While this New York Jets narrative has merit, it fails to consider the full picture
With the New York Jets‘ presence on Hard Knocks, every narrative surrounding the team is that much more amplified. Aaron Rodgers had a bad day of practice? The whole NFL world knows about it. Dalvin Cook is in the house? Ditto.
So it’s no surprise to see so many in the media doubting the Jets due to the state of their offensive line. After all, it was the chief focus of early episodes, including a chewing-out from Robert Saleh in front of the whole team.
There is much irony in the sudden frenzy surrounding the Jets’ offensive line after all the hype prior to training camp. After all, any Jets fan following the team should have known long since that the line would be a question mark. Still, bandwagoners are quick to hop on and off based on how the wind blows, and they only first became aware of the problem from watching the HBO show.
Still, the Jets’ offensive line is undoubtedly an area of concern. There are question marks concerning age, injuries, and performance. Those who cast aspersions on the Jets’ ability to win the division due to those issues, though, should check out the offensive lines around the AFC East.
How does the Jets’ front five stack up with those around the division? How important is the offensive line in determining the success of each of these teams?
Here are the 2022 PFF run- and pass-blocking grades for the presumed top five offensive linemen on each team in the AFC East. For players who were significantly injured, we’ll go back to their last healthy season.
(Note: percentile rank in parentheses; interquartile range (IQR) is a measure of variance calculated by subtracting the first quartile from the third quartile, where a higher value means more variance.)
- LT Dion Dawkins: 80.0 pass (80th percentile), 62.3 run (44th)
- LG Connor McGovern: 74.8 pass (78th), 42.7 run (5th)
- C Mitch Morse: 67.1 pass (56th), 57.3 run (29th)
- RG Ryan Bates: 61.5 pass (36th), 59.0 run (39th)
- RT Spencer Brown: 49.4 pass (11th), 53.7 run (20th)
- OG O’Cyrus Torrence (FBS): 76.0 pass (70th), 89.9 run (100th)
Average: 66.6 pass, 55.0 run
Average percentile: 52nd pass, 27th run
Percentile IQR: 42 pass, 19 run
- LT Terron Armstead: 80.0 pass (80th), 69.4 run (62nd)
- LG Isaiah Wynn (mostly tackle): 52.8 pass (15th), 63.2 run (47th)
- C Connor Williams: 69.1 pass (71st), 85.1 run (94th)
- RG Robert Hunt: 74.0 pass (75th), 76.2 run (92nd)
- RT Austin Jackson (2021, guard): 49.1 pass (20th), 54.8 run (16th)
- LG/C Liam Eichenberg: 39.6 pass (2nd), 42.5 run (2nd)
Average: 65.0 pass, 69.7 run
Average percentile: 52nd pass, 62nd run
Percentile IQR: 51 pass, 45 run
New York Jets
- LT Duane Brown: 72.3 pass (48th), 44.4 run (6th)
- LG Laken Tomlinson: 70.2 pass (61st), 46.1 run (9th)
- C Connor McGovern: 69.5 pass (74th), 69.7 run (74th)
- RG Alijah Vera-Tucker: 61.4 pass (36th), 76.5 run (93rd)
- RT Mekhi Becton (2020): 76.0 pass (59th), 73.9 run (65th)
- OT/OG Billy Turner: 50.7 pass (12th), 57.3 run (35th)
Average grade: 69.9 pass, 62.1 run
Average percentile: 55th pass, 49th run
Percentile IQR: 13 pass, 65 run
New England Patriots
- LT Trent Brown: 76.1 pass (65th), 59.5 run (39th)
- LG Cole Strange: 67.8 pass (55th), 48.3 run (14th)
- C David Andrews: 65.0 pass (38th), 76.9 run (82nd)
- RG Mike Onwenu: 83.1 pass (97th), 73.1 run (91st)
- RT Riley Reiff: 67.0 pass (32nd), 59.1 run (38th)
- OT Calvin Anderson: 66.1 pass (29th), 59.3 run (39th)
Average grade: 71.8 pass, 63.4 run
Average percentile: 57th pass, 53rd run
Percentile IQR: 27 pass, 44 run
What does it mean?
Looking at these PFF grades, you can see some inaccuracies in the numbers. For example, the Jets’ Connor McGovern and Laken Tomlinson may have overrated pass-blocking grades, while Alijah Vera-Tucker’s is likely underrated. Regardless, it’s still the best we have in offensive line comparison, especially run-blocking.
