From 1998-2016 the Jets had Kevin Mawae (Hall of Fame) and Nick Mangold (seven-time Pro Bowler) as their starting center. Since then, they have struggled to find a good replacement. From the backup-turned-starter Wesley Johnson to Spencer Long, the Jets have struggled to find a good option to anchor their offensive line. And if they do not have a good starter, then how do they expect the rest of the offensive line, specifically the guards, to play? To answer this question, today on the 2019 New York Jets Preview series let’s check out who will be along the Jets interior offensive line in 2019.
2019 New York Jets Preview: Interior Offensive Line
The Starters: Kelechi Osemele (LG), Jonotthan Harrison (C), and Brian Winters (RG)
The interior offensive line has improved since last season. Starting with center Jonotthan Harrison, the five-year veteran is the current starter with nobody else qualified for the position. Coming off of a career-high eight starts in 2018, Harrison posted his third best season according to Pro Football Focus with a 54.1 grade. The grade is not assuring, but the center posted fewer poor snaps than Long and quarterback Sam Darnold seemed calmer behind Harrison. This leaves an understanding as to why former general manager Mike Maccagnan was comfortable with Harrison as the starter.
The Jets knew that former third-round pick Brian Winters would retain his starting right guard position. Winters has been a good starter for the team dating back to his rookie season. With 70 starts to his name, he has shown he is an excellent pass blocker and decent run blocker. Opposite of Winters was an issue and one that was quickly resolved. With four-year starter James Carpenter due for free agency, the Jets needed a new starting left guard. The team made the move to acquire former two-time Pro Bowl guard Kelechi Osemele from Oakland. Osemele is coming off of a down season filled with injuries, and his cap hit led to him being on the trade block. Whereas if Osemele can return to his Pro Bowl form, he can be the boost the team desperately needs.
While this group could pay off in the end, the Jets need to avoid injuries. While Harrison’s record is relatively clean, that cannot be said for Osemele and Winters. Osemele has only ever started two full seasons and is coming off of down season filled with knee issues. Additionally, Winters started all 16 games in 2018 for the first time in his career. As well as that, Winters has ended three of his previous five seasons on IR. These guards must avoid injury in order to succeed. If they can do that, this group can provide Darnold the protection he will need to succeed in 2019.
The Backups: Tom Compton (OG)
The Jets lack depth along the offensive line, with Tom Compton being the only player with three seasons in the pros. Compton, 30, started 14 games for the Vikings last season at left guard. He joins the Jets with experience at both guard positions and right tackle. This flexibility he provides along the offensive line in addition to experience makes him the only favorite at the moment to make the roster as a backup.
The Bubble: Jon Toth (C), Toa Lobendahn (C), Tyler Jones (OG), Jordan Morgan (OG), and Ben Braden (OG)
Last but not least, the bubble watch along the interior offensive line will be an important competition this offseason. Given the injury concerns, it will be vital that the Jets make the right decision as to which of these youngsters makes the roster. At the center position, Jon Toth has the edge on rookie Toa Lobendahn. While Lobendahn is a former USC teammate of Darnold’s, Toth has the athletic ability that many thought should have gotten him drafted back in 2018. At guard, Ben Braden played two games in 2018 for the Jets after spending the majority of his first two seasons on the practice squad. Due to the new head coach and scheme, Braden’s familiarity with the offense will not be in his favor anymore. Former Bears fifth-round pick Jordan Morgan is inconsistent in pass protection but needs to develop more with his technique. Lastly is 2019 undrafted free agent Tyler Jones. Jones is a zone-blocking lineman who has the athletic ability to play center or guard if he continues to build his 6-3 and 306 lbs. frame.
Last Word on the 2019 New York Jets Preview: Interior Offensive Line
Once again, the starters here are clear for the Jets and will be a good group up front if they remain healthy. As the season nears, the Jets will likely have to look into signing more experienced players because of the lack of depth along the offensive line. If any of the bubble players have any shot of making the roster, it will be because of potential and athletic ability to play center and guard.
Stay tuned for the next article in the 2019 New York Jets Preview series with offensive tackles!
Embed from Getty Images