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Breaking Down The New York Jets' 2018 Draft Picks Not Named Sam Darnold: Chris Herndon, TE, Miami (Round 4, Pick 7)

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We’re officially close enough to the NFL season to start talking about it. You can taste it in the air when you wake up in the morning (if you’re homeless or sleep outside a lot), and you can feel it in your bones when you lay down to rest at night.

For us Jets fans, the feeling in our bones is a little more painful than most, because we’re stuck rooting for a usually-incompetent franchise that always seems to do just well enough to get our hopes up before they rip our hearts out. It is what it is. This is a new year and we’ve got a whole new crop of players around camp to get excited about.

All we’ve heard about since the draft has been about Sam Darnold out of USC, who fell into our lap after the teams ahead of us in the draft made some questionable decisions, and how much potential he has and what that could mean for the future of our franchise. Don’t get me wrong, having someone with his pedigree is exciting as hell and I really want to see him succeed, but I’ve seen this movie before. I know how it usually goes for us when we’re gifted someone as talented as Sam Darnold could be. I guess what I’m saying is I’ll believe it when I see it. As for the other guys we drafted? It’s completely safe and rational to get fired up over what type of potential they have in the greatest league on Earth. That’s what this is about.

I present to you a breakdown of all the guys the New York Jets drafted who aren’t named Sam Darnold, because it’s time to start getting excited about watching backups play in the NFL Preseason.

Nathan Shepherd Breakdown (Round 3, Pick 8)

Chris Herndon: Tight End, Miami, Round 4, Pick 7 (No. 107 overall)

Back at it again with the next breakdown of the Jets’ new rookies not named Sam Darnold. I will admit, early reports and the clips I’ve seen of Darnold slinging the rock around this week have me excited. But I’m also a loser who gets excited about Twitter clips from the first week of training camp. So I’m not gonna embarrass myself any further by blogging about it. We’re here to talk about Chris Herndon, the tight end the Jets drafted with the 7th pick of the 4th round in the 2018 NFL Draft.

At 6’4″ and a solid 255 lbs, Herndon kinda exists in that flex position in an NFL offense; someone who’s too big to get separation out wide against elite CBs but can be an absolute mismatch working out of the slot and up the seam against linebackers and smaller safeties.

Everything I’m hearing about Herndon so far from camp is that his knee looks to be healthy and he’s made a few highlight plays that left onlookers impressed to say the least. None of that should be surprising, other than maybe the wellbeing of his knee, as his 2017 season was cut short in the last game of the regular season when he suffered a torn MCL in his left knee which required surgery and a long, rehab-filled recovery. To hear that he’s even out there competing at all is good enough news as is.

The problem with all of that is that it’s looking more and more like off-the-field issues could ultimately keep Chris Herndon from being on the field and competing for playing time this season.

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On June 2nd at approximately 4:45 AM, Herndon was arrested for DUI after a highway crash during an early morning drive back to Florham Park where the Jets’ practice facility is. You can read the whole police report and news article here, or you can watch the two TMZ videos I found of him lying to the officers about how much wine he had previously consumed and then failing his field sobriety test in bizarre fashion. Not the best look for the young rookie to start his New York Jets career. I’m sure he has a good lawyer though.

In typical New York Jets fashion, the quality of play we’re gonna get from the TE position this year is gonna be almost completely dictated by how quickly Chris Herndon can develop into a legitimate pass-catching threat for whoever our QB is. And even then he’s gonna need to bulk up and improve his blocking if he wants to stay on the field long enough to really impact the game. Undoubtedly a tall task, but after diving face first into some of his game film and highlights, I don’t think it’s impossible.

I did my best to watch whole game footage as opposed to just highlight videos because obviously you’re only gonna see good shit in highlights and I want to bring you the fairest analysis of why this guy is gonna be a surefire star in the NFL the potential Chris Herndon has in the NFL. I also made these GIFs myself, no big deal.

Let’s start out with some of the question marks surrounding Herndon’s game. It’s easy to see his potential as a pass-catcher in the NFL but he’s gonna need to make some serious improvements as a blocker to really stick, and he’s now gonna be going against the best of the best defensive lineman and linebackers every snap.

In the clip above, Herndon is working against a defensive end from Syracuse, Brandon Berry, who is actually giving up around 15 lbs to Herndon (according to his listed measurements on the Syracuse Football roster). It’s a simple handoff out of the shotgun, with the frontside guard pulling around Herndon to attack the edge. All Herndon needs to do here is get his hips turned and control Berry long enough to let his RB get to the corner, which is exactly what he does. Certainly, it’s clear the DE pretty much dominates him from a physical standpoint, but Herndon moves his feet well enough and maintains good positioning, ultimately using Berry’s strength and momentum against him by pushing him past the ball carrier and away from the play.

I wanted to show this clip because although it highlights an obvious weakness in his game, especially given his size, it also shows Herndon as a football player who wants to get dirty and will hopefully be coachable and eager to improve as a blocker. At 6’4″ with apparently long arms, he has the frame to put on muscle mass as his career moves forward. It’s just a matter of how hard he’s willing to work.

Here’s another clip of him getting manhandled in a pass blocking situation, but showing enough grit and heart to stay with the play and keep his man away from the QB, leading to Malik Rosier escaping the pocket for a nice gain.

