Turning the clocks back to the 2018 NFL Draft, the New York Jets were on the clock for the first time on the third and final day. At this point, they had already drafted their franchise quarterback. Adding weapons for him, especially, at the tight end position would be a smart move. Despite my number one tight end, Ian Thomas from Indiana off the board, the Jets didn’t hesitate.
With the 107th overall pick of the 2018 NFL Draft, the New York Jets selected Chris Herndon from Miami (FL). It was a good move from the Jets because their leading tight end, Austin Seferian-Jenkins had 50 receptions but left the Jets for the Jacksonville Jaguars in free agency. That left the Jets with Eric Tomlinson who only eight career receptions
By adding Herndon, the Jets gained a player who had experience as an H-back and did well as an in-line blocker for the Hurricanes. His frame is solid at 6’4 and 253 pounds but where he checked in medically was his biggest concern. In November of 2017, he had season ending surgery on his MCL. That’s always a setback for players, but for Herndon, he’s starting to mold into a bright spot for the New York Jets offense. Let’s jump into some film and evaluate where he’s at in his rookie season:
Call me crazy but I really think we've got something with Sam Darnold and Chris Herndon. With some of the injuries with the Jets receivers, Herndon has a chance to prove himself. I think he did just that against the Vikings on Sunday. #Jets pic.twitter.com/9UgmIxMcQY
— Russell Brown (@RussNFLDraft) October 23, 2018
My evaluation on Chris Herndon didn’t start until the pitch and catch from above. Like always, I pick three or four games to re-watch over the week. The Jets and Vikings happened to be one of those games, and when I saw Herndon come away with this catch, the wheel in my head began to spin.
Sure enough, through seven games on the season, he’s not playing at an All-Pro level. But there’s a lot to be encouraged about with the small sample size from the 107th overall pick of the 2018 NFL Draft. Through seven games, Herndon only has 11 receptions, 145 yards, and two touchdowns. Against the Vikings, he had a standout game and there’s a lot to be excited about with the Chicago Bears, Miami Dolphins and Buffalo Bills on the schedule.
Post Route in the Red Zone
In week seven, the New York Jets used their tight ends several times within multiple tight end sets. Against the Minnesota Vikings, Sam Darnold had 42 pass attempts and their tight ends had 11 targets. In this game, Herndon had his lowest play count on the season, but he had the most productive game of his young career. Despite logging only 24 plays, he had 13 routes ran with six targets against the Vikings. Of those six targets, five of them were catchable, and he finished the game with three receptions for 33 yards and one touchdown.
On the play above, the Jets are aligned in ’13’ personnel (one running back and three tight ends). On the bottom of the screen is Robby Anderson (wide receiver #11) and aligned inside is Chris Herndon (tight end #89). Both of them run a post route to the end zone and Sam Danrold finds Chris Herndon for the touchdown.
This is a great look by the Jets and an even better ready from Sam Darnold. He fires this pass to Herndon once he makes his break to the post. With the single high safety look from the Vikings, Herndon can establish inside leverage on Harrison Phillips (#22) while the safety (George Iloka #23) is late coming over the top. More opportunities to run routes in the red zone for Herndon will only lead to more success in his development as a tight end in this league.
In the red zone, Sam Darnold is 16-for-28 for 134 yards with six touchdowns and one interception. Meanwhile, Chris Herndon has caught all three of his targets for 42 yards and one touchdown. These statistics are minimal compared to other players across the league. However, it shows promise for the rookie tight end and the rookie quarterback. In the early going, they’re establishing a connection that we could be talking about for years to come.
H-back Utilization with the Wheel Route
Not only do the New York Jets place Chris Herndon as the typical “in-line” tight end. They also align him as an H-back or in the slot.
With 40 receptions in his final season with the Hurricanes, it’s no surprise to see the Jets aligning Herndon as an H-back. Last season, he had experience running routes and catching passes as an H-back and that’s helping his transition to the NFL.
On the play above, you’ll notice Quincy Enunwa (wide receiver #11) at the top of the screen. With the cornerback playing off-coverage and Malik Hooker (safety #29) potentially coming over the top on Enunwa, he does a great job running vertical up the field but also hitting both defensive backs with a double move that clears the sideline for Chris Herndon on the wheel route.
As you can tell, Chris Herndon is aligned as the H-back with the Jets in ’13’ personnel (one running back and three tight ends). Once the ball is snapped, Herndon releases toward the sideline and runs the wheel route. As he gets up the field, Sam Darnold attacks the small opening that he has with Malik Hooker’s ability to close on the football.
The throw and ball placement from Sam Darnold on this play are fantastic. Don’t undersell the athletic ability from Chris Herndon, though. He does a great job getting up the field on the wheel route, while maintaining control along the sideline to then high-point the football. It’s evident that the Jets like to use Herndon as their pass catcher and despite a lower play percentage over the last two weeks, there’s still plenty to get excited about with him.
More Routes and Less Blocking
On the season, he’s played 241 snaps, and 101 of those snaps have been pass plays. Of those 101 pass play snaps, he’s run 80 routes. When the Jets are passing the football and Herndon is on the field, there’s just over a 79% chance that he’s going out for a pass. That’s a promising number but he’s still being utilized as a run blocker more than a pass catcher. Of his 241 snaps this year, he’s been a run blocker on 119 of those snaps. That makes him a run blocker on just over 49% of his snaps. Even though I love what the Jets are doing with Isaiah Crowell and Bilal Powell running the football, I urge them to start using Chris Herndon more in the passing game.
Over the last two weeks, the statistics are showing improvements for Chris Herndon. He’s had six receptions for 98 yards and two touchdowns. Quincy Enunwa has 42 targets on the season, but he’ll be sidelined for multiple weeks due to a high-ankle sprain and the team just waived Terrelle Pryor and his 22 targets. Despite signing wide receiver, Rishard Matthews, there isn’t much to get excited about with who their franchise quarterback has to throw the ball to. There is one connection that seems to be working, and that’s Darnold to Herndon. Feeding Herndon more often should be the goal moving forward.