NY Jets: Team must get better at tight end for 2016

Oct 16, 2014; Foxborough, MA, USA; New York Jets tight end Jace Amaro (88) reaches for a pass against New England Patriots strong safety Patrick Chung (23) during the second half at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark L. Baer-USA TODAY Sports
Oct 16, 2014; Foxborough, MA, USA; New York Jets tight end Jace Amaro (88) reaches for a pass against New England Patriots strong safety Patrick Chung (23) during the second half at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark L. Baer-USA TODAY Sports /

For the NY Jets to build upon their success of 2015, they need to improve their current situation at tight end heading into next season.

The Jets fielded Kellen Davis and Jeff Cumberland at the tight end position in 2015 and the results were pretty unimpressive to say the least. Cumberland manged just five receptions for 77 yards, while Davis managed just three receptions for an embarrassing 18 yards of offense. Neither played very well in blocking schemes either and Chan Gailey was forced to utilize Quincy Enunwa to try and bolster the position.

Gailey hasn’t always utilized his tight ends as many have thought he ought to, but this year he had few options. The Jets historically haven’t put a high priority on the position generally speaking and when they tried to develop a prospect, things have gone badly more often than not. Gailey tends to use the position primarily for blocking in his schemes, but I’m sure he’d like at least some options for his passing game as well.

The Jets absolutely must get better at the position in 2016 and Gailey’s schemes need to start to include a pass catching tight end in his offense. With Cumberland and Davis likely having played their last game in Green and White, the Jets will be getting both Jace Amaro and Zach Sudfeld back after having spent this year on the injured reserved list. The Jets also have  Brandon Bostick and Wes Saxton signed to future reserve contracts for 2016.

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The NFL trend has been for big pass catching tight ends that also offer up serviceability in the blocking game as well. It has been a growing trend, and it is time for the Jets to get with the rest of the league. This year, the NFL had four tight ends top the 1,000 yard mark, a feat unthinkable 20 years ago and a rarity ten years ago.

Rob Gronkowski led the way with 1,176 yards, followed by Greg Olsen (1,104), Delanie Walker (1,088) and Gary Barnidge (1,043). Washington’s Jordan Reed just missed the mark in the regular season with 952 yards.

There is a growing trend in the NFL and the Jets need to get on board. Their current tight end group are all “hybrid” types and don’t do well playing the more traditional “inline” position. Both Amaro and Sudfeld are both advantageous to the Jets’ roster, but neither is good playing inline and blocking. Saxton is much of the same, offering a good set of hands in the passing game, but offers very little in the blocking game.

The need here for the Jets is an inline tight end, plain and simple. Enough of the “big wide receiver” type, they need to develop someone to play the position that can help in both the running and passing games. A complete inline tight end is the need and the sooner they can develop someone to fill the role, the better. Whether they can develop someone on this roster to fill the need or if they need to turn to free agency or the draft, the need can’t be denied going into next season.

The good news was that both Sudfeld and Amaro were beginning to show some promise in their respective blocking games this past summer. Unfortunately, both went down with injuries this year and will need to pick up where they left off if the Jets choose to keep them both. I don’t believe they are anywhere near where they have to be to fill the need, but we’ll have to wait and see on that front.

With sub par play along an aging offensive line, the need is only greater for the Jets. An inline tight end gives the line that extra blocker in the run game and allows the team to double team the top pass rushers to help keep our quarterback safe in the pocket.  The position, long ignored by the franchise, has to be fixed now. The offense demands it, the run game and the passing game will benefit for it and Jet fans have waited long enough.

Dec 28, 2014; Miami Gardens, FL, USA; New York Jets tight end Zach Sudfeld (44) makes a catch on a fourth down play for a first down against the Miami Dolphins during the second half at Sun Life Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Free agency offers little but aging players and sub par performers this year. Jermaine Gresham is 28 years old and could likely be had cheaply after a drop off in production the past several years, but his run blocking has never been his strength. Antonio Gates is the big name that will likely hit the market, but he’s 36 years old and is on the downside of his career.

Ben Watson would also be an option, but again, he’s 36 and the Jets will want to go younger. Free agency doesn’t seem to hold the answer, but rest assured general manager Mike Maccagnan and his scouting team will be doing their due diligence on what is available.

The 2016 NFL Draft doesn’t offer much in the form of first-round selections at tight ends but there are several players that might draw interest from the Jets in the second or third rounds. Ohio State’s Nick Vannet isn’t going to dazzle anyone in the passing game, but has been an extremely good blocker in their ground game.

Vannet is projected to go anywhere from the third to the fifth round, and may offer what the Jets are looking for, a run blocker who has some upside in the passing game. Other options include Penn State’s Kyle Carter, Arkansas’s Henry Hunter and Duke’s Braxton Deaver. This might not be the elite pass catching draft that we’ve seen in recent years but for the Jets, it offers some very solid blocking tight ends.

Of course the other option left for the Jets is to hope that one of their current tight ends can convert to an inline guy. Ideally, Amaro can make the switch as he’s 6’6″ and tips the scales at 260 pounds. If Amaro can be taught to block, he’s already proven he has the skills in the passing game. Sudfeld also is an outside shot into developing what the Jets are looking for at the position. Sudfeld is a big guy, standing 6’7″ and weighing 270 pounds. If he could transition to more of an inline tight end, the Jets would have a massive guy helping out in blocking schemes.

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As the draft and free agency get closer, the choices will be debated here at The Jet Press. Everyone will have their own solutions to fix the problem, but one thing is clear, the Jets must make a move! Not to do anything at the position is unthinkable. I see them attempting to fix this through the draft, maybe mid rounds. However they choose, the need is great and can’t be ignored for next season.

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