Hackin’ the NYJ by Nolan Hack: The Tight Ends
In terms of raw talent, the tight end core may be the weakest part of the New York Jets offense. The Jets will sorely miss Dustin Keller this season. As inconsistent as Keller was, he's far and away a better option than anyone on this Jets roster.
The newest part of the Jets tight end group is Kellen Winslow. Winslow was limited to one game and one catch in 2012. Winslow is not the dynamic pro bowl player he once was. The former Miami Hurricane also has a long injury history and the Jets may have him on a snap count during the season, but he can help the Jets in the short field. He'll be a chain-mover and be a safety valve for whoever the Jets quarterback is.
Although Winslow is the best tight end on the roster, the numbers says he's not the most explosive one. Jeff Cumberland averaged more yards per catch last season than Winslow has in any year, going all the way back to 2007. Cumberland may in fact start for the Jets this season. But Cumberland is not a tight end you want on the field all that often. Even with his 6-4/260 pound frame, he leaves a lot to be desired as a blocker. There were times last year that the Jets coaching staff trusted former rugby player Hayden Smith more as a blocking tight end than Cumberland.
Smith is already 28 years of age and has a mountain of knowledge to learn about the game of football. I think the best option for the Jets is if they turn Smith into a blocking specialist, similar to former Vikings tight end Jim Kleinsasser. Kleinsasser was a guy who brought a hard-nosed mentality, which Smith already has, to help protect the quarterback and assist in creating holes for the running backs. He was also used in a limited pass catching role. The Jets could have Smith leak out in the short field and then use his rough and tumble rugby skills to run over defenders, after the catch. All that being said, it's anyone's guess how far Smith will come along and how the Jets will be able and want to use him.
Cumberland does have some skills as a pass catcher. He's able to power through initial contact in a crowd and keep his route going. He can beat zone coverage down the field and Cumberland had as many 20 yard receptions (6) as Keller did last year.
Blocking will be a problem for this group. Winslow has never been a guy to be counted on as a blocker. Cumberland blocks like a player who's much smaller than 260 pounds. Meanwhile, Smith is very raw as a blocker but there is potential with him, due to his strength and physicality.
Like the quarterback position for the Jets, none of these players would start for most NFL teams. I was surprised the Jets didn't address the tight end spot in the draft. Especially since they had two first round picks and stud prospect Tyler Eifert was available. I expect the Jets to address the position and try to upgrade it next off-season. In the meantime, the Jets will try to get the most out of this underwhelming group.