Last season was yet another tough one for the New York Jets, which missed the playoffs for an 11th straight year and posted a non-winning record for the 10th time during that stretch. There was a lot of overhauling heading into 2021, including the hiring of new head coach Robert Saleh, and the drafting of quarterback Zach Wilson, and the work has continued this offseason as well.
One of the focal points has been surrounding Wilson with more talent, and to that end the Jets spent a first-round pick on wide receiver Garrett Wilson, and a second-rounder on running back Breece Hall. The team also handed out money in free agency to address the tight end position by signing C.J. Uzomah (Cincinnati Bengals) to a three-year, $24 million deal, and Tyler Conklin (Minnesota Vikings) to a three-year, $20.3 million contract.
That’s a significant financial commitment from the front office, but given how little the team received from the position last season it seems warranted. In 2021, now-Chicago Bears tight end Ryan Griffin led the group with a 27-261-2 line; those 27 catches were good for eighth on the club. Tyler Kroft, now with the San Francisco 49ers, finished behind Griffin with 16 catches, 173 yards, and a score. Expect the tandem of Uzomah and Conklin to far exceed what their counterparts produced.
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After a torn Achilles’ cost him nearly all of 2020, Uzomah returned to post career bests in receptions (49), yards (493), and TDs (five) while helping the Bengals to their first Super Bowl berth since 1988. It was an uneven ride statistically for the veteran, however, as he topped 50 yards receiving in a game just three times the entire season, and all five of his scores came before the calendar turned to November. In fact, most of his production came in two games: Week 4 against the Jacksonville Jaguars (5-95-2), and Week 7 versus the Baltimore Ravens (3-91-2).
Already entering his eighth season in the NFL, Uzomah operated as an afterthought for most defenses with the focus being on the Bengals’ receiving trio of Ja’Marr Chase, Tee Higgins, and Tyler Boyd. With the Jets unable to match that talent, Uzomah could draw more attention both from opposing defenses and his own QB, so we’ll see how that comes out in the wash.
Relegated to third-string status over his first three NFL campaigns, Conklin was thrust into an expanded role last season when Kyle Rudolph (Tampa Bay Buccaneers) departed in free agency and Irv Smith Jr. missed the entire year due to injury. Conklin responded with 61 receptions, 593 yards, and three TDs, all of which landed in the Vikings’ top five. Despite that, and a reported desire to return, Conklin was not re-signed by Minnesota and instead will be counted on to help a young quarterback develop.
While Uzomah landed the bigger payday, Conklin is two years younger and was a much steadier producer a season ago, proving to be a reliable underneath target for Kirk Cousins, which is exactly the kind of thing young quarterbacks benefit from having. Entering his age-27 campaign, Conklin may still have another level to elevate his game.
Fantasy football outlook
There’s a decent amount to like about both Uzomah and Conklin … individually. They’re bound to siphon each other’s usage from week to week, however, and since neither has any history with Wilson to draw on, we won’t know who the young triggerman will lean on until he starts doing it. As such, it’d be best to adopt a wait-and-see approach with this situation. Add both players to your watch list, but don’t select either of them on draft day.