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The Jets selected tight end Chris Herndon with the first of their day three picks in the 2018 draft last month. Herndon, who went to college at Miami, was injured towards the end of the 2017 season, which may have prevented him from going earlier. The Jets scooped him up with the 107th overall pick and will be hoping he proves to be a bargain. Let's weigh up his likely role in 2018 before reviewing his strengths and weaknesses.
The Jets have two contributors left from last year's team in Eric Tomlinson and Neal Sterling. Tomlinson is easily the best blocker they have at tight end and figures to resume the role of blocking specialist next season. Sterling, a converted wide receiver, didn't play much until the last game of the season, but turned heads with a five catch, 74-yard performance.
They also added two players prior to the draft. Clive Walford is the most experienced tight end on the roster and probably the best option in terms of being able to contribute both as a blocker and a pass catcher. However, he fell out of favor in Oakland last year, so his spot isn't necessarily secure with all the youngsters nipping at his heels. Bucky Hodges is more of a long-shot.
Perhaps the most interesting player to contrast Herndon with is Jordan Leggett. The Jets drafted Leggett in the fifth round last year and he showed some flashes in preseason, but then hurt his knee and ended up missing the whole year. Have the Jets given up on Leggett or do they see him and Herndon as two good young pieces to build their offense around?
When making a comparison between Leggett and Herndon, it initially seems that more similarities than differences arise the more research and film study you carry out. They're basically the same size, profile similarly from an athletic standpoint, and their respective roles in their final year at college were also comparable. Knee issues are also something they share.
There are some differences though, which suggest that they could both yet contribute next season, in distinct roles. Leggett is more of a downfield threat with superior agility numbers, while Herndon is more explosive, which makes him more of a threat after the catch.
It's possible they could play together with Herndon being the "Y" or inline tight end and Leggett as the "F" or "move" tight end. Herndon played the majority of his snaps as a more conventional tight end in 2015 and 2016 and only transitioned into more of a slot-based role after David Njoku left for the NFL before the 2017 season. It's therefore possible they could have plans for each of them, although it could just as easily be a case of the Jets doubling-up on young tight ends with the hope that one of them steps up.
That 2017 season was easily Herndon's most productive, though. In fact, had he not missed the last few games after injuring his knee, he might have surpassed Leggett's career-best of 46 receptions.
However, watching his footage from last season shows that a lot of Herndon's production was simply catching passes underneath or in the flat and then picking up 6-8 yards after the catch. While this padded his stats and produced positive plays for the offense, he doesn't show as much as Leggett in terms of beating his man or creating separation and his numbers were nowhere near as good in terms of yardage and touchdowns.
With Leggett's more dynamic downfield abilities, he could complement Herndon well if the rookie can generate positive outcomes as more of a safety valve-type.
Of the two, Herndon is the more consistent blocker. Each showed improvements in their final year at college, but Leggett went from actively bad to barely competent while Herndon developed his efficiency. Herndon's improved grades might merely be a by-product of playing almost twice as many of his reps in the slot rather than in-line, but he has flashed an ability to set the edge and hold up at the point of attack.
If it comes down to one roster spot between the two of them, Herndon's intangibles might stand him in good stead over Leggett, who has had attitude questions in his past, although his college coaches have said he had matured and managed to overcome these issues by the time he left school.
Ultimately, Herndon seems like a player who might not have elite potential but should have an NFL future as long as he can get healthy. From the sounds of it, he could be good to go by OTAs, which is important because he can't afford to lose ground in what figures to be a crowded competition.