All-Pro ceiling or solid starter floor?
Should the New York Jets consider switching the position of their best offensive player?
Garrett Wilson? You might ask. Breece Hall?
Nope. The distinction of Jets offensive MVP goes to offensive lineman Alijah Vera-Tucker, and it’s not particularly close.
AVT preserved the Jets’ season when it could have gone off the rails almost immediately. Come Week 4, with Jets fans shuddering at the thought of seeing Conor McDermott go up against Alex Highsmith of the Steelers, they instead saw No. 75 lined up at left tackle.
The second-year player stabilized the Jets’ offensive line and elevated Hall to the Offensive Rookie of the Year frontrunner. With the return of Duane Brown in Week 5, AVT flipped over to right tackle, where his performance was rock-solid in both phases of the game.
When disaster struck in Week 7, most Jets fans were primarily concerned about the season-long loss of Hall. However, Robby Sabo accurately predicted that the departure of Vera-Tucker was far greater. The Jets’ offensive line fell apart in both phases of the game, not giving their running or passing games a chance.
Heading into 2023, AVT is the only offensive lineman under contract who is a reliable starter. Mekhi Becton and Max Mitchell should be returning, but both have health and performance-related questions that make them unreliable to pencil in as starters.
Laken Tomlinson will be back, but he was reliable for two things only in 2022—that he’d be on the field and that he’d put more bad than good on film.
Assuming that AVT plays guard, the Jets will have questions at both tackle positions and center. It remains to be seen whether the Jets re-sign Connor McGovern, sign someone else in free agency, draft a center, or some combination thereof.
However, the question becomes even murkier at tackle. The prevailing assumption is that the Jets will draft a tackle with the No. 13 pick. However, what if they end up having to trade that pick for a quarterback, such as Aaron Rodgers or Lamar Jackson? Will they head into 2023 with Becton and Mitchell at tackle?
Even if they don’t trade the No. 13 pick, what will happen with the other tackle position? Are they willing to let Becton and Mitchell battle it out for the spot without significant competition, at the very least? Will they rely on the 39-year-old Brown (assuming he does not retire) to be a starting tackle after he was their least reliable run-blocker in 2022?
It will be difficult for the Jets to find a solid tackle in free agency. Orlando Brown Jr. figures to either re-sign with the Chiefs or command a huge open-market deal. Mike McGlinchey will likely be looking for a big deal, as well.
The Jets are currently in the red cap space-wise and will not be able to afford those players. That digs them into the lower tiers of the free-agent market for players like Kelvin Beachum, Isaiah Wynn, and Andre Dillard, none of whom inspire much more confidence than Becton or Mitchell.
What if, though, there is another option? What if the Jets move AVT to tackle permanently?
After all, Vera-Tucker played very solidly at the position in 2022, particularly in his three-week cameo at right tackle. If the Jets were to slot in AVT at right tackle and a rookie on the left side with Becton, Mitchell, and potentially Brown as backups, that would give them a pretty deep tackle class.
Meanwhile, they could then look at the guard market in free agency instead of tackle.
Pros and cons
It is always easier to find a quality guard than a tackle, Tomlinson’s poor performance notwithstanding. Rodger Saffold, Justin Pugh, Isaac Seumalo, Dalton Risner, Aaron Stinnie, and Ben Powers are just some of the quality guards available on the open market. Moving AVT to tackle might be a more cost-effective move for the Jets.
However, the question is about floor vs. ceiling. AVT’s floor as a tackle is higher than any of the other current players on the Jets roster. He will play solidly, if not spectacularly. Becton definitely has a higher ceiling as a mauler. Vera-Tucker is never going to reach those heights due to his short arm length (32 1/8″, 8th percentile for offensive linemen).
However, at guard, the sky is the limit on AVT’s ceiling. He likely would have made All-Pro at the position this season had he not gotten hurt. That was his predraft projection—a perennial Pro Bowl guard.
Would the Jets prefer AVT’s lower but solid potential at tackle, or his ceiling at guard? In recent years, the NFL has started to recognize the value of dominant interior offensive linemen, as players such as Zack Martin and Jason Kelce have anchored their offensive lines. Vera-Tucker can be that guy.
Some would argue that AVT can become an elite tackle as Rashawn Slater of the Chargers appeared to be in his rookie season despite short arms. However, Slater’s arms are 33″, in the 27th percentile; that 3/4-inch can make a big difference. Vera-Tucker performed admirably at tackle, but he was not in Slater’s league.
In the 2023 draft, Pete Skoronski has a similar profile to AVT: can play tackle, but will likely be a far better guard due to his arm length. Though he hasn’t been measured quite yet, the projection is that his arms will come in at about the same length as Vera-Tucker’s. (This would be a reason for Joe Douglas to shy away from him in the draft despite his versatility; the Jets really need a tackle.)
Then again, I wrote an article explaining that an offensive line needs to be only solid, not great, for a team to succeed offensively. Maybe the Jets should focus on putting out a solid offensive line in the cheapest way possible rather than seeking dominance. In that case, AVT makes a lot of sense on the outside.
Ultimately, the Jets can choose to put AVT at tackle, particularly if they are okay with one of Duane Brown or Mekhi Becton manning the other side. That would give them a lot more flexibility at the No. 13 pick.
However, for the high-end potential of their offensive line, AVT should remain at guard. That is a choice Joe Douglas, Robert Saleh, Nathaniel Hackett, and Keith Carter will need to make.