 and 2019. Despite thirty-three years old, Jared Cook is still playing some of his best football and could provide plenty of value to the Giants on a one-year deal.

Gerald Everett is a bit of a younger and likely pricier option for the Giants in free agency. The twenty-seven-year-old tight end has been with the Los Angeles Rams since his career began in 2017. Everett has been playing a complementary role, playing alongside Tyler Higbee with the Rams. The Rams run a lot of twelve-personnel, though, and Everett has made the most of his snaps. In 2020, Gerald posted a career-high 417 yards on 41 receptions. One red flag on Everett, though, is his six drops this past season. This could have been an anomaly, though, as he posted zero drops in both 2018 and 2019. Maybe a change of scenery could propel Everett into a legitimate starter.

One last high-end, long-shot option the Giants could take a look at in free agency is Hunter Henry. Henry is a twenty-seven-year-old tight end that has dealt with extensive injuries throughout his career. But when Henry is healthy, he performs as one of the best tight ends in the NFL. Henry has played 26 games in the past two seasons. Through those 26 games, Hunter has racked up 9 touchdowns and 1,265 receiving yards.

Hunter Henry is likely to be retained by the Los Angeles Chargers as they try to build around quarterback Justin Herbert. However, if he does hit the open market, Henry will be a highly-coveted free agent and could be a perfect fit for the Giants if they move on from Evan Engram.