Over the next course of this month, we've been reviewing each of the Jets' draft picks in detail. Today, we move on to look at tight end Chris Herndon.
Herndon is 22 and and listed at 6'4" and 253 pounds. He caught 86 passes in three seasons with the Miami Hurricanes and was selected by the Jets with the 107th overall pick in the fourth round.
Herndon was recruited to Miami in 2014 and played in three games as a true freshman, although he did not record any statistics.
Over the next three seasons, his role increased each year as did his production as a pass catcher. In all, he caught 86 passes for over 1,000 yards and seven touchdowns, with career-bests of 40 catches, 477 yards and four touchdowns in his senior year.
Herndon recorded those numbers despite missing the last couple of games with a knee injury that limited him during the pre-draft process. He attended the combine but could not manage a full workout. However, he was able to do more at his pro day.
The Jets selected Herndon with their first pick of day three, but he was limited to just doing individual drills at rookie camp.
Let's take a look at what Herndon brings to the table based on in-depth research and film study.
Significantly, Herndon's role changed in 2017 after David Njoku graduated to the NFL. This led to more statistical production from Herndon but he wasn't necessarily any more impressive in that role.
Prior to 2017, he had only been lining up in the slot about one-third of the time, whereas he did it two-thirds of the time in 2017.
He can handle reps inline or on the tackle's shoulder, as well as occasionally lining up in the backfield or out wide. In fact, in 2015, he was officially listed as a fullback/H-back.
Due to his knee injury, Herndon was only able to participate in the bench press at the combine. As you can see, his strength and size are adequate but nothing special:
At his pro day, Herndon - presumably still slowed by the knee issue - opted not to run the 40 and posted below average agility times. However, his vertical and broad jump were slightly above average.
Despite being considered a good athlete, Herndon hasn't really been used to stretch the defense much in his college career. He's had at least one play of over 45 yards in each season but mostly due to running after the catch.
Here was the longest play of his career, as he went down the seam and then span away from a couple of tacklers down the field:
Mostly, though, he's been an underneath option. Only 14 of his 86 career catches have been made more than 10 yards past the line of scrimmage and he actually caught 17 of his 40 receptions last season behind the line of scrimmage.
He's never had a hundred-yard game in college, with the only time he really got close being a game against Syracuse last year where he caught 10 passes for 96 yards.
Nevertheless, scouting reports indicate that he could develop into more of a downfield threat in the pros and that he'll be used more in that way at the NFL level.
Herndon doesn't show much capability of winning one-on-one match-ups and getting separation in his game film. The majority of his production comes from catching passes in the flat or turning upfield and then looking back for the ball underneath.
Where required to make a sharp break, he doesn't seem to have much success and looks like he'll need to season his route running abilities to produce at the next level.
Here's a play where he runs an over route and makes the catch with the defender trailing him. This type of route suits him because he can use his speed to get separation rather than having to deceive the defender or get him off balance:
Herndon has small hands but his catch rate is pretty good at 70 percent. However, that mostly seems to be a product of him catching so many easy dump-offs. He seems to be a natural enough pass-catcher but his hands can let him down at times:
Here's a rare example of him making a catch in traffic. Generally, there aren't too many examples of him making spectacular or contested grabs on his highlight reel:
He has had one career fumble on offense.
Yards after the catch
Herndon's ability to create yardage after the catch might be his best attribute at this stage of his development. That's probably part of the reason why he gets so many of these dump-offs. Despite being only 17th in the nation for receiving yards by FBS tight ends, Herndon was 2nd in yards after the catch - with the only player ahead of him being Jaylen Samuels, who isn't really a tight end.
While not especially elusive, Herndon can break tackles and drive a pile. It's a good bet that dumping it to him in the flat or underneath is going to get you 6-to-8 yards so he can generate plenty of production from such plays, in much the same way as Chris Baker used to for the Jets. In fact, they profile similarly athletically too.
One of Miami's go-to plays was to line three receiver up on the same side and dump the ball to the inside slot man (which would be Herndon) so that the two outside guys could block for him. Here, they ran it to the left and then to the right on the very next play:
In a game against Georgia Tech, they were down by two late in the fourth quarter and ran the same play to good effect three straight times, this time all on the left side. That took Miami from their own 37 to the Yellow Jackets' 34 yard line and they went on to kick the field goal to win.
