Offensive linemen should not be in consideration for the New York Jets at the top of the 2022 NFL draft
I’m going to start this article by stating the obvious: both Evan Neal and Ikem Ekwonu are fine players and worthy of being considered top-5 selections.
But the New York Jets would be making a big mistake if they were to take either with the #4 overall pick.
Here’s why – if the Jets were to take either player at #4, that would represent their third top-15 selection on the offensive line in the last three drafts:
- 2020 – Mekhi Becton, Tackle (#11)
- 2021 – Alijah Vera-Tucker, Guard (#14)
- 2022 – Ikem Ekwonu/Evan Neal (#4)
If we’re looking at the draft in isolation, that’s already a hefty resource allocation in one particular area. But when you add in all the money that Joe Douglas has spent on the line through free agency, it becomes clear that considerable resources have already been used on elevating the Jets line from one of the worst in the league, to what we hope will be at worst a top 15 unit.
The Jets have already spent on the following offensive linemen in free agency:
- 2022 – Laken Tomlinson, Guard – 3 years, $41.2 million
- 2020 – Geoge Fant, Tackle – 3 years, $27.3 million
- 2020 – Connor McGovern, Center – 3 years, $27 million
- 2020 – Greg Van Roten, Guard – 3 years, $10.5 million
I appreciate that when Joe Douglas took over, the Jets offensive line was a bit of a mess. Douglas had no choice but to commit to revamping it. But like any project, there has to be a point where your attention switches to other areas of the team.
As things stand the Jets line will consist of three big-money signings (Fant, McGovern and Tomlinson) and two first-round picks (AVT and Becton).
That’s a lot of resources in one position group, and if you look around the league you’ll see that overall it’s rather unique. Most teams will consist of a highly paid player, maybe one first-round draft choice, and then some later draft additions.
Following the 2021 season, Pro Football Focus released their list of the best offensive lines in the league. The Jets, for what it’s worth, came in at #11 overall, and that’s before adding Laken Tomlinson and the returning Mekhi Becton. If you swap Greg Van Roten for Tomlinson and Morgan Moses for Becton, that line significantly improves and almost certainly jumps into the top 10, if not closing on the top 5.
PFF’s top five rated lines in football were:
- Dallas Cowboys
2. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
3. San Francisco 49ers
4. Philadelphia Eagles
5. Kansas City Chiefs
Most of these lines did not have nearly as much capital invested into them as the Jets do.
The Cowboys had second-rounder Connor Williams and fourth-rounder Tyer Biadasz. The Bucs had second-rounders Donovan Smith and Ali Marpet along with third-rounder Alex Cappa. The 49ers had former Jet and sixth-round pick Tom Compton and undrafted Daniel Brunskill.
I can go on and on and on, but I think you get my point. While it’s absolutely key for you to address your offensive line, you don’t need constant first-round additions and big-money signings. That is a complete waste of resources.
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I’ve seen more than a few people say the Jets should take Ikem Ekonwu or Evan Neal if they fall to #4.
“They’re Joe Douglas picks,” people shout. “What if Becton gets injured again?” is a common argument. “Fant is a free agent next year,” people scream.
Those are all valid points, but how many teams have first-round picks backing up first-round picks? Not that many. The Jets have depth signings on the line and whether we like it or not, it seems as though Joe Douglas has faith in players like Chuma Edoga, Conor McDermott, and Dan Feeney to make spot starts. If he didn’t, he wouldn’t have signed them.
I know people are concerned about Becton, but his knee injury against Carolina wasn’t his fault and big guys take longer to rehab, that’s just the nature of the beast. Becton looks hungry to prove his doubters wrong and for the first time he’ll be competing for his favored left tackle spot with George Fant, and competition brings out the best in people.
If you’re worried about Becton’s injury, worry about Carl Lawson’s too. He’s coming off a horrible Achilles injury and the depth behind him is largely nonexistent.
I don’t want my argument to be confused. I’m not saying the Jets should not draft a lineman. Anyone who’s followed me knows I talk a fair bit about guys like Abraham Lucas in the second round, Cole Strange in the third round and Zach Tom later in the draft.
I’m just saying you shouldn’t select an offensive lineman in the first round for the third year in a row, especially when your offensive line was just ranked the 11th-best in football and your defense was ranked as one of the worst.
For argument’s sake, let’s just imagine the Jets take Ikem Ekwonu.
Do you trade George Fant? A 29-year-old tackle coming off a season where he was rated as one of the best tackles in football?
Do you trade Becton? Two years after drafting him and while his value is so low? No chance.
What if you trade Fant or Becton and Ikem doesn’t work out? Then you’re back to square one.
So, if you trade neither Fant nor Becton, do you have Ikem sit on the bench this year as depth? He’s certainly not playing over AVT or Tomlinson. It seems strange to have a #4 overall pick riding the bench all season.
Why would you back yourself into a difficult situation by taking an offensive lineman? I know Joe Douglas loves his offensive linemen but it makes absolutely no sense to go in that direction again. There’s no point putting garnish on a dish that isn’t finished and that’s what I consider an offensive lineman to be. New York still needs to finish this roster.
I would argue that even if Aidan Hutchinson and Kayvon Thibodeaux are off the board, there’s more value in taking someone like Jermaine Johnson at #4 than taking Ikem and there’s more value in taking your WR1 than taking Ikem.
Again, I like Ikem and I like Neal. This is about resource allotment.
You’re known as an offensive line “guru”, Joe. How about you prove it by finding a valuable asset later in the draft?
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