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Over the last few weeks, we've been breaking down each position in terms of which players are fighting for those final roster spots. Who is in danger of being cut? Who has a chance to earn themselves a bigger role? We continue with a look at the tight ends.
Probable roster locks
It's tempting to suggest that there are no tight ends currently on the Jets roster whose spot is safe. However, Jets coaches give the impression that Eric Tomlinson's blocking is a major asset that the other tight ends on the roster would struggle to replicate. Tomlinson helped his chances of earning a starting role by flashing an ability to leak out and make an occasional big play in the passing game, but should remain on the roster as a blocking specialist in any case.
In the competition
In their desire to find a young tight end, the Jets drafted Jordan Leggett last year and Chris Herndon this year. Leggett missed all of last season with a knee injury, whereas Herndon courted controversy during the offseason with a DUI arrest. As unlikely as it seems that the Jets would give up on either player before they've even played in an NFL game, there may not be room on the roster for both players, so they could end up competing for one spot.
With no proven tight end on the roster following the departure of Austin Seferian-Jenkins, the Jets opted to sign free agent Clive Walford from Oakland. Walford had 28 catches as a rookie in 2015 and 33 more in 2016. The other five tight ends currently on the roster have combined for just 26 between them in their entire careers. However, Walford fell out of favor in Oakland last season and ended up catching just nine passes.
In the final game of last year, Neal Sterling started in place of Seferian-Jenkins and registered a career-high 74 yards on five catches. He isn't receiving much attention, but apparently had a decent minicamp and may have impressed the coaches with that display at the end of last season.
The long-shot is free-agent signing Bucky Hodges. Hodges has never played in an NFL game, although he was drafted just one round later than Leggett in 2016. He's athletic but has played more at wide receiver than as a conventional tight end over the past few years, so he has a raw skill-set. If he shows enough potential, perhaps he can land on the practice squad.
As noted, none of these players have the same kind of blocking credentials as Tomlinson, who was often tasked with handling defensive linemen last season. Hodges, Sterling and Leggett are all converted wide receivers that are still learning how to be effective blockers, and while Walford and Herndon have slightly better reputations as blockers, their film is still somewhat underwhelming for the most part.
Other potential contributors
The Jets have some flexibility at the position with wide receiver Quincy Enunwa having played part-time in an H-back role in Chan Gailey's system early in his career. Since the Jets are deep at wide receiver but appear likely not to be at tight end, employing Enunwa in such a role in certain packages might be one way they can get their best pass catchers on the field without becoming too predictable.
In addition, if Dimitri Flowers can win the starting fullback role, he's another player who can be employed in a number of different ways. At Oklahoma last year, Flowers saw plenty of reps as an H-back and even saw some action as an in-line tight end out of a three-point stance.
Another option available to the Jets would be have one -- or more -- of their back-up linemen as a tight end in jumbo packages. That's something the Jets have done over the past few seasons, albeit with mixed results. The likes of Brent Qvale, Dakota Dozier, Ben Ijalana and Jonotthan Harrison all saw reps as jumbo package tight ends at one time or another last year.
As a whole, this position is similar to the edge defender position for the Jets -- they lack established talent and are counting on a young player to step up and grab a role. If that pays off, they'll have themselves a low-cost contributor for the next few seasons. If not, there's always the option of scouring the waiver wire for an upgrade, but it seems more likely they'll give their most promising youngster a chance to develop on the job.