Fans and analysts are somewhat mixed about the New York Jets’ offensive line heading into 2022. Here, we break down the reality without the hyperbole.
The New York Jets have had their fair share of offensive line struggles in the last number of years. Gone are the days of D’Brickashaw Ferguson, Nick Mangold, Alan Faneca, and Damien Woody mauling opponents.
Surprisingly, the 2021 Jets’ front five was rated the 11th best in the NFL by Pro Football Focus. The linemen fluctuated throughout the season, though. Mekhi Becton did not make it out of Week 1; George Fant was an above-average replacement. Greg Van Roten was replaced by Laurent Duvernay-Tardif, steadying the run game. Conor McDermott was deplorable in his two starts at left tackle, but luckily it was only two. The line did a better job in run blocking than pass blocking overall.
Heading into 2022, Joe Douglas has made some changes. Chief among them is signing Laken Tomlinson to play left guard and moving Alijah Vera-Tucker to right guard. Tomlinson is a rock-solid guard in his prime. AVT came on as the season went along. Both are Pro Bowl-level talents.
Connor McGovern is a league-average center on a top-three salary. Still, he played far better in 2021 than 2020. At minimum, he does a decent job.
The biggest questions along the starting line begin with Mekhi Becton
Becton’s knee injury, originally listed as a 4-to-6-week timeline, cost him the entire season. There were reports that Becton’s weight rose over 400 pounds. Voluntary OTAs have started, and the Jets have yet to see Becton at camp. He is still rehabbing his knee.
Robert Saleh insists that this is all fine. However, he did say in a press conference, “We’d love to have you here, buddy. We’d take care of you.” He reiterated on Wednesday that Becton looks great. Mike LaFleur emphasized in his Wednesday presser that OTAs are important.
Becton’s new fatherhood and rapport with his personal coach may be good reasons to rehab in Dallas rather than New Jersey, but his absence still causes unease among Jets nation.
Then there’s the Jets’ projected left tackle, Fant. Filling in for Becton, Fant had the best season of his career. He was the Jets’ top pass-blocker and shored up Zach Wilson‘s blindside. While the Jets say they’re leaving the left tackle spot to an open competition between Becton and Fant, Fant is the presumed favorite due to his performance last season.
Joe Douglas could have selected a top offensive tackle prospect such as Ikem Ekwonu or Evan Neal with the fourth overall pick in the 2022 draft. The fact that he did not and waited until the fourth round to address the offensive line leads you to assume that Becton is okay. A former offensive lineman, Douglas understands the importance of the trenches.
Rumors about Becton have flown around all offseason. Prior to the draft, some around the NFL believed that he’ll never take another snap in a Jets jersey. If that is indeed the case, then is Douglas crazy, reckless, or just ignorant?
He has proven with his offseason moves that he is none of those three.
Some have pointed to Fant’s injury history as a cause for concern. While that’s always something to worry about, last year was the first time that Fant ever played one position for almost an entire season. Versatility is an asset for backup offensive linemen, but continuity at a specific position builds consistent starter success.
The Jets’ two backup tackles last year, Conor McDermott and Chuma Edoga, were underwhelming. The team drafted Max Mitchell in the fourth round as a swing tackle, but he is not ready for a starting role. The Jets like his upside, but they drafted him as a prospect, not an immediate contributor.
On the interior, the Jets have fan-favorite Dan Feeney and guard Nate Herbig, who posted a 68.1 Pro Football Focus grade in 481 snaps for the Eagles last year. That is far from terrible for a backup lineman. These are the main insurance pieces.
Admittedly, the Jets’ offensive line will be tested early and often
Myles Garrett, Trey Hendrickson, T.J. Watt, Preston Smith, Matthew Judon, Danielle Hunter, Von Miller, and Randy Gregory are on the slate in the first 10 weeks of the season.
Still, to call the Jets a last-place team due to their lack of line depth, as one former team scout did, is an exaggeration. They are in far better shape than last year with their 11th-ranked line. This line can be a top-10 unit.
Yes, health may be a concern, but Douglas could not fix all the team’s holes overnight. Perhaps he could have invested a pick higher than 111 on a backup tackle, but he saw opportunities to improve in other areas and grabbed them.
People wonder why Douglas took a tight end in the third round when he signed two in the offseason. But if we’re discussing injuries and depth, C.J. Uzomah has been injury-prone throughout his career. Jets fans know how important the tight end position is in Mike LaFleur’s offense. Just look at what the lack of adequate TEs did to the team last season.
Let’s not discount the tight ends in the blocking game, either. Tyler Conklin and Jeremy Ruckert, in particular, are strong blockers. Conklin is a sneaky-good pass blocker, which can help the Jets in the play-action game.
Conclusion: The Jets’ blocking depth is not that bad
No, the Jets don’t have LDT and Morgan Moses to come out of the woodwork and pick up the slack. There is still the possibility that a lineman becomes available on the cheap to shore up their depth, but the Jets are pretty happy with their room overall.
Could the worst happen? It always can. Those are the breaks of an NFL season. Injury luck needs to come together for a team to compete.
For once, though, if things roll the Jets’ way, the trenches on the offensive side could actually be a strength instead of a glaring weakness!