The Jets as expected at the top of the NFL's free agency period added some weapons to the offense, one of them being tight end C.J. Uzomah. He was one of the top TEs available after several big names were franchise-tagged by their teams. And these six things to know about Uzomah will give an idea of why he's such a good fit for the Jets and as a new pitch-and-catch partner for second-year QB Zach Wilson.
C.J. stands for Christopher James. And his last name is pronounced "yew-ZAH-mah," as he explained on NFL Now in a humorous short video during Super Bowl week. His family is of Nigerian descent and clearly believes in the importance of education. Xavier, his father, received his MBA from Auburn and Stephanie, his mom, has her doctorate in education. C.J. was a marketing major at Auburn.
Uzomah's athleticism was through the roof at North Gwinnett HS in Georgia. He played QB primarily as a junior, HC Bob Sphire told the Gwinnett Daily Post last month, "because he was the best athlete, but I knew his future was at receiver."
Sphire remembered a sideline exchange at a state playoff game in 2008 when he asked his then-QB, Scott Hosch, what the play call should be on a critical third down. Hosch paraphrased Keyshawn Johnson: "Throw the damn ball to C.J."
"We just knew we could trust him," Hosch recalled 13 years later. "There's your get-out-of-jail-free card. Throw it to C.J."
Uzomah is a games and puzzles guy. His Bengals bio says he "enjoys solving puzzles." And like many NFL players, he loves playing Madden. As he recounted on bengals.com: "I used to play against my dad in Madden until I got way too good. He was like, 'All right, I'm done doing this.' "
But before the break in the action, he said he and his father constructed a Super Bowl trophy of their own. "He used a little pool noodle that we shaped into the football," C.J. said. "Then we took a vase or something and wrapped it and spray-painted it and it was the Lombardi Trophy. Then we played for it in Madden."
Uzomah has always been a dual-threat TE, adept as a blocker as well as a receiver, but his blocking was more on display at Auburn and in his early years in Cincinnati. Then the 6-6, 260-pounder's receiving skills began to steadily improve over his seven seasons with the Bengals. Last regular season, he posted career highs with 49 receptions, 493 yards and five touchdowns.
And for the fifth consecutive year, he improved his catch percentage (receptions/targets). From 65.8% as a second-year pro in 2016, he raised that bar to 66.7, 67.2, 67.5, 72.7 and last year 77.8% with his 49 catches coming on 63 targets.
During the Bengals' Super Bowl run, besides his NFL Network video mentioned above, Uzomah showed himself to be an energetic, playful showman. He injured his MCL in the AFC Championship win so there was some concern about his availability for SBLVI. But during the Bengals' send-off rally for the big game, Uzomah fired the crowd up by removing his knee brace and throwing it in the air.
Then during Super Bowl week, he regaled media with stories about dressing as Buddy the Elf before a high school game and also stated he would take a bath in Cincinnati's iconic Skyline Chili if the Bengals beat the Rams. He didn't get to do that, but no doubt he's already contemplating an appropriate New York area plunge in case he can help the Jets get one game farther than the Stripes did.
Chirping About Culture
Jets HC Robert Saleh continues to talk about the culture being built on the Jets, and that surely was a factor in pursuing Uzomah in free agency. As C.J. has said: "The culture in the locker room is huge. This isn't a job like 'Oh, we're just going to work, play football, go to these meetings.' We're the homies. We're brothers in there. We're grinding, having a good time talking to each other, chirping. When we chirp at practice it's not a knock. We're trying to make the other person better. Sometimes people take that personally and this year we're taking it as maybe I'll just step up and do my job."
HC Zac Taylor and the Bengals didn't want to lose Uzomah. And this Taylor quote from 2019 (right after the Jets lost to the Bengals 22-6 at Paul Brown Stadium in 2019) explains why:
"C.J. plays with tremendous energy. I know that for a fact because I just watched 30 minutes of raw, uncut, mic'd-up footage of him," Taylor said. "He really elevates everybody. He's happy for all of his teammates. He's one of those guys you love to have on your team and is very important to have in the program. He's someone you can rely on to do things the right way."