Such plays are an effective extension of a team's running game, which is a core concept of west coast-style offenses. Could Herndon be the tight end version of Jarvis Landry?
Here's more of Herndon creating yardage after the catch, this time on a more conventional route out to the flat:
Herndon's inability so far to show an ability to get separation in tight areas or go up over a defender to make a catch limit him as a red zone threat. He only had seven touchdowns in college with about half of these not in the red zone anyway. That's in contrast to Jordan Leggett, who scored 18 touchdowns at Clemson.
Last season, Herndon had two touchdowns in the red zone, one as he lined up at fullback on a short yardage play and leaked out into the flat and the other on this play where he found a gap in zone coverage:
Herndon earned himself extra playing time in his sophomore and junior years by virtue of being considered a better blocker than Njoku at that time. However, Njoku was very raw as a blocker, so that doesn't necessarily mean Herndon's blocking is at an NFL level.
Scouting reports praise his willingness to block but he still seems somewhat raw technically in terms of his hand placement and control and can be prone to errors like this:
However, he's a willing blocker, who takes good angles and can be effective setting the edge and holding up at the point of attack:
Herndon did make some encouraging improvements over the last year or so though. One constant issue that he has obviously been aware of was that he would lean into his blocks and be at risk of overbalancing. NFL players would exploit that by giving ground and then blowing past him, but he seems to have corrected it to some extent.
His consistency seemed to be improved too, although maybe that was a by-product of the fact he was in the slot more so was generally matched up with guys who were smaller than him, having had to block bigger players in the past.
Herndon has had plenty of experience of pass protecting, with over 130 pass block snaps in the past two years. In that time, he hasn't given up a sack and has only given up a few pressures.
Here was one play where he let his man get off his block to the inside to create a pressure:
Herndon is a very physical runner and shows a willingness to block, but he really needs to improve his physicality as a route runner. He doesn't use his frame to box out defenders like he should and is not always strong at the top of his route or the point of the catch.
Herndon's main contributions on special teams have come as a blocker on the return units. He's done a decent job in this role. He was on the field for the miracle play against Duke where Miami threw eight laterals before scoring the winning touchdown.
They also positioned him to be a primary recipient of onside kicks and he did field one to ice a win. However, he botched this one and was lucky that his teammate rescued it:
Herndon didn't seem to blow many assignments in college and played with good discipline as he only had one penalty in his last two seasons and none last year.
He had three penalties as a sophomore, including one false start and one offensive pass interference call for blocking his man too early.
Herndon's head coach Mark Richt said Herndon was a huge loss for the team when he went down with his knee injury last year. He described him as a warrior and said that he had been a leader for them, on and off the field.
He has no apparent character concerns or red flags.
Herndon's knee injury - an MCL tear that required surgery - reportedly had teams concerned about his long-term viability, but presumably he checked out okay at the combine and his pro day workout will have relaxed those fears.
He didn't miss any other time through injury in college, but was slowed by a sore shoulder during the 2017 season.
The Jets already signed one former Miami Hurricanes tight end this year, so they obviously feel that players from that system can make the transition. Clive Walford was a teammate of Herndon's in his true freshman season, although Herndon barely played that year.
Herndon's best chance of contributing might be in the slot as he develops his technique and strength to hold his own while handling an inline role. However, there is more competition for reps there so it will be interesting to see how the Jets opt to use him.
Herndon looks the part and the belief in NFL circles is that he belongs in the league and should have a future at the pro level. However, his film reveals a lot of rawness which means there's a lot of projection involved in assessing his future value.
Herndon needs to develop his route running skills and improve his blocking technique, although there are signs he's already making progress with the latter. However, he has an ability to make productive contributions even on simple plays designed just to get him involved.
The Jets probably need to be patient with Herndon. That's fine, because they have plenty of other options at tight end. However, with roster space at a premium, they might have to reserve a spot for him so that they can retain his rights and develop him over the course of the season.