Anybody who has watched a NY Jets game since 2016 knows how putrid the team’s offensive line play has been.
Since the prime days of left tackle D’Brickshaw Ferguson and center Nick Mangold, the team has filled its holes upfront with band-aid starters and late-round fliers. A strategy that the Jets have shown in recent years does not lead to success.
So, when general manager Joe Douglas has spoken about protecting his quarterback and building up the offensive line, people have listened. After all, when Ferguson and Mangold were among Jets blockers, the unit was among the better ones in football.
Already, New York has a stud left tackle in 2020 first-round pick Mekhi Becton. Outside of him, however, there are big question marks. Connor McGovern’s contract indicates he will have a starting job in 2021, whether at guard or center, but what about the rest of the group?
Does George Fant remain on the roster as their starting right tackle? Do the Jets 2020 starting guards Alex Lewis and Greg Van Roten make the team this season? And what is the deal with former mid-round picks Chuma Edoga and Cameron Clark?
When one looks at the roster right now, outside of Becton, nobody appears to be a lock to be on this team beyond 2021. If Douglas is serious about truly improving the offensive line, maybe it is time to make a big splash.
By drafting offensive lineman at both 23rd and 34th overall, the Jets can make a move to stabilize their front for the next decade.
State of the NY Jets’ offensive line
As previously mentioned, the Jets offensive line is far from solidified. Fant, Lewis, and Van Roten all can be cut any day to save cap space. There is also the matter that all three were inconsistent this past season, and never truly jelled together as a unit.
Therefore, the Jets are expecting plenty of competition during training camp. Dan Feeney was brought in during free agency and the veteran lineman has 57 starts at center and guard over the past four years.
There is also Conor McDermott, Clark, and Edoga who will be challenging for playing time too. The only issue is that none of these guys have done enough to definitively earn the starting role.
And with the only apparent lock for the team beyond this season being Becton, Douglas might be enticed by a strong draft class of offensive line.
NY Jets draft: The 23rd overall pick
In the 2021 NFL Draft class, there are four elite offensive line prospects who have a strong case to go in the top 20.
Offensive tackles Penei Sewell and Rashawn Slater are on a level of their own, with Christian Darrisaw not being too far behind. Meanwhile, guard Alijah Vera-Tucker is widely considered the best interior offensive line prospect.
Chances are all four will be gone by the time the Jets pick at 23rd overall. The selection comes from the Jamal Adams trade with the Seattle Seahawks and will likely come after the Jets select a quarterback at second overall.
That being said, why not spend that pick to protect a rookie quarterback?
At 23rd overall, there is one obvious player that comes to mind — Oklahoma State tackle Teven Jenkins. A big 6-foot-6, 315-pound left tackle, Jenkins can come in and immediately start at right tackle as an absolute athletic freak opposite of Becton.
Or he could even shift inside to guard early in his career. Then again, it is possible he is gone by the time the Jets pick.
It is also possible that the Jets turn to Liam Eichenberg (Notre Dame), Jalen Mayfield (Michigan), Samuel Cosmi (Texas), amongst others as possible right tackles. Or maybe the Jets turn to the interior with their second first-round pick.
Should that happen, if it is not Vera-Tucker, Oklahoma center Creed Humphrey might be the guy with the selection. It has already been noted the Jets think highly of Humphrey, though, he may still be on the board at 34.
NY Jets draft: The 34th overall pick
In a dream world, to land a player like Humphrey in Round 2 would be a huge win for the Jets. There are still other players along the offensive line who could be worth picking at 34th overall too.
Two of those prospects are Alabama’s Landon Dickerson and Ohio State’s Wyatt Davis. Dickerson is another stud center who has an NFL-ready build and is a stout, physical blocker upfront. Whereas Davis is the next-best guard behind Vera-Tucker, as a day one starter and mauling guard.
Humphrey, Dickerson, Davis, and the previously mentioned tackles all may be available come the 34th overall pick in the draft and provide the Jets with significant reinforcements up front.
And yes, while one might question doubling down up front, it has been proven to work around the league before.
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The NY Jets could take after the Dallas Cowboys and Indianapolis Colts
During the 2010s, the Dallas Cowboys formed one of the top offensive line units in the league. Three times in four straight years Dallas selected offensive linemen, piecing together a dominant trio of left tackle Tyron Smith, center Travis Frederick, and guard Zack Martin.
At the time, some questioned the move, although, nobody does anymore. All three combine for 18 Pro Bowls, with two still anchoring the line. Not to mention, they managed to protect two very successful quarterbacks in Tony Romo and Dak Prescott.
Another similar experiment to the one the Cowboys had resides with the Indianapolis Colts. They too drafted three offensive linemen early in the draft and were able to get the chemistry up front to form arguably the league’s best line for multiple years.
The Colts drafted center Ryan Kelly followed by guard Quenton Nelson and tackle Braden Smith in the same draft class. Now the Colts, like the Cowboys once did, find themselves among the favorites in the AFC.
Imagine for a second what the Jets offensive line would look like if they attempted something similar. Becton at left tackle, Jenkins at right, with Humphrey at center, or Davis at guard. Having blockers like that would make for any quarterback’s best friend.
Impact on the NY Jets’ offense
Gang Green is about to select another rookie quarterback and one that will be working closely with the team’s new head coach and offensive coordinator.
He will be entering a situation with a questionable running game and an improved but unproven receiving corps.
Simply put, the Jets still have questions all over the roster.
But one thing for sure is that by spending picks 23 and 34 along the offensive line, the question of ‘who is blocking for their quarterback’ will finally be answered.