The New York Jets should avoid these tight ends who struggle to block
Strong blocking ability will be one of the most imperative skills on the New York Jets‘ list of job requirements for potential additions at the tight end position this offseason.
As showcased by Kyle Shanahan’s 49ers over the years, blocking at the tight end position is crucial in the scheme that coordinator Mike LaFleur (a Shanahan protégé) is attempting to run in New York.
Without good blockers at tight end, the team will struggle to establish the strong outside running game that it needs to set up a productive play-action passing game. Tight ends who demand respect in the run game help free up the quarterback on play-action bootlegs and rollouts by attracting defenders toward the run action. If opposing defenders are not threatened by the tight ends in the run game, they’ll heavily lean toward playing pass-to-run instead of vice versa, ruining the play-action bootleg/rollout game.
That’s a complex way of looking at it, but to put it simply, tight ends play a lot of run-blocking snaps and their blocks often affect the outcomes of run plays just as much as the offensive linemen’s blocks do (if not more so). It’s important for them to be good at blocking regardless of what scheme they’re in. But there’s no doubt that their blocking is especially valuable in this wide-zone offense the Jets run.
The Jets also need to have enough blocking talent at tight end to run a heavy amount of multi-tight-end personnel packages, which are imperative for the offense to reach its ceiling as a two-way juggernaut.
New York gradually transformed into a heavy 11 personnel (3 WR/1 TE) offense in 2021 because LaFleur realized he could not execute his original plan due to a lack of tight end talent. That was a good in-season adjustment by LaFleur to keep the Jets afloat with the players at his disposal, but they are not going to hit their ceiling under LaFleur by playing that type of football. Long-term, LaFleur needs the right ingredients to achieve his ultimate vision.
Not to mention, tight ends are important in pass protection, and New York had some of the worst pass-blocking tight ends in football last year. The Jets cannot allow that to happen again if they are serious about maximizing the strength of the support system around Zach Wilson.
The bottom line is that you can forget about the Jets trying to add any tight ends who cannot block.
These tight ends – available in the 2022 offseason through either free agency or the draft – can be crossed off the Jets’ shopping list due to a lack of sufficient blocking ability.
Mike Gesicki, Miami Dolphins
Mike Gesicki has developed into a very good pass-catching tight end. He ranked eighth at the position with 780 receiving yards in 2021, also placing fourth with 73 receptions.
But the guy hardly even qualifies as a tight end.
Gesicki lined up in-line on just 12.0% of his snaps in 2021, by far the lowest rate of any qualified tight end. He lined up out wide on 30.5% of his snaps in the passing game and in the slot on 54.8% (also going in the backfield on 2.8%).
Because of this usage style, Gesicki may even have a strong case to qualify as a wide receiver if the Dolphins elect to use the franchise tag on him, which would pay him substantially more money than if he were tagged as a tight end.
There’s a reason Gesicki never lines up in-line: it’s because he can’t block.
Gesicki has never earned a run-blocking grade higher than 52.8 at Pro Football Focus. Despite being his career-high by a fairly wide margin, that mark of 52.8 ranked 73rd out of 86 qualified tight ends in 2020. He posted a sub-50.0 run-blocking grade in each of his other three NFL seasons.
As a pass protector, Gesicki has given up 11 pressures on 82 career pass-blocking snaps, a brutal rate of 13.41%. That’s more than double the 2021 league average for tight ends (6.25%). Most of those snaps (49) came in his rookie year and Miami has all but eliminated Gesicki’s pass-blocking responsibilities since then.
If you want a matchup nightmare in the slot, Gesicki is your man. If you want a tight end who can fulfill the traditional responsibilities of the position, turn and run for the hills.
Related Article: Mike Gesicki is not a good free agent target for the Jets
Evan Engram, New York Giants
Evan Engram is a poor man’s version of Gesicki. Used in a similar role, he has not been nearly as good as a receiver but has the same blocking woes.
The average PFF run-blocking grade posted by Engram over his five NFL seasons is 52.3. He had a career-low of 46.6 this past season (eighth-worst among TE).
Engram lined up in-line on 37.9% of his snaps in 2021.
Jared Cook, Los Angeles Chargers
Still kicking at 34 years old (set to turn 35 in April), Jared Cook remains a good receiving option. He caught 48 passes for 564 yards and four touchdowns last season. He has not had fewer than 30 catches in a season since 2010.
However, like Gesicki and Engram, Cook spends most of his time flexed-out so he doesn’t have to block. Cook lined up in-line on just 35.5% of his snaps in 2021.
Cook was once a good blocker, but over the past four years, he has given up nine pressures on 58 pass-blocking snaps (15.52%) while averaging a PFF run-blocking grade of 48.9 per season.
Jalen Wydermyer, Texas A&M
I noted Jalen Wydermyer’s major struggles with drops in a previous article. Now, his blocking shows up as an additional red flag.
Wydermyer earned a PFF run-blocking grade of 50.6 in 2021, ranking 203rd out of 261 qualified FBS tight ends.
Draft analysts agree with the perception that Wydermyer must improve his blocking. The Draft Network’s Brentley Weissman wrote the following about Wydermyer’s blocking:
“An area of improvement for Wydermyer would be his ability as a blocker. He has just average power at the point of attack and gets knocked backward against players who have power. His technique is just average and he misses with his hands far too often. … He does show excellent effort and a willingness to block, however, and has good size and frame to wall off defenders.”
One of the first things I noticed about wydermyer is that he’s a serious liability when it comes to run blocking. Pretty much every time he has to block, he isn’t able to occupy his defender for more than a second. Pretty often, however, he’s lined up as a receiver, which (1/2) pic.twitter.com/fEK8ZeRLON
— dylankaminski (@rathandsrus) January 24, 2022
Wydermyer did line up in-line on 68.5% of his snaps, but the Aggies also put him in the slot on 26.6% of his snaps to lighten his blocking load.
Wydermyer is actually fine as a pass-blocker with six pressures allowed on 110 career protection snaps (5.45%). Regardless, it seems clear that his run blocking needs a lot of work.
The consensus seems to be that Wydermyer is a second-round prospect.
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Greg Dulcich, UCLA
Widely seen as a third or fourth-round prospect, Greg Dulcich of the UCLA Bruins will catch some attention for his receiving abilities. He caught 42 passes for 725 yards and five touchdowns in 2021. Only four other tight ends in the country hit all three of those marks.
However, Dulcich ranked 188th out of 261 qualified FBS tight ends with a 52.9 PFF run-blocking grade. Dulcich also had some trouble in pass protection as he gave up three pressures on 29 pass-blocking snaps (12.0%). Mose of those blocking woes came in a traditional role as Dulcich lined up in-line on 67.0% of his snaps.
Drae Harris of The Draft Network wrote:
“Blocking in-line will not be [Dulcich’s] strongest attribute in the NFL. He needs to get stronger in order to compete better when he is aligned on the line of scrimmage.”
I would expect the Jets to avoid acquiring any of the five tight ends we discussed today. They do not have the luxury to bet on upside and risk going through another bad season of blocking at tight end. It could cripple the entire offense, and thus, the development of Zach Wilson.