What are the New York Jets getting in C.J. Uzomah?
The New York Jets needed to bolster their barren tight end unit this offseason, and they did just that by pulling a big cat out of the jungle. New York agreed to terms with former Cincinnati Bengals tight end C.J. Uzomah on a three-year, $24 million deal ($15 million guaranteed) in free agency.
What should Jets fans expect from Uzomah? Let’s dig into everything about his game.
C.J. Uzomah’s knack for YAC is his best attribute
It’s been a while since the Jets have had a tight end who could consistently make things happen with the football in his hands. Uzomah will bring open-field playmaking back to the position.
Standing at 6-foot-6 and 260 pounds while possessing tremendous speed for his size (he ran a 4.62 at his pro day in 2015), Uzomah is a tough dude to bring down.
Big man said GET OFF ME 😤pic.twitter.com/z9rUc1fNFR
— Bengals Nation (@BengalsNationCP) October 1, 2021
In 2021, Uzomah gained 298 yards after the catch (YAC), ranking as the 11th-most among tight ends. His average of 6.1 YAC per reception also ranked 11th-best (out of 44 qualifiers).
Pro Football Focus credited Uzomah with forcing 10 missed tackles after the catch. That total tied him with Buffalo’s Dawson Knox for eighth-best at the position. On a per-catch basis, Uzomah averaged 0.204 missed tackles forced per reception, which ranked 11th out of 44 qualifiers and is nearly double the positional average (0.108).
According to NFL Next Gen Stats, Uzomah gained plus-89 YAC over expected, ranking fifth-best behind Dallas Goedert, Kyle Pitts, Travis Kelce, and George Kittle.
C.J. Uzomah gained +89 YAC over expected last season, 5th-most among tight ends.
The Bengals offense averaged +2.1 more yards per play when Uzomah was on the field last season (versus off), the largest positive differential of any TE league-wide (min. 100 plays on & off-field). https://t.co/eSPEZNeUsF pic.twitter.com/5EZ6JdSrNn
— Next Gen Stats (@NextGenStats) March 14, 2022
Next Gen Stats also notes the importance that Uzomah’s presence had for Cincinnati’s offense. The Bengals averaged 2.1 more yards per play with Uzomah on the field versus when he was off of it, which was the largest positive differential of any tight end in the NFL (minimum 100 plays on and off the field).
Uzomah’s YAC ability represents a major upgrade over the complete absence of juice that the Jets’ tight ends provided in 2021.
Combined, every tight end on the Jets’ roster collected 274 YAC and five missed tackles forced, fewer than Uzomah’s individual totals of 298 and 10, respectively. Only the Panthers’ tight end unit gained fewer YAC than the Jets’ unit.
C.J. Uzomah’s hands
In the hands department, Uzomah is decent. He will drop a pass every once in a while, although he certainly isn’t anywhere close to “bad” when it comes to drops.
Uzomah caught 49 passes and dropped four in the 2021 regular season, giving him a drop rate of 7.5%. The league average for tight ends was 7.0%.
Including the playoffs, Uzomah has 99 catches and seven drops over the past three seasons, giving him a drop rate of 6.6% over that span, which is slightly better than average.
While Uzomah isn’t incredible in this area, he will still provide a substantial upgrade over his predecessors. The Jets’ 2021 tight end unit had eight drops against only 50 receptions, giving them a 13.8% drop rate that was the worst of any tight end unit.
C.J. Uzomah’s contested-catch ability
Similar to the drops category, Uzomah is ordinary when it comes to contested catches.
According to Pro Football Focus’ charting, Uzomah caught five of his 10 contested targets (50.0%) in 2021, including the playoffs. That’s perfectly average – the going rate for tight ends around the NFL in 2021 was 49.7%.
For his career, Uzomah has caught 17 of his 33 contested targets (51.5%).
C.J. Uzomah’s red-zone production
Despite his size, Uzomah has not been much of a contributor in the red zone throughout his career.
Uzomah has eight red-zone touchdowns in 79 career games, an average of 1.7 per 17 games.
While Uzomah scored a solid total of five touchdowns in the 2021 regular season, only one of them occurred in the red zone. He was actually a much more prolific scoring threat from outside of the red zone. Uzomah scored four touchdowns from over 20 yards out, which led all tight ends and tied for third-most of any player in the league.
That was an exciting development for Uzomah. Prior to 2021, he only had one career touchdown from outside of the red zone. Seven of his eight touchdowns came inside of the red zone.
Uzomah has only seen 34 red-zone targets in his career, so a lack of opportunities is partly to blame for his small total of red-zone touchdowns.
Efficiency-wise, Uzomah has performed decently in the red area when given chances. With eight touchdowns on 34 red-zone targets, he’s scored on 23.5% of his red-zone targets, which is barely below the NFL average of 24.0% since Uzomah’s 2015 rookie year (among players at all positions).
C.J. Uzomah’s yardage production
When scanning Uzomah’s career box-score stats, one thing that stands out is his lackluster yardage totals. In seven years, he’s only got 1,591 receiving yards to his name (227.3 per year).
Uzomah is averaging 20.1 receiving yards per game in his career with a career-high of 30.8 in 2021 (save for a two-game 2020 season where he averaged 43.5). His total of 493 yards this past season was also a career-high but only ranked 20th among tight ends.
