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2 free agent TEs stand out as Jets’ best Plan B options after Dalton Schultz

Dalton Schultz, NY Jets, Free Agent, Cowboys, Contract, Value
Dalton Schultz, Dallas Cowboys, New York Jets, Getty Images

Who should the New York Jets turn to at tight end if they fail to sign Dalton Schultz?

The New York Jets have an enormous need at the tight end position entering the 2022 offseason. Their only tight ends under contract are Ryan Griffin, Trevon Wesco, and Kenny Yeboah, who combined for twice as many drops (4) as touchdown catches (2) in 2021.

While New York’s need at the tight end position is already dire enough simply due to the lack of talent, the hole becomes especially glaring when you consider the vision of offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur.

The rookie play-caller planned to build the Jets’ offense around a heavy reliance on 12 personnel packages (which feature two tight ends on the field). LaFleur began the season using a ton of 12 personnel packages but gradually phased them out of the offense as the season progressed due to the Jets’ deficiencies at tight end.

For LaFleur’s offensive vision to be fulfilled, the Jets must have a strong tight end unit. They need a high-quality TE1 who is a good in-line blocker in addition to being a top receiving threat. Plus, they need a complementary TE2 who is at least sufficient as both a blocker and receiver.

In December, I identified Dallas Cowboys tight end Dalton Schultz as the perfect free-agent target to fulfill the Jets’ need for a TE1. Schultz provides everything that the Jets need from the position. New York should go all-out in pursuit of his services if he hits the open market.

Here’s the problem: The free-agent tight end market is extremely thin. Schultz is the only top-tier tight end on the free-agent market who fits what the Jets need in their TE1.

Miami’s Mike Gesicki joins Schultz as the only other big-ticket tight end on the market, but Gesicki is not of the type of tight end that the Jets need.

Schultz is the guy. If the Jets fail to get Schultz, they’re out of luck when it comes to finding a legitimate TE1 who fits their scheme.

However, even if the Jets miss out on Schultz, they still need to use free agency as best they can to add talent to their tight end room. General manager Joe Douglas has to do something here.

Most of the free-agent tight ends after Schultz and Gesicki are uninspiring, but there are two in particular who stand out as excellent fallback options for the Jets. These two players have a defined set of strengths that could be put to good use in the Jets’ scheme.

Maxx Williams, Arizona Cardinals

A second-round pick of the Ravens in 2015, Maxx Williams has never fulfilled his potential as a pass-catcher, but he has established himself as one of the best blocking tight ends in football.

Check out Williams’ run-blocking grades at Pro Football Focus over the past five seasons:

  • 2021 (ARI): 72.0 (12th / 88 TEs)
  • 2020 (ARI): 70.5 (14th / 88)
  • 2019 (ARI): 84.7 (1st / 86)
  • 2018 (BAL): 69.7 (16th / 90)
  • 2017 (BAL): 64.7 (27th / 89)

Williams is also a solid pass-blocker. Over the same five-season span, he has allowed 10 pressures over 217 snaps in pass protection, a rate of 4.6% that falls below the 2021 positional average of 5.3%. Comparatively, the Jets’ Tyler Kroft and Ryan Griffin combined to allow 11 pressures in 2021 alone (on 116 pass-blocking snaps for a 9.5% rate).

You’re not signing Williams for his abilities as a receiver, but in 2021, he was on track for his best pass-catching season before a season-ending ACL injury in Week 5.

In five games, Williams caught 16 of 17 targets for 193 yards and nine conversions (1 TD, 8 first downs). His average of 38.6 receiving yards per game was more than double his previous career-high (19.1 as a rookie).

Comparatively, Kroft had nine conversions in nine games last year while Griffin had 14 conversions in 14 games. Kroft averaged 19.2 yards per game and Griffin averaged 18.6.

Even if Williams’ short-lived receiving outburst in 2021 turns out to be a flash in the pan, he has still proven that he at least gives you reliable hands. Williams has only two career drops against 102 receptions, giving him a drop rate of 1.9%. In 2021, Kroft had four drops and Griffin had three.

To boot, Williams has sneaky-good elusiveness. Since joining the Cardinals in 2019, Williams has forced 11 missed tackles after the catch on only 28 receptions. That’s an average of 0.282 missed tackles forced per reception, nearly triple the 2021 league average for tight ends (0.108).

Williams would be a very nice complementary tight end in New York (provided he is healthy and still in peak form after his ACL injury).

David Njoku, Cleveland Browns

Like Williams, David Njoku has never lived up to his draft slot. The 27th overall pick in the first round of the 2017 draft, Njoku averaged only 27.0 receiving yards per game over his five-year career in Cleveland.

While Njoku is not the dynamic playmaker the Browns hoped he would be, he can certainly be a respectable TE2 or low-end TE1 in this league.

Njoku quietly had a very efficient year as a receiver in 2021.

