Home | Articles | Analytics | NY Jets: What would a Tyler Conklin ‘breakout’ really look like?

NY Jets: What would a Tyler Conklin ‘breakout’ really look like?

Tyler Conklin, NY Jets, TE, 2024, Stats, Projection
Tyler Conklin, New York Jets, Getty Images

An improved season from Tyler Conklin could look different than many expect

With Aaron Rodgers returning to the lineup, every offensive player on the New York Jets roster is constantly being labeled with the cliche, “He’s going to be much better in 2024 with Aaron Rodgers under center,” or something along those lines. You get the idea.

And it’s completely justified. It would be ignorant to have a discussion about any Jets weapon without mentioning how much their ceiling will be raised by going from Zach Wilson to the owner of the highest career passer rating in NFL history.

“If Garrett Wilson could surpass 1,000 yards in back-to-back years to start his career with Wilson, just wait and see what he can do with Rodgers.”

“If Breece Hall could run for nearly 1,000 yards on 4.5 yards per carry with teams stacking the box due to their lack of fear in Wilson, just wait and see what he can do with Rodgers forcing teams to back off (and with a better offensive line).”

“Allen Lazard was abysmal in 2023, but he was never that bad with Rodgers, so he should look more serviceable with Rodgers back.”

These are among the most popular narratives regarding Rodgers’ potential impact on his teammates. Each one is reasonable.

However, when looking at the team as a whole, I think it’s important to realize that each player will be affected differently by Rodgers’ return. Even if Rodgers’ impact is always positive, the impact will manifest itself in different ways. It’s not as simple as, “You get 300 more yards! And you get 300 more yards! And you get 300 more yards!”

That’s where Tyler Conklin comes in.

Aaron Rodgers = Fewer receptions and yards for Conklin?

After surviving Hurricane Brock, Conklin is set for his third consecutive year as the Jets’ clear-cut TE1. Like Wilson, Hall, and Lazard, Conklin is commonly mentioned as someone who will benefit greatly from a full season of Rodgers.

It’s easy to paint an optimistic picture for Conklin. Despite horrid quarterback play, Conklin has put up some of the NFL’s best numbers at the tight end position across his first two seasons with the Jets. Conklin is seventh among tight ends in receptions (119) and 10th in receiving yards (1,173) since 2022.

Now, give him Aaron Rodgers, and he’ll jump to the top-five in those categories! Right?

Not exactly.

Don’t get me wrong – I do think Conklin is poised for a much-improved season with Rodgers. But I don’t necessarily think it will translate to a noticeable increase in his reception or receiving yardage totals.

Remember, there are only so many targets to go around. Rodgers doesn’t change that. Rodgers will ensure the Jets get more out of every pass attempt – more catches, more yards, more touchdowns – but he won’t add attempts. In fact, the Jets are probably going to throw the ball significantly less.

The Jets had the fifth-most pass attempts in the NFL over the past two seasons with 1,228, which is 36.1 per game. This is because they were trailing for the majority of most games, causing them to stockpile pass attempts in second halves.

Meanwhile, across Rodgers’ back-to-back MVP seasons in 2020 and 2021, the Packers ranked 19th with 1,119 pass attempts, which is 33.9 per game.

In a perfect world, the Jets want to land in that same area. They want to complement Rodgers with an elite run game that allows them to strike a healthy run-pass balance. On top of that, if the Jets are leading as often as they would like to be, they will spend many second halves milking the clock instead of airing it out.

So, what does all of this mean for Conklin?

The point is that Rodgers is probably not going to come in and boost Conklin’s opportunity volume any further. Conklin was already getting a ton of opportunities; he tied for eighth among tight ends with 174 targets over the past two seasons, which was also second-most on the Jets. His outlook for more opportunities is not promising. Not only will the Jets likely have fewer pass attempts as a team, but think about the number of mouths to feed. There are many players who will demand an increase in targets before Conklin.

Garrett Wilson could be featured even more heavily after already demanding 168 targets last year (fourth among WRs). Wilson averaged 9.9 targets per game in 2023, but Rodgers’ old go-to superstar, Davante Adams, averaged a whopping 10.8 targets per game over his final four seasons with Rodgers. If Rodgers takes as much of a liking to Wilson as he did to Adams, Wilson could push for 180 targets this year.