Also note that the numbers from Austin Jackson and Mekhi Becton are not from 2022, and Jackson’s and Isaiah Wynn’s are from a position that is different than the one they’ll be playing in 2023. Vera-Tucker’s is also a split between guard and tackle, where the relative grades are different. The Bills’ starting right guard is not clear yet, as rookie O’Cyrus Torrence and incumbent Ryan Bates were in competition for the spot; if Torrence does start, the Bills’ offensive line has a higher ceiling but a murkier floor.
Injuries certainly loom large over these numbers, not only for Becton who hasn’t played in two years, but also for Jackson, Terron Armstead, Duane Brown, Spencer Brown, and Isaiah Wynn.
Here are the rankings within the division:
- Average pass-blocking grade: 1. Patriots (71.8), 2. Jets (69.9), 3. Bills (66.6), 4. Dolphins (65.0)
- Average pass-blocking percentile: 1. Patriots (57th), 2. Jets (55th), T-3. Bills (52nd), T-3. Dolphins (52nd)
- Pass block percentile IQR: 1. Jets 13, 2. Patriots 27, 3. Bills 42, 4. Dolphins 51
- Average run-blocking grade: 1. Dolphins (69.7), 2. Patriots (63.4), 3. Jets (57.3), 4. Bills (55.4)
- Average run-blocking percentile: 1. Dolphins (62nd), 2. Patriots (52nd), 3. Jets (49th), 4. Bills (27th)
- Run block percentile IQR: 1. Bills 19, 2. Patriots 44, 3. Dolphins 45, 4. Jets 65
Jets’ offensive line
Notice that, statistically, the Jets’ pass-blocking is the second-best within the division. Obviously, this includes Becton’s 2020 season, and his health is highly suspect. Based on how Becton played in the preseason, though, it stands to reason that his performance baseline is his rookie year.
Furthermore, the Jets’ pass-blocking variance is the lowest within the division. Though the Patriots’ pass-blocking is likely the best given their top percentile average and second-lowest variance, the Jets’ pass-blocking is the second-best with the least variance. That means, at least in potential, the Jets should have the second-most stable pass-blocking in the division. Meanwhile, although Miami has three stud pass-blockers, their other two spots are liabilities (even with Liam Eichenberg no longer in the starting lineup). Spencer Brown alone is enough to weigh down the entire Bills’ pass-blocking unit.
The Jets do have far more variance in their run-blocking. Still, they’re not that far behind the Patriots percentile-wise, signifying a similar blocking unit. The Bills’ run-blocking is clearly the worst in the division, as they have little variance for their 27th-percentile ranking. Torrence could certainly help that if he starts, but he will not be able to compensate if Morse, Brown, and McGovern repeat their 2022 run-blocking performance. Miami’s run-blocking is the best in the division by a significant margin.
The question for each team is how their personnel will fare considering the blocking in front of them. It works separately in the run and passing games.
A quarterback’s pressure statistics are generally not so stable from year to year. The trends of how quickly they get the ball out tend to be more predictable.
Here are the 2022 statistics for the four AFC East quarterbacks out of 38 qualified quarterbacks (min. 175 dropbacks).
- Average time to throw: Tua Tagovailoa 2.52 (4th), Aaron Rodgers 2.67 (T-14th), Mac Jones 2.69 (T-16th), Josh Allen 2.88 (28th)
- Percentage of passes released in under 2.5 seconds: Tagovailoa 53.8% (5th), Rodgers 50.3% (11th), Jones 44.1% (21st), Allen 41.9% (T-23rd)
- Pressure rate: Tagovailoa 25.7% (3rd), Rodgers 26.7% (4th), Jones 29.2% (8th), Allen 34.0% (21st)
- Pressure blame rate: Jones 10.2% (13th), Tagovailoa 13% (19th), Rodgers 17.3% (27th), Allen 18.7% (29th)
- Pressure-to-sack ratio: Allen 14.7% (8th), Tagovailoa 18.9% (18th), Rodgers 20.4% (21st), Jones 23.4% (31st)
- Passer rating under pressure: Allen 96.7 (1st), Tagovailoa 91.6 (2nd), Rodgers 62.6 (22nd), Jones 35.1 (36th)
- True pass set rate (ranked low to high): Tagovailoa 31.7% (2nd), Rodgers 37% (3rd), Allen 46.6% (21st), Jones 52.2% (29th)
It appears that Tagovailoa is the least likely to be affected by his offensive line. He gets the ball out very quickly, has very few true pass sets, and mitigates the effects of pressure. Tua circumvents the threat of pressure, and his receivers do the rest.
Despite Tua’s elite play in 2022, he could actually be at the most risk from pressure due to his concussion situation. One concussion tends to beget another, and Tagovailoa had three separate concussions, including two in the span of five days (notwithstanding the NFL’s insistence on labeling the first a back injury). If Tua hits the ground hard even once, the risk of ending his season or career is grave.