The Miami product ranked 13th out of 76 qualified tight ends in yards per route run (1.56), seventh in yards per reception (9.0), and 21st in Pro Football Focus’ receiving grade (70.0).

In the box score, Njoku caught 36 of 53 targets for 475 yards and 17 conversions (4 TD, 13 first downs) over 16 games. He ranked 22nd at the position in receptions and 24th in receiving yards.

A big key to Njoku’s resurgence in 2021 was his improved catching.

Njoku had enormous drop issues over his first four seasons. From 2017-20, Njoku had 16 drops and 112 receptions for a putrid drop rate of 12.5%. For comparison, the 2021 league average for tight ends was 6.2%.

In 2021, Njoku had only two drops against his 36 receptions, giving him a career-low 5.3% drop rate that was better than the positional average.

The most appealing aspect of Njoku’s game is his ability to stretch the field. Njoku made seven deep catches (20+ yards downfield) in 2021, tying him for the second-most among tight ends. His total of three deep touchdown catches tied for the most at the position.

Adding to Njoku’s appeal as a complementary piece is his underrated blocking. According to PFF, Njoku is actually a decent blocker.

Here are Njoku’s run-blocking grades at PFF over his four qualified seasons:

  • 2021: 64.1 (32nd / 88 TEs)
  • 2020: 62.3 (40th / 85)
  • 2019: 65.4 (25th / 85)
  • 2018: 60.2 (41st / 84)

He placed in the top-50% each year.

Njoku isn’t as reliable of a blocker in the passing game, allowing 17 pressures (including three sacks) on 186 career pass protection snaps for a 9.1% pressure rate. But the fact that he is at least serviceable in the run game should allow him to survive in the Jets’ offense.

Maxx Williams and David Njoku should be New York Jets’ fallback options at tight end

Grabbing Schultz would be a tremendous coup for the Jets. However, in the likely event that they do not acquire him, they need to land on their feet.

Williams and Njoku are clearly the two next-best options for New York in my opinion.

Scanning up and down the list of free-agent tight ends, I see a lot of mediocre options who wouldn’t provide much more than what the Jets got from Kroft and Griffin. But Williams and Njoku are quality role players with a clear set of positive-impact skills.

Neither would be the Jets’ answer as the long-term go-to guy, but they would surely improve the tight end unit.

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2 years ago

I think even if you get Shultz, Williams would still be worth exploring, price tag considering.

2 years ago
Reply to  dudizt

Patriots double dipped at TE last year, this combo works.

verge tibbs
2 years ago

Good stuff. I hate that maxx had that injury but it doesnt look like hes often injured, so.. Njoku i think would be a good get. Problem is what does cleveland currently think? Is hooper or njoku now considered their better te? They produced fairly similarly and they were very reliant on them in the passing game. So, thatll be interesting. But yea, if hes gettable, i like it.

2 years ago

This is a tough mix. I don’t want Schultz. I don’t see him as the type of playmaker or blocker they need. This is one guy I feel they would regret signing. I know his numbers look good but I would rather them draft a guy or two than pay money for Schultz. I just don’t see it. As a matter of fact, I don’t want any of these guys. Look at the money NE spent on Jonnu Smith (phew, the Jets had interest) and Hunter Henry. Their production this year didn’t nearly match the money. I would rather they just risk it and use their money for other spots and try to get some young guys in the draft, either way you’re betting on upside. I think Schultz is a bad bet. You pointed out the TE market is thin so that indicates to me the prices will be a bit inflated. I can live without Dalton Schultz. The Jets have picks they should be able to find a Mark Andrews type in this draft.

2 years ago
Reply to  Jets71

Williams should have a very reasonable cost.

2 years ago
Reply to  JetOrange

I am not saying it doesn’t make sense and I would be fine with taking a chance but they took a chance on Kroft. Two things have become very clear to me after watching the past 4 or 5 weeks, Zach NEEDS a stud WR and a two way playmaking TE. I don’t know if a retread is going to fit. I guess my point is I’d rather take the risk/reward gamble on drafting two guys than the risk/reward that one of these players will ever reach their perceived potential. I know it happens but if they are going to spend free agent dollars I’d rather see it spent in other positions. An example would be to bring back the entire OL. I do see the logic in bringing in a pro TE.

2 years ago
Reply to  Jets71

Sign one , draft one at 38, it’s a priority. Need a vet, to start for the first half of the season at a minimum.

Jonathan Richter
2 years ago
Reply to  Jets71

I’m with you. Rather than overpay for Schultz I’d draft Ruckert in the 3rd and Kolar in the 4th or 5th.

2 years ago


2 years ago

I like both of those guys. There are others, particularly Wydermeyer who I also like. Since the Jets are building and have so much still left to do, I think for now it’s wise to focus their cash to premium positions. TE usually isn’t one, unless you have a Kelce, Gronk, Andrews type that can make up for a WR.