The New York Jets need a tackle who can fit into their scheme like a glove
When evaluating NFL draft prospects, scheme compatibility is a paramount factor to consider. A certain prospect might be ranked as a top-five player on one team’s board but outside the top 20 on another team’s board, simply because of how well his skill set fits each team’s scheme.
With that in mind, it’s time to turn our attention to the New York Jets. The Jets are widely expected to select an offensive tackle with the 13th overall pick in next week’s draft, but the bigger question is which tackle they would select.
Let’s try to identify which of the top tackle prospects might be viewed by Joe Douglas as the best fits for the Jets’ offensive scheme.
An important testing drill could point us in the right direction
The Jets have a revamped offensive coaching staff led by Nathaniel Hackett, but Hackett’s scheme is expected to be fairly similar to the one run by his predecessor, Mike LaFleur, as both coaches hail from the same tree. Considering this, we can still use the Jets’ past two seasons under LaFleur as a reasonable guide for the type of offensive linemen Hackett will seek for his outside-zone running scheme.
I’ve noticed that just about every offensive lineman targeted by New York has boasted an above-average testing result in the broad jump. It makes sense: the broad jump is an effective way to evaluate explosiveness and burst, which are two crucial traits in an outside-zone scheme. On outside run plays, linemen must be able to get out of their stance quickly and beat their man to the spot.
All four of the Jets’ 2022 Week 1 starting offensive linemen who participated in the broad jump at their respective combines posted a 60th-percentile-or-better performance for their position:
- LG Laken Tomlinson: 103 in. (61st percentile among G)
- C Connor McGovern: 109 in. (87th percentile among C)
- RG Alijah Vera-Tucker: 106 in. (76th percentile among G)
- RT Max Mitchell: 106 in. (70th percentile among T)
Duane Brown also recorded a 62nd percentile mark of 105 inches, although that was a long time ago. Fellow tackles Mekhi Becton and George Fant did not participate in the broad jump, but considering each of them is an elite athlete for the position, it seems likely they both would have posted great numbers.
Looking at Hackett’s previous teams, this trend holds up. The 2022 Broncos’ opening-week starting offensive line featured an average broad-jump percentile rank of 68.8 among the four starters who participated in the drill.
During Hackett’s three years in Green Bay (2019-21), the Packers drafted six offensive linemen, three of whom participated in the broad jump. Those three players recorded an average broad-jump percentile ranking of 76.3. The best mark (109 inches) belonged to their highest-drafted lineman, Elgton Jenkins, who they drafted 44th overall in 2019 – Hackett’s first draft with the team. Jenkins has grown into a cornerstone player for the Packers, starting at four different positions and making two Pro Bowls.
It seems clear that the broad jump can help steer us in the right direction. Here is a look at the performances of the consensus top-five tackle prospects in the 2023 class:
- Peter Skoronski, Northwestern: 115 in. (96th percentile among T)
- Darnell Wright, Tennessee: 114 in. (94th percentile)
- Paris Johnson Jr., Ohio State: 110 in. (84th percentile)
- Broderick Jones, Georgia: 108 in. (76th percentile)
- Anton Harrison, Oklahoma: 105 in. (62nd percentile)
All five prospects cleared the 60th percentile threshold, meaning none of them were poor enough in the broad jump to be eliminated from potential consideration. However, Peter Skoronski and Darnell Wright separated themselves from the pack with elite results. Anton Harrison was a step behind the other four prospects while Paris Johnson Jr. and Broderick Jones fell in the middle.
How much do the Jets care about measurables?
Other than a gigantic outlier (both figuratively and literally) in Mekhi Becton, the Jets have tended to target offensive linemen with average size rather than those with uniquely imposing frames.
Here are the Jets’ key 2022 linemen and their percentile rankings in height, weight*, and arm length:
*Weights shown are the players’ listed weights for the 2022 season.
- Duane Brown: 6’4 (8th percentile among T), 315 lb (56th percentile), 34¼ in. arm length (59th percentile)
- Mekhi Becton: 6’7 (91st percentile among T), 363 lb (98th percentile), 35⅝ in. arm length (95th percentile)
- Max Mitchell: 6’6¼ (86th percentile among T), 307 lb (35th percentile), 33½ in. arm length (46th percentile)
- George Fant: 6’5 (30th percentile among T), 322 lb (74th percentile), 34⅞ in. arm length (78th percentile)
- Connor McGovern: 6’4 (68th percentile among C), 306 lb (64th percentile), 32⅞ in. arm length (37th percentile)
- Alijah Vera-Tucker: 6’4½ (61st percentile among G), 308 lb (34th percentile), 32⅛ in. arm length (8th percentile)
- Laken Tomlinson: 6’3 (19th percentile among G), 315 lb (59th percentile), 33⅝ in. arm length (63rd percentile)
On average, these seven linemen combined for a height percentile of 51.9, a weight percentile of 60.0, and a length percentile of 55.1. If you take out Becton, the averages dip to 45.3, 53.7, and 48.5.
The Jets certainly haven’t shown they are okay with tiny offensive linemen, but they don’t seem to want behemoths, either. Becton is the lone exception since he offers unreal athleticism for a man his size. Otherwise, the Jets have targeted linemen with fairly average size, who usually offer better movement skills than larger, burlier linemen but still aren’t too small.
