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Who should the New York Jets draft at tight end? | NFL draft Q&A

Kenny Yeboah
(Photo by Frederick Breedon/Getty Images)

In his latest NFL Draft Q&A, Sam Crnic touches on the New York Jets’ top tight end targets and the impact of prospects opting out.

Going off of a few excellent questions I was given on Twitter, this Q&A digs into some key topics surrounding the 2021 NFL draft, both from a Jets and league-wide perspective. I’ll be doing plenty more Q&A sessions throughout the next few months, so make sure to shoot me your questions on Twitter.

Let’s hop right into it.

Where would the Jets grab a tight end in the draft?

Tight end is clearly a position of need for the Jets. Coming off of a highly disappointing season, TE Chris Herndon was sufficient as a blocker but mightily struggled as a pass-catcher in terms of consistency and overall mechanics. It seemed as though he took a major step back from what we saw in 2018. A 2019 career resurgence from backup TE Ryan Griffin was short-lived, as he was held to only nine receptions for 86 yards over 15 games in the 2020 season.

Since the end of the regular season, I’ve been excited to dig into this TE class, which doesn’t look great on paper, but offers upside in physical tools. Beyond Florida TE Kyle Pitts, who should be an early first-round pick, there are a variety of athletic pass-catchers, route runners, effective pass/run blockers, and guys that can do all three. This could be a position the Jets target as early as the second round depending on how the board falls. They could really use some more pure athleticism at that position.

My top three TEs in the 2021 class (so far) would be Kyle Pitts, Pat Freiermuth and Brevin Jordan. All three players have dynamic athletic abilities as well as impressive route-running, hands, and physicality in blocking. These traits will push Pitts to the early first round and most likely push Jordan and Freiermuth to the early second round.

If the Jets plan to pass on the top three options in the class and wait to target a TE until either Day 2 or Day 3, there are many options that intrigue me. Here are two of my favorites.

Notre Dame TE Tommy Tremble

If you like watching TEs block on tape, look no further than this redshirt sophomore. Tremble is a physically dominant blocker who can be used in a variety of ways such as inline, crack, and perimeter blocks such as facilitating the outside zone or screens. You can even line him up at fullback along as an H-back.

Similar to Herndon at Miami, Tremble was always the TE2 playing behind other star prospects. Last year, he played behind Cole Kmet who was eventually picked by the Chicago Bears with the 44th overall selection. This year, rising freshmen Michael Mayer, who quickly became QB Ian Book‘s favorite target, got the starting nod.

In ten games, Tremble recorded only 19 receptions for 218 yards. He didn’t even catch any touchdowns. If you’re just looking at the stat line, Tremble is a late-round pick at best.

Is Tremble a limited player at TE or has he just been underused in the Notre Dame offense? I’d have to argue the latter for a variety of reasons.

Setting aside how impressive his finishing power was, Tremble is much more athletic than people give him credit for. Besides a blocking role such as fullback, Tremble has the versatility to line up attached, wing, or even in the slot.

Tremble is my favorite TE blocker in this draft and it’s not very close. Pitts has shown the ability to block at the collegiate level, but I see him opting towards more of a WR-type role in the NFL. If Tommy can transform into the dynamic pass threat his athleticism gives him the potential to become, pair that with his blocking and he’s the best TE out of this draft in three years.

My biggest issue with Tremble in the passing game is his route-running. I thought his overall speed and agility were impressive despite the tasks he was asked to perform, but he needs to be developed into a much better route-runner if he wants to survive in the new age pass-happy NFL landscape.

I have Tremble as my TE4 for now based on his lack of pass game reps at Notre Dame but he’s one of the more intriguing players in an underwhelming positional class. Expect Tommy to be drafted in the second round at the earliest and the fourth round at the latest.

Ole Miss TE Kenny Yeboah

I had New York picking Yeboah back in my first Jets mock draft of the 2021 draft season in which I discussed the benefits of his size and route-running ability. The Temple transfer is much older than Tremble being a redshirt senior and has a much more limited athletic profile which drops his overall potential as a tight end at the next level.

Similar to Tremble, though, I thought Yeboah was also underused at Ole Miss/Temple and has the experience plus skillset to turn into a consistent first down and red zone threat. While not as consistently impressive, I saw Yeboah as a serviceable blocker in a variety of run concepts.

So far, we’ve addressed various traits of Yeboah that can be considered subpar or above average at best. Honestly, that’s exactly why I like him so much.

He wasn’t the best in any given area but also didn’t struggle in many areas as well. He’s a guy that knows his role in an offense and can perform it at a high level. He’s not anywhere near the versatile TE that Tremble or Pitts is, but unlike Tremble, he’s an experienced route runner and is better suited to improve an offense from day one.

In something you can’t teach – size and length – Yeboah has an advantage. Standing at 6-foot-4, 247-pounds, Kenny combines the adept ability to box-out opponents with great hands and ball skills.