Rodgers has the second-quickest release in the division. He often gets the ball out quickly, avoids true pass sets with play-action and screen passes, and minimizes his pressure rate despite playing behind a mediocre line. His pressure-to-sack ratio was slightly worse than average, remarkable for a 39-year-old passer.
Still, Rodgers’ passing under pressure has been subpar for several years, underscoring the need for protection. Furthermore, his propensity to extend plays leads to pressure that is his fault more than his offensive line’s.
Allen, meanwhile, has been in the top half of the NFL in passing under pressure since 2020. His strength and mobility prevent him from getting sacked, and he makes magic with both his arm and legs, but he holds onto the ball a bit long, which caused him to be pressured far more than the other passers in 2022. He was also the most to blame for the pressure he faced.
Jones is lucky that he has the best pass-blocking unit since he is the most susceptible to pressure. Tagovailoa, Allen, and Rodgers all have pros and cons in this area.
There aren’t many statistics that separate an offensive line’s run-blocking from the running back’s performance. The best statistic is Rush Yards Over Expected (RYOE), which is flawed but still somewhat useful.
Here are the RYOE per attempt and rank among 52 backs (min. 80 carries) for each team’s top two backs.
- Dolphins: Raheem Mostert -0.0979 (39th), Jeff Wilson 0.396 (T-19th)
- Patriots: Rhamondre Stevenson 0.578 (13th), Ezekiel Elliott -0.337 (47th)
- Jets: Breece Hall 1.37 (1st), Dalvin Cook -0.0805 (37th)
- Bills: James Cook 0.996 (6th), Damien Harris 0.315 (24th)
The Bills have the best duo in this metric, but their run-blocking is the worst. Perhaps having Cook carry more of the load will unlock their running game outside of their quarterback, as Cook ranked second in yards per carry and fourth in EPA per rush. Still, Cook, like Breece Hall, had a small sample size in 2022, which could regress with a larger workload.
Hall is also likely to regress due to that small sample size and his return from an ACL tear. How much will be a big factor in the Jets’ rushing attack. Dalvin Cook’s inefficiency makes the Jets’ poor run-blocking grade a big question, specifically on the left side. Still, Hall’s best games came with four of the current five starters, showing that he can perform well despite those run-blocking woes.
Rhamondre Stevenson will likely carry the main load for the Patriots, who have solid run-blocking. Elliott could find rejuvenation there, especially in a reduced role. He had 231 carries in 2022 to Stevenson’s 210; a decreased workload skewed toward short-yardage and pass-protection situations could improve his performance. That being said, the Cowboys’ run-blocking was very similar to the Patriots’ in 2022 (54th percentile average ranking), so he could also play the same.
The Dolphins arguably have the highest upside along their offensive line, as three of their five starters are studs, and 5/10 categories along the line are in the 75th percentile or above. Isaiah Wynn is decent enough at guard, making Austin Jackson the only true weak link. The Patriots have the best individual offensive lineman in the division in Mike Onwenu, who is one of the best two-way blockers in the NFL.
Still, as many question marks as the Jets have about both health and performance, their ceiling just based on each blocker’s play over the last two years is solid, as shown by the numbers. Becton’s last season was in 2020, so let’s take his numbers from that year (since he appears to be physically at a similar level). For everyone else, we’ll look at 2021-22.
- LT Duane Brown: 72.3 pass (48th), 69.6 run (48th)
- LG Laken Tomlinson: 75.2 pass (84th), 75.0 run (80th)
- C Connor McGovern: 69.5 pass (74th), 78.9 run (82nd)
- RG Alijah Vera-Tucker: 61.4 pass (36th), 76.5 pass (93rd)
- RT Mekhi Becton: 76.0 pass (59th), 73.9 run (65th)
Average percentile rank: 60th pass, 74th run
Performing this same calculation with the other teams’ front five, here are the numbers.
- Bills: 57th pass, 46th run
- Patriots: 70th pass, 60th run
- Dolphins: 70th pass, 63rd run
- Jets: 60th pass, 74th run
This may seem like statistical gymnastics, and perhaps it is, to a certain extent. Still, although the Dolphins and Patriots have a higher pass-blocking ceiling based on previous performance, both teams have a weaker link than the Jets do (Jackson and Reiff). Does this mean the Jets’ offensive line will be the most consistent? Absolutely not, but the chance is there based on recent performance.
Note that there are still several factors that could boost various teams’ performance. Torrence could build Buffalo’s run-blocking, although he could struggle with pass-blocking. If he can actually remain at guard, Vera-Tucker has a chance to finally reach that All-Pro ceiling.
