Jets hoping Chris Herndon can regain rookie season form

Part five in a series analyzing the New York Jets.

The Jets had high expectations for Chris Herndon entering last season. Herndon was coming off a strong rookie season when he showed strong chemistry with fellow rookie Sam Darnold. Jets coach Adam Gase called him a “unicorn” because of all the things he could do.

Then, he played in just one game and had one catch.

A suspension followed by a hamstring injury then a season-ending broken rib led to a lost year for Herndon. Now, those expectations have returned. Herndon is healthy and expected to contribute as soon as the season starts. He could be a key cog in the offense in 2020.

“I think everyone can agree that we were all excited to see what he could do going into last year,” Gase said recently. “We felt good about so many things, and it just didn’t work out with the suspension and the injury. Then we finally get him on the field and he played like [18] plays. He’s a guy that we’re excited to get back and can’t really wait to get going. And see how he’ll fit in with everything.”

Herndon could be a major addition for Darnold. When people talk about the Jets’ weapons, they often focus on the wide receivers, where there are holes. But the tight ends could be a strength of this team.

The benefit of Herndon missing time was it created opportunities for the other tight ends on the roster. Ryan Griffin took advantage of his chance. Signed just before training camp, Griffin became Darnold’s favorite target for a stretch in the middle of the season. He had 34 catches for 320 yards and five touchdowns before his season ended in December with an ankle injury that required surgery.

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Before the injury, the Jets signed Griffin to a three-year extension, a sign of how pleased they were with his play. Now, they hope Herndon and Griffin can form a 1-2 punch for Darnold and open things up for others in the offense.

Herndon can also help the rushing attack. He proved himself to be a good blocker as a rookie. The Jets missed that element with him sidelined last year.

The Jets brought back Daniel Brown and Trevon Wesco is entering his second season in the NFL — both can be strong backups to Herndon and Griffin and are strong blockers. Wesco made a few key plays late last season, including running for a first down as a fullback.

I would expect to see Wesco used more as a fullback in 2020. It seemed to be something that worked late in the year and might be a way to get more production out of Le’Veon Bell. Gase is not a coach who believes in carrying a fullback on the roster, but Wesco’s versatility can help him get playing time and help a running game that was nonexistent last year.

With a healthy Herndon and Griffin, the tight end position looks like one of the strongest on the Jets this season.

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