Will Chris Herndon be the New York Jets’ X Factor?

Johnny Kinsley

The New York Jets are not a particularly loaded offense with the 2020 season just a short walk away, as the most promising players on the receiving corps are slot receiver Jamison Crowder and the talented but raw rookie Denzel Mims. Outside of those two, the team is lacking in trusted playmakers.

Combine that with the futility of head coach Adam Gase, and this is a disaster waiting to happen, or so it would seem.

In addition to an offensive line that (while not all that great) should be a leap forward from the 2019 edition, the unit is also seeing the return of fan-favorite tight end Chris Herndon, a fourth-round draft pick from the 2018 season. Herndon missed nearly all of the 2019 season due to a suspension for violating the league’s substance-abuse policy, and was placed on injury reverse after appearing in just one game.

However, Herndon still has all the promise in the world, as his rookie season was able to reveal. In said season, he caught 39 passes for 502 yards and four touchdowns, becoming a trusted target for fellow classmate Sam Darnold. That season had him notch down 74.2 fantasy points according to FantasyData’s metrics, good enough for TE15 on the year.

It’s impressive production from a day-three rookie tight end.

What’s especially interesting about Herndon is the praise he’s been bestowed upon by his teammates. Of course, these aren’t the most unbiased sources you’ll ever discover, but teammates such as Jamison Crowder believe he can become the X-factor in this Jets offense. Crowder even went so far as to compare Herndon to former teammate Jordan Reed, an insanely talented former Washington receiver.

That’s bold, perhaps warranted praise for a tight end who barely saw the light of day last season. With WR depth a major concern for the offense, that could be the key that unlocks Herndon’s door of potential, so the expectation is for him to have a more vast role in Gase’s offense.

Without further delay, let’s wind back the clock to 2018 and explore Herndon’s rookie season to see why Jets teammates have had nothing but rave reviews for him.

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Going back to Crowder’s comparison of Herndon to Jordan Reed, Reed was an exceptionally fluid athlete on the field, particularly during the 2015 and 2016 seasons. Reed had the ability after the catch of Golden Tate with the otherworldly ball skills at the catch point of Calvin Johnson, which is why it was so devastating when he suffered injury after injury during his time in Washington.

In this regard, Crowder’s parallel makes sense, as Herndon is an exceptionally gifted jump ball receiver. Getting to this example, Darnold is under intense pressure as he’s just barely able to launch this missile in the tight end’s wheelhouse. The ball floats in the air for what feels like two eternities, especially as Herndon initially struggles to reel it in. But with enough concentration, the ball eventually magnetizes into his grasp for a magical reception.

A self-inflicted penalty by the offense negated this play, but the remarkable effort on Herndon’s effort should still be commended. Now let’s get to plays that actually counted.

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As with the first clip, Darnold is under pressure coming from the interior, forcing him to backpedal a nudge and deliver some airmail to Herndon. The comparisons to Reed become less and less murky, and the 6’4″, 253-pound pass-catching freak claims another victim by baptizing the Giants linebacker on the tight end wheel route. Lined up as the H-back, Herndon’s concentration and aggressive frame get the job done in style, as this time no penalty can negate such a spectacular play.

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Now this is a hospital ball waiting to happen. Miraculously though, Herndon is able to avoid the dark realms of CTE and snatch this wide throw as if he were some sort of one-handed venus fly trap. Even making contact with this pass has to be respected, but through witchcraft, Herndon is able to secure and complete the process of a catch as he falls to the Metlife turf.

Again getting back to Reed, he made similar one-handed catches with a lesser version of Kirk Cousins back in the mid-2010s’, so we know by now his ball skills are extraordinary. And just to wind up Crowder’s comparison of the two, he mentioned how Herndon, like Reed, was “a bigger guy that can move like a smaller guy.”

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Crowder’s words do not ring hollow, as Herndon shares some of the same style after the catch as Reed did. He’s able to stop on a dime on the short route in the flat, making the defender in the area miss and have to retrace the location of his ankles. With that cut, Herndon is able to find a small, but wide enough lane that affords him just enough time to pick up a Jets first down.

Even though Jamison Crowder was not on the Jets in 2018, you could tell he at least took the effort to either study Chris Herndon’s rookie tape or pay close attention in training camp to see what many in the NFL circle and even in dynasty leagues are seeing. Playing in a big market such as the New York/Jersey area means secrets are meant to be heard, so there’s plenty of hype surrounding Herndon’s 2020 season.

And much of it is deserved. That’s not to say he’ll immediately become an All-Pro tight end on the level of George Kittle or Travis Kelce, but Herndon is a phenomenal receiving talent who possesses sometimes astounding ball skills. The Jets offense felt his loss hard in 2019, which makes his presence around his teammates all the more impressive. There should be no reason not to expect a larger role from the part of Herndon, who’s able to combine great concentration and adjustment at the catch point with some nifty movements after the catch.

For the casual dynasty owner, this is the under-the-radar potential stud you just might be searching for. In a Jets offense that lacks a proven WR1, Herndon could very well become the X factor if all the cards play right.

johnny kinsley