The addition of Laken Tomlinson is a huge boost for the New York Jets offense
New York Jets general manager Joe Douglas has been lauded for many of his moves this offseason, both in free agency and the draft. While most of the moves were lower key, signing Laken Tomlinson, left guard from the 49ers, was a splash. Tomlinson inked a three-year, $40 million deal to shore up the guard position. The Jets decided to keep him at his natural left guard and move Alijah Vera-Tucker to the right side.
Some might say that Tomlinson was overpaid. Sports Illustrated certainly thought so. If you look at the numbers on Over the Cap, though, the deal has quite a bit of flexibility for restructuring or even moving on if Tomlinson fails to live up to expectations. A certain level of overpay is always necessary to sign a premium player in free agency.
What makes Tomlinson such a premium player, and why did the Jets pursue him?
First, coaches tend to like players they’re familiar with. The Jets’ roster is littered with ex-49ers. But simply put, Tomlinson has been a stud. He earned his first Pro Bowl last season with a 75.9 Pro Football Focus grade. He has improved year-over-year in the course of his career.
Beyond his overall grade, one of Tomlinson’s best attributes was his steadiness in both run and pass blocking. The Jets have several offensive linemen who are clearly stronger run blockers than pass blockers. Tomlinson’s PFF grade was 75.2 in pass blocking and 75.0 in run blocking, two remarkably consistent numbers.
Tomlinson’s 97.7% pass-blocking efficiency (a PFF stat that measures pressure allowed on a per-snap basis with weighting toward sacks allowed) was in the 71st percentile for all guards. This will take pressure off of Zach Wilson and allow him more time to sit in the pocket.
Even better, Tomlinson thrives in the zone-blocking scheme. According to PFF, Tomlinson’s 82.0 zone-blocking grade in 2021 was 11th-best out of 69 qualifying guards. This continued off his dominant 2020 season in which he ranked fourth out of 67 qualifiers with an 86.6 zone-blocking grade. He is one of only six guards across the NFL with a zone-blocking grade of 80 or better in each of the last two seasons.
Considering that the Jets brought in Breece Hall as a top back and are returning Michael Carter after an excellent rookie season, the presence of Tomlinson adds to the prospect of a top-five rushing unit this season. There are several other strong run-blockers on the line, including Vera-Tucker, Mekhi Becton, and Connor McGovern.
An underrated aspect of signing Tomlinson is the amount that Vera-Tucker can learn from him. AVT can play both guard positions, and many expect him to become a Pro Bowler this season. Having a Pro Bowl guard in his ear can help accelerate Vera-Tucker’s growth from a promising rookie into his ceiling as a perennial Pro Bowler. He has room to grow in pass protection, in particular. Tomlinson can help him with that.
In general, Tomlinson brings another veteran presence to a young offensive unit. He’s played in a Super Bowl. He’s been in many high-pressure regular season and playoff situations. Tomlinson can be one of the voices in the room to temper the highs and lows of the NFL season.
PFF just ranked the Jets’ offensive line the 13th-best unit in football heading into 2022. Tomlinson is here to prove that the unit can be not just above average but elite in 2022.