Tyler Conklin, New York Jets
Tyler Conklin, New York Jets, Getty Images

Nathaniel Hackett likes to use specific players, but the New York Jets tackles could put a wrench in his plans

Another day of training camp, another New York Jets offensive line disaster.

From a concern throughout the offseason, the team’s starting five has become a source of alarm for Robert Saleh and Aaron Rodgers. With Duane Brown still on the PUP list, Mekhi Becton ensconced with the second team, and Billy Turner and Max Mitchell struggling, the blocking woes threaten to derail the Jets’ offense.

Besides the obvious—keeping the quarterback clean—there is another overlooked reason that the Jets’ offensive line must pick up their game. It’s an issue that manifested heavily in 2022 and could affect Nathaniel Hackett‘s game plans this season. One of the Jets’ other assets could end up underutilized and miscast if they don’t fix their tackle position.

Tight ends

In 2022, 19.7% of Tyler Conklin‘s routes went to the flat, the fifth-highest mark among 40 tight ends (min. 250 routes run). With his 4.80 speed, Conklin wasn’t going to do very much with those routes. Sending C.J. Uzomah (4.62 speed) there on 18.8% of his routes made more sense, but why Conklin was the primary recipient of dump-offs was hard to understand.

It was particularly frustrating to watch Conklin receive these passes rather than utilizing his primary skill, which is winning one-on-one matchups against linebackers. Why did Mike LaFleur seemingly insist on using Conklin in a way that did not suit his strengths?

A possible answer becomes apparent on film. The Jets left Conklin in to chip the edge at a very high rate. With that kind of slow start, there wasn’t enough time to send him on longer-developing routes. Therefore, they kept him as the outlet in the flat, much as a team would do with a running back.

It’s unlikely that this was the Jets’ preference. Rather, after being forced to start the developmental rookie Mitchell from the beginning of the season, they simply had no choice. The tackle play was consistently atrocious, save for the few weeks when Alijah Vera-Tucker steadied it on one side.

While leaving a tight end to chip is a normal thing, being forced to do so consistently limits an offense’s creativity and options. Overall, the Jets’ tight ends stayed in to pass block on 12.3% of their pass play snaps, per Pro Football Focus, the 12th-highest in the NFL. However, if you combine the extended chips, the number was likely a lot higher than that.

Hackett’s offense

Hackett likes to use his tight ends in the passing game. In 2022, the Broncos ranked ninth in the NFL in having their tight ends run 739 combined routes. They tied for 12th with six touchdowns thrown to tight ends despite running out the likes of Greg Dulcich, Eric Saubert, Albert Okuegbunam, and Eric Tomlinson and fielding a miserable pass defense.

Although Dulcich ranked 17th in running 15.6% of his routes to the flat, per NFL Next Gen Stats, he also ran vertical routes 31.6% of the time, which ranked seventh. Conklin, meanwhile, ranked 19th in vertical routes at 25.1%. It was harder to get him downfield.

It’s not that Conklin didn’t produce in the passing game in 2022, at least by the raw statistics. He tied for eighth among tight ends with 58 receptions and ranked 12th with 552 receiving yards. Even his meager three touchdowns tied for 16th.

However, Conklin’s 1.13 yards per route run ranked 29th. That was partially a function of poor quarterback play, but taking so many dump-offs played a role, too. His average depth of reception was 4.47 yards, which ranked 32nd out of 41 tight ends (min. 25 receptions), and his 9.5 yards per reception ranked 30th. Meanwhile, his 43.1% first-down rate ranked 35th.

In other words, Conklin compiled yards, but he wasn’t a particularly productive player even when he caught the ball. For that to change under Hackett, he needs to be able to get downfield and not hang out in the flat. If the Jets’ pass-blocking is as bad as it’s been in camp so far, that likely won’t be possible.

The Jets must sort out their pass protection. Otherwise, Saleh’s frustration with his offensive linemen on Hard Knocks will be far more acute once the regular season begins.

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Rivka Boord has followed the Jets since the age of five. She is known locally for her in-depth knowledge of football. She hopes to empower young women to follow their dreams and join the sports conversation. Boord's background in analytics infuses her articles with unique insights into the state of the Jets' franchise and the NFL as a whole.
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1 month ago

The most common Conklin play was the 3rd and 20 dump off pass. Not gonna happen this year!

Jim G
Jim G
1 month ago

Thanks for the analysis. I remember wondering last season why Conklin appeared productive during games and ended up so low on lists of tight end productivity. Now we have the answer.