After Wilson, the Jets finally have a legitimate WR2 in Mike Williams. The Jets’ wide receivers past Wilson were atrocious over the past two years, and it funneled extra targets to Conklin. He frequently ate up checkdowns after the wideouts failed to separate. Now, with Williams in town to demand more targets than his predecessors in the WR2 role, targets that previously went to Conklin on checkdowns will be transferred over to Williams.

Add in Rodgers’ affinity for Malachi Corley, a possible Allen Lazard resurgence due to his connection with Rodgers, and a likely heavy lean on Breece Hall in the passing game due to Rodgers’ preference for throwing to running backs. That’s a lot of competition for Conklin.

The cherry on top is Rodgers’ historical lack of tight end usage. Across his 15 seasons as the Packers’ starter, there were only three seasons in which a Green Bay tight end hit 87 targets, and none went higher than Jermichael Finley’s 92 targets in 2011. On average, in seasons where Rodgers was the starter, Green Bay’s top tight end had 61 targets (projects to 65 over 17 games).

Simply put, Conklin is unlikely to see an increase in targets this year compared to the 87 he received in 2023 and 2022. In fact, I believe there is a chance he could see significantly fewer targets, possibly dipping into the sixties. This will probably lead to declines in his reception and receiving yardage totals.

Yet, I still think he will have a significantly larger impact than he did in either of the past two seasons. Why? Because I believe his efficiency will dramatically improve with Rodgers under center.

Less volume, more impact for Conklin

While Conklin’s cumulative reception and receiving yardage totals are impressive, those numbers haven’t translated to a real impact on winning.

Purely from a statistical perspective, Conklin hasn’t been much more than a checkdown hog who gobbles up relatively meaningless short passes. As an individual player, he’s far more skilled than that, but his role hasn’t allowed him to show it. He’s been utilized in a way that restricts him to having a minimal impact on the game.

In 2023, Conklin ranked 11th among tight ends in receptions (61) and 13th in receiving yards (622). Yet, he ranked 55th among tight ends in total EPA (Expected Points Added) with a measly 2.8. Among the 37 tight ends with at least 40 targets, Conklin ranked 31st in EPA per target at 0.03.

EPA accounts for down, distance, and field position to estimate how many hypothetical points the offense gains or loses on each play. Conklin’s dismal EPA rankings tell us that, while he racked up a lot of receptions, those receptions typically didn’t help the Jets score points.

How did this happen? Let’s break down the ways in which the Jets limited his potential.

Red zone

By far, the biggest reason for Conklin’s low EPA is his complete lack of production in the red zone. He failed to score a single touchdown, giving him the second-most targets in a season without a touchdown among tight ends since at least 1992. Only Cole Kmet had more targets in a season without scoring (92 in 2021).

The Jets rarely targeted Conklin in the red zone. Conklin only had nine red-zone targets in 2023, tying him for 17th among tight ends and 75th among all players. That’s a low usage rate relative to his overall volume, as he was 13th in total targets among tight ends and 58th among all players. However, the even bigger crime is that only one of those nine targets came inside the five-yard line.

When the Jets did target Conklin in the red zone, he wasn’t given a realistic chance to succeed. Conklin caught just four of his nine red-zone targets for 18 yards, which might lead you to wonder why he deserves more targets, but those numbers weren’t really his fault. He was the victim of terrible accuracy. Conklin’s xREC% (expected catch rate) on his red zone targets was 43.6%, the lowest mark among tight ends with at least eight red zone targets. By grabbing four of nine, he secured exactly as many as he was expected to based on the catchability of the passes thrown his way. For perspective, the league average xREC% for tight ends in the red zone was 61.8%.

So, Conklin was essentially given the equivalent of four catchable passes in the red zone, with none being thrown into the end zone and none coming on plays from inside of the five-yard line. He couldn’t have been dealt a worse hand for touchdown potential.

With Rodgers, Conklin is due for a major turnaround in the touchdown column. While Rodgers typically doesn’t pepper his tight ends with a high volume of targets between the twenties, he gets them involved in the red zone.

