Top 5 ways Jets can rebuild their offensive line in 2018
By Steven Blush
The New York Jets offensive line ranked as one of the worst in the league last season. Here’s a five-point plan to reboot and rebuild.
It doesn’t take a gridiron expert to realize that the New York Jets have much work to do on the offensive side of the ball. That will require a total revamp of the league’s 26th-ranked o-line — a core unit that has barely been addressed in recent offseasons.
The current blocking configuration features a 2014 third-rounder, a 2016 fifth-rounder, a waiver-wire former UDFA, and two free agent signings. Between the upcoming 2018 NFL Draft and free agency periods, there is considerable work to be done.
The Jets can’t properly address their messy QB situation without upgrading their line. The same goes for the running game, going into next season with just injury-prone Bilal Powell and unproven Elijah McGuire.
There are five positions on the O-line, which must all be addressed. Some of these positional needs are more urgent than others. But the fact remains that years of neglect have led to rust. Here are the top five ways to execute this reconstruction.
5. Shell Game
The Jets gave up a fifth-round draft pick to snag right tackle Brandon Shell as the 158th pick in the 2016 draft. After a promising rookie season, the nephew of Pro Football Hall of Famer Art Shell regressed so much in his sophomore year that he’s no longer considered a building-block moving forward.
The left side of the line performed well with LT Kelvin Beachum and LG James Carpenter. But those veterans are not part of the rebuild. RG Brian Winters — ex-GM John Idzik’s only drafted starter on last year’s roster — receives a mulligan for playing 2017 with torn abdominal muscles.
Shell’s Pro Football Focus ranking of 44th in the league belied his propensity for whiffed blocks and shoddy footwork, which almost destroyed his QBs. In the upcoming NFL Draft, there are a few Day Two linemen legitimately ready to step in and contribute.
Shell has a great deal to prove in 2018. Don’t be surprised if, during this training camp, the 26-year-old South Carolina product will be battling for his NFL future.
Next: 4. Center of Attention
4. Center of Attention
Wesley Johnson earned the ignominious honor of the NFL’s lowest-graded center. GM Mike Maccagnan‘s plan to replace legendary Nick Mangold with a 2014 waiver acquisition didn’t exactly pan out.
It was a bit of a stretch to think that the converted guard out of Vanderbilt was up to the task. Sure, he filled in admirably during Mangold’s 2016 injuries. But last year he got steamrolled in both rushing and passing situations, his 36.0 overall grade ranking 35th in the 32-team league.
Expect the Jets to aggressively pursue veteran centers like the Rams’ John Sullivan or Baltimore’s Ryan Jensen. There are also a few young studs in the upcoming draft, starting with Ohio State’s Billy Price, Iowa’s James Daniel, and Arkansas’ Frank Ragnow.
Johnson earned nearly $3 million last year. Yet a good case could be made for his return as a backup lineman. But whoever the Jets decide to splurge on at QB, deserves protection from a road-grading center.
Next: 3. Changing of the Guard
3. Changing of the Guard
The Jets possess an above-average guard tandem in James Carpenter and Brian Winters. But now’s the time to determine who will man this unit in 2020 and beyond.
Carpenter, the former 2011 Seahawks first-rounder, will be turning 30 by the end of next year. He and Winters had subpar 2017 seasons, ranked 60th and 73rd in the league, respectively.
There are a few in-house options, none exactly headline-grabbing. Dakota Dozier stepped in admirably for Winters during the games he missed. Wesley Johnson could substitute, and the team really likes former tryout player/practice squadder Ben Braden.
Quenton Nelson is the easily best guard draft prospect of the past 10-15 years — but would it be an overreach to take him at No. 6? That’s just one of the many questions this front office needs to answer this offseason.
Next: 2. Caught in the Draft
2. Caught in the Draft
Free agency can be expensive, and this may be one of the worst NFL free agent pools in recent memory. Aside from signing Kirk Cousins, if Gang Green can nab that aforementioned free agent center and a stud receiver, that would be a major offensive upgrade.
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In terms of job security, Maccagnan must ace this upcoming draft. His greatest moves, selecting Leonard Williams and Jamal Adams, are solid but hardly spectacular (Marcus Maye may prove his finest pick). At best, the GM’s moves have solidified the bottom of the roster.
If the Jets sign a bonafide center in free agency, then they can draft and develop a snapper. Day Two should offer versatile inside linemen like NC State’s Tony Adams or LSU’s Will Clapp. A highly-rated talent that could drop to Day Three including Michigan’s Mason Cole, Iowa’s Sean Welsh, and Auburn’s Austin Golson.
The Jets really need a coached-up stable of young hungry linemen. A smart course of action may be selecting a Day Two tackle like UCLA’s Kolton Miller, Ohio State’s Jamarco Jones or Mississippi State’s Martinas Rankin, and then take a raw Day Three guard like Nevada’s Austin Corbett, Idaho State’s Skyler Phillips, or Washington State’s Cody O’Connell. It’s time for the suits of Florham Park to earn their salaries!
Next: 1. Hold the Line
1. Hold the Line
Here’s a plan for the immediate future: sign a center, draft a tackle, and develop a guard. Solid moves in next month’s free agency and April’s draft could provide an instant offensive upgrade.
The resurrected Jaguars and Super Bowl champion Eagles overturned their rosters over the course of a successful offseason. Or look at the Saints incredible 2017 draft, that yielded Defensive ROY Marshon Lattimore, Day One starting left tackle Ryan Ramcyzk, star RB Alvin Kamara, impact CB Marcus Williams, and steady contributors DE Trey Hendrickson and LB Alex Anzalone.
As much as the Jets need to improve all five positions on the line, the main problem was the sieve at center and right tackle. The franchise must find the right players to replace the former, and challenge for the latter.
Must Read: 30 greatest draft picks in Jets history
Jets fans should feel confident in Maccagnan’s ability to identify blue-collar ballers — think Steve McLendon, Kelvin Beachum, Kony Ealy, David Bass, even Josh McCown. But this GM’s undoing will be his high-profile moves, from re-signing Muhammad Wilkerson instead of Snacks Harrison to drafting Christian Hackenberg in the second round. The best place for his organization to start would be to fortify this shaky line — and reconstruct this offense from the inside out.