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New York Jets Year in Review: Grading the 2018 tight ends

New York Jets Chris Herndon (Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images)
New York Jets Chris Herndon (Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images)
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With the 2018 season officially over, it’s time to break down the performances of each of the New York Jets positional units. Next, we take a look at the team’s tight ends.

It was 2017 that oversaw the reintroduction of the tight end position into the New York Jets offense, but it was 2018 that saw the position flourish.

While there were no jaw-dropping numbers put up by any player, the Jets regularly used two to three tight ends making sure that the position remained a mainstay in the team’s offensive gameplan.

There was a logjam at the position heading into the preseason with no clear favorite and four or five guys all vying for an opportunity to be the starter. But it was the emergence of a rookie that helped the tight end position stand out this year and become an integral part of the offense.

For years, the Jets have overlooked their tight ends making them glorified fullbacks in today’s NFL, few and far between and rarely used. But 2018 was different and it provides hope for the future of the position with the team.

Let’s take a look at each of the tight ends that contributed for the team this season.

Chris Herndon

The breakout star of the unit this year was undoubtedly Chris Herndon. The rookie fourth-round pick made a solid first impression in training camp but didn’t really begin to see substantial playing time until a few weeks into the season.

Herndon finished with 39 catches for 502 yards and four touchdowns proving to be a reliable target for fellow rookie Sam Darnold in the passing game. The Miami product led all rookie tight ends in receptions and touchdowns and was second only behind Mark Andrews of the Baltimore Ravens in yardage.

The rookie flashed his big-play ability averaging an impressive 12.9 yards per reception, a far cry from Austin Seferian-Jenkins lowly 7.1 yards per catch last season. Moreover, Herndon’s 502 receiving yards were the most by any Jets tight end since Dustin Keller totaled 815 yards in 2011.

Herndon has the potential to be the team’s best tight end since Keller and some would argue that he’s already there. Besides being the best receiving option for the team at the position, Herndon offers versatility as a blocker and with a little more refinement could become very solid in that respect.

As it is, he might already be the best blocker on the team at the position.

Herndon will be 23-years-old at the start of the 2019 season but Jets fans should expect him to remain a cornerstone of the offense for years to come. For now, he remains one of few building blocks on a depleted offensive unit.

Final Grade: B

Eric Tomlinson

Eric Tomlinson is never a player that is going to be a star. He’ll never be given a starting position nor will he ever be given substantial snaps. He’s a role player.

Unfortunately for Tomlinson and the Jets, he didn’t do a great job of filling that role in 2018.

The Jets resident blocking tight end earned just a 48.6 Pro Football Focus grade and while PFF grades aren’t everything, they do help to paint a decent picture of the effectiveness of a player.

Tomlinson was also guilty of countless silly penalties picking up the third most penalties out of all Jets offensive players, behind only Kelvin Beachum and Brandon Shell, despite playing significantly fewer snaps. It seemed that he was good for at least one infraction every other game.

The UTEP product played his role effectively in 2017 but took a major step back in 2018. The Jets opted to run two tight end sets often to open up the ground game but it didn’t make much of a difference, in part due to Tomlinson’s ineffectiveness as a blocker.

Tomlinson rarely provided much of a push and was arguably out-blocked by the aforementioned rookie, Herndon. The former undrafted free agent will be 27-years-old at the start of the 2019 season and the team could look to go younger at the position given Tomlinson’s inability to fill his role.

It’s safe to say that the Jets could probably find someone else to better fill the blocking tight end role.

Final Grade: D-

Jordan Leggett

At one point this offseason, Jordan Leggett was considered the favorite to earn the starting tight end job.

Oh how long ago that feels.

Leggett missed his entire rookie season in 2017 dealing with a knee injury giving him his first glimpse of NFL action this season. Unfortunately, the former fifth-round pick was used almost exclusively as a third tight end limiting his number of snaps.

While he will never be the most prolific blocker, Leggett seems improved in that role from his time in college where it was considered his biggest weakness. Still, his strength is as a receiver and he did show glimpses in 2018 of the athleticism he displayed while at Clemson.

Regardless, Leggett seems destined to be a back-of-the-roster type player who will have to earn his way on to the team next season if he wants to remain with the organization. And that’s disappointing given the promise he once showed and the opportunity that he couldn’t quite grasp.

Final Grade: C-

Neal Sterling

Neal Sterling entered the season as the team’s starting tight end emerging as the Jets top option following a strong preseason. Unfortunately, the former Jacksonville Jaguar only wound up playing in five games after he suffered multiple concussions which forced him to the injured reserve.

Sterling was a promising receiving tight end who offered little as a blocker, but serious upside in the passing game. Sadly, his injuries allowed Herndon to emerge and take over the starting tight end role leaving his future with the team in question.

With his contract set to expire, Sterling is unlikely to be back with the team next year as the Jets will likely look for other, younger options to fill out the tight end depth chart. And that’s a sad fact given how Sterling unfairly had his opportunity ripped away from him because of injury.

But that’s just the sad reality of football. Sometimes sports just aren’t fair.

Final Grade: C

Final Team Grade: B-

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