Tight end is one of the few positions where the Jets know exactly what they have. In Dustin Keller and Ben Hartsock, Gang Green has two complimentary tight ends. Keller is a pass catcher with the athletic ability to create mismatches in the open field, while Hartsock is one of the better blocking tight ends in the league.
Keller was slightly disappointing in year two as he failed to build on his 2008 numbers. With a rookie quarterback on a run-first offense, it's certainly understandable why he plateaued. But in the playoffs, the former first-round pick stepped up his game, scoring a touchdown in all three playoff games. The Mark Sanchez-Dustin Keller connection was extremely inconsistent during the season, but their rapport in the playoffs is a cause of optimism heading into 2010.
Heading into last season, Keller was expected to be the #1 or #2 option in the passing game. But with the additions of Braylon Edwards last season and Santonio Holmes this offseason, opposing defenses can't gameplan for Keller so easily, and if he gets matched up one-on-one with a linebacker, chances are Keller is winning that battle. If Sanchez improves his accuracy and decision-making, Keller could be in for a big year.
Hartsock came under a lot of criticism early last season for his frequent penalties, but he proved to be an extremely effective run blocker. Late in the season, he played more and more as his run blocking skills better suited the Jets' ground-and-pound offense of a year ago. He isn't much of a receiving threat, but he doesn't need to be. The former Colt had just one catch all season, but it was for a touchdown against Tennessee after a brilliant play action fake left him wide open in the back of the endzone. Bottom line, he''s paid to block people, not catch passes.
Heading into 2010, the two should maintain the same roles. When the Jets are in passing mode, Keller will get most of the playing time, and Hartsock will play when the Jets want to run. With the increased depth at runningback and wide receiver with the additions of Santonio Holmes, John Connor, and Joe McKnight, the Jets may use less two tight end sets this year.
Keller and Hartsock are not big names, but what they lack in star power, they make up for with functionality. If you could combine Keller's athleticism and pass-catching ability with Hartsock's size and blocking, you would have a perennial Pro Bowler. As it is, the Jets can play matchups pretty effectively. Just like at runningback and wide receiver, the Jets' tight ends offer complementary skill sets that should allow Brian Schottenheimer to use lots of different packages on gameday.