Grading the 2017 offensive line situation
By Ryan Patti
The New York Jets have their fair share of weak positional units. The offensive line happens to not be one of them.
The New York Jets will be hard to watch offensively in 2017. The quarterback scenario is ugly as usual, the receiving core is incredibly inexperienced and the tight end situation is a work in progress. Not to mention, there’s a rookie offensive coordinator in town in John Morton. While there may not be a lot to look forward to on this side of the football, the offensive line won’t contribute to the struggles.
Let’s look right off the bat at the group’s interior. You have James Carpenter and Brian Winters coming off phenomenal 2016 seasons in which they played like one of the best guard combos in the league. Winters was re-signed on a four-year deal worth $29M with $15M guaranteed. Is he deserving of that contract? It’s really hard to say no with how much he has grown since his rookie campaign.
On Pro Football Focus, the Kent State graduate earned a 38 overall grade in 2013, a 37.1 in 2014, a 50.3 in 2015 and a 75.6 in 2016. You can make the case that it’s just one season, but his significant progression dates back to the beginning of 2015. He went head to head with all-pro Ndamukong Suh in Week 4 and straight up shut him down. The Jets would rush for 207 yards and two touchdowns on 43 attempts in that game. They should feel safe with Winters as their right guard moving forward.
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As for Carpenter, there really isn’t much to dwell on. The 2011 first-round pick has become a completely different player since leaving the Seattle Seahawks.
He logged a 78.9 overall grade on PFF in 2015 and an 81.2 last year. There’s a chance he could see a slight regression in Morton’s West Coast offense, although he has become a noticeably better run blocker in New York. He seems to have overcome the issues he had in the beginning of his career.
The center position certainly won’t be the same without Nick Mangold snapping the ball. The veteran was released in February and the duty now seems to be in the hands of Wesley Johnson. Gang Green picked him up in the 2014 season off the Pittsburgh Steelers practice squad and gave him 657 snaps when Mangold went down. He earned a low 54.3 grade on PFF under that workload, however, the more important result was that he got experience under his belt. He’ll be the guy for the next year or two if he puts on weight and stays healthy.
Left and right tackle has everyone concerned and it’s not hard to see why. Kelvin Beachum is fresh off a disappointing stint in Jacksonville and Ben Ijalana showed he wasn’t reliable in 2016. For the Jets to find success at left tackle, Beachum needs to remain on the field and prove he’s a good fit in Morton’s system. For the Jets to find success at right tackle, Ijalana has to step up in camp or sophomore Brandon Shell will win the job. Shell was underrated toward the end of last season and has the tools to ride that production into 2017.
Brent Qvale, Dakota Dozier, Jonotthan Harrison, Craig Watts, Jeff Adams, Javarius Leamon, Alex Balducci, Chris Bordelon and Ben Braden round out the rest of the bunch. The first five have the best chance to crack the roster while the others are on the outside looking in. Qvale brings the most versatility to the table with the ability to play both tackle and guard. Harrison is in line to be the backup center and he can kick over to guard if need be.
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With all that said, the line, for the most part, can be trusted. It’s a handful of guys who can pave the way for the backfield and keep the quarterback off the turf. The depth is also appealing. The quicker West Coast offense routes should help steer away from 2016’s shaky pass protection, but I have to see it to believe it before I give this unit a better grade. The mystery at right tackle doesn’t help the grade either.