Keidel: Feel-Good Story Ryan Griffin Helping Jets Turn Season Around

Jason Keidel
November 27, 2019 - 12:52 pm
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With the NFL increasingly dependent upon the tight end - a power forward-sized player to catch passes - the Giants and Jets were set for years. 

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Then this year happened. 

Evan Engram has been toiling on the sideline most of the season with injuries. And after missing the team's first four games because of a suspension, Chris Herndon was then held out of the following four contests with an injured hamstring. Then he made a cameo against the Giants, cracked a rib, and could miss the rest of the 2019 season.  

The Giants have not found a suitable substitute for Engram, have lost seven straight games and are stumbling toward another lost season. So, is it a coincidence that the Jets have shaken their early-season funk and found a tight end who's more than ornamental? 

Perhaps the last person you thought would help the Jets turn this tanker around is Ryan Griffin. A journeyman who spent six unspectacular seasons in Houston, Griffin has been a surprise for the Jets, their fans, and fantasy football nerds who need someone to fill in for Travis Kelce, Austin Hooper, Hunter Henry, or any stalwart TE who misses a Sunday because of a bye week or broken bone. 

Griffin, 29, has filled in admirably for Herndon and has been an on-field rabbit's foot for the Jets. While Griffin has grabbed 28 passes so far - exactly half of Herndon's total last year - he's scored a touchdown in three of the Jets' four victories this season. In fact, Griffin's five total touchdowns this season match the total from his three best seasons in the NFL. He had never scored more than two TDs in any season in Texas, yet he has found a fountain of youth in New York. (His five TDs lead the team and also nudge him past Herndon's four scores in 2018.)

Ryan Griffin
USA TODAY Images

That's not to say Griffin is better than Herndon, who's just 23 and has a higher ceiling and way more time left in his career. But Griffin has solidified a spot that Sam Darnold has leaned on as a pro QB. In fact, the Jets are so pleased with Griffin's veteran savvy and reliability that they gave him a three-year, $10 million extension last weekend, which he celebrated by snagging a TD pass during the Jets' 34-3 blowout win over the Raiders. 

A longtime football maxim - which has crossover merit in overall life - says that the greatest ability is often availability. To that end, Griffin has been victorious over the victims of injury and attrition. Herndon's season is over with one catch for seven yards, a setback that seemed to be emblematic of the entire team, one of the endless hard-luck dominoes to fall in a miserable season. 

Enter Griffin, who has scored four touchdowns in the Jets' last five games, including a stellar game against the Redskins in which he snared five passes for 109 yards and one TD. It was the second of three-straight wins for the Jets (4-7), who would be on the periphery of the playoff race had they just defeated the woeful Dolphins on Nov. 3 and stretched this streak to four straight. 

Still, every NFL season has inspiring stories about unknown or forgotten players who find the right team at the right time. For all the stars beaming on the NFL marquee - from Aaron Rodgers to Tom Brady to Russell Wilson and Lamar Jackson - we forget that about a third of the NFL's rosters are filled by undrafted players. Indeed, according to Elias, there were more undrafted free agents on 2016 opening day rosters (481) than first and second-round picks combined (480). 

Griffin wasn't quite plucked off the street, but he was a sixth-round afterthought from UConn, a school far better known for basketball than football. His best season came in 2016 when he caught 50 balls for 442 yards and two touchdowns for a Texans team built around JJ Watt, Jadeveon Clowney, and other fast-twitch stars who were way more renowned than a TE who barely moved the chains. 

No matter your NFL allegiance, it's hard not to root for Ryan Griffin, a second-tier player in Texas whose career was all but over. The Jets signed him in July as an insurance policy for Herndon. Yet Griffin has turned that insurance into an assurance that the Jets have a clutch tight end for the rest of this season, and maybe more. 

You can follow Jason on Twitter: @JasonKeidel

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