Bent, theJetsBlog.com Follow on Twitter
Having opted to let Austin Seferain-Jenkins leave in free agency, the Jets are relying on a group of young tight ends to replace his production, recently adding two more options to the mix.
It's possible the Jets could look to add to the group via the draft but, for now, let's consider what each of the tight ends currently on the roster brings to the table, and consider how they might be used in 2018.
Tomlinson, who was in the starting lineup 12 times last year and played over 400 snaps, is regarded as an excellent blocker. With such a key role, it's not surprising the team opted to bring the exclusive-rights free agent back.
Last November, the 263-pounder drew praise from head coach Todd Bowles, who said Tomlinson had been "great," and complimented his willingness to do the dirty work. Tomlinson is also capable of filling in at fullback, and contributes on special teams as a blocker and in coverage.
While known mostly for his blocking, Tomlinson has a knack for making big plays in the passing game. Although he only caught eight passes last season, half of them went for at least 20 yards, including one touchdown.
Sterling was another exclusive-rights free agent the Jets brought back, and his performance in the final game of the season was a big part of the reason why they may have felt comfortable with letting Seferian-Jenkins walk. With the veteran dealing with foot and rib injuries, Sterling filled in admirably with 74 yards on five catches, eclipsing Seferian-Jenkins' season high.
The converted receiver showcased his athleticism, route-running skills, and an ability to create yards after the catch, especially on a 35-yard catch and run as he got open over the middle. While Seferian-Jenkins racked up 50 catches, he didn't help to stretch the field as much as the Jets hoped, with just two 20-yard plays on the season.
Sterling still needs to develop as a blocker, but didn't disgrace himself when given blocking assignments last year.
Leggett is something of an unknown quantity after he never made it back onto the field following a preseason knee injury. The fifth-round pick looked like being a potential steal for the Jets, as Leggett showed some flashes in preseason with five catches for 64 yards in his three appearances.
Leggett had successful knee surgery in November and, if healthy, the Jets will be hoping he can display some of the pass-catching abilities that helped Clemson to the national title two years ago.
In college, he was often employed as a move tight end, and also spent time lined up in the backfield and in the slot. However, like Sterling, Leggett has some developing to do as a blocker.
The Jets claimed Walford off waivers after the 2015 third-round pick was released by Oakland last month. Although he didn't play much last season, he's easily the most experienced tight end on the current roster, and the most complete tight end in terms of being able to both block and contribute in the passing game.
Walford caught 61 passes for almost 700 yards and six touchdowns in his first two seasons. He had more yards in 2016 than Seferian-Jenkins did last year, despite catching 17 fewer passes, so he could prove capable of doing a better job in stretching the field.
The Jets could opt to employ Walford out of the slot at times, since all nine of his catches last year came from there. However, he's more equipped to play in line than the likes of Sterling and Leggett. And while he's not a great blocker, he certainly has the strength at the point of attack to set the edge or hold up in pass protection.
Hodges was an interesting addition who hasn't been with a team since being dropped from the Panthers' practice squad last October. He's yet to make his NFL debut after suffering a concussion in the Vikings' final preseason game, and later being released from injured reserve.
As a sign of how far his stock has fallen, last April, Sports Illustrated ranked Hodges as the fourth-best tight end prospect in the draft, but he dropped all the way to the sixth round with 12 tight ends drafted ahead of him, including Leggett who had been ranked eighth in the Sports Illustrated article and went 10th.
Of the five, the 6-foot-6 Hodges - who was often employed more like a big wide receiver in college - may be the most athletic. He ran a 4.57 in the 40-yard dash at the scouting combine. It seems likely he'll compete with Leggett and Sterling for a pass-catching specialist role.