That’s not to say the Jets would avoid an offensive line prospect with tremendous size, but they do not seem to actively look for size, either. It just seems to be a non-factor for the Jets, both in terms of their personal preferences and the demands of the outside-zone scheme. This means that if size is one of the best parts of a prospect’s resume, his stock might be lower for the Jets than for other teams.
The opposite is also true. If size is one of the top red flags for a prospect, the Jets might be more willing to overlook it than other teams, as long as he is athletic enough. We’re specifically talking about height and length here, not weight. The Jets haven’t yet shown they will take their chances on a very light lineman (sub-305 lb.), but they have shown they will trust linemen who are short or have short arms.
Here is a look at the measurables of the top five prospects in 2023:
- Peter Skoronski, Northwestern: 6’4 (8th percentile among T), 313 lb (49th percentile), 32¼ in. arms (4th percentile)
- Darnell Wright, Tennessee: 6’5⅛ (44th percentile), 333 lb (89th percentile), 33¾ in. arms (33rd percentile)
- Paris Johnson Jr., Ohio State: 6’6⅜ (74th percentile), 313 lb (49th percentile), 36⅛ in. arms (96th percentile)
- Broderick Jones, Georgia: 6’5⅜ (45th percentile), 311 lb (42nd percentile), 34¾ in. arms (74th percentile)
- Anton Harrison, Oklahoma: 6’4¼ (14th percentile), 315 lb (56th percentile), 34⅛ in. arms (55th percentile)
All five players have adequate weight to be considered by the Jets; none are too small. Four of the five weighed in very close to the positional average, with the exception being Darnell Wright at 333 pounds. If drafted by the Jets, Wright would join Becton in the group of outliers compared to New York’s typical preference for average-sized linemen.
In terms of length, Paris Johnson Jr. stands out as someone who might not be as appealing to the Jets as he might be to other teams. Outside of Becton, the Jets haven’t shown they have a particular fondness for elite arm length. Johnson’s 96th-percentile arm length is one of the best traits on his resume. Other teams might fall in love with Johnson because of his length, but the Jets would need to love him for some other reason to draft him.
Peter Skoronski’s lack of height and length might be concerning to some teams. However, the Jets have shown they are willing to rely on linemen with similar physical limitations.
The Jets have trusted shorter linemen such as Duane Brown (6’4) and Laken Tomlinson (6’3), while they liked Alijah Vera-Tucker enough to draft him in the top 15 despite his unusually short arms (32⅛”). The difference is that New York moved Vera-Tucker to guard while Skoronski projects as a tackle, but in 2022, the Jets were comfortable with moving Vera-Tucker to tackle in a pinch and Vera-Tucker played well. So, the Jets might be less concerned about Skoronski’s height and length issues than some other teams.
While every NFL offense has its identity, they are all multi-faceted. Teams that are known for primarily using outside zone will still call plenty of gap-blocking plays, and vice versa. Nobody is completely one-dimensional.
According to Pro Football Focus, the 2022 Jets employed a 58.7%/41.3% split of zone-blocking snaps versus gap-blocking snaps. That made them the 13th-heaviest zone-leaning team.
However, the Jets might become an even more zone-heavy team under Hackett. In 2022, Hackett’s Broncos were the sixth-most zone-heavy team with a 65.4%/34.6% split in favor of zone-blocking snaps. Hackett carried this over from Green Bay. In Hackett’s final season as the Packers’ offensive coordinator, Green Bay employed a 69.3%/31.7% split.
It seems likely the Jets will run zone-blocking concepts on at least 65% of their run plays, potentially coming close to 70%. Which prospect’s college offense was the closest match to this zone-heavy distribution?
Here are the zone/gap splits of the top five tackle prospects during the 2022 season:
- Peter Skoronski, Northwestern: 43.0% zone, 57.0% gap
- Darnell Wright, Tennessee: 40.4% zone, 59.6% gap
- Paris Johnson Jr., Ohio State: 71.1% zone, 28.9% gap
- Broderick Jones, Georgia: 54.0% zone, 46.0% gap
- Anton Harrison, Oklahoma: 46.3% zone, 53.7% gap
Paris Johnson Jr. is the only prospect of the five who operated with a zone percentage that comes anywhere close to the Jets’ potential usage rate. Peter Skoronski, Darnell Wright, and Anton Harrison all played in gap-leaning offenses. Broderick Jones’ Georgia Bulldogs leaned toward zone, but only slightly.
I doubt the Jets would exclude any of these prospects based on the scheme they played in during college. It’s completely possible to watch a prospect play in one scheme and project that he could play similarly well (or even better) in another scheme.
However, I do think the Jets’ current situation as a franchise will point them toward linemen like Johnson who already have ample experience playing in a zone-heavy running scheme.
We know the drill by now: The Jets are shooting for a Super Bowl-or-bust window with Aaron Rodgers (if the trade actually goes down). In that case, they might lean toward prospects who are the most prepared to help them win immediately. Theoretically speaking, the more a prospect’s college offense resembles the Jets’ offense, the smoother their transition would be to the NFL, thus giving them a better chance of producing at a high level in their rookie season.
So what do you think, Jets fans? Which of the top offensive tackle prospects would be the best fit for the Jets’ offense?
Next Article: 3 surprising positions NY Jets could target in draft
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