The NY Jets tight end group could be sneakily underrated in 2021 thanks to the Tyler Kroft-Chris Herndon duo.
The New York Jets tight end group—like most of the offense in 2020—was abysmal.
Jets’ players at the position caught a combined 43 passes for 409 yards. For perspective, Los Angeles Rams’ Gerald Everett caught 41 balls for 417 yards, the 23rd highest yardage by a tight end in 2020. Chris Herndon, the Jets top tight end, finished 35th.
While the Jets’ tight end room remains similar to 2020, new offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur’s system should vastly improve their production.
LaFleur’s Shanahan-inspired scheme can trace its roots throughout league history, starting with Kyle’s father, Mike, in Denver. Broncos tight end Shannon Sharpe became the first of many players to benefit from the Shanahan scheme, growing into a Pro Football Hall of Fame player after he once entered as a lowly seventh-round selection in 1990.
Mike’s protege Gary Kubiak then continued the tradition in Houston by turning 2006 fourth-rounder Owen Daniels into a two-time pro-bowler. Next, Kyle added his own Pro Bowl names to the list, utilizing Austin Hooper while Atlanta’s offensive coordinator in 2016, and then George Kittle as the San Francisco 49ers headman a year later. Both are now top-five-paid guys at the position.
The Shanahan offense has spent decades turning unknown tight ends into stars. Despite their lack of prior production, the Jets’ tight end room should expect to see similar improvements.
Heading into 2021, the aforementioned Herndon should get the first crack at the lead job. Herndon has fallen quite far from his rookie darling status, but a late-year surge shows his talent is still plentiful. In a better offense that will take advantage of his speed, Herndon could get back to his rookie form and maybe beyond.
Like Herndon, Ryan Griffin should also improve in an offense more fitting of his skills. Kubiak actually drafted Griffin to replace Daniels in 2013 because of his natural fit in the system.
Twenty-twenty aside, Griffin played well in relief for Herndon in 2019 and could emerge as the lead man if Herndon falters. His veteran savvy and familiarity with the offense could give him a leg-up on the competition.
The two new additions at the position both come with low expectations but could end up being the best of the bunch. Former Buffalo Bills tight end Tyler Kroft was signed to a one-year, $2 million in free agency. After the draft, former Ole Miss Rebel Kenny Yeboah joined the party as an undrafted free agent.
Kroft only caught 12 passes in 2020 yet scored three touchdowns and averaged 10 yards per catch. As a Cincinnati Bengals weapon in 2017, he had over 400 yards and seven scores.
In the Jets run-first scheme, Kroft should see plenty of action as a blocker—the place he shines the most. If he can prove his receiving talents, Kroft’s well-rounded game could vault him to the top of the depth chart.
Yeboah will need a truly fantastic training camp to seize the lead job. However, if he picks up the playbook quickly, he could contribute sooner than expected.
The Jets had a fourth-round grade on Yeboah before the draft and made him a priority free-agent after the draft. He will get a fair shot to earn his role. If the kid thrives early, LaFleur might add his own name to the list of great Shanahan tight ends.
The Oklahoma Drill Podcast position preview continues as the crew evaluates the New York Jets’ tight ends heading into 2021. Hosts Andrew, Matt and Vitor explain why the Shanahan system is so tight end-friendly and analyze every player at the position
Tune in to the full show for detailed break-downs, outlooks for 2021, bold predictions, and more.