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Brandon Shell can be long-term answer at right tackle

Dec 24, 2016; Foxborough, MA, USA; New York Jets quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick (14) throws the ball against the New England Patriots in the second half at Gillette Stadium. The Patriots defeated the Jets 41-3. Mandatory Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports
Dec 24, 2016; Foxborough, MA, USA; New York Jets quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick (14) throws the ball against the New England Patriots in the second half at Gillette Stadium. The Patriots defeated the Jets 41-3. Mandatory Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports
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The upcoming season for the New York Jets will be primarily focused on player development. With that being said, right tackle Brandon Shell’s growth is crucial to the future of the offensive line.

The New York Jets took a huge step in their rebuild by tweaking their offensive line. They replaced Ryan Clady with Kelvin Beachum at left tackle, Nick Mangold with Wesley Johnson at center and retained right tackle Ben Ijalana on a two-year deal worth $10.25M. Ijalana may be penciled in as the starter right now, but sophomore Brandon Shell is breathing down his neck.

The South Carolina graduate has the tools to be New York’s guy moving forward. At 6’6,” 325lbs, he has more than enough frame to play tackle in the NFL. He’s also a product of the toughest conference in college football in the SEC.

There’s no wonder why general manager Mike Maccagnan moved up for him. He traded the team’s 2017 fourth-round pick to take him in the fifth round of the 2016 NFL Draft. Fifth-rounders normally don’t make an immediate impact, so Shell got his feet wet at the end of last season earning 204 snaps. He ended up holding his own by starting the final three contests and facing the likes of Cameron Wake, Jabaal Sheard and Jerry Hughes coming off the edge.

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Pro Football Focus gave him a 79.9 overall grade, which ranked 31st out of the 93 tackles who earned at least 200 snaps. His pass blocking grade (84.2) ranked 20th out of the 93 tackles who earned at least 100 snaps in pass protection. PFF did knock him for his struggles in the run blocking department by giving him a 56.7 grade. Even though he saw a low number of snaps in his rookie campaign, there’s a lot to like about Shell thus far.

The only thing holding him back is the looming position battle against Ijalana. The veteran spent his first two years with the Jets riding the pine behind D’Brickashaw Ferguson. Before that, he failed to find a groove in two seasons in Indianapolis as their 2011 second-round selection.

Last year was the first in which he saw significant playing time (876 snaps). He played in all 16 games and earned an abysmal 47.6 grade on PFF. Is he really that bad? Of course not, but Shell is well within striking distance.

It’ll all come down to who’s better in July and August. If the decision was up to ex-offensive coordinator Chan Gailey, he’d probably roll with Shell. Gailey quickly turned to youth on the offensive side of the ball once Gang Green was out of playoff contention in 2016.

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Now that John Morton is calling the plays, Ijalana has to have the upper hand for the time being. That can change in a hurry though because Shell has a golden opportunity to win the job. If he does, he’s talented enough to have it for quite some time.

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