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New York Jets Year in Review: Grading the 2018 offensive line

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - OCTOBER 21: Kelvin Beachum #68 of the New York Jets in action against the Minnesota Viking during their game at MetLife Stadium on October 21, 2018 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)
EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - OCTOBER 21: Kelvin Beachum #68 of the New York Jets in action against the Minnesota Viking during their game at MetLife Stadium on October 21, 2018 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)
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With the 2018 season officially over, it’s time to break down the performances of each of the New York Jets positional units. This time, we take a look at the team’s offensive line.

The New York Jets offensive line remains one of the weaker units on the team despite flashing at points in 2018.

The team’s Week 5 showing against the Denver Broncos stands out as the Jets were able to rush for a near-team record 323 yards on the ground on the heels of a dominant performance from the offensive line. The “big boys up front” were able to open up holes all day paving the way for Isaiah Crowell‘s record-breaking 219 yards.

That was all well and good, but aside from two or three outings throughout the season, the offensive line failed to get much of a push up front in the running game. While the pass protection was generally solid, the lackluster run blocking hurt the team down the stretch and made the offense more one-dimensional.

Let’s take a look and see how each player who received significant playing time performed.

Kelvin Beachum

On a subpar offensive line unit, Kelvin Beachum remains the most steady and effective player. Beachum followed up a strong 2017 campaign with another solid showing this season.

The former Pittsburgh Steeler provides a veteran presence and brings leadership to the entire unit, having been named the Jets Walter Payton Man of the Year nominee.

Will he ever be considered a star? Absolutely not. But in a league with considerable lack of depth and poor overall play at the offensive line position, Beachum stands out as an above-average option at left tackle.

Not to mention his reliability and health. Since suffering a torn ACL in 2015, his final season with the Steelers, Beachum has missed just one NFL game and none since joining the Jets.

He is a reliable presence protecting Sam Darnold‘s blindside and making the rounds as a charitable individual. And for those reasons, he remains one of the most underrated players on the roster.

Final Grade: B

James Carpenter

The longtime veteran of the Jets offensive line unit, James Carpenter missed his first action as a member of Gang Green after suffering a shoulder injury in late November that cost him the remainder of his season.

Carpenter started 10 games for the team but struggled through much of his time in the starting lineup. At 29-years-old, the former Seattle Seahawk looked like a run-down version of his former self not playing like the player the Jets had just a few years ago.

At one point, Carpenter was considered the Jets best offensive lineman even garnering Pro Bowl consideration following a stellar 2015 season. But those days seem to be in the past now.

With his contract set to expire, it is unlikely that Carpenter will be back with the team next year as the Jets look to rebuild their interior offensive line. It was a good four-year run for the Jets offensive captain and while they may not miss his subpar blocking, they will certainly miss his on-field leadership.

Final Grade: D+

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Spencer Long

It was a wild 2018 season for Spencer Long where the former Washington Redskin came under more pressure and more criticism than he likely did in his entire career.

This stemmed from Week 9 meeting with the Miami Dolphins where Long was dealing with a finger injury that significantly impacted his ability to snap the ball. Instead of removing the clearly inept Long from the game, head coach Todd Bowles opted to keep him out there.

Long repeatedly snapped off the mark essentially throwing the game away down the stretch in one of the all-time boneheaded coaching decisions. The free agent acquisition was finally removed but not before the damage had been done, by way of an injury to rookie quarterback Sam Darnold.

To be fair, Long shouldn’t have been given the criticism for this event as it’s not as if he’s going to take himself out of the game. The man was dealing with an injury and was left to flounder.

Now, this is all true, but just passing this off as one bad game that was not his fault doesn’t tell the whole story. For much of 2018, Long remained perhaps the weakest part of an already weak offensive line struggling in pass protection more than he had in the past and greatly struggling in run blocking.

He performed slightly better after shifting to left guard following Carpenter’s injury but still struggled in general. With a one-year out clause in his contract, the Jets could look to move on from Long and find a better replacement on the interior. Given his poor play this past season, that’s just what they might do.

Final Grade: D

Brian Winters

Brian Winters started all 16 games for the first time in his career in 2018 and it’s not as if he played terribly, but it’s safe to say the season was an overall disappointment.

Winters started 13 games last season but played much of the year injured after tearing an abdominal muscle in just Week 2. The injury helped to explain many of his struggles in 2017 but with that explanation, expectations followed for the 2018 season.

Otherwise, his explanation would turn into an excuse.

Unfortunately, while Winters wasn’t the worst option at the position, he played nowhere near the level he was at just a few years ago which earned him his sizable contract. In fact, Winters is the only player on the entire Jets roster who was drafted and then given a second contract by his team, which is as sad of a statement about the overall roster as it is praise for Winters.

The Kent State product struggled in run blocking as did the entire interior, although Winters did look the best. Perhaps it’s simply a product of the poor play around him but at this point, it’s time to stop making excuses.

Winters will likely be back with the team next year as it’s a tall enough task to try and replace one or two offensive linemen, let alone all three on the interior. But as it stands, 2018 was a disappointing overall season for the former third-round pick.

Final Grade: C

Brandon Shell

From a personal standpoint, Brandon Shell has been one of my favorite players to watch develop over the past few years.

Originally drafted in the fifth-round round of the 2016 draft, Shell is one of the rare examples of a late-round project offensive lineman working out. He came into the league as a mauling run blocker who struggled in pass protection but after just his second season as a full-time starter, he’s already likely the second best lineman on the team.

At 6’5″ and 324 pounds, Shell is an effective run blocker along the edge helping to seal off defenders every time the Jets run to the right side. But his pass protection is something that has really come a long way since he was drafted,

The days of teams putting their best pass rushers on the weak side are a thing of the past meaning that right tackles need to be just as good in pass protection as their blindside buddies. Shell has been able to match up with and succeed against the likes of Khalil Mack and Von Miller, two of the best pass rushers in the league.

While he hasn’t always been perfect, Shell has developed into a very quality starter along the offensive line and with a couple more years of development, could find himself as a borderline Pro Bowler. For now, he remains a very solid starter at right tackle and a legitimate piece to build around on the offensive line.

Final Grade: B-

Everyone Else

Due to a few injuries along the offensive line, there were a couple of other players who saw limited action. These players didn’t play enough to garner an entire section or a grade for that matter, but they’re still worth noting.

The first of which is center Jonotthan Harrison who took over the starting role following injuries to Long and Carpenter. Harrison received playing time last season after the struggles of Wesley Johnson continued and he seems to be a sort of hybrid player.

In a league where there is considerable lack of depth along the offensive line, Harrison remains a very good backup who could definitely start on some teams. That being said, the Jets would be fooling themselves if they thought he was the answer in the interior. Look for the Jets to address this position in the offseason.

Brent Qvale was also given an extended look after a knee injury to Shell forced him to miss the final two games of the season. Unlike Harrison, Qvale looked completely out of place on the offensive line proving that he is what he is, a backup caliber offensive lineman.

The former undrafted free agent will be 28-years-old at the start of the 2019 season making his chances of a return unlikely unless the team values him enough as a swing tackle and a valuable piece on special teams.

Finally, offensive guard Dakota Dozier saw limited action but not in the role that many would have thought. The “Bulldozier,” which I don’t know if that’s a thing but it should totally be a thing, was given a chance to place some fullback with the team not carrying one on the roster.

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It was a small role and nothing of nothing came from it but versatility is always an important asset to have. Like Qvale, Dozier will be 28-years-old at the beginning of the next season which hurts his chances of being back. Perhaps his ability to play lead blocker in an I-formation will convince the team otherwise.

Final Team Grade: C

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