Where should we expect the New York Jets offensive line to thrive? Where should we expect it to struggle?
New York Jets general manager Joe Douglas has poured a king’s ransom of assets into the team’s offensive line. The projected starting-five features three free-agent signings who were promised a combined total of $58.7 million in guaranteed money. That trio is joined by a pair of first-round picks.
Altogether, the Jets are projected to allocate $48.5 million of cap space on their offensive line in the 2022 season, which is currently set to rank as the fifth-highest mark in the NFL.
With such a heavy helping of resources invested into this group, it goes without saying that expectations are high. The Jets’ offensive line is loaded with talent and has the potential to be one of the league’s most formidable units.
In which areas of the game should Jets fans expect their offensive line to dominate? Which areas can be seen as potential weaknesses that could hold the unit back from fulfilling its potential?
Today, we will be taking a look at some of the collective strengths and weaknesses of the Jets’ projected five-man starting unit: Mekhi Becton, Laken Tomlinson, Connor McGovern, Alijah Vera-Tucker, and George Fant.
One-on-one pass protection
The Jets can feel very confident that their offensive linemen will win one-on-one pass-blocking battles on a consistent basis.
Pro Football Focus evaluates each offensive lineman’s pass-protection performance on “true pass sets” (TPS), which essentially attempts to isolate pass-blocking snaps in which the offensive line has to engage in true one-on-one battles.
Collectively, New York’s starting five offensive linemen are awesome in TPS situations.
Here are the TPS numbers of the Jets’ starters in their most recent full season (2020 for Becton, 2021 for the rest – this will be the standard throughout the article):
- Mekhi Becton: 17 pressures allowed on 178 TPS snaps (9.55% pressure rate)
- Laken Tomlinson: 17 pressures allowed on 240 TPS snaps (7.08% pressure rate)
- Connor McGovern: 12 pressures allowed on 295 TPS snaps (4.07% pressure rate)
- Alijah Vera-Tucker: 26 pressures allowed on 314 TPS snaps (8.28% pressure rate)
- George Fant: 11 pressures allowed on 270 TPS snaps (4.07% pressure rate)
*2021 league average pressure rates in TPS situations: 9.27% for T, 8.22% for G, 4.91% for C
The five starters combined for an average TPS pressure rate of 6.61%. That’s phenomenal. It would have ranked third-best among NFL offensive lines in 2021. Here are the top offensive lines of the 2021 season in TPS pressure rate:
- New England Patriots (5.69%)
- Tampa Bay Buccaneers (5.96%)
- Dallas Cowboys (7.07%)
- Los Angeles Chargers (7.35%)
- Los Angeles Rams (7.42%)
Fant, Tomlinson, and McGovern are the driving forces behind the Jets’ stellar performance in this metric. Becton and Vera-Tucker were close to their respective positional averages in their rookie seasons, so with more development, they could soar into the upper echelon as one-on-one pass-blockers.
When the Jets call any long-developing dropback passing plays, their offensive line should be able to create spacious pockets for Zach Wilson.
I analyzed the Jets’ projected zone-blocking prowess in more detail here, but the bottom line is this: The Jets have done a marvelous job of building an offensive line that is suited to their wide-zone running scheme.
Here is a look at the PFF zone-blocking grades of the Jets’ starting offensive line:
- Connor McGovern: 87.1
- Laken Tomlinson: 82.0
- Mekhi Becton: 74.5
- Alijah Vera-Tucker: 70.0
- George Fant: 63.2
*The league-average PFF run-blocking grade for an offensive lineman in 2021 was 67.8.
Together, they have an average PFF zone-blocking grade of 75.0, which would have ranked third-best among NFL offensive lines in 2021 behind the San Francisco 49ers (80.0) and the Los Angeles Rams (78.0).
Few things are more frustrating for a football fan than penalties by their team’s offensive line. Luckily for Jets fans, they have an offensive line that should commit a relatively low number of penalties in 2022.
Here is a look at the penalty numbers of the Jets’ offensive linemen in their most recent seasons:
- Mekhi Becton: 7 penalties on 691 snaps (One penalty every 98.7 snaps)
- Laken Tomlinson: 6 penalties on 1,094 snaps (One penalty every 182.3 snaps)
- Connor McGovern: 3 penalties on 973 snaps (One penalty every 324.3 snaps)
- Alijah Vera-Tucker: 6 penalties on 1,027 snaps (One penalty every 171.2 snaps)
- George Fant: 4 penalties on 889 snaps (One penalty every 222.3 snaps)
*2021 league average snaps-per-penalty rates: 158.3 for T, 175.3 for G, 199.8 for C
Combined, the group’s average snaps-per-penalty rate was 199.8. That would have ranked 12th-best among NFL offensive lines in 2021.
Just as with the one-on-one pass-blocking category, it’s the veterans that lift the Jets up while Becton and Vera-Tucker’s rookie growing pains hold the unit back a bit (although Tomlinson was only marginally better than Vera-Tucker).
It’s an exciting fact, though, as Becton and Vera-Tucker’s rookie years should end up being the worst years of their careers. The Jets’ offensive line can easily crack the top 10 in penalty minimization if Becton and Vera-Tucker continue trending in a positive direction as they develop.
