The New York Jets have an underrated weapon in tight end Tyler Conklin
Based on the way he is playing this year, Tyler Conklin is making a strong argument that he should be mentioned among the league’s best pass catchers at the tight end position. That’s certainly not to say Conklin is close to the same tier as Wilson and Hall at their respective positions, but Conklin is definitely building a resume that can go toe-to-toe with the majority of tight ends this season.
While Conklin doesn’t have the fantasy-stat production to garner national recognition, his actual on-field impact has been excellent this season. It’s backed up by both the advanced metrics and the film.
Conklin’s impressive performance in 2023 all starts with his elite production in one simple category: catching the football. He possesses one of the most reliable pairs of hands at the tight end position.
According to PFF, Conklin is yet to drop a pass this year. His total of 20 receptions without a drop ranks as the fourth-best total among tight ends.
Not only is Conklin avoiding drops, but he is also doing a great job of snagging the tough catches. He caught four of his five targets that were deemed contested.
Combine his drop avoidance with his contested-catch skills, and Conklin ranks as one of the best pure pass catchers at the tight end position. According to NFL Next Gen Stats, Conklin has a CROE (Catch Rate Over Expected) of +10.5%, which ranks second-best among the 25 tight ends with at least 20 targets:
- David Njoku, CLE: +14.0%
- Tyler Conklin, NYJ: +10.5%
- T.J. Hockenson, MIN: +8.9%
- Mike Gesicki, NE: +7.1%
- Travis Kelce, KC: +5.9%
Conklin has not been handed an easy diet of catch opportunities. His “expected” catch rate (calculated on each play based on the depth of the pass, angle of the pass, proximity of the nearest defender, proximity to the sideline, etc.) is only 63.6%, ranking third-lowest among 25 qualified tight ends. Yet, his actual catch rate is 74.1%, ranking ninth-best.
Based on his expected catch rate, Conklin is only expected to have caught 17.2 of his 27 targets. But he has actually caught 20 passes, giving him a total of 2.8 catches over expected. That ranks third-best among tight ends:
- T.J. Hockenson, MIN: +4.2
- David Njoku, CLE: +3.1
- Tyler Conklin, NYJ: +2.8
- Travis Kelce, KC: +2.7
- Mike Gesicki, NE: +1.4
Conklin’s film backs up his numbers. He has snatched plenty of difficult catches this year.
Conklin displays ideal catching technique, consistently attacking the ball with two hands rather than letting it come into his body or lazily reaching for it with one hand. He also does a great job of using his body to shield off defenders and prevent them from making a play on the ball. Finally, you will notice that Conklin always makes sure to look the ball all the way in, rarely taking his eyes off of it as he grabs it and then pulls it into his body.
But that’s not all
Conklin’s catching has been the best part of his game this year. But it’s not the only area where he ranks as one of the league’s best tight ends.
Conklin is also thriving after the catch. It wasn’t an integral piece of his game in the past, but he’s turned into an absolute bulldozer in 2023.
With 104 yards after the catch on 20 receptions, Conklin is averaging 5.2 YAC per reception, ranking fifth-best out of 25 qualified tight ends:
- David Njoku, CLE: 6.4
- Evan Engram, JAX: 5.7
- Jonnu Smith, ATL: 5.6
- George Kittle, SF: 5.5
- Tyler Conklin, NYJ: 5.2
This is another area where NGS believes Conklin is exceeding expectations. Conklin ranks fourth-best among tight ends with a total of 27 YAC over expectation. On a per-catch basis, he is averaging 1.35 YAC over expectation, which is also fourth-best among qualifiers:
- George Kittle, SF: +1.83
- Sam LaPorta, DET: +1.52
- Jake Ferguson, DAL: +1.43
- Tyler Conklin, NYJ: +1.35
- David Njoku, CLE: +1.32
Much of that production came on this 37-yard reception against Denver where Conklin gained 23 total YAC and 12 YAC over expectation.
OL great protection, Zach progressing and throwing a dart just past the LB, and Conklin being a bulldozer pic.twitter.com/9gh9tcgcHD
— Michael Nania (@Michael_Nania) October 9, 2023
However, it’s not as if Conklin is profiting off that one play. Even outside of that play, Conklin has a total of 15 YAC over expectation this season, which would still rank ninth-best out of 25 qualified tight ends.
