The Jets are still thin at tackle but suddenly have three potential starters to choose from
From the time Mekhi Becton was lost for the season with a fractured kneecap during training camp, the New York Jets have had constant decisions to make at the tackle position.
Six different players have seen action at tackle for the Jets this season: Duane Brown, George Fant, Max Mitchell, Conor McDermott, Alijah Vera-Tucker, and Cedric Ogbuehi. There have now been five injured reserve stints between them of varying durations. Vera-Tucker is gone for the year. McDermott was taken off the Jets’ hands by the Patriots. At one point, the team’s depth at both tackle and guard was Mike Remmers.
Over the last couple of weeks, the Jets have welcomed back Mitchell and now Fant from their injuries. The trouble didn’t stop, though, as Ogbuehi went down with a groin injury early in the Bears game, forcing Mitchell back into the lineup. Mitchell put on an admirable performance, pitching a shutout on 24 pass protection snaps while opening holes for Bam Knight and Ty Johnson in the run game.
With the return of Fant this week, though, the Jets have an interesting tackle dilemma on both sides of the line. Fant played left tackle for most of last season and performed tremendously in pass protection, allowing just a 3.7% pressure rate. However, he was putrid earlier this season, allowing a whopping 8.9% pressure rate (the league average for tackles is 5.5%) and three sacks in 146 pass-blocking reps. He was also called for three penalties.
Still, it makes sense to attribute Fant’s struggles largely to his knee injury. He had surgery in the offseason and was limited in much of training camp because of it. He was also on the injury report before each game with the knee. The Jets removed him from their game against Cincinnati due to the knee and placed him on IR following that week.
On the left side, Duane Brown is still playing through a torn rotator cuff and has had his practice load limited due to the injury. When Brown was signed, the Jets had initially moved Fant back to right tackle, but that was before Brown sustained his injury. Brown has been up-and-down for the Jets: his cumulative 5.1% pressure rate allowed is slightly better than the 5.5% league average, and he’s had three games with zero pressures allowed and another two with only one. However, in the two games against the Patriots, Brown allowed nine pressures and a sack in 72 pass-blocking reps, an abysmal 12.5% rate.
On the right side, Mitchell’s first game back went about as well as you could hope for. In the first four games of the season prior to his injury, though, he had two sacks and a 6.8% pressure rate allowed, including a horrific 22% against Pittsburgh prior to his exit from the game. Including the Bears game, Mitchell is still at a 6% pressure rate, which is worse than the tackle average. Given these numbers, it’s hard to say definitively that Mitchell is a better option at right tackle than Fant.
However, Mitchell may be a better run blocker than Fant. In Fant’s three games started this season, he was charged with a 4.3% blown block rate in the run game by Sports Info Solutions (SIS), which is the fourth-highest number among 99 tackles with at least 25 run block snaps. By contrast, Mitchell has a 2.1% blown block rate. Last season, though, Fant was at 1.7% in a larger sample size. Neither tackle has been responsible for many opponent stuffs (both under 0.5% in both seasons), so the blown block number is interesting.
Going back to Duane Brown, he has a lower blown block rate at 1.1%, but both blocks have led to opponent stuffs, giving him a 1.1% stuff rate that’s ranked 63rd out of 76 tackles with at least 100 run-blocking snaps.
Given these numbers, it will be fascinating to see what the Jets choose to do against the Vikings at the tackle positions. Michael Nania and I have already broken down the danger from the Vikings’ edge-rushing duo of Za’Darius Smith and Danielle Hunter. Because of that, pass protection will likely be the No. 1 priority for the Jets’ tackles. Which duo is the Jets’ best counterpunch at tackle, and which one will they actually roll with?
Given these numbers, I think it’s honestly a wash between the three tackles. Whichever combination they go with has the potential to either play well or be totally overmatched, as their pressure rates demonstrate. In that case, I believe it makes the most sense to roll with what worked last week: Brown at left tackle and Mitchell at right. This is particularly true because the Jets want to audition Mitchell for his viability at tackle in the long-term, not just for this year, while Fant is almost certainly gone in free agency.
I think that the Jets will do so, especially considering the fact that Robert Saleh said that right tackle is a day-to-day and week-to-week decision. Barring a further injury to Brown, I think that Mitchell and Fant will be competing for the right tackle position while Brown remains on the left side.
This week’s test at tackle is going to be a challenge. It’s nice for the Jets to have some viable options instead of playing practice squad players.