Breaking down the New York Jets’ 2022 NFL draft approach at the tight end position
The Jets did an exceptional job of drastically upgrading the tight end group in free agency. General manager Joe Douglas signed C.J. Uzomah and Tyler Conklin to three-year contracts. These additions allow offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur to run more two tight end sets, which is an integral aspect of his scheme. It should create a needed balance between the run game and the play-action pass game.
After Uzomah and Conklin, there is an unknown when it comes to the third tight end. Acquiring a young player on the third day of the NFL draft to round out the position and provide depth would be the perfect way to finish the offseason.
Trey McBride (Colorado State) is touted by most draft analysts as the top tight end in this class. With his mid to late second-round value, it seems unlikely that he will end up a Jet.
If he does somehow make it to the Jets’ early third-round pick (69th overall) it will be fascinating to see if the Jets consider McBride.
After McBride, two of the next consensus top tight ends are Greg Dulcich (UCLA) and Jelani Woods (Virginia). Their value will likely start after the Jets’ third-round pick in the mid to late part of round three. If they end up falling to the Jets’ fourth-round selection (111th overall), they would be viable possibilities.
Dulcich is a fast tight end (4.69 40-yard) with excellent overall athleticism (8.25 Relative Athletic Score). He was productive over the last two seasons with 1,242 receiving yards and 10 receiving touchdowns in 18 games.
Woods has generational athletic ability with a perfect RAS of 10.00. He has a ton of height (6-foot-7), length (34.5″ arms), and speed (4.61 40-yard). With these tools, Woods has the ability to be a reliable blocker on the end of the line of scrimmage.
In 2021, Woods had good receiving production in 11 games (44 receptions, 598 receiving yards, and eight touchdowns).
Possible fourth-round targets
This draft has solid depth at the tight end position. A few noteworthy prospects who could be valued in the late third to early fourth round are:
- Jeremy Ruckert (Ohio State)
- Isaiah Likely (Coastal Carolina)
- Cade Otton (Washington)
- Charlie Kolar (Iowa State)
The 111th and 117th pick could be the sweet spot for the Jets with one of these players.
Starting with Jeremy Ruckert, the Long Island native is a promising prospect. He was successful as a blocker at Ohio State and ranks near the top of this tight end group in that regard. It was the best way for him to showcase his ability as he had minimal chances in the passing game (53 catches in 25 games from 2019-21). Ruckert does have good athleticism and showed encouraging things at the Senior Bowl as a pass-catcher.
Isaiah Likely was very productive over the last three years (121 catches, 1,944 receiving yards, and 22 touchdowns). He had 12 touchdowns in 2021.
Likely met with the Jets on a top-30 visit. He would provide big-play threat ability.
Cade Otton has some similarities to Ruckert. They are both very good blockers who did not get many opportunities as receivers. Otton is a good route runner who would help Zach Wilson over the middle of the field. With a more significant role, Otton could end up providing strong value as a fourth-round selection.
Charlie Kolar offers a huge red zone presence (6-foot-6, 34.5″ arm length). Over the last three years, Kolar scored 20 touchdowns. In 2021, he posted career bests when it came to receptions (62) and receiving yards (756). His value will likely be in the fourth or fifth round.
Mid to late day three prospects
To round out the solid tight end group of this draft, there are four players who could be options for the Jets in the fifth round (picks 146 and 163): Jake Ferguson (Wisconsin), Cole Turner (Nevada), Daniel Bellinger (San Diego State), and Chigoziem Okonkwo (Maryland).
Ferguson has the upside to contribute in the passing game. Throughout his four years of college, Ferguson was steady in production (at least 30 catches each season to go with 1,618 receiving yards and 13 touchdowns in total).
Turner exploded over the last two years, posting 111 receptions, 1,282 receiving yards, and 19 touchdowns. He wins with his 6-foot-6 size when it comes to contested catches and in the red zone.
Bellinger is a tremendous athlete (9.66 RAS) with 4.63 speed. He had his best year in 2021 by a wide margin (31 catches and 357 yards receiving). With more of a role in the NFL, Bellinger has the talent to grow as a pass-catching tight end.
Okonkwo is not the biggest tight end (6-foot-2, 238 lbs) but is very fast (4.52 40-yard dash). He had a breakout 2021 season with 52 catches, 447 receiving yards, and five touchdowns.
Final outlook for the Jets
The Jets have surpassed expectations to this point of the offseason by signing two proven tight ends in Conklin and Uzomah.
If they cannot add a tight end at any point in the draft, it is not necessarily a problem. However, if Joe Douglas can add one it would be a luxury to have a talented young player who could come in and provide depth in their rookie year.
The Jets did coach five of the 11 players listed above at the Senior Bowl (McBride, Ruckert, Kolar, Ferguson, and Turner).
Ultimately, if the Jets address tight end it would most likely be in the fourth or fifth round. To be able to acquire a player like Woods, Ruckert, Otton, Kolar, or Ferguson in that range would be great.