It’s non-negotiable: Joe Douglas has to fix this lingering New York Jets roster hole
Only seven days remain until the New York Jets kick off their 2022 season with a MetLife Stadium battle against the Baltimore Ravens.
But there’s still one gaping hole left on the roster that general manager Joe Douglas simply has to address.
We’re talking about the backup offensive tackle spot.
Mitchell is a fascinating young prospect with intriguing potential, but it’s stubbornly optimistic to expect him to be ready to play at a competent level in Year 1. Most likely, the Louisiana product is going to struggle mightily if he takes the field this year. That’s no slight on his talent and long-term upside – it’s just what you should realistically expect out of a fourth-round rookie from a mid-major school.
Over three preseason appearances, Mitchell did not inspire confidence that he might be more NFL-ready than one would expect based on his resume. His 47.8 pass-blocking grade at Pro Football Focus ranked 46th out of 58 qualified tackles (21st percentile), and that’s despite playing against backups for the majority of his snaps.
Within just the first four weeks of the season, the Jets will face the Ravens’ blitz-heavy defense, the Browns’ Myles Garrett, the Bengals’ Trey Hendrickson, and the Steelers’ T.J. Watt. If Brown or Fant go down, Mitchell is the next man up against these terrorizing opponents.
Let’s be real here. No matter high the Jets are on Mitchell’s future outlook, they have to be kidding themselves if they claim they’re comfortable with the possibility of Max Mitchell being the only thing standing between Zach Wilson and T.J. Watt or Myles Garrett.
The cumulative pass-blocking statistics of rookie offensive linemen in 2021 give us an idea of how disastrous things could get if Mitchell is forced to take the field in 2022.
In 2021, there were 21 rookie tackles who appeared in a game, including 17 who were not drafted in the first round. Those four first-rounders were among the absolute best players of the bunch – including Rashawn Slater and Penei Sewell – so for the sake of making a projection for Mitchell, it would be more accurate to take the first-rounders out of the sample.
The 17 non-first-round rookie tackles combined to allow 284 pressures on 3,382 pass-blocking snaps, which is a pressure rate of 7.4%. That’s brutal. It would have ranked at the 18th percentile among qualified tackles last year.
The sack numbers are even worse. They combined to allow 48 sacks on 3,382 pass-blocking snaps, which is a sack rate of 1.4%. That would have ranked at the 6th percentile among qualified tackles.
Penalties were another problem. The group combined for 47 penalties on 6,197 offensive snaps, giving them a rate of one penalty every 131.8 snaps. That would have ranked at the 29th percentile.
So, yes, it should be expected that Mitchell will play quite poorly this year. Perhaps he will turn into a good player in 2023 or beyond, but in all likelihood, he will not produce at an effective level in 2022.
The Jets need to go out and get a veteran tackle they can rely upon for respectable production in the event that Brown or Fant get hurt.
Some of the most notable names on the free agent market include Bryan Bulaga, Daryl Williams, Marcus Cannon, Mike Remmers, and Bobby Massie. All of these players are 30-plus veterans who are past their primes but have tons of starting experience and can likely still play better football in 2022 than Mitchell.
Roderick Johnson and Jordan Mills are too underrated waiver-wire cuts who I recently mentioned as prime post-cutdown targets for the Jets. Johnson’s pass-blocking is slightly better than the rookie expectations I laid above, and to boot, he is only 26 years old, offers two-side versatility, and can run-block at the level of an average starter. Mills is coming off a great pass-blocking preseason in a similar offensive scheme with the 49ers, and has been a respectable pass-blocker over the past few years.
There are plenty of options out there. Sure, none of the aforementioned players are insanely attractive options, but nobody is asking the Jets to snag an absolute stud. They just need to get someone who can be a more reliable backup than a fourth-round rookie from a mid-major school.
Right now, it’s difficult to picture the Jets offense staying afloat if Mitchell has to play for an extended period of time. Zach Wilson (or whoever is under center) will be put in significant danger, and the Jets will either have to severely risk the QB’s health or completely throw away their drop-back passing game.
But if the Jets can snag a higher-floor vet, they will be able to keep things moving in case of an injury; even if there will still be a significant talent drop-off. Sure, a guy like Johnson, Mills, or Massie will get beat more than Brown or Fant would, but they won’t get beat so often that you can’t run your offense as intended.
That’s all you want out of a backup – a guy who can be competent enough to hold everything together. It’s understood that there will always be a drop-off when a backup has to come in (there’s a reason backups are backups). The goal is to ensure the drop-off is as minimal as possible. You can’t have a backup whose presence causes everything to collapse, and that’s what Mitchell is until proven otherwise.
The Jets can’t screw around in Wilson’s essential second season. And for the most part, they didn’t screw around this offseason. They made improvements at nearly every position on offense.
There’s just one gaping hole left to fill.
I know the Jets are big fans of Mitchell, but they have to throw their optimism out the window and be realistic about the production Mitchell will likely provide if he plays this year. He’s most likely going to struggle as a rookie. Anything else would be a shocking exception.
Don’t take chances with Wilson’s supporting cast. Go get a better backup tackle.