The New York Jets are finally getting the Laken Tomlinson they paid for
Four weeks into the 2022 season, the New York Jets had a major problem on their hands. Their most expensive offseason addition, Laken Tomlinson ($27M guaranteed), was performing like one of the worst players on the team.
The most concerning aspect of Tomlinson’s cold start was that there was not a good explanation for his woes. Tomlinson has been healthy all year and is playing in a system that he is completely familiar with. Yet, he could not execute blocks that are supposed to be routine for him. There did not seem to be any issues with health or chemistry. Tomlinson was simply getting beat up.
Things were headed down a dark path. Finding reasons to be hopeful about Tomlinson was a difficult proposition. It was starting to look like New York might have swung-and-missed on Tomlinson, leaving them stuck with an ineffective player at a position that is integral to the development of quarterback Zach Wilson.
Fortunately for Wilson and the Jets, Tomlinson is righting the ship. He has looked much more like himself over the past two weeks.
After giving up 15 pressures over his first four games (3.8 per game), Tomlinson has allowed only one across the past two games (0.5 per game). Plus, his run-blocking has experienced a complete 180-degree turn.
Tomlinson’s resurgence is an enormously important development for the Jets. They paid him to play like a top-10 left guard, but he was playing like a backup. Now that he is back to his regular form, it is resulting in substantial improvement for the Jets’ offensive line as a whole.
It’s no coincidence that the Jets’ offensive line had its best two games once Tomlinson started playing better. New York is averaging 157.0 rushing yards per game over the last two weeks after averaging 87.5 over the first four. Additionally, Zach Wilson has taken the 13th-lowest pressure rate among 33 qualified quarterbacks over the last two weeks at 31.1%.
We highlighted Tomlinson’s performance against the Dolphins last week within our complete review of the Jets’ offensive line. This week, I want to focus on Tomlinson specifically. Tomlinson enjoyed a fantastic game against the Packers in which he allowed zero pressures and paved the way for a bunch of productive Jets runs.
Let’s take a look at Tomlinson’s impressive outing in Green Bay.
Laken Tomlinson’s run blocking vs. Packers
Laken Tomlinson wears No. 78.
Tomlinson shuffles outside, turns his hips inside, and seals the 3-technique defensive tackle (a 3-tech lines up over the guard’s outside shoulder) to the back side of the play. Michael Carter is given a clean edge and he takes advantage for a big gain.
Garrett Wilson and Corey Davis also do a great job of pinning their defenders inside. Tyler Conklin and Duane Brown pull to lead the way. Look at the 37-year-old Brown getting out in space! Brown spent a lot of time downfield in this game, and he looked good in those instances.
Tomlinson engages the 2i-technique defensive tackle (a 2i-tech lines up over the guard’s inside shoulder) and creates good lateral movement. Breece Hall bends the run back and runs behind Tomlinson for a nice pickup.
Over the first few games, Tomlinson often allowed defenders to beat him to the back side in these situations – swim moves were a particular nemesis. Tomlinson has been playing with better hands to eliminate these losses. Here, he gets his hands into the chest of the defender and is able to gain control of the rep.
Tomlinson’s pulling has improved as well. Here, he pulls to the right side and stalls the edge defender. C.J. Uzomah and Alijah Vera-Tucker execute a strong double-team to create the vertical movement that opens up the hole, allowing Hall to run between Uzomah and Tomlinson.
Tomlinson with another great job of crossing a defender’s face and sealing him to the back side. He shuffles to his left, gets his hips turned, and seals the 3-tech out of the play. Hall is able to get outside with any obstructions.
A subtle aspect of this play is what Tomlinson does as he is crossing the defender. The 3-tech plays this aggressively and immediately tries to shoot back-side on Tomlinson. He fires his hands to try and bull rush Tomlinson while he is getting across, but Tomlinson is ready. Tomlinson deflects the 3-tech’s initial punch to deny the contact to the body, and this buys himself time to get his hips around and position himself for the block.
