Jets TE Chris Herndon Set for Breakout Campaign in 2021


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Tight end Chris Herndon of the New York Jets lining up pre-snap.

Chris Herndon stockholders witnessed a surprising plummet this past season.

The fourth-year tight end seemed on the precipice of a breakout campaign, but instead, he imploded.

According to Pro Football Reference, Herndon played in 16 games in 2020 for the New York Jets, but if you looked at the stats you wouldn’t have believed it.

He finished with 31 receptions for 287 yards and three touchdowns. Among tight ends that played a full season last year, Herndon ranked 15th in receiving yards per game.

Despite the horrific season last year, Herndon is still in a perfect position to maximize his talents in 2021.


New Coaching Staff Provides Optimism

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Under the reign of former Jets head coach Adam Gase, Herndon’s impact was marginalized by questionable coaching decisions.

If it seemed like Gase never targeted the tight end last season, it’s because he didn’t.

According to Sharp Football Stats, the Jets targeted the tight end position with 13 percent of their total pass attempts in 2020. That ranked 30th in the NFL, only above the New England Patriots and the Carolina Panthers.

This offseason the Jets hired Mike LaFleur as their new offensive coordinator. He will bring over the principles from the Kyle Shanahan coaching tree and more specifically the San Francisco 49ers system.

Using those same statistics, the 49ers were above the league average (21 percent) targeting the tight end position. San Fran targeted their tight ends with 144 of their total passing attempts which translates to 24 percent of their offensive pie. That was the seventh highest in the NFL last year.

Purely based on those numbers, Herndon should have plenty of opportunities in this new-look Jets offense. It’ll be up to him to take advantage of it.


Jets Upgraded the Rest of the Offense

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The Jets gave their offense a complete overhaul this offseason.

At wide receiver, they added veteran Corey Davis, an exciting rookie in Elijah Moore out of Ole Miss, and they still have second-year stud, Denzel Mims.

In the trenches, Gang Green added some prime rib in the form of Alijah Vera-Tucker formerly of USC. He’ll plug in at left guard to pair along with budding star Mekhi Becton.

Of course, the biggest addition was at the quarterback spot. Out with the old (Sam Darnold) in with the new (Zach Wilson).

Although the addition the Jets didn’t make is the one that is the most interesting.

New York had 10 selections in the 2021 NFL draft, despite multiple opportunities, the team resisted taking a single tight end in this class. What does that mean?

The Jets strongly believe in Herndon having a bounceback season in 2021. He’s one of the biggest indirect winners of the draft.

Another interesting side effect from the green and white adding so many weapons is Herndon doesn’t have to be THE guy on offense. Opposing defenses are going to be worried about everyone else, which should open up a lot of favorable matchups for the former Miami product.


Intruiging Contract Status

This is a win-win scenario for the Jets.

Herndon is only counting $2.3 million against the cap in 2020. If you go through the offseason and he’s still showing those bad signs from last year, you can move on ahead of final roster cuts. The Jets would only eat $167,000 in dead money if they chose to go that route, per Spotrac.

While on Herndon’s side of things, he has all the motivation in the world to make 2021 a career season.

He’s entering the last year of his rookie contract and is set to be an unrestricted free agent in 2022. If Herndon blows up this year, he’ll get a fat extension from the Jets. If not, he’ll be looking for a new home next spring.


A Sign of Things To Come?

 

While the 2020 season was underwhelming, the last three games showed he still has something in the tank. Herndon had 14 receptions for 145 yards and a pair of touchdowns during that stretch.

Fans and media have been dazzled by his one-handed highlight-reel catches. The potential and talent are obvious, but this is his final opportunity to put it all together.

With the new coaching, improved talent, and proper motivation it’s the perfect storm for a breakout campaign next season.