All is quiet in the NFL as players and fans enjoy summer beach trips and backyard barbeques. But training camp is just around the corner, with rookies reporting on July 19th and veterans a week later on July 26th. In a hectic offseason, the Jets signed nine outside free agents and selected seven players in the draft. New York could potentially have more than 30% of its roster of new faces.
This series of articles will look at the Jets’ position groups, how they compare to last season and what to expect in 2022. The first article in the series looked at the tight end room. Next, we look at another group that has a chance to be a real strength in 2022, the offensive line.
The 2021 Jets’ offensive line, a look back
Last season Gang Green had high hopes for their offensive line when the season began. Left tackle Mekhi Becton was coming off an impressive rookie campaign, the Jets used a first-round pick on guard Alijah Vera-Tucker, and they signed free agent tackle Morgan Moses. It was clear New York was prioritizing the offensive line.
After just 48 snaps, the Jets’ best-laid plans went astray as Becton went down with a six-week injury that turned into a season-ending injury. The Jets, forced to shuffle their line, moved George Fant to left tackle, and Moses became the full-time starting right tackle. According to Pro Football Focus (PFF), New York finished the season ranked 21st in pass-blocking and 13th in run-blocking.
A deeper look into the numbers, according to Football Outsiders, the Jets line was ranked 20th in a stat called Stuffed. This statistic tracks the percentage of runs where running backs are stopped at or behind the line of scrimmage. The Jets had 18% of their runs stuffed; the NFL average is 17%.
Another stat Football Outsiders looks at is called Power Success. Power Success is defined on their website as the “percentage of runs on third or fourth down, two yards or less to go, that achieved a first down or touchdown. It also includes runs on first-and-goal or second-and-goal from the two-yard line or closer.” In terms of Power Success, the Jets ranked 20th, converting in those situations 64% of the time; the NFL average is 67%.
One more stat that Football Outsiders looks at is called Adjusted Sack Rate. An explanation of this stat from their website:
Sack Rate represents sacks divided by pass plays, which include passes, sacks, and aborted snaps. It is a better measure of pass blocking than total sacks because it takes into account how often an offense passes the ball. Adjusted Sack Rate adds adjustments for opponent quality, as well as down and distance (sacks are more common on third down, especially third-and-long).-Football Outsiders
Football Outsiders ranks offensive lines in pass blocking according to Adjusted Sack Rate. The Jets finished as the 28th-ranked pass-blocking unit. New York allowed 53 sacks; only the Bengals, Ravens, and Bears permitted more. Gang Green recorded an 8.6% Adjusted Sack Rate last season; the NFL Average was 6.6%.
A Pro Bowler comes East.
One of the Jets’ biggest free agent moves in both physical size and the on-field impact was the signing of Pro-Bowl left guard Laken Tomlinson. The former San Francisco Forty-Niner comes east to join a coaching staff that knows him well. Right guard was an issue for the Jets most of last season. So to fix the problem, general manager Joe Douglas brought in 30-year-old Tomlinson. The former Duke Blue Devil will start at left guard for the Jets, and promising second-year player Vera-Tucker slides over to the right side.
Tomlinson, who ranked as PFF’s 13th best guard in 2021, has had a fascinating NFL journey. The Jamaican-born Pro-Bowler was the 28th overall pick in the 2015 draft by the Detriot Lions. After two seasons in the Motor City, Tomlinson was traded to the Niners just before the start of the 2017 season.
Tomlinson started 80 straight games for the Niners and has enjoyed his best seasons in Kyle Shanahan’s system. A system he is happy to slide into here in New York under offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur. As shown in the Jets Flight 2022 series, the 6-foot-3, 315-pound guard was delighted to be reunited with old coaches LaFleur and offensive line coach John Benton. Tomlinson allowed just 33 pressures in 2021; among guards that played at least 80% of snaps, he ranked eighth-best. In the same situation, he ranks as PFF’s 10th most efficient pass-blocking guard.
In terms of run blocking, Tomlinson is no slouch either. He received a 75.3 run-blocking grade from PFF, 14th among guards. Vera-Tucker, who moves over to the right side, received a 72.5 run-blocking grade last season, 18th overall among guards. This duo has the potential to open up the run game for the Jets in 2022.
The curious case of Mekhi Becton.
Since day one, the former first-round pick has had an odd relationship with the current coaching staff. After flashing dominance in 2020, Becton missed almost all of 2021. What was initially thought to be a six-week injury turned out to be season-ending. Whenever head coach Robert Saleh is asked about Becton, he seems to leave the door open for doubt. Saleh seemly questions Becton’s desire to play the game, where he is mentally, or his weight. Becton spoke to reporters at the Jets mini camp wearing a t-shirt that said “Big Bust.” Around that, it read, “fat, lazy, out of shape, bum, overweight, sucks, injury-prone.” When asked about the shirt, Becton replied, “A lot of words I’ve been called my whole life, so I put it on a shirt.”
The mini-camp was the first offseason event that Becton attended. All the other workouts are volunteer, and Becton, coming off an injury, chose to work out with his trainer. He also had his first child during the offseason, citing that for missing workouts. All this goes away if Becton is playing left tackle and pushing defensive linemen to the ground in week one.
More depth on the way?
The Jets added some depth to the offensive line during the draft by selecting Louisiana tackle Max Mitchell in the fourth round. The 6-foot-6, 307-pound tackle has experience playing guard as well. While Mitchell has potential, it may not be in the Jets’ best interest to rely on a fourth-round rookie should some get hurt.
New York also added 23-year-old former Eagles guard Nate Herbig to the mix. Herbig is versatile and can play all three interior offensive line positions. But the Jets are seemingly still on the hunt for depth. They recently had veteran tackle Riley Reiff, in for a visit, and he remains on the Jets’ radar ahead of training camp. Reiff, 33, would be an excellent depth piece having ten years of starting experience in the NFL.
Douglas has done an excellent job of rebuilding this offensive line. If the Jets can stay healthy and Becton is the guy he was as a rookie, the line can be dominant. The Jets have done a really good job putting weapons and protection around second-year quarterback Zack Wilson this offseason.