Yeboah won’t win with speed or agility, but rather with his advantage at length and smoothness as a route runner. In the Ole Miss offense, his yards after catch (YAC) was defined by a lack of speed which limits him in the open field. Teams will have to take a bet on Yeboah’s size and quickness rather than downfield speed.

Transitioning from Temple to Ole Miss, Yeboah never missed a beat in terms of production when facing better competition. If select NFL teams need more of an experienced TE in blocking and route-running who can further develop in both areas, Yeboah is a great investment. While I don’t think Kenny’s overall upside is that high, certain parts of his game have higher potential such as becoming a red zone threat due to his size.

If dropping to the fourth or fifth round, the Jets would be wise to snag Yeboah. While other prospects offer more physical traits and upside, Kenny is a guy who simply quickly identifies his role in an offense and does a pretty darn good job at it.

Where would you put Stanford QB Davis Mills in your QB rankings?

I really liked Davis Mills’ 2020 tape! He’s not the most athletic guy, but he made some NFL-caliber throws in addition to leading his team from behind multiple times. As of right now, I would have him as my QB6 right behind Alabama QB Mac Jones and right in front of Florida QB Kyle Trask. Trask has the higher production at a higher level of competition, but I’m betting on some of Mills’ tools that made him a five-star recruit in the first place.

Only playing in five games, Mills passed for 1,508 yards, seven touchdowns, and three interceptions. He finished with a 66.2 completion percentage, a tad higher than 2019’s 65.6 percentage. Davis has only appeared in 14 games his entire collegiate career with only 11 starts but has played solid football when healthy.

Let’s go over some initial notes I have on Davis:

The Good

Mills is a decisive passer with most of his work coming from short range or intermediate levels of the field. A large, sturdy frame gives him enough contact balance to occasionally withstand hits in the pocket while possessing a quick yet powerful release.

Some of his most impressive work came within the pocket where he showed off exceptional subtle pocket movement, pocket maneuverability, and generally having the ability to generate enough time for a throw without having to scramble. You won’t see many off-platform throws from Davis because of how quickly he’s able to reset his base and proper positioning after evading the pass rush. Time after time, Davis was willing to put his body on the line to get a pass off.

Once in a while, you’d see Mills go off-script and either scramble or launch a throw out of the pocket. When scrambling, Mills has enough athleticism to make the first defender miss with finesse or power, but that’s about it.

Mostly a rhythm and timing thrower, Mills is adept at deciding where he needs to go with the ball using quick pre-snap reads. I really believe in Davis’ ability to go through progressions at a collegiate level which serves him well if working under a West Coast-style PSL (pre-snap/post-snap look) progressions basis at the NFL level. While he wasn’t as consistent with the deep ball as top prospects, he showed flashes of excellence in accuracy, touch, ball placement, and identifying leverages.

Davis has a long way to go in terms of becoming an NFL passer but possesses a lot of raw traits that point him in the right direction.

The Bad

In a league that’s favoring athleticism out of the QB position more and more, Mills projects as a pocket QB at the next level which severely limits his upside. There’s really no way to use him on any kind of boot-action or naked play designs solely based on the lack of any quick out-of-pocket movement.

When under pressure, there’s really no way Mills can get away based on a lack of dynamic escapability. As a runner, besides only making the first defender occasionally miss, there’s not much he offers to a team when the play breaks down. Obviously, Mills cannot be used in any zone read or QB power situations.

As a passer, Mills can work through his progressions but can often make poor decisions with the ball. Whether he is trying to force a late ball with multiple zone (flat or hook) defenders in the area, or not pulling the trigger at all on open receivers in an attempt to scan the entire field, this is what primarily makes Mills such a developmental option at QB. These are all easily-fixable traits, but they have to be cleaned up before Davis steps onto an NFL field.

With the long ball, there’s too much inconsistency in Mills’ accuracy, layering, ball placement, and decision-making to project him well as a deep ball passer at the next level. This is unfortunate based on how impressive Mills’ arm strength and base are.

For a pocket QB, there’s an extremely concerning history of injuries that have severely limited how many game reps Mills has had compared to the prospects ranked above him. His injury history may limit teams’ use of him even more than what his athletic profile already does.

No draft would be exciting without an intriguing Pac-12 QB on the rise with the potential tools of becoming a successful NFL QB. We’ve seen that in Justin Herbert in 2020, Gardner Minshew in 2019, and Sam Darnold along with Josh Rosen in 2018. Mills fits this bill and would be a great option for a team looking for a project QB in the mid-rounds.

What was the impact of opting out of the 2020 season such as LSU WR Ja’Marr Chase?

I ask this same question a lot myself.

Will teams be scared to draft someone who hasn’t played since 2019? Will teams claim that certain players aren’t in “football” shape anymore? Lastly, will teams make the lazy argument that players who opted out aren’t committed to the game?

My analysis of the situation is that a lot of scouts don’t really care about a player opting out. With COVID-19 still a constant threat in our day-to-day lives, teams understand the necessity of the situation when players made the hard decision of choosing to opt-out. This virus is no joke and every college scout in America understands that.

