There is a common theme among the offensive linemen acquired by New York Jets general manager Joe Douglas
The offensive line overhaul enacted by New York Jets general manager Joe Douglas is seemingly complete. In three offseasons, Douglas has transformed the league-worst unit that he inherited into a group with legitimate top-10 upside entering the 2022 season.
Pending health, the Jets project to open 2022 with a starting offensive line of George Fant, Laken Tomlinson, Connor McGovern, Alijah Vera-Tucker, and Mekhi Becton. Each player was acquired by Douglas through either a first-round draft pick or a lucrative free-agent contract.
This unit’s talent level is excellent. All five players have proven they are capable of being above-average starters at the very least, while Vera-Tucker and Becton have shown the potential to become elite players. These things, we know.
But here’s what I find even more intriguing about this five-man crew than its raw cumulative talent: How perfectly each player fits into the Jets’ offensive scheme.
This New York Jets offensive line is tailor-made for the wide-zone running scheme
It’s not as if the Jets just went out and stitched together a hodgepodge of talented offensive linemen with many different types of skill sets, having no regard for compatibility. Douglas has been acquiring players who complement one another since the very beginning.
Athleticism has always been at the forefront of Douglas’ wishlist for offensive linemen. This started in 2020 with Fant, McGovern, and Becton.
When the Jets hired Mike LaFleur to be their offensive coordinator in 2021, it was clear that everything was coming together beautifully for the front five. LaFleur was poised to bring over the wide-zone running scheme from San Francisco – a perfect scheme for athletic linemen. Later in the year, Douglas continued boosting the unit’s athleticism by drafting Vera-Tucker.
Finally, in March of 2022, Douglas completed his construction of an idealistic wide-zone offensive line with the signing of Tomlinson, who developed into a Pro Bowler while playing in San Francisco’s wide-zone.
Despite being the group’s only Pro Bowler, Tomlinson is, ironically enough, the only player in the unit who does not boast elite athleticism. Here are the Relative Athletic Scores (RAS) of each player, scored on a 0-to-10 scale:
- Connor McGovern: 9.87
- Mekhi Becton: 9.85
- Alijah Vera-Tucker: 9.80
- George Fant: 9.48
- Laken Tomlinson: 4.50
RAS is based on the historical rankings of a player’s pre-draft testing drills, relative to their size and position.
Tomlinson has already proven he can overcome his athletic deficiencies to provide high-level production in a zone-blocking scheme, so his lack of athleticism is no concern.
But he’s an outlier. Most players need superb movement skills to thrive in this offense – and everyone else on this unit has just that. Putting these four all-world athletes on the same line will give the Jets’ wide-zone running game an incredible ceiling.
Pro Football Focus’s grading system agrees that the Jets’ entire offensive line is built for the wide-zone. Here is a look at the 2021 PFF run-blocking grades posted by each player in zone-blocking concepts versus in gap-blocking concepts:
- Connor McGovern: 87.1 zone grade, 58.4 gap grade
- Laken Tomlinson: 82.0 zone grade, 59.1 gap grade
- Mekhi Becton (2020): 74.5 zone grade, 71.6 gap grade
- Alijah Vera-Tucker: 70.0 zone grade, 63.7 gap grade
- George Fant: 63.2 zone grade, 54.2 gap grade
For reference, the league-average PFF run-blocking grade for an offensive lineman in 2021 was 67.8.
Each player had a better zone-blocking grade than gap-blocking grade in their most recent season, and it was typically by a significant margin (save for Becton, who did well in both concepts).
McGovern and Tomlinson were elite zone-blockers last season while Vera-Tucker got off to a great start in his rookie year. Run-blocking isn’t Fant’s strength, but he is much more competent in zone concepts than gap concepts.
Altogether, the five players had an average zone-blocking grade of 75.4, which is outstanding. If accumulated by a team’s entire offensive line over the course of the 2021 season, a zone-blocking grade of 75.4 would have ranked third-best out of all 32 NFL offensive lines.
Here were the best zone-blocking teams in 2021 (based on the cumulative PFF zone-blocking grades of all offensive linemen):
- San Francisco 49ers (80.0)
- Los Angeles Rams (78.0)
- Indianapolis Colts (74.6)
- Cleveland Browns (74.2)
- Tennessee Titans (74.0)
The only two offensive lines with a better zone-blocking grade than 75.4 were those of the two NFC Championship Game representatives, including LaFleur and Tomlinson’s former team in the top spot. Altogether, the top five zone-blocking offensive lines had a combined win percentage of 0.600. Each of them won at least eight games. Four of the five had a winning record.
New York’s tailor-made wide-zone offensive line could be its secret recipe for a surprisingly successful 2022 season.