The offensive line is still a concern for the New York Jets, but at least their approach is clarified
With the NFL Draft complete, the New York Jets did not acquire any of the top 10 offensive tackles in the draft.
With Aaron Rodgers entering his age-40 season and question marks at both tackle spots, that has to be a top concern for the team. It was fairly apparent on Day 1 of the draft that the Steelers’ trade with the Patriots to nab Broderick Jones blew up the team’s overall strategy.
Still, the other moves Joe Douglas made along the offensive line give a fairly good idea of what the Jets’ Plan B is.
1. Brown/Becton/Mitchell competing at starting tackle
Although there was a report that the Jets were going to move Mekhi Becton back to left tackle, the fact that Duane Brown plays only on the left side makes it more likely that Becton will be the de facto starter on the right. The Jets seem to be comfortable with Brown despite his age and the fact that he is coming off rotator cuff surgery.
Becton is the biggest wild card of the Jets’ offense. If he can stay healthy and in shape, he has the potential to be a dominant tackle. Those two have not been the case in over two years, though.
Max Mitchell is another question mark. He played decently for a fourth-round developmental prospect, but he was benched for poor performance against the Vikings. He then missed the remainder of the season with blood clots, and his health status is up in the air.
Mitchell has some promising traits, but his play strength is still not up to par for a starting tackle. Like last year, an injury to Becton would make Mitchell seemingly the next man up, which is not an exciting prospect. However, the Jets do have an alternative.
Carter Warren, the team’s fourth-rounder, was drafted for the same role that Mitchell was in 2022: a developmental swing tackle.
2. Alijah Vera-Tucker kicking out to tackle, if necessary
Alijah Vera-Tucker was the Jets’ most valuable offensive player last year. He played three offensive line positions and played them all well. His highest ceiling is at guard, but he is certainly a more than capable tackle, especially on the right side.
Rather than using Mitchell as their first backup tackle, it appears the Jets may be planning to use AVT as a contingency plan. Re-signing Connor McGovern and drafting Joe Tippmann in the second round point to that possibility. This is particularly due to the fact that Douglas pointed out in his press conference that Tippmann can play guard. McGovern also has past guard experience.
Robert Saleh said that McGovern and Tippmann will battle for the starting center position. Whichever one loses, though, could possibly be considered AVT’s direct backup. In the event of an injury to Brown or Becton, the team seems to be opening up the option of moving one of the two centers to guard and kicking AVT out to tackle.
3. Load up on depth
After drafting Tippmann and Warren, the Jets now have many bodies on the offensive line—11 in total. Cedric Ogbuehi was brought back as tackle depth, while Wes Schweitzer and Trystan Colon came in as interior options. Brown, Laken Tomlinson, McGovern, Vera-Tucker, and Becton are the starting five until stated otherwise, with Mitchell as another tackle option.
The Jets’ offensive line injuries last season are not completely solved. However, Vera-Tucker’s injury was somewhat fluky and unfortunate rather than expected to recur. His versatility is still the Jets’ trump card in case of disaster. Although Brown is 38, his injury last year was also more unfortunate than recurring.
Colon may well not make the roster, but it’s also possible that the Jets like his upside. All these moves also do not preclude another depth signing later in camp. But the Jets like their options as they stand.
4. Tomlinson accountability
This may or may not be in the Jets’ plans, but they certainly did give themselves more interior options. Tomlinson had a highly disappointing first season in New York. All phases of his game declined significantly. He was definitively below average.
The Jets obviously hope that he returns to his San Francisco form in Year 2, even if he was overrated from the outset. Some stability in his linemates could help, as well as a tougher disciplinarian coaching him in Keith Carter.
However, if Tomlinson continues to scuffle, especially with regard to mental lapses, the Jets have the ability to make a change. Since McGovern and Tippmann can both potentially play guard, Tomlinson will not be able to coast in 2023. Schweitzer also has significant starting guard experience and was actually a fairly average guard, so he’s another player who could push Tomlinson for time.
Unlike 2022, when Tomlinson knew the Jets could not afford to replace him, 2023 is an all-in year. It’s either shape up or ship out for the 49ers transplant.
