It is increasingly clear that the New York Jets are desperate for a blocking tight end. The organization has come out and said they are actively looking. After the departure of Brian Schottenheimer, the Jets came to their senses and released the penalty machine known as Matthew Mulligan. The problem with doing this is they lost their blocking tight end. Still in the end Jets fans view this as addition by subtraction. The search must start now in order for the Jets to give a player the most experience with the team. There are currently six tight ends on the roster and it is unclear if any of them could block at an NFL level. It is unknown at this point how many tight ends the Jets will carry in the upcoming season, but based on the current depth chart there is a gaping hole that could affect the team as a whole. If the team is missing a blocking tight end the running game turns from “ground and pound” into “three yards and down.”
The Jets are a team that have athletic tight ends with great skills but do not necessarily fit the role of tight end. Dustin Keller is 6’2”/250lbs who is considered to be a glorified wide receiver by most people. Keller has soft hands pulling in 65 receptions for 815 yards and 5 touchdowns last year. He is Mark Sanchez’s security blanket and a focal point of the offense. A tight end that averaged 12.5 YPC is a very good option to have.
Jeff Cumberland is the one player currently on the roster who actually fits the mold of a tight end. He is 6-4/260lbs but just like Keller he is a receiving tight end. Cumberland will be a great second string tight end if he can stay healthy this year. Based on the flashes of talent he showed before going down with an Achilles injury Sparano will have another weapon for the two tight end sets.
Josh Baker is a player who is a hybrid which makes him valuable to the team. He plays both tight end and fullback which in all accounts should make him a great blocking tight end. Hopefully the Jets can see the connection and mold him into the blocking tight end the team drastically needs. As of now Baker is the 2nd string fullback behind John Conner and arguably the 3rd string tight end behind Keller and Cumberland.
Everyone is searching for the next Antonio Gates after seeing his success with the Chargers. Teams are beginning to reach for players who exceled at other sports besides football. The Jets version of Antonio Gates is a man by the name of Hayden Smith. Smith was an Australian rugby player and D-II basketball player with amazing size and plenty of upside. He is 6’7”/240lbs which would be great in the red zone, possibly in packages with Tim Tebow. Mark Sanchez has Keller as a security blanket and fans could see Smith doing the same for Tebow based on the current depth chart.
The best blocking tight end on the roster is probably Tarren Lloyd a rookie from Utah State. Lloyd is an UDFA with only 16 college starts blocking for running back Robert Turbin and Michael Smith. The odds of the Jets rolling the dice with an unproven UDFA is slim to none.
The last tight end who is on the roster is one who will have to surprise and perform at a perfect level to get a spot on this team. He is a Dedrick Epps a 7th round pick of the Miami Dolphins in 2010. He is 6’3”/250lbs which is very similar to Josh Baker. It is hard to see the team keeping two men that are so similar on the roster at the same position. The fact that Epps has no receiving stats since coming into the league also does not help his cause.
The odds are the Jets will sign a blocking tight end in the near future. There is a list of five players that could possibly fill that role for the Jets.
1) Daniel Graham who is currently a free agent has been in the league since 2002. Graham is a veteran who knows how to block after doing it for the Patriots, Broncos, and Titans. His salary last year was $2 million dollars so that price tag would have to go down for the Jets to bite. He would instantly upgrade the position and is definitely worth a look. The only downside with Graham would be his age and possibly his salary if he refuses to reduce it. Analysis: If Graham comes to the New York Jets it ends all hope of Dedrick Epps and Tarren Lloyd cracking the roster. The depth chart would be Keller, Cumberland, Graham, Smith. Josh Baker would play more fullback than tight end if this signing happened aswell.
2) Anthony Fasano is name that has been floating around the league as a player that may be released. A new coaching staff means new mindsets and it seems as if Fasano doesn’t fit the new mold in Miami. He is 6’4”/255lbs who can not only block but also has over 2,000 yards and 19 touchdowns in six seasons. If Fasano is released the odds of the Jets signing him will be better than most teams based on Tony Sparano being the new Offensive Coordinator. Fasano is also from New Jersey so if he gets released expect him to be wearing green and white. The downside with Fasano is the fact that he is not a free agent yet and could never be released. Analysis: If Fasano is released and signed by the New York Jets the two tight end set will instantly be dangerous. Fasano can block and catch which makes him a threat. Keller lacks blocking skills but excels at receiving, so the two players may be able to help eachother out respectively. Much like with Graham, Epps and Lloyd would be left off the roster and Cumberland would move to thrid string. Depth chart would be Keller, Fasano, Cumberland, Smith with Baker playing 2nd string fullback/tight end hybrid.
3) Visanthe Shiancoe is a player that may over value himself which would be problematic for the Jets. Reports surfaced that he turned down a $1.2 million dollar contract from the Seattle Seahawks which is most likely more than the Jets would be willing to pay. Shiancoe is a good blocker but also a good receiver at 6’4”/250lbs. His career started off very slowly with the New York Giants but he resurrected his career with the Minnesota Vikings. It raises the question if he is a system player or can he bring his talents to another team? Analysis: This signing is not likely based on how Visanthe overvalues himself. The Jets like to conserve money and would not waste it on a tightend who receives more than he blocks. If the signing did occur yet again Epps and Lloyd would be dismissed.
4) Billy Bajema is a pure blocking tight end who has played for the 49ers and Rams. He is 6’4”/256lbs and his skills may be just what the Jets need. The Jets do not require another receiving tight end on the roster so a blocking specialist is vital for this team to move forward. He is a not a big name that will make headlines or sell tickets but if he can perform at a position with such a gaping hole, he will be a fan favorite. Analysis: If the Jets sign Bajema the blocking tight end is immediately upgraded and could eventually be fixed. Lloyd would not be needed on the roster to block and Epps would have to be perfect to stay on as a receiving tight end. Josh Baker would most likely stay in the same position playing both roles. This could also limit Epps chances of making the squad.
5) Anthony Hill is 6’6”/277lbs of pure blocking talent. He was the 4th round pick of the Texans in 2009 coming from N.C State. If given the right system there is a chance that Hill can prosper and be somewhat of a wrecking ball. Hill has the measurements to play the position but there has to be reasons why he cannot stick on a team. Analysis: Hill would be the cheapest option listed and if the Jets are thinking about money an salary cap they may go this road. He is unproven an could be a bandaid in the long run so money may need to be spent here.
There are many other options that the Jets can look at if the above players do not land on the roster. There will be many players cut and the group will grow even more. Former Jets tight end Rob Myers, or even UDFA George Bryan could be an option as a camp body. Many fans are mentioning Bo Scaife as an option, but anyone who lasts 11 days on a roster due to conditioning issues is most likely done in the NFL.
Overrall Analysis: If the Jets truly want to upgrade the tight end position three men listed above need to be valued higher than others. If they could get Anthony Fasano he needs to be the number on option without questions. Him and Keller would obviously not be Gronkowski and Hernandez but still the pairing would be legit. Second player that needs to be called is between Daniel Graham and Billy Bajema. Both are great blockers and would be a great addition. The decision would have to come down to experience and money. Graham has more experience, Bajema would be cheaper. The other players listed above would be temporary fixes. It is unknown if the Jets are looking for shortterm or longterm answers to the problem. If they intend on drafting a blocking tight end early in the draft next year then it changes everything. In a perfect world the opening day roster would be Keller, Fasano, Cumberland, Smith. In order to keep a hybrid player on the roster Conner and Baker at fullback would be ideal. Epps and Lloyd realistically have little chance to crack the roster but who isnt a fan of a Cinderella story?