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Projected starters: Austin Seferian-Jenkins
Projected backups: Eric Tomlinson, Jordan Leggett
On the bubble: Julian Howsare, Brian Parker, Jason Vander Laan, Anthony Firkser
Departures: Kellen Davis, Brandon Bostick, Braedon Bowman
Key stat: Jets tight ends combined for 268 receiving yards over the past two years. Thirty tight ends surpassed that number on their own in the 2016 season.
The Jets' inability to generate production from their tight end position has mostly been attributed to the departed offensive coordinator Chan Gailey. However, Gailey has featured the tight end position more heavily in the past, notably when he had Scott Chandler, so this may just have been a case where he simply lacked faith in the Jets' personnel.
In 2016, Seferian-Jenkins and Bostick combined for 173 yards, which actually represented an increase of over 80 percent on 2015. However it was still the worst in the NFL by some distance.
However, optimism is high that Seferian-Jenkins is going to make much better contributions this year. The Jets hope he can produce like he did in his first two seasons, which saw him total 45 catches for 559 yards and six scores in 16 games. He's been drawing rave reviews during team activities and has reportedly turned his life around following some alcohol-related issues in the past. He'll be suspended at the start of the year though, so someone else might need to step up, at least temporarily.
That could be a golden opportunity for the rookie Leggett to make an early splash. The fifth-round pick was a key playmaker for last year's national champion Clemson Tigers and could be a good safety valve and red zone weapon, doing damage from the slot and going in motion. Leggett isn't much of a blocker at this stage of his career, so it's expected that the Jets would carry at least one blocking specialist on their roster.
Tomlinson was largely unheralded after the Jets signed him off the Texans' practice squad in November. However, he quietly did an impressive job as a run blocker and in pass protection, and was an under-the-radar bright spot. He's not been a threat as a pass catcher so far, but the team seemed to benefit from his contributions down the stretch.
Parker is another good blocker who also showed some pass catching ability when in college. The Jets claimed him off waivers at the start of last season but had to release him almost immediately because he was injured. They've brought him in for another look and he should provide Tomlinson with competition for that blocking specialist role.
Vander Laan remains something of an unknown quantity, as the Jets have been developing the former small-school quarterback behind the scenes. Word is that he's looked a lot more comfortable this year, so perhaps he'll get more chances to play in preseason and show what he can do.
The fullback position was even more of an oversight than the tight end position under Gailey, but new running backs coach Stump Mitchell has insisted it will be a productive feature of the offense this year. Currently listed at the position are Howsare, a converted linebacker who played sparingly in the role last year, and Firkser, an undrafted free agent who was an undersized pass-catching tight end in college and isn't a natural lead blocker.
Unless the Jets have a move lined up for an established fullback, it's possible they will redeploy their tight ends in this role, which is something many teams around the league, including Pittsburgh and Cincinnati, have done in recent years. Tomlinson played the position sometimes last year; Leggett often lined up in the backfield in college; and Parker was also getting reps at fullback in preseason last season. Any of these three could be candidates for such a role.
Failing that, maybe they'll opt to use Sheldon Richardson in short-yardage situations as they did a few years ago.
Outlook: From what the new offensive scheme looks like, it seems likely that the tight end position will be a much bigger feature of the offense this year, and there is optimism about the contributions that Leggett and Seferian-Jenkins will make. The suggestion that the fullback position will also be featured more heavily will require somebody to step up and prove worthy of playing time in that role otherwise they'll need to make another roster move.