Tyler Conklin has an underrated skill that will go a long way for the New York Jets offense
In a world that is dominated by a fantasy football mindset, everyone first looks at stats like receptions and receiving yards when they want to evaluate an offensive skill position player.
New York Jets tight end Tyler Conklin doesn’t disappoint in these categories. As a member of the Minnesota Vikings in 2021, Conklin ranked 14th among tight ends with 593 receiving yards and ninth with 61 receptions.
With that being said, there is another essential piece to the puzzle when we are talking about the tight end position: blocking.
A tight end’s blocking performance arguably has just as great of an effect on the game as his receiving performance. We have to discuss this facet of the game whenever we are evaluating a tight end.
Conklin can deliver in the run game. The 6-foot-3, 254-pounder is a swift mover who plays with a lot of tenacity.
But it’s not Conklin’s run-blocking that stands out as his sneaky game-changing trait: it’s his pass-blocking.
Conklin is a sturdy pass protector. His prowess in this phase will open up a lot of things for the Jets offense.
Having a tight end who can be relied upon to consistently hold up in one-on-one pass-blocking situations is a tremendous asset for an offense. Specifically, it can boost the play-action game – which is something that Jets offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur will certainly be making a focal point of his plan in 2022.
Play-action passes are usually called with packages that feature at least one tight end lined up in-line, as there is a greater threat of a run when the offense has an extra body or two in the trenches. The defense will be more likely to bite on a run fake, improving the quality of the play-action call and opening up space to throw the ball downfield.
When on the field for play-action, tight ends will frequently be asked to sell a run-block before transitioning into pass protection. If your tight ends cannot pass-block in these scenarios, your offense is going to be in trouble when attempting to execute deep shots out of play action. The tight ends must be able to buy enough time for the deep routes to develop.
Conklin can do just that.
In 2021, Conklin played 98 pass-blocking snaps (5.8 per game), more than any other tight end in the NFL. The fact that he was asked to pass-block so frequently is a signal that the Vikings had an immense amount of trust in his pass protection.
When you flip on the film, it’s clear why Minnesota trusted Conklin so much.
Conklin is a technically sound pass-blocker who proved he can win battles on an island against great edge rushers. His reliability in pass protection helped create a bevy of productive plays for quarterback Kirk Cousins.
Let’s dive into some examples of Conklin’s impressive pass-blocking.
Tyler Conklin’s pass-blocking film
Conklin (#83) is left all alone with Chandler Jones on the Vikings’ left edge. Conklin needs to win this battle for Cousins to get enough time to take a deep shot.
Jones knifes to the inside before working back outside. Conklin does a nice job of staying square and not biting inside. Jones extends his arms into Conklin, and Conklin effectively matches Jones as he shoots his hands and makes good contact, grabbing Jones’ chest with his left hand. Jones wipes Conklin’s hands away and looks to bend the corner, but Conklin recovers excellently as he sharply flips his hips outside and uses Jones’ momentum against him to shove him into the ground.
With much thanks to Conklin, Cousins gets enough time to launch a deep touchdown. Most tight ends in this situation would have been plowed into the quarterback on Jones’ initial engagement, but Conklin stood his ground impressively well with good positioning and hand usage, buying the necessary time. Conklin’s second effort to get Jones into the turf was the icing on the cake.
Going one-on-one with Nick Bosa on the Vikings’ right edge, Conklin shows some remarkable grit as he allows Minnesota to execute a successful flea-flicker.
Bosa explodes out of his stance and stays low to the ground, firing both hands into Conklin’s chest and bulling him back. Conklin gets moved about two yards into the backfield but does his best to absorb as much impact as possible and keep Bosa at bay, knowing that the flea-flicker is coming.
Once Bosa sees that Cousins handed the ball off, he halts his rush and looks to make a play on the running back. Conklin uses this small window of opportunity to reset himself. He drops his feet back, gets into a strong squatting stance, and positions himself between Cousins and Bosa. Now, Conklin is in control as the RB pitches the ball back to Cousins.
Bosa re-engages with Conklin once he sees the ball pitched back to Cousins. He tries to beat Conklin to the outside, but Conklin is ready, shooting his hands and denying Bosa’s outside moves. Conklin gives Cousins just enough time to cleanly throw a deep completion.
Conklin takes on Trey Hendrickson one-on-one. It’s 3rd-and-10, the Vikings are trailing late in the fourth quarter, and Cousins is in the shotgun on a non-play-action call, so Conklin knows Hendrickson will be coming at him with absolutely zero hesitation.
Hendrickson gets off the ball with his shoulders turned vertically up the field rather than toward Conklin. His first step is also vertical. These are clear signals that he will simply attempt to dart past Conklin and bend the corner.
When coupled with the game-situation clues that he had pre-snap, these signals make it clear to Conklin that he should play hard to the outside. Conklin does exactly that. Fractions of a second after Hendrickson steps upfield, Conklin uses all of this knowledge to his advantage as he quickly flips his hips 90 degrees toward the sideline, perfectly positioning himself to guard the rush.
Conklin engages aggressively as he shoots his hands first. He gains a firm grip on Hendrickson’s inside half, first getting both hands onto Hendrickson’s inside shoulder before reworking his right hand into Hendrickson’s inside hip. With control of Hendrickson’s momentum, Conklin works Hendrickson up the arc, carrying him past the pocket and allowing Cousins to step up for the completion.
While the Vikings did not pick up the first down on this play, they gained a healthy six yards and would convert on 4th-and-4 one play later, eventually driving down the field for a game-tying field goal to force overtime.
None of it would have happened if Conklin were beaten by Hendrickson and allowed Cousins to be sacked.
Another piece of information that Conklin used to his advantage on this play is the assignment of the running back. The RB moved across the formation from right to left and was ready to provide blocking help in the left-side C-gap (the space to Conklin’s right) if Hendrickson tried to rush inside. Aware he had help to the inside, Conklin knew he could fully commit to the outside rush. It’s a great display of awareness and smarts from Conklin.
In 2022, look for Conklin to use his pass-blocking to tee up big plays for Zach Wilson just like he did for Kirk Cousins.