Anybody who watched a single snap of NFL football in the year 2019 knows that it was a rough year for the Jets offense — if we’re putting it nicely. The Adam Gase-led unit ranked last in offensive DVOA (defense-adjusted value over average), EPA (estimated points added), points per drive (1.23), yards per drive (22.9), and numerous other offensive statistics.
Much of the blame for those struggles has been lofted in the direction of the offensive line, and rightfully so. The Jets ranked near the bottom of the league in numerous metrics aimed to capture offensive line performance, as the unit was extremely detrimental to Sam Darnold, Le’Veon Bell, and the entire offense.
However, there is another position on the offensive side of the ball that was a humongous liability in 2019, yet has not received nearly enough criticism for the damage it caused. That would be the tight end position.
Ryan Griffin filled in decently for Chris Herndon as a pass-catcher, grabbing five touchdowns (most by a Jets tight end since Dustin Keller had five in 2011). However, the blocking output of he and the other two regularly-used Jets tight ends, Daniel Brown and Trevon Wesco, was utterly putrid.
Seen below are a variety of numbers related to each team’s tight end blocking performance in 2019. On the left are pass protection numbers, including pass-blocking snaps, pressures allowed, and pressure rate for each team’s tight end group. On the right is each team’s rushing performance on runs directed outside of the tight end, including yards per attempt, first down rate (percentage of carries for a first down), and yards before contact per attempt.
The Jets have by far the ugliest numbers on the list. In pass protection, Jets tight ends tied for the most pressures allowed (17) while giving up pressure on the fourth-highest rate of pass-blocking snaps (9.8%). With the offensive line a mess, the Jets relied on their tight ends to play the third-most pass-blocking snaps (173) of any team. They failed to pick up much slack, as the increased number of opportunities simply extrapolated their woefulness.
In the ground game, the Jets checked in as the worst-performing team by a wide margin. The Jets ranked last in yards per attempt (2.5), first down rate (13.1%), and yards before contact per attempt (0.3) on rushes directed outside of the tight end. They averaged league-lows of 13.1 yards per game and 0.7 first downs per game on such runs.
Let’s take a look at a few examples of poor blocking from the tight end position destroying the Jets offense.
Over the final three weeks of the season, Darnold took a pair of nearly unavoidable sacks courtesy of his tight ends. Brown was the culprit in Week 17. Brown (#87) lines up opposite Trent Murphy (#93) to Darnold’s right. A one-on-one with no help against an edge rusher is a tough matchup for any tight end, but all Brown should be expected to do here is provide just a bit of resistance against Murphy. Instead, Brown ducks his head and is easily disposed of with an effortless swipe by Murphy, who could barely have gotten to Darnold any quicker.
Wesco was guilty of a sack in Baltimore, leading to a fumble by Darnold. Similar to Brown in the above clip, Wesco (#85) draws a one-on-one matchup against an edge rusher (Tyus Bowser, #54) on the right side. Wesco oversets to the outside, allowing Bowser to slap away his left arm, rip underneath, and bend the corner with ease.
Griffin was a huge part of the Jets’ woes on the ground, regularly allowing defenders to meet Bell in the backfield. If you were wondering how the Jets could possibly arrive to such dismal rushing numbers in the chart above, these two plays are perfect examples. Watch Griffin (#84) on the right end in each clip. Both times, Kyle Van Noy (#53) beats him to the inside, leaving Bell with no options.
Tight end blocking is one of the most underrated facets of football, but in 2019, its value was brought into the limelight. The league’s two No. 1 seeds, the Ravens and 49ers, drew much-deserved attention back to the tight end blocking game with their dominance in that area. Nick Boyle, Hayden Hurst, and Mark Andrews bullied defenses on the regular as they lead Baltimore to numerous all-time rushing records. George Kittle’s punishing blocks went viral on a weekly basis, helping to power Raheem Mostert and Matt Breida to the top two spots in yards before contact per attempt.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, you have the New York Jets.
Getting higher quality blocking out of the tight end spot is one of many ways the Jets offense can take a step forward in 2020. The return of a healthy Chris Herndon (who developed into an average blocker as a rookie) would be a start, but given how atrocious the Jets were in this area, it would make sense for Joe Douglas to attack this weakness with an aggressive mindset and maximize the odds of improvement.
Later this week, I will be going over a few potential free agent options that could be of assistance to the Jets in this area — stay tuned.