New York Jets’ offensive line can take a massive leap through the progression of pieces that are already in place
Most people in the world of New York Jets football can agree that the offensive line is the team’s biggest priority this offseason (after quarterback). And, yes, those people are correct.
However, the Jets arguably have even more potential to improve their offensive line from within than via outside additions. This is especially true as we sit here on March 21 with most of the top-tier free agent linemen already off the board.
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While the Jets still must work on adding more players who can maximize the competition, depth, and security of the offensive line, the unit already has players in place who are talented enough to potentially be the anchors of an elite group.
At this point, the most important factor for the Jets’ 2023 offensive line is not who they add this offseason, but the progression of their already-intact core pieces.
The Jets’ offensive line can improve substantially in 2023 by getting the most out of the following players.
Can Mekhi Becton stay healthy and continue developing?
While we have only seen a little bit of Mekhi Becton in the NFL, the little we have seen is enough to say this with confidence: A healthy Becton is probably the most physically overwhelming offensive lineman in football.
When watching Becton’s film – including his most recent game against the Carolina Panthers – the consistency at which you see him flat-out plowing fellow world-class athletes is downright absurd. Nobody else in the NFL simply moves people with this caliber of physical dominance.
That’s not to say Becton was a perfect, well-rounded superstar when we last saw him. There are still aspects of his technique that can be improved so he can dominate on a more consistent basis.
But the potential was clear. Becton has the talent to become one of the best offensive tackles in the NFL, if not the best.
And the floor Becton showcased was equally exciting. Most analysts agreed Becton would be a long-term project in the NFL with a disastrous floor if his development went awry, but he was quite solid as a rookie, showcasing better technique than critics expected. The consensus was that Becton played like an above-average, top 10-16 left tackle in 2020.
For a 21-year-old rookie with incredible physical tools who battled injuries all season and played within a disastrous offense, being an above-average starter was a remarkable accomplishment. It established that, at worst, Becton should be a solid starting tackle in the NFL.
Now, he just has to stay healthy.
Unfortunately, durability in the NFL is largely up to luck, but Becton seems to be doing everything in his power to keep himself on the field. Becton has been keeping Jets fans updated with his workouts and appears to be in fantastic shape.
Going into the offseason, there was an idea that, from a roster-construction perspective, New York would essentially treat Becton as if he weren’t on the roster and try to fill both starting tackle spots. It doesn’t look like that is going to happen now. The Jets might add another starting tackle in the draft, but in all likelihood, Becton will enter training camp as one of the two presumed starting tackles assuming he stays healthy.
Becton is still only 23 years old (he’ll be 24 in April). His entire career remains ahead of him.
With a healthy Becton, the Jets could add an elite tackle to their lineup without having to make any outside additions. Even if Becton doesn’t make that leap, he should be an above-average starter at the very least, which would still be a sizable upgrade for New York.
Outside of the man under center (presumably the guy coming from Wisconsin), Becton is probably the most important player on the Jets’ roster in 2023.
The same story applies to Alijah Vera-Tucker… can he stay healthy and take another step forward?
Alijah Vera-Tucker‘s durability concerns are nowhere near as worrisome as Becton’s, since Vera-Tucker has stayed durable in the NFL outside of one freak triceps injury (which shouldn’t have long-term effects on his play). Vera-Tucker only missed one of his first 23 games prior to the injury.
But since Vera-Tucker’s exit from the lineup in 2022 had such a massive effect on the offensive line’s performance, his health is worth mentioning as a crucial variable for the unit. Over the first six-and-a-half games, Vera-Tucker’s excellence was enough to make the Jets’ offensive line look competent despite countless injuries at the other four spots. Vera-Tucker played three different positions and looked great at all of them, single-handedly keeping the unit afloat.
As it turns out, Vera-Tucker’s performance was the only thing keeping the Jets’ offensive line from being terrible. Once he went down, the unit was never the same.
If the Jets’ offensive line got a full 17 games from Vera-Tucker in 2022, the perception of the unit would be much more optimistic right now. Vera-Tucker’s impact is that profound. They need him healthy in 2023.
I also want to see Vera-Tucker’s play take yet another step forward this year. He was undoubtedly stellar this past season, especially considering what he was asked to do. But I believe he can get even better.
Vera-Tucker is a star in the run game. That much is for certain. In pass protection, though, I think he still has one more leap in him. He’s very good, but he does get beaten in pass protection a little bit more often than most stars. I want to see Vera-Tucker put everything together and become a lockdown protector.
