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Positional analysis: Tight end

2/10/2011

This is part three in our daily, position-by-position breakdown of the Jets' roster. Tomorrow: Quarterback.

Focus: Tight end.

Depth chart: Dustin Keller, Ben Hartsock, Matthew Mulligan, Jeff Cumberland.

Expiring contracts: None.

Rear-view mirror: The thing you have to like about Keller is that he improves every year. He recorded career highs in catches (55), yards (687), average per catch (12.5), YAC (4.4) and touchdowns (five). Also, he's no longer a liability as a blocker. The coaches trust him enough to use him as an in-line tight end in two-tight end packages. Keller is well on his way to becoming one of the best in the league, although he's far from a finished product. He dropped seven passes out of 101 "targets," and that's simply too many wasted opportunities.

It was an odd season for Keller, almost like three seasons in one: Dominant over the first four games (five touchdowns), invisible to ordinary over the final 12 (zero touchdowns) and a key factor in the playoffs. Perhaps not coincidentally, his production started to slip when WR Santonio Holmes returned from his suspension in Week 5. Ben Hartsock was a solid No. 2, especially during the homestretch. In fact, he played about 43 percent of the snaps in the postseason, as the offense used more two-tight end packages. Sometimes, Hartsock was used as the only tight end, as Keller's playing time dipped slightly in the postseason.

Numbers game: Keller led the team with 55 receptions. You have to go back, back, back to 1985 to find the last time a tight end (Mickey Shuler) led the team in that category ... Hartsock was on the field for more than 300 snaps in the regular season, yet he was targeted only three times (one completion).

Crystal ball: Things are looking good for 2011. Keller and Hartsock form a solid, complementary tandem, with Cumberland set to replace Mulligan as the No. 3. Cumberland, whose rookie season will be remembered for his role in the Sal Alosi "wall," is a receiver in a tight end's body. He has to improve as a blocker, which would enable him to go to the games as a special-teams contributor. GM Mike Tannenbaum has done a nice job of stocking this position.

Hot Seat: Mulligan. He's a solid special teams player, but if Cumberland continues to develop, he'll be looking for work.

Position rating (scale of 1 to 10): 8.5