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Can NY Jets tight end Chris Herndon return to 2018 form?

Chris Herndon needs to revisit his 2018 form to seize control of the 2021 NY Jets tight end room.
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In a fairly weak NY Jets tight end room, Chris Herndon can emerge as the clear top weapon if he can return to his 2018 form.

Sam Darnold was not the only offensive rookie on the New York Jets roster who showcased exciting potential in the 2018 season. Fourth-round tight end Chris Herndon was similarly promising. Over the final 12 weeks of the year, Herndon ranked eighth among tight ends in receiving yards (455), fourth in receiving touchdowns (4), and fourth in yards per target (9.3).

Herndon’s 2019 season was ruined by injuries, delaying the much-anticipated sequel to his breakout year until 2020.

The sequel was a disappointment. It lacked the inspiring traits that made the original great. Herndon became one of the most drop-prone tight ends in the league and retained very little of the talent he showed in 2018 as a contested-catch receiver, after-the-catch weapon, and broken-play extraordinaire.

Herndon was less than half of the player he once was, averaging 17.9 yards per game in 2020 after posting 41.4 yards per game over his hot 12-week close to the 2018 campaign.

Fortunately for Herndon, he still has complete control of his destiny as he enters the fourth year of his career – which is a rare opportunity for a fourth-round pick who has battled injuries and poor play.

The Jets’ tight end depth chart is one of the NFL’s least inspiring on paper. There is nobody else in the group who can match Herndon’s athleticism or overall pass-catching potential, so the door is wide open for him to gobble up the vast majority of the position’s available snaps and targets.

Nevertheless, the other members of the Jets’ tight end room will still be important cogs in determining the Jets’ offensive fate this year.

Tyler Kroft is Herndon’s prime competitor for the starting job. Kroft is not a dynamic athlete or field-stretching receiver, but he is a versatile and solid blocker. He is certainly the best in-line blocker of the Jets’ tight end group. His blocking ability should serve him well in an offense that values blocking at the skill positions and employs a wide-zone running scheme that rushes in the direction of the tight end(s) quite often.

Trevon Wesco is a tight end by trade, but he figures to be the Jets’ fullback. He has played the position in small spurts over his two-year NFL career and blocked at a decent level overall.

Offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur‘s San Francisco 49ers offense utilized the fullback position heavily throughout his tenure there. However, Wesco does not have the same level of athleticism or route-running finesse that San Francisco fullback Kyle Juszczyk does, so the Jets will certainly not be using Wesco as often as the 49ers used Juszczyk. The question is, exactly how much will the Jets use the fullback position?

Ryan Griffin and Daniel Brown are returning for their third consecutive seasons with the Jets. Both players are key special teams contributors but provided nothing on offense last season, struggling as receivers and blockers.

While Griffin has some upside as a receiver after posting 320 yards and five touchdowns for the Jets in 2019, his athleticism took a clear dip in the 2020 season following ankle surgery prior to the year. Brown has almost zero receiving potential with a career average of 5.7 yards per game.

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Rounding out the group is undrafted free agent Kenny Yeboah, who hails from Ole Miss. Yeboah is easily the unit’s second-best athlete after Herndon, and his overall package of pass-catching skills certainly beats out everyone besides Herndon as well.

How will LaFleur manage his usage of this unit? Who will end up making the roster?

On the latest episode of the Cool Your Jets podcast, Ben Blessington and Michael Nania break down everything there is to know regarding the Jets’ tight end position, analyzing each player’s strengths, weaknesses, and projected fit in the offense.

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