Across Rodgers’ 15 years in Green Bay, the Packers’ tight ends averaged 6.1 touchdowns per season, with 4.1 of those going to the top tight end (67.2%). Considering Conklin has limited competition in the tight end room, he has a chance to swipe a larger portion of the total tight end touchdowns than the normal two-thirds. If Rodgers throws his typical six touchdowns to tight ends, Conklin could easily snag five of those or even all six.

Conklin has never been much of a touchdown scorer; his career-high is three (2021 and 2022), and he only has seven in 98 career games. However, he projects as a strong red zone tight end if given an opportunity.

Conklin’s sure-handedness makes him an intriguing target in the tight confines of the red zone. In 2023, Conklin had the second-most contested catches among tight ends with 12, trailing only Sam LaPorta. His 66.7% contested catch rate was third-best among qualifiers. In addition, Conklin only had one drop in 2023; he’s finished with no more than one drop in five of his six NFL seasons.

Rodgers has already shown multiple times that he can procure big-time touchdown seasons out of a tight end who previously never displayed the potential to do it. Robert Tonyan had 11 scores in 2020 after getting two over his first two seasons. Richard Rodgers had eight in 2015 after getting two as a rookie; he finished his career with two across five seasons outside of Green Bay. Jermichael Finley had eight in 2011 after catching seven over his first three seasons. If all of these guys could do it, why not Conklin?

So, that’s the biggest way Rodgers can facilitate a breakout year for Conklin – more touchdowns. Even if Conklin gets fewer receptions and yards in total, his impact can grow tenfold if he becomes a featured scorer in the red zone.

But that’s not all. I also believe Rodgers can increase Conklin’s efficiency and impact in two other areas.

Yards per target

Conklin only averaged 6.7 yards per target across his first two seasons with the Jets, ranking 23rd among the 29 tight ends with at least 100 targets over that span. This is another major reason why his EPA numbers are so low. He’s targeted a lot, but his targets generally didn’t move the ball very far down the field.

I expect Conklin to generate more yardage per target with Rodgers. Even if we see him less frequently between the twenties, he will do more with each opportunity he gets.

There are a few reasons for this. For one, we discussed earlier how adding Mike Williams could take away some of the dump-offs that were peppered on Conklin in 2023. This will naturally improve Conklin’s efficiency and that of the entire Jets offense – plays that were previously 5-yard checkdowns to Conklin will become 10-yard curls to Williams. This means a larger portion of Conklin’s targets will be meaningful plays instead of ho-hum ones.

Secondly, I expect Rodgers to utilize Conklin more frequently in the intermediate area. Conklin excelled on intermediate targets in 2023 but was underutilized relative to his efficiency. On passes thrown 10-19 yards downfield, Conklin grabbed 8-of-14 targets for 155 yards, with all eight catches resulting in a first down. It’s in this part of the field where Conklin did make a tangible impact on winning, as his 9.7 total EPA in the intermediate range ranked 11th among tight ends. Yet, only 17% of Conklin’s targets came in the intermediate range, which ranked 30th out of 39 qualified tight ends.

I expect this rate to rise with Rodgers. As we broke down previously, Rodgers loves throwing crossing routes to the tight ends. From 2019-21 (his years under Nathaniel Hackett), Rodgers had a 137.3 passer rating when targeting tight ends on crossing routes. Some of these fall in the short range (0-9 yards), but Rodgers frequently found his tight ends on crossers that eclipsed the 10-yard mark, leading to huge plays.

The crossing route was an area of strength for Conklin in Minnesota, but the Jets have not allowed him to showcase it in their offense. In his 2021 season with the Vikings, Conklin caught 10-of-11 crossers for 128 yards and one touchdown. Over two seasons with the Jets, he’s grabbed 7-of-12 for 102 yards and no touchdowns.

Look for Rodgers to unleash Conklin on intermediate crossers, improving his yardage output per target.

Third down conversions

Joe Blewett and I constantly praise Conklin for his route running, particularly his patented “rocker step.”

With this in his bag of tricks – along with his reliable hands – Conklin projects as a tremendous chain-mover on third down. But the Jets have not maximized his potential in this area.