The Dolphins are still hoping to get more out of their 2020 first-round pick in Jackson. Strange, another first-rounder, could take a big step forward for the Patriots in his second year.
Becton’s sheer physical talent is undeniable, and he could make strides if he remains healthy, especially with an elite passer under center. Joe Tippmann is waiting in the wings and could potentially be better than McGovern if he earns the starting job at some point. This is aside from each blocker reaching their top level of play from the last two years.
What happens if players perform at their worst level and each team’s two most injury-prone linemen miss a large amount of time? That would mean Becton missing nine games, Duane Brown three, Armstead six, Jackson eight, Trent Brown four, Reiff three, Spencer Brown three, and Morse two.
As substitutes, Billy Turner would play 12 games at tackle for the Jets, Kendall Lamm would play 14 games at tackle for Miami, Calvin Anderson would play seven games at tackle for New England, Ryan Van Demark would play three games at tackle for Buffalo, and O’Cyrus Torrence would play two games at guard for Buffalo, moving Ryan Bates to center.
(Note: I am using the rookie year of Terence Steele, an undrafted free agent for the Cowboys in 2020, as a comp for Van Demark, a 2022 UDFA. I also used the rookie year of Sam Cosmi, drafted at No. 51 overall by Washington in 2021, as a comp for Torrence, who was drafted at No. 59 in 2023. The players had similar statistical profiles in college.)
- Bills: 48th pass, 27th run
- Dolphins: 36th pass, 50th run
- Patriots: 49th pass, 48th run
- Jets: 44th pass, 44th run
Obviously, none of these teams fares well if the worst-case scenario happens, and this does not even include the potential for other injuries. This is a scenario that could sink the Jets, specifically their pass-blocking. Buffalo’s run-blocking doesn’t seem to affect them as much as it might other teams due to Allen’s legs, which have comprised most of their run game for several years.
There will be 24 games played within the AFC East during the 2023 regular season. Of course, the teams have other opponents besides each other, but divisional play is a key factor. Which team is in the best position to capitalize on the others’ weaknesses up front?
Here are each team’s pressure stats against divisional opponents in 2022:
- Bills: 215 dropbacks, 61 pressures (28.4%), 12 sacks (5.6%), 2 hits, 4 batted passes, 8 throwaways
- Dolphins: 245 dropbacks, 81 pressures (33.1%), 13 sacks (5.3%), 3 hits, 8 batted passes, 8 throwaways
- Patriots: 226 dropbacks, 91 pressures (40.3%), 15 sacks (6.6%), 2 hits, 3 batted passes, 10 throwaways
- Jets: 221 dropbacks, 90 pressures (40.7%), 23 sacks (10.4%), 1 batted pass, 14 throwaways
Notice which team had the highest pressure rate and the most sacks against the other three. The comparison isn’t entirely fair, as Buffalo had to face Tua Tagovailoa twice and New England faced him once, while the Jets avoided him both times.
Still, the Jets had the worst quarterback play in the division, the fewest leads, and the worst divisional record but still managed to affect the passer tremendously. It’s worth noting that the Jets’ defense gave up an average of 15.2 points per game in those six games despite opponents’ average starting field position coming at their own 44.
While these teams are not the same as they were last year, the Jets remain in prime position to take advantage of their opponents’ offensive line weaknesses. Other teams in the division also have strong defensive lines, but the Jets have the most depth and versatility in their pass rush. This is a side point, but when looking at the AFC East, the Jets may have the biggest advantage in the trenches, at least from a passing perspective.
This is all an extraordinarily long-winded way of saying that all four teams in the AFC East have questions along their offensive line.
New England might actually be in the best shape in that area due to a combination of a top-tier guard in Onwenu, a solid center, two viable tackles, and a possibly ascending young guard. Miami and Buffalo both have stud left tackles, but Miami’s is injury-prone. The Bills’ right tackle, Spencer Brown, may be the worst offensive lineman in the division with the lowest ceiling and floor.
While this analysis is far from scientific, it does give a glimpse into the misleading narrative surrounding the Jets. Yes, there are questions along the offensive line, but the entire division has questions. The Jets’ concerns are more hyped because of the injuries, but remember that the Patriots just activated Mike Onwenu off the PUP toward the end of August just as the Jets did with Duane Brown. The disparity in their ages is obviously a factor, but again, the Jets are not the only team in the division with offensive line injuries.
Ultimately, in the NFL, the teams that make it through the dogfight are usually the ones that get healthy at the right time. The questions about Becton are certainly valid, and the worries about training camp are, too. But hope springs eternal at this time of the year, and for the Jets, hope has never shone brighter despite the injury concerns.