Conklin has gained positive YACOE on 65% of his receptions, the fourth-best rate among qualified tight ends. While none of those plays yielded massive chunks of yardage outside of the 37-yard Denver play, Conklin has been very consistent at gaining one or two extra yards at the end of runs.
There is nothing flashy about Conklin’s YAC package. In fact, he has only forced one missed tackle this season. Conklin’s preferred approach is to simply put his head down and truck his way to however many yards he can get. This no-nonsense mentality is what has led to his consistency in the YAC department.
Don’t forget about his route running, either
There isn’t a readily available metric for evaluating route running, but it’s evident on film that Conklin is also a skilled route runner for the tight end position.
You saw Conklin cook a linebacker using his patented “rocker step” in the play just above. Here’s another instance of him using the move to win his route.
Nasty route by Conklin (right side of screen) vs Singleton.
Gets vertical off of the snap, closes ground on the LB, uses a rocker step at the top of the route paired with a hard head fake outside getting the LB to bite outside.
Leaving Conklin wide open over the middle. pic.twitter.com/N97qSHTqN5
— Joe Blewett (@Joerb31) October 11, 2023
Here, Conklin wins on the stick-nod.
Hell of a play from multiple jets/groups here on this huge 3rd down pickup
Zach's patience as trust his pocket reading left, reads right and hits Conklin on the nod
Conklin needs no description 😤
The o- line holds up long enough + gives Zach a good pocket to throw from pic.twitter.com/8ezegMK9qa
— Joe Blewett (@Joerb31) October 11, 2023
We even saw Conklin flash some deep separation skills on this play against Philadelphia, as he beats the safety on an out-and-up to create about a full yard of vertical separation. Conklin makes a fantastic catch but is shoved about of bounds.
You don’t need to scheme Conklin open to get him the football. If isolated against a linebacker or safety, he has the route running skills to separate on his own. He is an efficient route-winner who can create throwing windows in one-on-one situations.
On top of that, Conklin has a good feel for finding the soft spots in zone coverages. These two catches against Dallas exemplify Conklin’s ability to know where he should sit down against the zone. Both plays also showcase his knack for turning upfield and plowing vertically for as many yards as he can get.
The Jets are leaving points on the field by not utilizing Tyler Conklin to his utmost potential
It’s a small sample of six games, but Conklin has been the complete package this season. He’s thriving at all three levels of the receiving process. Firstly, he’s doing a great job of getting open. At the catch point, he is securing the ball as reliably as anyone. Then, he is one of the most productive tight ends with the ball in his hands.
With the way Conklin is playing, the Jets need to emphasize getting him more involved in the offense. Conklin has played 72% of the Jets’ offensive snaps but has only been targeted 27 times in six games, which is 4.5 per game. Despite his top-five rankings in many efficiency-based categories, Conklin is 16th in total targets among tight ends.
The Jets had a golden opportunity to feature Conklin in their Week 6 game against the Eagles. Philadelphia entered the game allowing the NFL’s highest passer rating on passes to tight ends. But the Jets ended up targeting Conklin just four times, his lowest total since he was targeted once in the season opener. This is despite Zach Wilson dropping back 40 times in the game, which means Conklin was targeted once every 10 dropbacks.
I’ve stated that I believe the Jets should go out and trade for a wide receiver due to their lack of a reliable target beyond Garrett Wilson. While I still believe that, it cannot be denied that Conklin’s presence provides New York with an easy in-house solution to their non-Garrett Wilson issues at the pass-catching positions. Simply increasing Conklin’s target volume could give the Jets that high-quality secondary target they’ve been lacking.
Conklin’s performance suggests he is more than capable of thriving as a high-volume TE1 who is a focal point in his team’s offense. Yet, the Jets are using him like a mid-level tight end who is nothing more than a complementary piece.
