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HomeSportTight end Tyler Conklin ready to break out with Jets

Tight end Tyler Conklin ready to break out with Jets

PHILADELPHIA — If you dropped by Jets training camp at any point in the past two weeks, there is a good chance you’d at some point ask, “Who is No. 83?”

Tyler Conklin has been hard to miss during the beginning of camp. The new tight end seems to be Zach Wilson’s favorite target and each day pulls in multiple passes.

The 6-foot-3, 248-pound Conklin has had a circuitous journey to the Jets. He went from college basketball player on scholarship to walk-on football player to a fifth-round pick by the Vikings who had to fight his way up the depth chart. A breakout 2021 season came at just the right time, and when he hit free agency in March, the Jets came calling. They gave him a $20.25 million contract over three years with $10 million guaranteed, but there was more than the money for Conklin in picking the Jets.

“It just felt right,” Conklin said this week after practice.

So far, the fit looks perfect. Conklin may wind up being one of the biggest acquisitions of the Jets’ offseason. He is not as well-known as some of the other players general manager Joe Douglas brought in, but his impact could be immediate. His chemistry with Wilson is on display in every practice.

Tyler Conklin
Tyler Conklin
Bill Kostroun

It won’t be a surprise if Wilson and Conklin connect Friday night when the Jets open the preseason here against the Eagles.

“We’ve had great feel, and I think we’ve had some cools reps together with some different things,” Wilson said. “He’s a talented guy, so I’m excited to work with him this year. He does a lot of really good things, so I’m excited to see how that can keep progressing.”

One of the things that clicked between Conklin and the Jets was their shared Michigan roots. Both head coach Robert Saleh and offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur are from Michigan, and Conklin’s journey began at L’Anse Creuse North High School in eastern Michigan.

He was a wide receiver for the Crusaders, who went 0-27 in his first three years in high school. Conklin also played basketball and was a top-25 player in the state. When Division 2 Northwood offered him a basketball scholarship, he jumped at it. Football recruiters came around after his senior high school season, when he was part of an 8-3 team, but he had already taken the basketball scholarship.

After playing the first seven games for Northwood basketball, Conklin began regretting his decision.

“I felt like I sold myself short a little bit and I should have been playing somewhere bigger,” Conklin said.

He walked on the football team at Central Michigan. When they moved a 225-pound Conklin from receiver to defensive end in the final week of spring practice, panic set in.

“I was like, ‘Oh crap, I just left a full ride for basketball.’ My parents were already freaking out because I was leaving a full ride and walking on,” Conklin said.

Tyler Conklin
Tyler Conklin
Bill Kostroun

He went home for the summer and worked a construction job wondering what was next. When he returned to Central Michigan, he asked if he could try tight end. He was seventh on the depth chart.

“I slowly worked my way up,” Conkiln said.

He became a starter as a junior and scored six touchdowns, and agents began contacting him. He realized the NFL was a possibility. But he broke his foot on the first day of training camp as a senior and wondered if the NFL dream was dead.

“I was heartbroken,” he said.

Conklin made it back in time to play the final eight games and caught 35 passes and five touchdowns. The Vikings drafted him in the fifth round in 2018. He again found himself buried on the depth chart. Kyle Rudolph had just gotten a big contract in Minnesota. A year later, the Vikings drafted Irv Smith in the second round.

Conklin contributed as a third tight end and on special teams but played sparingly until injuries put him in the lineup late in his third season. Last year, Rudolph was gone then Smith injured his knee in the preseason. Conklin started 15 games, caught 61 passes for 593 yards and three touchdowns. He capitalized on his chance.

“I think when I did get my opportunity I was way more prepared for it than if I would have gotten it my rookie year,” Conklin said. “I always knew I could do it. I just needed the opportunity to show it.”

Conklin’s big season came at an opportune time. He hit free agency in March. Several teams reached out, but it came down to the Jets and Bengals. Conklin picked the Jets despite the fact that they also signed another tight end in free agency, C.J. Uzomah. Conklin said the two have clicked, and they feel like they will complement each other.

For Conklin, this is the next chapter. For the guy who was seventh on the depth chart at Central Michigan, being a highly paid NFL player “still doesn’t feel real.” But at 27, Conklin feels like he is just getting started.

“I have looked at it like it’s just beginning,” Conklin said of his career. “I didn’t get the opportunity early in my career. Sometimes when you’re drafted high, you get to play early in your career. I think having to wait for my opportunity worked out perfect because it made me ready for the opportunity. I think it’s the very start of what I can do and I think I’m ascending now.”

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