Part IV of our training-camp preview:
Unit: Tight Ends
Depth Chart: Dustin Keller, Ben Hartsock, Matthew Mulligan, Jeff Cumberland
On the Bubble: Mulligan, Cumberland.
Player to Watch: Keller. He showed in the playoffs what he can do. Now for the other 16 games …
Wild Card: Cumberland. At 6-5, 255, he makes the all-lobby team. A rookie free agent from Illinois, he’s an overgrown wide receiver with some catch-and-run ability.
Analysis: Dustin Keller, entering his third year, is predicting a breakout season. He definitely has the raw talent as a receiver, but it’s going to be fascinating to see how his role evolves. Two schools of thought: He could be the beneficiary of the improved receiving corps, drawing favorable matchups over the middle as defenses load up on the perimeter. Or … he’ll never see the ball, as Mark Sanchez tries to keep his wideouts happy, feeding them the ball and ignoring Keller.
Keller must develop more consistency. Playing about 80% of the offensive snaps last season, he dropped five of the 78 balls thrown to him, according to ProFootballFocus.com – and that’s not a great ratio. For some reason, he and Sanchez didn’t start connecting until late in the year. Only 58% of the passes to him were completions, too low for a tight end. Look for Keller to be moved around the formation, as coordinator Brian Schottenheimer tries to keep defenses off-balance.
Ben Hartsock missed nearly the entire spring with a hamstring injury, so health should be the No. 1 item on his priority list. Most fans remember his killer penalties, but he was an important cog in the running game. Unless Matthew Mulligan or Jeff Cumberland jumps out in the preseason, the Jets probably will keep only two tight ends. Remember, they use backup OT Wayne Hunter in two- and three-tight end packages. Sometimes he was used as the only tight end. Cumberland looks like a candidate for the practice squad. Mulligan is trying to help his chances by learning to long snap.