Passes that could be going to Conklin are going to players who aren’t doing much of anything. Check out the Jets’ current distribution of targets, along with the production each player is generating with their respective target totals:
- WR Garrett Wilson: 55 targets (9.2 per game) – 369 yards (6.7/tgt) – 16 first downs (29%)
- TE Tyler Conklin: 27 targets (4.5 per game) – 227 yards (8.4/tgt) – 8 first downs (30%)
- WR Allen Lazard: 23 targets (3.8 per game) – 210 yards (9.1/tgt) – 12 first downs (52%)
- RB Breece Hall: 18 targets (3.0 per game) – 113 yards (6.3/tgt) – 4 first downs (22%)
- RB Michael Carter: 12 targets (2.0 per game) – 44 yards (3.7/tgt) – 2 first downs (17%)
- WR Randall Cobb: 12 targets (2.0 per game) – 20 yards (1.7/tgt) – 2 first downs (17%)
- RB Dalvin Cook: 9 targets (1.5 per game) – 46 yards (5.1/tgt) – 1 first down (11%)
- TE C.J. Uzomah: 5 targets (0.8 per game) – 22 yards (4.4/tgt) – 3 first downs (60%)
- TE Jeremy Ruckert: 4 targets (0.7 per game) – 36 yards (9.0/tgt) – 2 first downs (50%)
- WR Mecole Hardman: 3 targets (0.5 per game) – 6 yards (0.5/tgt) – 0 first downs
- WR Xavier Gipson: 1 target (0.2 per game) – 4 yards (4.0/tgt) – 0 first downs
The Jets are wasting a lot of targets on players who aren’t warranting their opportunities. These targets should be redistributed to Conklin.
It should all start with Randall Cobb, who is basically just getting in some light cardio every Sunday. Every pass thrown his way is a complete waste of time. Cobb has the same number of drops as first downs (2) and is generating less than two yards per target – you’re better off handing the ball to Dalvin Cook than throwing to Cobb! His targets can easily be transferred to Conklin.
Speaking of Cook, he and Michael Carter have combined for 21 targets (3.5 per game) despite generating putrid totals of 90 yards (4.3 per target) and three first downs (14%). That’s too many targets for a couple of backup running backs who aren’t doing anything with the ball, especially when there is a thriving star ahead of them on the depth chart. It makes little sense that Breece Hall has seen less than half of the Jets’ targets to running backs (18 of 39, 46%).
The Jets should decrease Carter and Cook’s snap counts on passing downs and funnel most of their targets to Hall, although Conklin can take some of them as well. Conklin would be a more reliable dump-off option than both players due to his larger catch radius and softer hands. As for Hall, he has been far more efficient as a receiver than his fellow backs (6.3 yards per target with a 22% first down rate), which further emphasizes how odd it is that he has been out-targeted by his backups.
New York has thrown 33 targets (5.5 per game) to Carter, Cobb, and Cook. You can also throw in Mecole Hardman’s minuscule total of three targets that have been vacated, giving us 36 wasted targets (6.0 per game) that should be redistributed.
It’s unrealistic to expect the Jets to relocate every single one of those targets, but it’s not far-fetched to suggest they can give 2.0 more targets per game to each of Conklin and Hall. That seemingly small increase would suddenly put both players into roles that make far more sense for their talent level.
Conklin would become the clear-cut secondary target behind Wilson at 6.5 targets per game. This average would currently place Conklin seventh among tight ends, which seems like a fair spot given his current production. He’d be tied with Zach Ertz and just a hair behind Mark Andrews and Darren Waller, who are each averaging 6.8 targets.
Hall, meanwhile, would leapfrog Lazard into the Jets’ third spot at 5.0 targets per game, which would rank seventh among running backs. It would make a lot of sense for New York to start utilizing Hall as one of the league’s most heavily featured receivers out of the backfield. He is averaging 10.8 yards per reception in his career, ranking second among running backs (min. 15 receptions) behind only Derrick Henry since the start of 2022. There’s a lot of meat being left on the bone with Hall in the passing game.
Jets need to flex out Breece Hall more often, he's a mismatch for LBs. Here they put him outside and he draws a 1-on-1 against Zach Cunningham. Hall cooks him vertically and is open for a TD (Won't kill Zach as he started his read on the other side then got pressured) pic.twitter.com/e03vxS6zSr
— Michael Nania (@Michael_Nania) October 16, 2023
It should also be noted that the Jets are 28th in pass attempts per game (30.5), so if they ever get that number up, there will be more targets available for everyone, giving Conklin a chance to climb a few spots higher on the TE leaderboard. Even just 7.5 targets per game would currently rank third at the position.
At the Jets’ current volume of attempts, though, 6.5 targets per game makes sense.
This was a long-winded way of saying the Jets need to start throwing the ball to Tyler Conklin far more often. He’s quietly playing tremendous all-around football this season, even if the fantasy stats aren’t there to show it. With a full bye week to reevaluate their plans, now is the perfect time for the Jets to self-scout and realize they need to use Conklin like the top-tier tight end that he is.
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