The Jets have two homegrown top-15 picks on their roster who have played up to expectations when healthy. Unfortunately, they only combined to play six full games out of a possible 34 last year. Suffice to say, that will make your offensive line look a lot worse than it should be.
As good as it might feel to add more players to a unit that struggled last year, the fact of the matter is no outside addition could help the Jets more than simply getting healthy seasons from Becton and Vera-Tucker. All the Jets can do is cross their fingers.
Can Laken Tomlinson get back to playing at his peak talent level?
Laken Tomlinson‘s Pro Bowl billing and hefty contract set expectations too high for what he’d bring to the Jets. Realistically speaking, when watching Tomlinson’s film and analyzing his production, it was fair to expect Tomlinson to be a top 10-12 kind of left guard for the Jets – a good starter, just not a star.
But Tomlinson couldn’t even reach those subdued expectations.
Tomlinson was a massive liability for the Jets in 2022. His run-blocking was porous, and in pass protection, he was involved in too many communication breakdowns for a veteran player who already had experience in a similar offensive scheme.
It’s hard to tell exactly what caused Tomlinson’s decline. He stayed healthy, as he played in every game for the fifth consecutive season. It was also supposed to be a good scheme fit for Tomlinson as he came over from Kyle Shanahan’s San Francisco offense, which Jets offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur heavily drew from.
Fortunately, there are reasons to believe Tomlinson can bounce back in his second season as a Jet.
Perhaps Tomlinson will come back in 2023 with a chip on his shoulder after taking heat for a disappointing year. He will also have the motivation to try and convince the Jets not to release or trade him in 2024 (although a recent contract restructure made it more difficult for the Jets to escape Tomlinson’s deal in 2024).
Playing with a veteran quarterback in Aaron Rodgers and a veteran OC in Nathaniel Hackett is another factor that could help Tomlinson bounce back. Communication issues ravaged the Jets in 2022, which could be partially blamed on the young quarterback under center and the young OC at the helm. The uptick in experience at the QB and OC spots should presumably help the Jets clean up their communication woes. That can allow Tomlinson to do less thinking and play freely.
I also believe the Jets’ new offensive line coach, Keith Carter, is an addition who can help Tomlinson return to form.
Carter was known as a tough, hard-nosed coach in Tennessee – perhaps too hard, as some players complained that Carter overworked them. But I would argue that Carter’s style is exactly what New York’s offensive line needs. Carter’s tenacious, no-nonsense approach might be just what the doctor ordered for the Jets’ chronically undisciplined unit.
The Jets do not need Tomlinson to make another Pro Bowl or be a superstar. But if he can just be an above-average left guard in 2023, that would be a tremendous upgrade over what he gave the team in 2022.
It all starts with Becton, Tomlinson, and Vera-Tucker for the Jets’ OL
In Mekhi Becton, Laken Tomlinson, and Alijah Vera-Tucker, it’s very possible the Jets could have a top-10 left or right tackle, a top-12 left guard, and a top-5 right guard already on their roster. With those three pieces in place, the Jets’ offensive line would be a top-half unit even if there were replacement-level starters at the other two spots.
And, presumably, the Jets won’t have replacement-level starters at center and right tackle when it’s all said and done. Say the Jets sign Ben Jones at center and then use the 13th overall pick (if they keep it) on a right tackle. Put those two pieces alongside fully-realized versions of Becton, Tomlinson, and Vera-Tucker, and you have the foundation of a potentially elite offensive line.
But it all starts with the big three staying healthy and playing up to their ceilings. The Jets can go out and make whatever additions they like over the remainder of this offseason, but the core is already in place, and this offensive line will only go as far as those three players take them.
Well said !!! Could not be more true. The O-line is at the helm of success. If all 3 can stay healthy then the sky is the limit. Would like to see more moves on JD’s end to bring in the best players he can to protect Rodgers. Exciting to think about the potential moves during this off season and even more exciting to think about a Jets team who can put points on the board.
Well done Michael. AND our depth is better. JD is doing this one piece at a time.
Right on the money Mike. I would like to see Jones or Ethan Pocic signed at center which would be 4 solid..hopefully.
I feel its important because we’re talking about a $7m hit at most for either.
It also gives flexibility if we still have the first round pick.
But with Duane Brown coming back, who plays LT and who plays RT?
Brown would be a backup in that scenario, which would be ideal for the Jets. It seems they are intent on putting Becton back on the left side.
The team can also release Brown post-June 1 and save over $9 million in cap space, but that doesn’t seem likely with how glowingly Saleh spoke about him.
Whether it’s through the draft or another free agent I don’t see Brown starting. I think Becton will be back at LT and someone yet to be added will be at RT.