Same thing. Negative minded Jets fans will say he’s being manhandled by a guy listed at pretty much the same size as him and his form looks sloppy. But I see a guy who knows pass blocking isn’t one of his strengths and still busts his ass to keep his QB from getting buried. There isn’t a 4th round draft pick in NFL history that didn’t come into the league without obvious flaws. Chris Herndon is no different. It’s now up to the Jets’ coaching staff to fix this stuff and try to make him into a legitimate option at tight end in the future.

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Okay, now onto the positives.

Same play, different angle

Watching Chris Herndon work out of the slot against a linebacker and find some space in the middle of the field is a thing of beauty. He moves fluidly and isn’t afraid to get banged up in order to make a big catch. I’m sure his route running can use some tidying up, just like any receiver out of college. But the comfort he demonstrated game after game last season working up the seam and catching balls in traffic is definitely something worth getting excited about in a tight end prospect, especially one with his athleticism.

There is so much to get excited about in this clip. My first thought when I saw this play was that it reminded me of Quincy Enunwa and the way the Jets used him 2 seasons ago before he got hurt. In 2016, Enunwa was able to find a lot of success as a matchup problem out of the slot, using his size and sure hands to establish positioning on smaller DBs, while being fast enough to separate from LBs if the defense tried to control him that way.

Chris Herndon has about 2 inches and 30 lbs on Enunwa, but the similarities in the way they move after securing the ball is undeniable. In the NFL Combine prior to the 2014 NFL Draft, Quincy Enunwa ran a 4.45 40-yd dash, an impressive number for a receiver with his size. Chris Herndon did not run this past year at the Combine or the University of Miami Pro Day, but his game speed jumps off the screen. When you combine that with his size, it’s easy to think the Jets probably already have a lot of stuff in their playbook to take advantage of the skills a guy like Chris Herndon is packing in his lunchbox.

On this play, Herndon lines up in the slot matched up with a linebacker, giving him about an 8-yd cushion. Everything pre-snap looks like man defense with 2 safeties over the top, not exactly a defensive look that screams “force the ball into the seam”. But getting a LB matchup like that on Herndon is something I’m sure Miami was looking to exploit from the first snap of the game either way.

Even so, the defense breaks down when Herndon blows by his man on a seam route and is able to find a window in between the 2nd and 3rd levels of UNC’s secondary. That’s a play teams run in the NFL with a ton of frequency (think Rob Gronkowski and the Patriots) and Chris Herndon already has the skillset to be effective this way. I’ve come across some scouts who question his hands, saying he isn’t the most natural pass-catcher and has demonstrated lazy form, using his body to catch the ball as opposed to controlling it with his hands away from his body. But I’m not worried.

The Quincy Enunwa comparisons really started flowing as I watched him make that catch in traffic, stay on his feet and immediately run through a safety, then break away from the defense with ease on the way to a TD. Although this was a downfield pass, Miami loved using Herndon in the short passing game last year, where he’d have space in front of him and opportunities for YAC. Giving whoever ends up at QB in green and white a guy like Herndon who they can put all around the formation to take advantage of matchups and find with short passes, knowing he has the potential to break a tackle and turn it into a chunk play, will be extremely valuable.

Take a look at this TD vs. Virginia Tech

His athleticism is legit and I think that will really translate well in Jeremy Bates’ West Coast Offense. That’s a simple one-read pass from Malik Rosier, connecting with Chris Herndon on a 5-yd out route in a man-to-man matchup against the safety. NFL QBs make that throw with their eyes closed and the way Chris Herndon makes a tough catch, turns and evades the first tackler then finishes the play by exploding through and away from multiple members of the Virginia Tech secondary has to have Jeremy Bates and the rest of the Jets’ offensive coaching staff hiding raging erections.

I threw this one in as the last clip because I found myself watching it over and over, whispering “hell yes” under my breath. If watching that doesn’t make you want to go outside and dig a fucking hole or run Oklahoma drills against some dead trees, you’re probably not a Football Guy.

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I think this play is the perfect clip to demonstrate the type of touches Chris Herndon can and should be getting early on this season. Get him the ball in space as quickly as possible and let him use his athleticism to make plays. I can’t reiterate enough how important having a reliable pass-catcher at TE will be for Sam Darnold when he inevitably takes over under center; even the greats like Tom Brady have spent years excelling by understanding the value of using check downs and one-read passing plays to get rhythm and dictate the looks you’re getting from the defense.

Chris Herndon doesn’t need to show up this year and be Jimmy Graham or Rob Gronkowski. But if he can work his ass off and show improvement as a blocker and special teamer, I wouldn’t be shocked if he starts to get the larger chunk of TE reps with the 1st team guys by the end of preseason. Let him run quick routes against LBs and use his deceptive speed and athleticism to prove why he belongs in the league.

Just like Nathan Shepherd, who’s potential I broke down heading into Week 1 of the preseason yesterday, it’s gonna take some time for Herndon to develop and truly find his niche in the Jets’ offense. But when you take into consideration snagging him in the early-4th round and all the athleticism he displayed at The U, he has plenty of upside to get excited about.

Stay tuned for the next New York Jets 2018 Draft Pick Not Named Sam Darnold Breakdown. Preseason football is coming. It’s time to educate yourself and get ready for Week 1.