What are the New York Jets getting in tight end Tyler Conklin?
General manager Joe Douglas and the New York Jets decided that one new tight end in free agency wasn’t enough.
After signing longtime Cincinnati Bengals starter C.J. Uzomah, the Jets went out and got another starting-quality tight end in Tyler Conklin. The former Minnesota Vikings starter put pen to paper on a three-year, $21 million contract to team up with Uzomah in the Big Apple (or a few miles west of it, anyway).
What are the Jets getting in Conklin?
Well, let’s just say he can do things that Jets fans have not seen their tight ends do in quite some time.
Let’s dig into Conklin’s strengths, weaknesses, and overall player profile.
Tyler Conklin enjoyed a 2021 breakout as a pass-catcher
A fifth-round pick of the Vikings out of Central Michigan in 2018, Conklin was barely used as a receiver over his first three seasons (32 receptions in 47 games) but finally got an opportunity in 2021, taking advantage with an impressive breakout year.
Conklin played in all 17 games (starting 15) and caught 61 passes on 87 targets for 593 yards and three touchdowns. His yardage total placed 14th-best at the tight end position while his reception total ranked ninth-best.
The Jets have not had a tight end catch over 60 passes since Dustin Keller snagged 65 receptions in 2011. Prior to that, the last Jets tight end to do it was Mickey Shuler in 1988 (Shuler did it four times, and is the only Jets TE to do it outside of Keller’s 2011 season).
Tyler Conklin’s two-way prowess is the basis of his appeal
While Conklin is a good receiver, he’s obviously not dominant. However, what is especially unique about his receiving ability is the fact that he pulls it off while also handling a heavy load as a blocker. Not many tight ends offer such a well-balanced skill set.
Conklin was trusted by the Vikings to pass-block on 98 snaps in 2021. That was the greatest sum of any tight end in the NFL.
Only three tight ends ranked top-15 at the position in both receiving yards and pass-blocking snaps: George Kittle, Dalton Schultz, and Cole Kmet.
Conklin also ranked 13th among tight ends with 320 run-blocking snaps. He joined Kittle, Schultz, Kmet, Dallas Goedert, Noah Fant, and Dawson Knox as the only tight ends ranked top-15 in both receiving yards and run-blocking snaps.
That’s strong company.
Many of the NFL’s best receiving tight ends are not asked to carry a heavy load as a blocker, and most of the NFL’s best blocking tight ends are not capable of doing much as a receiver. In Conklin, the Jets have a guy who can assist in both areas.
When it comes to Conklin’s pass-blocking, expect the Jets to have faith in him to handle some extremely difficult assignments. Conklin’s tape is littered with impressive reps on an island against great pass-rushers.
Tyler Conklin 1v1 vs. Nick Bosa 😱 #Jets pic.twitter.com/CWttISeMnE
— Michael Nania (@Michael_Nania) March 17, 2022
Just Conklin blocking Chandler Jones 1v1 giving Cousins enough time to hit his WR for a 60+ yard TD pic.twitter.com/AmJy6GMBfs
— Joe Blewett (@Joerb31) March 18, 2022
A tight end who can block and catch at a competent level? Jets fans would be forgiven if they didn’t know such a player could exist.
New York’s last tight end representing anything close to that was the aforementioned Dustin Keller. Some of the young Jets fans in the MetLife Stadium stands who watched Ryan Griffin plod around in 2021 weren’t even born when Keller last donned green in 2012.
Now, just think: the Jets got two of these guys in Conklin and Uzomah.
Revolutionary things are happening in Florham Park.
Tyler Conklin offers good hands
Pro Football Focus has credited Conklin with only three drops against 93 career receptions, giving him an excellent drop rate of 3.1%.
Conklin had one drop and a 1.6% drop rate in 2021. The league average for tight ends was 7.0%.
As evidenced by his drop number, Conklin does a great job of hauling in the easy passes. However, when I watched his tape, I did notice him fail to catch some balls that were slightly contested but probably should have been caught. He was credited with catching eight of his 17 contested targets by PFF (47.1%).
At 6-foot-3 and 254 pounds with 33-inch arms (an arm-length that ranks at the 44th percentile among tight ends), Conklin doesn’t offer the biggest catch radius for the tight end position.
But Conklin makes up for that with great leaping ability. His 38-inch vertical jump at the 2018 Combine ranks at the 93rd percentile among tight ends. That trait helps him climb up to a fairly average level in contested situations despite his lack of size.
