The New York Jets have a tight end crisis
As things currently stand, the Jets only have two tight ends on their roster following the 53-man cutdown – Tyler Kroft and Trevon Wesco. The latter is a tight end in name only, primarily lining up at fullback throughout the 2021 preseason (86% of his offensive snaps). Kroft is the only pure tight end.
Fourth-year tight end Chris Herndon technically made the Jets’ initial 53-man roster, but the Jets have agreed to a trade with the Vikings that will send Herndon and a sixth-round pick to Minnesota in exchange for a fourth-round pick.
It is crucial that the Jets bolster this position prior to the start of the season. These tight ends are worth keeping an eye on as potential targets.
Jacob Hollister (Free agent)
Jacob Hollister is a 27-year-old Wyoming product who is best known for his run with the Seahawks from 2019-20. He racked up 66 catches for 568 yards and six touchdowns over 27 games throughout the past two seasons.
Hollister signed a one-year contract with the Bills this offseason. He appeared in all three preseason games, catching four of six targets for 53 yards and three first downs, but Buffalo recently cut ties with Josh Allen’s college teammate.
It is Hollister’s blocking that makes him appealing for a Jets offense that will rely on its tight ends heavily to create room in the run game. In 2020, Hollister had a 65.4 run-blocking grade at Pro Football Focus, which ranked at the 68th percentile among qualified tight ends.
That was right on par with Hollister’s career production. His composite run-blocking grade throughout his career is 65.9.
Zach Ertz (Trade)
In March, NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport reported that the Philadelphia Eagles granted longtime tight end Zach Ertz permission to seek a trade.
It’s Sept. 1 and Ertz is still an Eagle.
Jets general manager Joe Douglas shared time with Zach Ertz in Philadelphia. He recently got to see Ertz up close during the joint practices between the Jets and Eagles in Florham Park.
Ertz, who will turn 31 in November, is coming off of the worst season of his career by a massive margin. He set career lows in drop rate (10.0%), contested catch rate (33.3%), yards per target (4.7), catch rate (50.0%), yards per reception (9.3), touchdowns per game (0.09), and the percentage of his targets that resulted in a conversion (22.2%). He was one of the worst tight ends in football.
With numbers like those, Ertz may never be a solid player again, but since his stock is undoubtedly at an all-time low after such a brutal season, he could likely be snatched up by the Jets for cheap. Ertz would be a high-upside option who also provides a quality veteran presence.
However, one concern to keep in mind here is that Ertz is not a good blocker. He has graded out as a substantially below-average run blocker in each of the past four seasons, posting a composite PFF run-blocking grade of 51.2 from 2017-20.
Things are dire for the Jets’ tight end room, though. Picking up Ertz for an inconsequential pick (perhaps a conditional selection) could be worth the gamble.
Tanner Hudson (Free agent)
Former Buccaneers tight end Tanner Hudson was one of the most productive pass-catchers of the preseason before being released on Aug. 30.
Hudson led all tight ends with 129 receiving yards and ranked second with six receiving first downs. The majority of that damage came through the air, as he led the position with 89 air yards.
The 2018 undrafted free agent out of Southern Arkansas impressed after the catch, too, leading tight ends with three missed tackles forced.
Hudson is not a blocker, but the 26-year-old (27 in November) showed about as much receiving upside as any tight end in the NFL this preseason.
MyCole Pruitt (Free agent)
After bouncing around the league throughout his first three years, MyCole Pruitt settled in with the Tennessee Titans and made a name for himself as a blocker over the past three seasons.
In 2020, Pruitt’s 74.3 run-blocking grade at PFF ranked fifth-best out of 86 qualified tight ends (95th percentile).
Pruitt is not a prime receiving option, but he delivered when the Titans dialed his number. From 2018-20, Pruitt caught 20 of 27 passes for 241 yards, four touchdowns, and 10 first downs.
Pruitt signed with the 49ers this year and had a rough preseason, making no catches and grading poorly as a run blocker over two games.
The 29-year-old is now on the open market after being cut by San Francisco.
If it is blocking that the Jets want, Pruitt is a great target.
Eric Saubert (Trade)
Eric Saubert played tight end for the Jaguars last season under tight ends coach Ron Middleton, who is now the Jets’ tight ends coach.