A core factor in Uzomah’s uninspiring yardage numbers is the way he was used in Cincinnati. The Bengals rarely asked him to be much more than a safety blanket – which is all they needed him to be with Ja’Marr Chase, Tee Higgins, and Tyler Boyd taking care of the explosive plays.
Uzomah’s average target in 2021 traveled only 4.7 yards downfield. That was the third-lowest aDOT (average depth of target) out of 44 qualified tight ends, ahead of only Geoff Swaim and Josiah Deguara. Not exactly star-studded company.
Of Uzomah’s 63 targets, 51 of them were in the short range (0-9 yards beyond the line of scrimmage), making up 82.3% of his targets. That was the highest portion of any qualified tight end in the NFL.
It’s tough to rack up yards when being used in that fashion. If the Jets diversify Uzomah’s role and allow him to work down the field more often, he’ll have a chance to produce more yardage.
Uzomah also has not been targeted much in his career, seeing only 2.9 targets per game. He saw 63 targets in 2021 (3.9 per game), one shy of his career-high set in 2018. We have yet to see him play a role that gives him a consistent dosage of targets. Maybe he would respond well to that, maybe he wouldn’t – we don’t know because we haven’t seen it.
Perhaps Uzomah’s 2021 season will prove to be his ceiling, but it’s difficult to affirmatively say that’s the case when he has been used so conservatively.
Given his tantalizing physical traits and his efficient YAC performance, it’s easy to picture Uzomah producing like a top-tier tight end if he gets the chance to be fully unleashed. More downfield routes and more targets could allow Uzomah to become a dangerous player.
We’ll see if the Jets give Uzomah the opportunity to shine that he never quite got in Cincinnati. But even if he doesn’t get that opportunity – or if he does and fails to maximize it – he can at least be relied upon to give you a fairly high floor around that 40-catch/400-yard/3-touchdown mark.
C.J. Uzomah’s usage/role
Uzomah is capable of handling the traditional tight end duties that the Jets will primarily ask of him in offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur‘s two-tight-end-heavy offense, but he can do some different things for you.
Here is a breakdown of where Uzomah lined up in 2021:
- In-line: 66.9% of snaps
- Slot: 17.7%
- Wide: 9.5%
- Backfield: 5.9%
A starter for Cincinnati in every game he has appeared in since Week 4 of 2018, Uzomah is ready to handle a large workload of snaps. This past season, Uzomah played 77% of the Bengals’ offensive snaps in games he appeared in. His total of 801 snaps ranked 12th among tight ends.
Uzomah’s blocking skills allow him to stay on the field in any situation and be a three-down tight end. He can lead the way in the run game and also has the ability to stay in and pass-protect.
In the 2021 regular season, Uzomah was credited with allowing only one pressure on 41 pass-blocking snaps (giving him 2.6 pass-blocking snaps per game). That’s a pressure rate of 2.4%, which ranked fifth-best out of 49 qualified tight ends.
The Bengals trusted Uzomah to pass-block on five snaps in the Super Bowl and he didn’t allow any pressures.
On the ground, Uzomah helped engineer a Bengals run game that focused on attacking the edges.
Cincinnati scored half of its 14 non-quarterback rushing touchdowns on carries that were directed outside of the tight end.
The Bengals’ most effective rushing direction was the right-side edge (outside of the tight end), where they had their most yards (293), first downs (18), and 10+ yard runs (9) of any particular gap. Their most common gap for rushing touchdowns was the left-side edge, where they rushed for four scores.
C.J. Uzomah’s injury history
There are some questions with Uzomah on the durability front.
Uzomah is coming off a healthy 2021 season, though. The only game he missed in the regular season was for rest in Week 18. Uzomah then played in all four of Cincinnati’s playoff games, although he left the team’s AFC Championship win with an MCL sprain. He returned in the Super Bowl with no limitations.
Prior to 2021, Uzomah had missed 21 games due to injury over the previous five seasons.
Most of those came in 2020. Uzomah suffered a torn Achilles in Week 2 that ended his season.
Uzomah played in every game from 2018-19. In 2017, he missed the first two games of the season with an ankle injury. He missed five games with a calf injury in 2016.
You will only see a “5” in Uzomah’s games-played column for his 2015 rookie season, but all of those missed games were due to him being a healthy scratch, not because of an injury.
The lowdown on C.J. Uzomah
You may have noticed throughout this piece that Uzomah has average numbers in many categories. I want to make one thing clear – being average is not a bad thing. If you’re average at something, it means you’re better than around half of your peers! That sure beats being awful, which is what the Jets’ tight ends have been for many years.
If all Uzomah proves to be is “average”, that’s perfectly fine. That kind of player is valuable. Not every player on your team needs to be a superstar to win games. But it is extremely important to have as few liabilities as possible, and Uzomah is by no means a liability.
It’s been a while since the Jets had a tight end who could claim to be better than half of the league’s starters at his position. With an average salary of $8 million per year that ranks 15th among tight ends, that’s all New York needs from him.
However, Uzomah has the potential to become something more, as he possesses unique physical tools that have yet to be fully tapped into. He brings an intriguing ceiling to go with his high floor.
Ultimately, in C.J. Uzomah, the Jets are at the very least getting a stable, reliable starting tight end who can provide a safety blanket underneath while adding an ample amount of bonus value through his well-above-average skills after the catch.