Expect Conklin to rarely ever flub the freebies, but do expect him to come up short on a handful of catchable passes in 50-50 type situations.
Breaking tackles is Tyler Conklin’s main weakness
On the surface, Conklin might seem like a good YAC receiver. He ranked eighth among tight ends with 332 yards after the catch.
That number is misleading since it was boosted by the type of catches that Conklin made. The Vikings gave him a lot of screen passes and dump-offs in the flat where he was able to rack up free, uncontested YAC. But he actually struggled to create any extra yardage beyond what was presented to him.
Conklin forced only two missed tackles on the entire season, per Pro Football Focus. With those two broken tackles coming on 61 receptions, Conklin averaged a measly 0.033 missed tackles forced per reception, which ranked 53rd out of 67 qualified tight ends.
Possessing mediocre 4.80 speed and no moves in his bag at the tackle point, Conklin will not wow anybody when he has the ball in his hands. It’s the primary hole in his game.
C.J. Uzomah helps account for Conklin’s weakness here, as YAC is arguably Uzomah’s greatest strength. The duo (shall we call them “Uzonklin”?) complements one another nicely.
Related Article: Analyzing NY Jets TE C.J. Uzomah’s strengths and weaknesses
How is Tyler Conklin used?
Conklin can be the gritty in-line tight end that the Jets need in their offense. They want to run a lot of 12 personnel (1 RB, 2 TE, 2 WR) and establish the run so they can work the play-action game off of it. Tight ends who can get their hands dirty are needed to accomplish that, and Conklin fits the bill.
No tight end in the NFL played more snaps lined up in-line than Conklin in 2021, who did so on 796 offensive snaps. That made up 86.1% of his 925 snaps. It’s rare to see him flex into the slot or out wide.
Most of Conklin’s receiving work came in the underneath area. He ranked sixth among tight ends with 56 targets in the short range (0-9 yards downfield) and 11th with nine targets behind the line of scrimmage. Just four of Conklin’s targets came over 20 yards downfield.
Conklin ranked fifth in the NFL with 366 receiving yards on catches in the short range, trailing only Noah Fant, Dalton Schultz, Mark Andrews, and Travis Kelce. Placing in the next three spots below Conklin were George Kittle, Pat Freiermuth, and C.J. Uzomah.
Tyler Conklin is a good route-runner
Interestingly, despite Conklin’s lack of reps in the slot or out wide, he is actually a nice route-runner.
Conklin is not just a guy who catches checkdowns. A good chunk of his aforementioned short production was self-created. He can beat linebackers and safeties on short routes to create throwing windows.
— Joe Blewett (@Joerb31) March 18, 2022
While he may not have a lot of juice with the ball, Conklin has a surprising amount of wiggle without the ball.
Tyler Conklin joins C.J. Uzomah as another balanced, reliable tight end for New York
In Tyler Conklin, the Jets are getting an all-around starting tight end who will do an effective job of executing whatever role is asked of him.
Conklin may not be a very dynamic physical specimen or open-field playmaker, but he is a consistent safety blanket who excels at getting open underneath, almost never drops easy passes, and can be relied upon to handle integral blocking assignments in either phase.
New York now has two starting-quality tight ends after spending years trying to tread water with backup-quality players in featured roles. Joe Douglas has successfully given offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur the talent he needs to execute his dream vision for the Jets’ two-tight-end-heavy offense.
Even though he didn’t have a 60 catch season, Johnny Mitchell was an explosive TE. Unfortunately, he was a head case and flamed out. Why we’ve been so historically bad at TE, would be an interesting discussion.
Between the huge upgrade Laken Tomlinson makes to our line, adding 2 starting TEs who can both block and catch is going to take this offense to the next level. While I give Zach lots of leeway for last year considering the disaster he walked into (rookie coaching staff, poor O line missing it’s LT, new offensive system for most players, lots of injuries to already thin WR corps, no TEs to run 12 personnel with, playing with a horrible defense which meant always having to come from behind), this year there will be no excuses.
Great take. I know he was timed at 4.8 but it appears he has improved on that quite a bit. He appears to be a 4.6 guy on tape. Although he doesn’t force a lot of missed tackles he has good vision and can hit the running lanes on designed pass plays to get good yac.
With these two guys I would expect the Jets to throw a ton of passes to the TE. This is going to help Zach big time in the red zone, on crucial 3rd downs, in protection, and the run game.
They will help in the red zone not only by catching passes but by being able to get physical and pound it in from 8 yards in…also help the scheme overall. Helping Zach providing more options.