Even with a multitude of talented offensive players at other positions, the tight end group could be vital for the New York Jets
Among the New York Jets‘ many offensive weapons, there are a few players who are unanimously thought to be crucial to the team’s success.
Wide receiver Garrett Wilson, who won the NFL’s 2022 Offensive Rookie of the Year award, is the Jets’ clear number one option. With Aaron Rodgers under center, Wilson is expected to take another step up in production and begin to approach superstar levels.
Running back Breece Hall and wide receiver Allen Lazard are arguably the other primary offensive weapons for the Jets’ offense. Lazard brings prior production and familiarity with Rodgers and new offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett. Hall, when healthy, is one of the most dynamic running backs in football and can do damage in the air and on the ground.
While these players are critical for the Jets’ offensive success and seem to draw the most attention, the tight end position could be another crucial group for the offense. While not having the flashiest skill sets among the Jets’ offensive players, the tight ends are important for what the Jets want to do on offense.
The presumed starter at the position, Tyler Conklin, is a receiving-first tight end that showed flashes with the Jets last season. Conklin is skilled at contested catches and an effective route-runner who can thrive as a safety valve for the quarterback.
Even with the unstable quarterback play, Conklin finished the 2022 season ranked second on the Jets in receptions (58), receiving yards (552), and receiving touchdowns (3). In relation to other tight ends in the NFL, Conklin ranked eighth in receptions, 12th in receiving yards, and 19th in touchdowns.
In addition to Conklin, the Jets also have C.J. Uzomah, Jeremy Ruckert, and Zack Kuntz. Uzomah is used as more of a blocking tight end who is tasked with contributing in the run game and pass protection. His blocking will be important for a team that wants to establish the run game and utilize plenty of two-tight end packages. He also provides some pass-catching production, having 232 yards and two touchdowns in 2022.
Ruckert and Kuntz are the two youngest players in the group, which means they carry the most unknowns and greatest future potential. A third-round selection out of Ohio State in 2022, Ruckert is someone the Jets hope can develop into their future number-one tight end.
Ruckert has the potential to play all three downs, as he showed effective run-blocking and pass-catching skills in college. He had a PFF run-blocking grade of 68 or higher in each of his final three seasons at Ohio State, which is a positive grade in their system. Ruckert also managed to catch 12 touchdowns in his career despite playing in a loaded Buckeyes offense.
In his rookie season with the Jets, Ruckert posted a 78.0 run-blocking grade in limited reps. Ruckert’s run-blocking looked particularly impressive in the Jets’ season finale against Miami, providing hope for a possible year-two leap.
Kuntz is a very raw prospect, as evidenced by his falling to the seventh round for the Jets to select him. Yet, he has tools that are potentially unmatched by anyone else at the position, let alone the team.
The rookie out of Old Dominion stands at 6-foot-7 and weighs 255 pounds. Kuntz has elite athleticism for someone his size; he had a 4.55 40-yard dash and a 40-inch vertical at the 2023 NFL combine. These scores helped him earn a perfect RAS (Relative Athletic Score) of 10.00.
While he most likely will not have a role for the Jets’ offense this year, Kuntz could become a dangerous weapon for the Jets in the future.
For the Aaron Rodgers-led Jets offense, the performance of the tight ends will play an important role in the team’s push for success.
Conklin could be one of Rodgers’ new favorite targets. A primary tight end can be an important safety blanket for a team installing a new scheme, and Rodgers himself has a well-documented history of trusting his tight ends – especially in the red zone.
Uzomah will be crucial to keeping the running game functioning, while Ruckert could be a key asset in both facts of the offense. Depending on his development, Kuntz could help in the red zone later in the season.
The impact of the tight ends is already being felt through the first few weeks of training camp. Conklin has shown a solid connection with Rodgers, highlighted by a few great touchdown receptions. Ruckert has also flashed his toughness and receiving ability in camp as well.
Head coach Robert Saleh spoke about Conklin and the tight ends’ fit in the offense this past week.
“This offense has been really good to tight ends in terms of what Hackett did in Jacksonville with big Mercedes (Lewis) and then in Green Bay with (Robert) Tonyan.
“Conklin has tremendous athleticism and so much grit in the run game. For them, it’s about getting on the same page as quickly as possible. Knock on wood, that tight-end group is going to be a fun group. C.J. Uzomah will be back soon. You can count on him and Conklin, and (Jeremy) Ruckert have been doing a nice job. Conklin is someone that I think can really blossom in this offense. Again, it’s just a matter of getting reps with Aaron and getting reps with the offense and seeing where it goes.”
Conklin also said that “the offense is tight end friendly,” specifically with how the West Coast scheme’s outside zone “opens up a lot in the play-action game for us.”
While underrated as a whole, the Jets’ tight ends are positioned to be some of the team’s most significant offensive contributors. How Conklin, Uzomah, and Ruckert fare this season will influence not only the offense’s production but the overall success of the entire team.