Saubert joined the Broncos this offseason. He had a solid preseason as he caught five of six targets for 74 yards and three first downs.
The 27-year-old product of Drake University showed a lot of flare after the catch, which is a crucial trait for players in Mike LaFleur’s offense. His average of 8.4 yards after catch per reception was tops among tight ends with at least five catches. He forced two missed tackles after the catch.
Saubert is also a decent blocker. His career run-blocking grade in the regular season is 62.8, better than the 2020 positional average (61.4).
Denver has four tight ends, so it is feasible to think they could be willing to part with one. A conditional late-round pick for Saubert could be a worthwhile investment.
David Njoku (Trade)
Former first-round pick David Njoku has been a disappointment in Cleveland, amassing 319.8 yards and 2.8 touchdowns per season over four years in Northeastern Ohio.
Njoku notably requested a trade from the Browns twice during the 2020 season. His role as Cleveland’s starting tight end was taken by free-agent signing Austin Hooper.
Drops are a massive problem for Njoku, who owns a 12.5% career drop rate (more than double the 2020 TE average of 6.2%). His upside remains tremendous, though. He produced a conversion on a career-high 44.8% of his targets in 2020 (TE average: 39.9%), collecting two touchdowns and 11 first downs over only 29 targets.
Njoku’s elusiveness is the primary basis of his intrigue. He has forced 15 missed tackles over 112 career receptions, an average of 0.133 per reception that is well above the 2020 tight end average (0.094).
Plus, Njoku has actually been a decent blocker (62.8 career run-blocking grade).
Ryan Izzo (Free agent)
Jets fans might know Ryan Izzo’s name after watching him play their team with the Patriots over the last two seasons.
New England traded Izzo to the Texans for a seventh-round pick in March. He had a bad preseason in which he caught no passes and struggled as a blocker, leading to his release.
Izzo has name recognition as a starter for a top-tier franchise, but he wasn’t actually very good for the Patriots as a blocker. He posted a run-blocking grade of 52.9 and a pass-blocking grade of 51.9 from 2019-20.
While Izzo was efficient as a receiver from a yardage perspective in New England, producing 19 catches for 313 yards over just 29 targets (10.8 per target), he actually wasn’t good in that phase, either. He had a brutal drop rate (13.6%) and also fumbled once. His conversion rate was only 34.5%. Many of his catches were schemed up, too.
Nevertheless, Izzo has 16 starts of experience in the AFC East over the past two seasons. That alone puts him on the radar.
Bronson Kaufusi (Free agent)
Former Jets defensive end Bronson Kaufusi made the switch to the tight end position, and he looked pretty good in Green Bay. Kaufusi posted an 82.4 run-blocking grade this preseason, second-best among qualified tight ends.
Kaufusi won’t offer anything in the passing game – he was not targeted over 21 routes run this preseason – but if the Jets just want a massive tight end (6-foot-6, 270 pounds) to bowl people over, Kaufusi could do that for them.
Jordan Matthews (Free agent)
Another converted tight end. Jordan Matthews made the switch from wide receiver to tight end this offseason and tried out for numerous teams, including the Jets.
Matthews played in all three preseason games for San Francisco this offseason but only got to run 14 routes in the passing game. He caught one of two targets, a 16-yard first down in which he gained 14 yards after the catch and broke two tackles.
Matthews’ run blocking was not awful, as he posted an extremely average 61.3 run-blocking grade.
Jesper Horsted (Trade)
A 2019 undrafted free agent signing out of Princeton, Jesper Horsted just had a phenomenal preseason for the Bears. He led the NFL with three receiving touchdowns, securing six of eight targets for 113 yards.
Horsted impressed in multiple ways. He caught all three of his contested targets and was also a beast after the catch as he ranked second among tight ends with 49 yards after the catch.
Chicago has a loaded tight end room that features five names. An uber-heavy tight end room doesn’t quite align with head coach Matt Nagy’s offensive philosophies. In 2020, the Bears ranked 17th in 12 personnel usage (19% of snaps). In 2019, they ranked 30th (11%).
Perhaps the Bears look to sell high on Horsted following his stellar preseason. Joe Douglas was Chicago’s Director of College Scouting in 2015, the first year of current general manager Ryan Pace’s tenure in Chicago.
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