Last week we talked about the NY Jets wide receivers, but this week all eyes are on the New York Jets tight end additions. Looking at the offense from a year ago, there is no denying there was a gaping hole at the tight-end position.. Ryan Griffen and Tyler Kroft, the main tight ends on the roster last season, dealt with injuries throughout the year. In addition, they were mostly ineffective as players; Kroft only managed 173 receiving yards in the entire season. The only other options in the tight end room were undrafted rookie Kenny Yeboah, a developmental prospect who the team did not expect to give a big role in his first season, and Trevon Wesco.
Due to the utter ineffectiveness of the tight end position, Zach Wilson had no true safety valve to rely on in his rookie year. Not only did that affect Wilson’s play during the season, which was uneven throughout, but also the type of offense the New York Jets could run. Offensive Coordinator Mike LaFleur worked under 49ers Head Coach Kyle Shanahan before heading to the Jets last season. Similar to the 49ers, the Jets wanted to run a good amount of 12 personnel in order to utilize their wide-zone, West Coast-based scheme (12 personnel is with one running back, two receivers, and two tight ends, and is a big part of the Shanahan-based offense).
Because of these inefficiencies at the tight end position, the Jets leaned on formations that utilized their receivers and running backs. Essentially removing tight ends from the passing game altogether. The gaping hole at the position was a main point of emphasis this offseason as the Jets made multiple moves to make their tight ends a point of strength on the roster, signing both Tyler Conklin and CJ Uzomah who both signed to multi-year deals.
Conklin played for the Minnesota Vikings last season, where he had 591 receiving yards and three touchdowns on the year. Conklin had 327 yards after the catch on the year and an ADOT(average depth of target) of 5.3. Uzomah, playing for the Bengals, had very similar numbers to Conklin; he had 493 yards and five touchdowns in 16 games played. In that same season, Uzomah also served as a locker room leader for a Bengals team that made a surprise run to the Super Bowl.
NY JETS TGHT ENDS A MUCH-NEEDED ADDITION
Outside of the free agency, the Jets selected Jermey Ruckert out of Ohio State and moved receiver Lawrence Cager to tight end. These two players add more depth and talent to the already upgraded position group. Ruckert was a good blocker in both the passing and running games at Ohio State, while also possessing underrated receiving ability at the position. Cager has been a receiver his entire career but standing at 6′, five” and weighing 220 pounds, Cager has the ability to move between both receiver and tight end.
A major factor of these moves was to give Zach Wilson and even the quarterback room in general, legit targets and safety valves in the passing game. These moves have already shown some dividends, as Wilson is already building a rapport with Conklin and Uzomah. Wilson has specifically looked Conklin’s way almost every day in camp, with the tight end sometimes having two or three receptions a day when working with the second-year QB.
Wilson commented on the evident chemistry between himself and the tight end group, specifically with Conklin.
“Yeah, absolutely, we’ve had a great feel and I think we’ve had some cool reps together with some different things. But, he’s a talented guy, so I’m excited to work with him this year. He does a lot of really good things, so I’m excited to see how that can keep progressing,” said Wilson.
The second-year quarterback then spoke on Conklin and Uzomah as a pair and highlighted what they can bring to the Jets’ offense this season.
“I mean for one, they do a great job both in protection and run game stuff. You know, obviously when you have a big body guy like both of them that you can just give them a shot where you can go to on a third down and let them win and separate and you can count on those guys to do that. We need those big body guys for that stuff and third and long when we get those drop zones and you check the ball down to C.J. (Uzomah), he’s going to run somebody over, so they’re going to bring a whole other element to our game.”
Conklin mentioned that his, and Wilson’s, goal throughout camp has been to build a solid rapport and connection with each other.
“As we keep getting more comfortable with the offense together, how he wants stuff ran and how I run stuff, and I think every day we get a little more on the same page.”
Conklin also mentioned how he could see all of Wilson’s traits when he got to New York, such as his “arm strength” and “athleticism”. While with the team, Conklin said he has seen Wilson’s “work ethic up close” in the weight room and on the practice field.
Uzomah said that the team chemistry is at an “all-time high” for the Jets and that each guy is willing to fight for each other day in and day out. Regarding Wilson, Uzomah called him “stupid-athletic” and said that it opens up the offense for the rest of the offensive players. In addition, Uzomah spoke about what the Jets’ offense will look like with himself and Conklin within it.
“This offense should be able to open up with both of us. In 12 personnel, in 11 personnel, there shouldn’t be a beat that’s missed. We need to fine-tune things with certain motions, with certain IDs… There are things that we need to make sure we are on our Ps and Qs about. But again, it should be very fun and it should open up the offense a lot with both of us.”
Ruckert spoke about how he “made the most” out of being injured for a large chunk of the offseason and how he is “soaking in” the experience of playing for his childhood team. Ruckert also talked about how the tight end room has helped him adjust to the NFL
“They’re great. You got everybody from all different backgrounds, people who do all different types of things…They’re teaching me a lot, I’m soaking in a lot, and I’m just trying to do what they do.”
Heading into Week 2 of the preseason, the New York Jets offense took a hit due to the loss of Zach Wilson to a knee injury. While the timetable is not set in stone, the second-year quarterback will miss the rest of training camp and the preseason as he works to return early in the regular season. The loss of Wilson puts an emphasis on not only the backup quarterbacks, but the rest of the offense to step up to ensure that the entire unit is functioning correctly.
As a result, the new additions at tight end will be essential to the functioning of the Jets’ offense. Both Conklin and Uzomah need to be safety valves and threats over the middle of the field regardless of who the quarterback is. Their value is to the entire offense, not just the offense when Wilson is on the field.
Conklin and Uzomah have shown a good connection with Flacco in their short time working together, in addition to the time spent building a connection with Wilson. If Flacco can utilize both players to their full potential in the offense, the Jets should not miss a beat at quarterback until Wilson comes back healthy. The Jets made one of their glaring weaknesses a strength this offseason in order for the team to move towards contention. Between Conklin, Uzomah, and even Ruckert, this position group has the talent to help push the Jets forward this season on offense.