Pass protection outside of one-on-one situations
While the Jets project to be a great pass-blocking team in one-on-one situations, they could have some problems when it comes to other aspects of pass protection.
If we look at all pass-blocking snaps outside of PFF’s true pass sets, we can evaluate how well players performed in pass protection when it came to things like picking up blitzes and handling stunts. We’ll call these plays “non-true pass sets”, or “non-TPS” for short.
Here are the non-TPS numbers of the Jets’ starters:
- Mekhi Becton: 6 pressures allowed on 234 non-TPS snaps (2.56% pressure rate)
- Laken Tomlinson: 7 pressures allowed on 358 non-TPS snaps (1.96% pressure rate)
- Connor McGovern: 7 pressures allowed on 365 non-TPS snaps (1.97% pressure rate)
- Alijah Vera-Tucker: 16 pressures allowed on 379 non-TPS snaps (4.22% pressure rate)
- George Fant: 7 pressures allowed on 324 non-TPS snaps (2.16% pressure rate)
*2021 league average pressure rates in non-TPS situations: 2.87% for T, 2.43% for G, 1.98% for C
The unit combines for an average non-TPS pressure rate of 2.57%, which would have ranked 19th among NFL offensive lines in 2021.
Vera-Tucker weighs down the entire unit in this department. He allowed the most non-TPS pressures of any guard in the NFL last year (16). This is the primary area of his game where he needs to be much better in his second season.
Outside of Vera-Tucker, the Jets are in decent shape here. The other four players combine for a mark of 2.16%, which would have ranked 12th-best among offensive lines in 2021.
McGovern was about league-average in this category, which isn’t great, but it represented a huge improvement over the 2020 season, when he allowed the sixth-most non-TPS pressures among centers (11). He’ll likely never be great in this category but the Jets will certainly settle for average.
Fant and Tomlinson were solid, and, impressively, even Becton was above-average in his rookie year. Becton showed good awareness in pass protection for a 21-year-old rookie. With further development, he could be one of the league’s best tackles in this category.
It all boils down to Vera-Tucker. If he struggles just as much with stunts and blitzes as he did in 2021, it could cause a negative ripple effect that leads to poor cohesion across the entire line.
But if Vera-Tucker makes the improvements that you expect a No. 14 overall pick to make in his second year, then the Jets could finally be solid at blocking blitzes and stunts after years of being bamboozled by them.
The Jets have built their offensive line with a heavy lean toward zone-blocking skill sets. This isn’t necessarily a line that can be considered an all-out dominant group in any run-blocking concept.
New York’s front five might not be as intimidating in gap/power running concepts as it is in zone running concepts. Here is a look at the PFF gap-blocking grades of the Jets’ starting offensive line:
- Connor McGovern: 58.4
- Laken Tomlinson: 59.1
- Mekhi Becton: 71.6
- Alijah Vera-Tucker: 63.7
- George Fant: 54.2
*The league-average PFF run-blocking grade for an offensive lineman in 2021 was 65.6.
The combined average of the group is 61.4, which would have ranked 24th among NFL offensive lines in 2021.
Four of the five starters are below-average in this category. The only exception is Becton. Perhaps the Jets should lean toward Becton’s side when calling gap/power concepts. Vera-Tucker also came close to league-average as a rookie and could develop into a good player in this category. However, all three veterans were well below average.
Every team in the NFL runs both zone and gap/power concepts. New York does not, cannot, and will not call zone concepts on every single run play.
However, there is a wide spectrum across the league when it comes to the starkness of each team’s zone/power splits. The Jets are one of the heaviest zone-running teams in the NFL, so they are well-equipped to minimize their offensive line’s gap-blocking weakness and maximize its zone-blocking strength.
Per PFF, the Jets’ offensive linemen had a 71.1%/28.9% split between zone-blocking snaps and gap-blocking snaps in 2021, which ranked as the sixth-most zone-heavy distribution in the NFL. The league average was 58.0%/42.0%.
Mekhi Becton and Alijah Vera-Tucker are huge X-Factors for the Jets offensive line
Overall, the Jets’ offensive line is loaded with potential in 2022. The unit should perform well at one-on-one pass-blocking, zone-blocking, and avoiding penalties. Its main question marks are blitzes/stunts in pass protection and gap/power-blocking in the run game.
One of the common themes in this piece was the importance of Mekhi Becton and Alijah Vera-Tucker’s development. In areas where the Jets are strong thanks to their veterans, they could become even stronger if Becton and Vera-Tucker improve. In areas where the Jets are weak, Becton and Vera-Tucker offer hope to turn things around.
Jets fans have to be salivating at the thought of how good their team’s offensive line could be if Becton and Vera-Tucker break out this year. Visions of Nick Mangold, D’Brickashaw Ferguson, Damien Woody, Alan Faneca, and Brandon Moore must be dancing in their heads.
Becton, AVT – you are on the clock. You hold the keys to constructing a utopian offensive environment for Zach Wilson that will remind him of his BYU days.