While Conklin received 34 third down targets last year, nearly a quarter of those were dump-offs to set up a punt. Eight of the 34 targets were short receptions with 10+ yards to go, and on each of them, Conklin did not even get within two yards of moving the sticks. Overall, Conklin finished the season with just 12 third down conversions on 34 targets (35% conversion rate / 0.7 conversions per game). The low conversion rate and high frequency of meaningless third down dump-offs were major contributors to his measly EPA numbers.

I’m not sure that Rodgers will target Conklin more than 34 times on third down (going back to our earlier discussion about his target volume), but I envision Conklin becoming notoriously reliable on third down with Rodgers. He’ll develop a reputation for getting it done nearly any time Rodgers goes his way in a key third-and-medium/short situation.

Rodgers loves targeting his running backs in the flat, so I think Breece Hall (along with Braelon Allen and Isaiah Davis, who have been flashing in the passing game at OTAs) will take many of the flat targets that previously went to Conklin. Meanwhile, Rodgers has two dangerous deep threats in Wilson and Williams who he can use to attack vertically and/or outside the numbers if he catches an exploitable man-coverage look on third down. With the Jets lacking a proven slot receiver, that leaves Conklin as the team’s most appealing middle-of-the-field target outside of Wilson in a third-and-medium/short situation. If Rodgers sees Conklin manned up with a linebacker on third down, I think he will take that every time and convert at an incredibly high rate.

I expect Conklin to become one of Rodgers’ favorite chain-movers if there are 3-7 yards to go on third down, boosting his overall efficiency and impact even if it doesn’t necessarily balloon his fantasy stats. Conklin has made a lot of 5-yard receptions in his Jets career that nobody remembers. This is the year for him to make the 5-yard catches that mean something.

Takeaways

Conklin was not given enough opportunities to shine in key situations over his first two seasons with the Jets. I believe the stars are aligning for him to do so with Rodgers.

Overall, I think Rodgers’ return puts Conklin in a position to have a standout year when it comes to making timely plays. While I think he will be significantly less involved in terms of total targets, I think he will see more involvement and better efficiency in high-leverage situations: the red zone, high-upside intermediate throws, and short-distance third downs. This will give him a chance to make his presence felt to a much larger degree than in the past, even if some of his box-score totals are down.

To give a ballpark prediction, I see Conklin finishing with a stat line in the range of 40-45 receptions, 60-65 targets, 500-550 yards, and 5-6 touchdowns while performing well on third down – compare that to his averages of 60/87/587/1.5 across his first two seasons. Those numbers might not suggest a “breakout” at first glance, but considering the spike in touchdowns, the jump in yards per target, and his clutchness in key third down situations, this would represent the best season of Conklin’s career and a full showcase of the abilities he has quietly displayed over the past two years. I expect Conklin to be one of the top tight ends in efficiency metrics like EPA per target and DVOA.

Garrett Wilson and Breece Hall are going to dominate the opportunities in this offense. Not everyone can get the “Aaron Rodgers boost” in terms of their production volume. Outside of Wilson and Hall, everyone else’s job is to be efficient with the limited opportunities presented to them, and I believe Conklin is poised to accomplish that goal at a high level.

Want More Jet X?

Subscribe to become a Jet X Member to unlock every piece of Jets X-Factor content (film breakdowns, analytics, Sabo with the Jets, etc.), get audio versions of each article, receive the ability to comment within our community, and experience an ad-free platform experience.

Download the free Jet X Mobile App to get customizable notifications directly to your iOS (App Store) or Android (Google Play) device.

Sign up for Jet X Daily, our daily newsletter that's delivered to your inbox every morning at 8:00 a.m. ET.

Add Jets X-Factor to your Google News feed and/or find us on Apple News to stay updated with the New York Jets.

Follow us on X (Formerly Twitter) @jetsxfactor for all the latest New York Jets news, Facebook for even more, Instagram for some of the top NY Jets images, and YouTube for original Jets X-Factor videos.

Related Articles

About the Author

More From Author

Comments

5 1 vote
Article Rating
Subscribe
Notify of
0 Comments
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
0
REPLY TO THIS ARTICLE HERE:x
()
x