The New York Jets can’t afford to set up the new quarterback the way they did with Sam Darnold, the latest first-rounder on the move.
The Sam Darnold era is over. There’s not much to say besides what common sense suggests: The New York Jets failed Sam Darnold, a kid who also didn’t meet the lofty expectations the No. 3 overall pick presented.
Shaky offensive line play was probably the main reason why Darnold lost his confidence (take Adam Gase out of the picture for a quick second). It’s arguably the most important unit to build for a solid environment to a rookie quarterback. The Jets certainly do not want Fields or Wilson to become the next Joe Burrow—getting hurt badly thanks to awful O-line play—so what happens moving forward is critical.
The truth is, besides going all-in on Joe Thuney and missing out on the former New England Patriots employee, Joe Douglas hasn’t done much (yet) to improve the Jets offensive line group. The team’s starting offensive line consists of two average players in Connor McGovern and George Fant, one above-average player with lots of potential in Mekhi Becton and two below-average players in Alex Lewis and Greg Van Roten.
I know, the draft is on the horizon, and the team has many picks to fill this line with talent. I agree. But such a crucial unit looking like this after the first wave of free agency has passed is, at the very least, worrying.
New York must attack many other needs on draft day, and I also do not see Douglas shying away from his best-play-available approach that landed the Jets Ashtyn Davis when they had both Jamal Adams and Marcus Maye under contract. By no means do I believe Douglas will ignore the team’s needs, but he will always be tempted to get the most talented player on his board to New Jersey, no matter the position.
Anyway, this conversation is a redundant one. We all know the Jets simply can’t go into the season—starting their brand-new rookie quarterback—behind their current OL. They just cannot. And they will not. They will add more talent come draft day, and still may bring in another vet via free agency.
But, hey, I do not think It will happen the way Jets fans are thinking right now, i.e. picking two offensive linemen with the team’s first four picks.
As always, with Mike LaFleur and Robert Saleh, it’s all about finding the youngsters who fit the scheme best. And that is the main reason for the Jets’ patient, slow approach to the guard spot on their offensive line.
The 49ers model: How did San Francisco build its offensive line in the last few years?
One cannot be sure If the Jets will be running an offense that resembles the San Francisco 49ers offense or the Green Bay Packers, especially personnel-wise. We are all making educated guesses here, but the fact that Jon Benton is the Jets offensive line coach makes me pretty sure that the Jets bread and butter will be the “wide-zone,” which leads to the need for very specific skill sets from the team’s running backs and offensive linemen.
Let’s take a look at the 49ers’ starting group last season:
- Trent Williams (LT)
- Laken Tomlinson (LG)
- Daniel Brunskill (C)
- Justin Skule (RG)
- Mike McGlinchey (RT)
From that group, only the tackles have name pedigree, both being early first-round picks. On the inside, Laken Tomlinson was traded out of Detroit, Daniel Brunskill was an undrafted free agent signing in Atlanta and Justin Skule was a sixth-round pick in 2019 by the 49ers. These are three guys that do not have flashy names but can absolutely execute the scheme, and that’s precisely what the Jets are looking for.
When I say that the current Jets staff is looking for specific skill sets, you can find a good example by taking a look at the 49ers’ guards.
They both weigh the same (315 pounds) yet have a three-foot difference in their height. Skule is 6-foot-6 and Tomlinson is 6-foot-3. Skill set-wise, Skule is fast and agile. Tomlinson is a mauler with good movement skills. Skule is constantly asked to reach block the defense’s 3-tech—a block that requires fine athleticism—while Tomlinson is usually asked to make more vertical blocks, either reaching or driving the 1-tech who comes to the party as a slower and usually bigger player.
A good example of the different assignments the 49ers ask their guards is the touchdown Raheem Mostert scored vs. the Jets in Week 2, 2020. Below you will see how different the assignments of the right guard and the left guard are.
As you can see, proper coaching and identity can make limited players thrive on specific roles.
I would be lying If I said I am not worried about the Jets’ current offensive line depth. I absolutely am. But for the first time in a decade, I know that the Jets front office and coaching staff have a philosophy and are aware of what they specifically need.
Unlike the Jets old regime that thought dishing out top dollar to name brands was a good idea, Douglas and company are looking for specific skill sets to fit a specific system.
Don’t be surprised if a sixth-rounder or a low-priced vet starts at guard for the Jets this season. For that, it is OK to be worried. But it’s also time to trust this staff, especially LaFleur and Benton, two men who have fielded a competent offensive line in recent years with questionable talent inside.
I know forgetting does not align with our nature, but this is a new era of New York Jets football. The 21st century has finally arrived in New York, and one can do no wrong by believing in this front office and coaching staff to build the right team.