By Ryan Alfieri, Editor
As the Jets try to get Mark Sanchez back on track and revert back to their ground-and-pound offense that brought them to two straight AFC Championship games, the development of the tight end position is going to be pivotal in 2012.
Here is a breakdown of the tight ends currently on the Jets’ roster headed into training camp.
Projected Starter: Dustin Keller
Backup: Jeff Cumberland
Bubble Players: Hayden Smith, Tarren Lloyd, Dedrick Epps
Now in a contract year, Dustin Keller is coming off a season in which he was Sanchez’s favorite target, particularly in the red zone. Along with Jeff Cumberland, the Jets have a pair of tight ends that can make plays in the passing game.
While neither player is the mold of Rob Gronkowski or Jimmy Smith in terms of being physical freaks of nature, Keller is a borderline Pro Bowl-type player that can create mismatches and get open underneath. Retaining Keller after this season will be one of Mike Tannenbaum’s top priorities.
Cumberland showed promise as a receiver before suffering a season-ending injury against the Raiders. Dedrick Epps, a free agent out of Miami, is also in more of a receiving-mold of tight ends.
While Jets fans may celebrate the departure of oft-penalized Matthew Mulligan, he was the only proven blocking tight end on the Jets roster.
Hayden Smith, a converted Australian Rugby player, has the potential to be the long-term answer at the position, but this summer is his first time playing American football; it will take a considerable amount of time before the coaches are ready to put him in the middle of an NFL game.
Meanwhile, free agent Tarren Lloyd has all of the tools to become the answer as a third tight end this year. At 6’7″, 258 pounds, Lloyd could be exactly what they need at the position.
In addition to his massive size, Lloyd has great foot speed and was an integral part of Utah State’s dynamic rushing attack. However, he needs to get stronger in his upper body to move NFL defensive lineman around.
Position Grade: B-
While the Jets do have one player, Dustin Keller, that is among the best in the AFC at his position, this success of this unit is based on potential. With Keller in a contract year, hopefully the Jets can get the most out of Keller this year; while at the same time not being so dominant that he will be difficult to re-sign.
As training camp unfolds and the coaching staff gets a better grasp of how players like Lloyd and Smith will develop, there could be a few roster moves with this position in the coming weeks.