The Jets give Hall a delayed handoff out of the shotgun that is designed to get him going to the left. Tomlinson does his part. He sets outside to convince the defender to come inside, knowing he has Connor McGovern to help him out. The defender comes inside and McGovern gives Tomlinson a chip before climbing to the second level. Then, Tomlinson finishes the job by continuing to force the defender further inside, opening space for Hall to get outside.
As I said earlier, it’s all about the hands right now with Tomlinson. He’s using them so much more effectively and that is the main reason why he’s playing better.
Tomlinson needs to beat this defensive tackle to the play side in order to prevent back-side pursuit. The DT is in a 2-tech alignment, meaning he is lined up directly over Tomlinson (although he is ever-so-slightly shaded to the outside), so it’s not an easy assignment.
Things start off evenly once the ball is snapped, but Tomlinson wins through the placement of his left hand. Tomlinson fires his left (outside) hand and lands it cleanly in the upper body of the defender – right between the numbers on his jersey. Tomlinson extends his arm, clenches to establish a firm grip, and successfully beats the defender to the play side, keeping him away from the running lane.
Laken Tomlinson’s pass blocking vs. Packers
This is a key block by Tomlinson on a designed rollout for Zach Wilson. Tomlinson draws a one-on-one against a 3-tech who has the leverage to easily shoot through the B-gap and impede Wilson’s intended path. But Tomlinson comes through with an excellent rep to keep Wilson clean.
This is another great block by Tomlinson in a key spot to protect Wilson.
Tomlinson is on the back side of a designed play-action rollout for Wilson. He starts the play with his eyes on the 2i-technique, but he goes inside to McGovern, so Tomlinson turns his head outside to look for work.
By the time Tomlinson looks outside, he already has Rashan Gary barreling toward him. Gary has six sacks this year and is a fantastic athlete who ran a 4.58 in the forty. If Tomlinson fails to impede Gary at this point, Gary could easily get into the backfield and chase Wilson down from behind.
But Tomlinson comes through. He shoots his left hand and catches Gary in the chest. From there, Tomlinson is able to slow Gary enough to prevent him from generating back-side pressure.
The 2i-technique on the opposite side of the line skips across into the opposite A-gap, hurdling into McGovern and Tomlinson. The duo does a fantastic job holding him at bay.
Tomlinson was anything but an imposing force over the first four weeks. Now, he is starting to make his presence felt. Tomlinson is left without work and does what guards are supposed to do in that situation: go find the nearest engaged defender and blast him into the ground.
Tomlinson handles the initial bull rush attempt from the 4i-technique defensive tackle (a 4i-tech lines up over the tackle’s inside shoulder) and then smoothly converts into a double-team with McGovern.
Tomlinson gets low and drives the 2i-technique inside, clearing a huge throwing lane that Zach Wilson uses to find Corey Davis.
Tomlinson and McGovern had great chemistry in pass protection throughout this game. They pair up for another dominant double-team as they prevent the 3-tech from getting anywhere near the pocket. On the tail end of this rep, Tomlinson does an impressive job of sticking with the block after the defender sheds McGovern.
Nice heads-up pickup from Tomlinson. While initially engaging with the 4i-tech, a defender careens into Tomlinson after Hall chips him to the inside. Tomlinson catches him and prevents any catastrophic pocket cave-in from occurring. It’s a nice job of protecting himself, too, as this defender easily could have taken out Tomlinson’s legs if he did not react in time.
Nothing too fancy – just a nice little one-on-one rep by Tomlinson in which he allows no disruption.
We close out with Tomlinson in the open field on a screen. First off, you have to like the patience from Tomlinson before he gets downfield, ensuring he avoids a penalty flag for being an ineligible man downfield. Then, Tomlinson gets outside and puts Jaire Alexander on the ground.
Laken is bakin’
The real Laken Tomlinson appears to be back, and that is stellar news for New York Jets fans. When Tomlinson is playing at his peak level (which I’d say is somewhere around a top 10-12 left guard), this Jets offensive line is capable of doing wonderful things.