Emergences during Chris Herndon’s absence make the New York Jets’ tight ends one of the team’s most stable groups moving into the decade.
New York Jets offseason positional preview: Part IV
The position: Tight End
Current names on roster: Chris Herndon, Trevon Wesco
Free agents: Daniel Brown
Reserve/Future/Injured: Ryan Griffin, Ross Travis
The position on the position
In the midst of a chaotic end to the decade, the New York Jets’ tight end group finished as one of the team’s more calming subsections.
Chris Herndon wound up playing in just one game after a breakthrough rookie season. The fourth-round pick missed the first four winless games with a suspension before injuries ate up the remainder of his sophomore campaign. But several names on the roster emerged to provide welcome stability to a team in desperate need of moorings.
Late addition Ryan Griffin was called upon to account for Herndon’s absence in July. Four months later, Griffin earned a three-year extension with the Jets after posting the first 100-yard game of his career in a November shellacking of Washington. Griffin was also tied for the second on the team in touchdown receptions (5). His outputs of 34 receptions for 320 yards were his best since a career-year in Houston in 2016 (50 grabs for 442 yards).
Griffin missed the final three games of the season after succumbing to an injury of his own. But the extension now provides depth on the offense as well as a veteran mentor for Herndon.
With stable names ahead of him, it’ll be interesting to see what the Jets with 2019 draft pick Trevon Wesco. Herndon’s fellow fourth-rounder played just 21 percent of snaps, but each of his touches (two receptions and a rushing attempt) resulted in a Jets first down. Wesco earned playing time in the backfield as a fullback late in the season.
Daniel Brown-Veteran Daniel Brown was on his third team over five NFL seasons and made four starts with both Herndon and Griffin out. Notably, he made his first touchdown reception since 2016 in the aforementioned win over the Redskins.
Will they draft?
They shouldn’t. The Jets have a solid young starter coming back in Herndon, long-term veteran assistance in Griffin, and a project in Wesco. There are way too many more pressing needs to worry about.
Veteran names to watch
Anthony Firkser, Tennessee-Fitzpatrick who? Firkser was one of the more notable stories of wild card weekend, as the Titans’ tight end-fullback hybrid scored the opening touchdown of their upset win over New England. That score made Firkser the first Harvard alum to score a touchdown in the NFL playoffs.
Darren Fells, Houston-If the Jets are looking to improve a red zone touchdown percentage ranked 19th in the league, they could turn to the services of Fells. The veteran had seven touchdowns, all within the opponents’ 20-yard-line, for the AFC South champion Texans this season.
Nick O’Leary, Jacksonville-If the Jets do decide to make a change at tight end, it would probably come from simple familiarity with the coaching staff and scheme. O’Leary worked with head coach Adam Gase in 2018 with Miami. O’Leary also has experience as a fullback.
It would probably be foolish for the Jets to tamper with one of the most stable groups on the roster. Herndon was one of Sam Darnold’s instant favorite targets, as the two developed a rapport from the onset of rookie minicamp as roommates. Griffin provides mentorship and serves as a reliable substitute if Herndon is forced to miss time again.
Wesco could well find new life as a fullback, and that could work to the Jets advantage. Despite the offensive-mindset of the modern NFL, the art of the fullback is an endangered species. The days of Mike Alstott are long gone. But several teams still alive on divisional weekend use a fullback to their advantage.
Firkser starred for Tennesse last Saturday, while Kyle Juszczyk (San Francisco), Patrick Ricard (Baltimore), and Anthony Sherman (Kansas City) will each make their 2020 playoff debuts over the next two days.
The Jets, themselves, have seen the value of the fullback play to their benefit in the new century through names like Richie Anderson, Tony Richardson, Jerald Sowell, and John Conner. They’d be wise to at least test making Wesco the next name on that list.
Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffMags5490.