5. Plan for the future
Although the Jets may not have their long-term tackle situation set up yet, 2023 is clearly a year of evaluation for Becton and Mitchell. Though Douglas will not make any announcement about Becton’s fifth-year option, the only possible move is to decline it. That being said, if Becton can stay healthy and play up to his potential, he could be in line for a huge salary bump, even if that is via the franchise tag.
A fired-up Becton could be a sight to behold for New York. Saleh and Douglas still love the upside he showed as a rookie. A man that size moving in space that fluidly and absolutely mauling defenders could be a force of nature in the Jets’ offense.
Mitchell also has a chance to show the Jets that his timeline is accelerated. He played many meaningful snaps as a rookie when that was not initially the team’s plan. Obviously, his medical issue must be fully resolved before he can play again, and the extended time away likely hurt his chance at building muscle. Still, he was considered a high-upside pick, and this is the year for him to show that he can take over at right tackle in 2024.
Warren, meanwhile, may never be a starting tackle, but if he could step capably into the swing tackle position, that would give the Jets a big answer that they’ve been consistently lacking.
This is going to be a pivotal year for Saleh and Douglas. Douglas was always known for wanting to build in the trenches, but he did leave the offensive line less robust than he probably would have liked. If Rodgers ends up unable to execute the offense due to line issues, the microscope will be squarely on Douglas for failing to build a competent line in five years as Jets GM.
However, Douglas still views last year’s offensive line woes as more unfortunate than predictive. At least with regard to Vera-Tucker and Brown, he is not entirely wrong. Tippmann is of instant starter caliber, which is an automatic upgrade. Having a competent signal-caller directing the protections could also make a world of a difference.
Though it was not an ideal draft from an offensive line perspective, it was not a disastrous one. The Jets have a plan. Now, they just have to hope that it is not blasted to smithereens as it was in 2022.
One of the things being overlooked in discussing the OLine is how much having Rodgers behind center will improve their performance. From pre-snap changes to blocking assignments, blitz calls, executing check-downs, and most importantly, getting the ball out on time the OLine will be the beneficiaries. Maybe we’ll be able to execute a screen-pass for the first time in a decade.
I think the Jets have manipulated a decent Plan B for the offensive line. I absolutely agree with the characterization that the strategy was “blown up” by the Steelers’ trade and first round pick. It was obvious they were caught off guard (as was I, I must confess) but they ultimately pivoted and concocted a decent Plan B. That is all we can expect under the circumstances.
I expected NE to take Jones, so I was not that shocked when Pittsburgh traded up.
Rivka…while I don’t agree with the characterization that their draft strategy was “blown up” by what took place in front of them in R1, I generally agree with everything else said. As a GM, knowing that all the Tackles could be gone is an obvious draft modeling strategy. The fact that they elected to trade down from 13 suggested they were willing to let it happen, so no…their strategy wasn’t blown up. It also assumes that they would’ve been willing to take all 4 OTs drafted ahead of them. Unless you’re in JDs draft room, you could not know that. Be wary of declarative statements unless you are certain. That said, they appear to have more than enough Tackles to weather possible storms. Your Tomlison analysis is spot on. He has to be skating on thin ice after last year’s debacle. Other than him, I’m not too concerned about their OLine going into this phase of the offseason.
I’m concerned. How we can rely on Becton and a 38yo Brown to play a full season is absolutely troubling. I’m really frustrated by JD continually building the OL on hope. As soon as one or both of those guys go down, we are screwed, our already thin depth is gone, and the carousel of undermanned rookies and no-name practice squad guys starts all over again. We’ll see flashbacks of Mike White getting crushed, but it’ll be an immensely more valuable #8 this time. I don’t know. Parcells never overlooked the OL like we have for the past 4+ years.
It’s all down to health. If Becton, Brown and AVT all stay healthy this has a chance to be a good O line. If Warren winds up starting half the games for us, we’re in trouble. Becton and AVT will maul on the right side, bolstered by an upgrade at Center in Tippman. Tomlinson can’t possibly play worse, and if he doesn’t play better I feel like we’ve got some decent options. If Brown gets hurt or falls off we can move Becton to the left side and play Mitchell at RT.