Despite this, the decision to opt-out only puts more pressure on a player to perform in pre-draft workouts and tests.

Take Georgia QB Jamie Newman for example. One of the nation’s most talented QBs during the 2019 season, Newman made the decision to transfer from Wake Forest to Georgia in anticipation of improving his draft stock even more heading into 2020. Newman’s decision found early success as he quickly became ranked as a pre-season top-five QB prospect for the 2020 season as a result of having the opportunity to lead Georgia.

Making the tough – but necessary – decision to opt-out of the 2020 season, Newman put a huge risk on his draft stock and needed to impress in pre-draft workouts along with the Senior Bowl to gain some of that stock back. So far, things haven’t gone too well for him in that process. Playing in the Senior Bowl, I thought Newman heavily disappointed in multiple areas with an emphasis on accuracy and decision making.

Is that because of a lack of talent? Not in the slightest.

Newman hadn’t played in a game since 2019 and was obviously going to be rusty in his first game back. But when that first game is his only game from the past year with reps that scouts could evaluate, Newman was in a tough predicament, one that he failed to escape from. This cannot be blamed on anyone and was just the unfortunate side of the opting-out phase.

While he’s still a month and a half away from any further workout or pro day in front of NFL scouts, a poor showing during Senior Bowl week for Newman has only put an even larger emphasis on the pressure surrounding the players who will be trying to make up for missing an entire season of football.

In another case a player’s draft stock taking a hit thanks to an opt-out, let’s discuss Miami defensive end Gregory Rousseau.

Let’s be honest here. Most of us envisioned Rousseau going at least top ten solely based on his monstrous 2019 campaign. In 13 games, Rousseau totaled 15.5 sacks and 19.5 tackles for loss. Scouts all over the nation were praising Greg’s freakish athleticism and length for a man of his size in addition to how adept he was at rushing from both the outside and inside.

As of February 2021, some draft experts have Rousseau dropping all the way past the top 20. Most don’t even have Rousseau as the top edge in the class anymore. With a prospect of his potential, why is this the case?

One word: experience.

In high school, Rousseau mostly played safety and wide receiver. He was just being introduced to the nuances of playing defensive line when transitioning from high school ball to college. During his freshmen season, Rousseau only appeared in two games before suffering a season-ending fractured ankle injury that limited him to only five tackles and zero sacks. His sophomore season was the outstanding 15.5-sack performance, but that’s all he has to his name in terms of impressive defensive line play.

There’s only one full season on tape of Rousseau playing an edge role, a significant red flag. It’s not that Rousseau didn’t want to continue playing, but rather because of COVID-related issues. Like Newman (but not as significant), another multi-talented player was forced to make a tough decision that incidentally lowered his draft stock.

Northwestern offensive linemen Rashawn Slater is one of the few 2020 opt-out prospects whose draft stock wasn’t altered at all because of his decision. In fact, his stock may have even improved.

Slater’s immediate rise to a consensus top-15 prospect among the draft community can be directly attributed to former NFL scout Daniel Jeremiah‘s consistent endorsement of him over highly-regarded tackle Penei Sewell. And, when you flip on the film, you can see why Jeremiah is so high on him. Watching Slater’s tape was one of my favorite moments while scouting the top of this year’s tackle class.

His ability to stay latched onto opponents with active feet in addition to possessing phenomenal hip turn and leg drive instantly put him a cut above the rest of the offensive line prospects and right with Penei. While I personally have Sewell higher, Slater is an easily-lovable prospect who can excel in all five positions at the next level.

His most notable performance of 2019 came against Ohio State DE Chase Young, the eventual No. 2 overall pick of the 2020 NFL draft.

Despite not playing a single snap in 2020, Slater’s 2021 draft stock has almost been solidified barring anything unforeseen. This was the case for both Slater and Sewell, who also opted out of the 2020 season. Both players had shown enough in 2019 to distance themselves away from any tackle who played in 2020. I found this very interesting as both prospects became an outlier when assessing 2020 opt-outs.

When looking at the big board, the only names not affected by opting out of the 2020 season besides the offensive linemen seem to be WR Ja’Marr Chase and CB Caleb Farley. In total, those four names (Sewell, Slater, Chase, and Farley) were the only players whose decision to opt-out had zero effect on their eventual post-Super Bowl draft stock.

What do these four have in common that the rest don’t?

While there’s no one correct answer, I would argue that they all possess elite physical traits, measurables, and mechanics that perfectly translate their talent to the NFL regardless of the question of experience. Sure, Slater doesn’t have ideal length for a tackle, but everything else is nearly perfect.

To sum it up, if a 2020 opt-out had elite physical traits, measurables, and mechanics for his specific position, there’s a large chance that scouts will not drop them on the big board. If they missed one of these categories, such as mechanics in Rousseau’s case, then maybe they will slightly drop. If they are lacking in multiple categories, such as mechanics and elite physical traits in Newman’s case, then they will probably drop a little harder.

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