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The New York Jets Will Have to Address the Offensive Line Again in 2021

With the New York Jets heading for a rebuild this off-season, general manager Joe Douglas will once again need to address the offensive line.
Jets Offensive Line

Prior to the 2020 off-season, New York Jets general manager Joe Douglas made it clear he would fix the team’s offensive line. He promised to protect third-year quarterback Sam Darnold, which was music to everyone’s ears. It had been years since the Jets properly invested along the offensive line, and they desperately needed a revamp.

Except things have not been much better this season. Outside of rising star Mekhi Becton, the Jets blocking has been very underwhelming and inconsistent. The team has had eight different offensive line combinations, and the unit just never built the chemistry necessary to succeed. And unfortunately, it is one of the many reasons behind Darnold’s regression this season.

That being said, no matter who is playing quarterback in 2021, Douglas must revisit his rebuild in the trenches. As there is no waste another season away because of such horrid play in the trenches.

The New York Jets Will Have to Address the Offensive Line Again in 2021

Where Things Went Wrong

For years, Douglas’ predecessor Mike Maccagnan used cheap band-aids and late-round picks along the offensive line, a strategy that Douglas seemed bound to break. And early on, he did. Douglas stuck to his own philosophy of capitalizing on value rather than overpaying in the inflated free agent market. It led him to dish out three-year deals to starters George Fant, Connor McGovern, Alex Lewis, and Greg Van Roten. It was a risky move, yet one that with Douglas’ vision of an overall roster rebuild could handle.

This season, they all have had their ups and downs. Fant has been solid at best at right tackle, though has missed time with various injuries. McGovern started off horribly, but the veteran has been much improved of late, especially in run blocking. Both Lewis and Van Roten have been extremely inconsistent, and Lewis has even been held out of games with an unknown off-field issue. In other words, it is a good thing that the way the contracts are structured, the Jets have the ability to cut all but McGovern this off-season with minimum dead cap.

Impact of Poor Blocking in 2020

There are multiple factors in play as to why the Jets sit at 0-13 this season, and poor blocking certainly has not helped. The Jets have given up 36 sacks, the eighth-most in the NFL this season. Without a doubt, the struggles to prevent pressure have had a major impact on their quarterback, whether being Darnold or backup Joe Flacco.

Darnold has regressed significantly behind his line this year, which has given up a 27.5% pressure rate. To put things into perspective, last year’s line gave up a pressure rate of 28%. He has also been forced to scramble 21 times, compared to 23 times over his first two seasons. As for Flacco, the 13-year pro has dealt with an even worse pressure rate than Darnold, being at 29.5%. Simply put, the poor pass blocking has contributed to the Jets owning the worst pass offense in the league.

And that is just in the pass game. In the run game, the Jets are not much better. They rank 21st in the run game, averaging 4.3 yards per carry, up an entire yard from a year ago. Then again, the Jets running backs have not been breaking off long gains. In fact, the Jets have the shortest long run in the league, only 24 yards. Ultimately, Douglas is going to need to take a long look at the unit’s minimal improvements this off-season.

There is Some Promise on the Roster

Outside of McGovern, there is at least one other lock for a starting spot next season in the rookie left tackle Mekhi Becton. The 11th overall pick in this past draft has been phenomenal for the Jets and even leads the AFC in Pro Bowl votes at the position. Taking into consideration he has not been fully healthy this season makes his performance even more remarkable.

One cannot forget about fellow rookie Cameron Clark either. The fourth-round pick out of Louisiana has not played a snap this season, as injuries kept him on injured reserve until recently. The Charlotte product plays at 6’5” and 294lbs and offers a powerful blocker along the interior. Lastly, there is second-year tackle Chuma Edoga too. The former Maccagnan third-round pick has been rather disappointing. Despite multiple opportunities, he has not proven to be a starting-caliber right tackle. Nevertheless, his improvements as a run blocker give hope he can become an efficient backup tackle at both spots.

Plenty of Assets as Douglas’ Disposal

Luckily, there is going to be more hope on the way for the Jets. Currently, the Jets stand to have six selections within the first 100 picks of the 2021 NFL Draft. In free agency, the team should have north of $80-million available to spend, and that doesn’t even include the savings that would come with releasing Fant, Lewis, and Van Roten. Douglas’ whole plan has been to tear down the roster and build up properly through the draft and not overspending in free agency. It’s a strategy that he will need to work on if the Jets have any chance of finally fixing their offensive line for good.

Some Names to Watch

With Becton and McGovern holding down two starting spots, the Jets could have three new starters next season. In free agency, the Jets could find a handful of right tackle options to replace Fant, such as Daryl Williams, Taylor Moton, or even Matt Feiler. All are under 30-years old and could be worth the price to put opposite of Becton for years to come.

Meanwhile, offensive guard will be the top priority, with both Lewis and Van Roten potentially being gone. Two elite guards could be hitting the market, Joe Thuney and Brandon Scherff. With the market being rather thin behind them, the Jets could move McGovern back to guard and take advantage of a talented center class. Corey Linsley, Austin Blythe, David Andrews, and Chase Roullier could lock up multi-year deals, while veterans Alex Mack or Mike Pouncey offer plenty of experience.

From there, the Jets will turn to the draft, which features plenty of talented linemen. With their second first-round pick, the Jets could target guards Wyatt Davis (Ohio State) or Alijah Vera-Tucker (USC), and attack the right tackle spot on day two. Either way, there are options available on draft night in a loaded draft class along the offensive line.

Last Word on The Jets Offensive Line

When the dust settles Week 17, the Jets will begin piecing together a completely different roster. With the inconsistent performances from his signings last season, Douglas will once again need to fix the offensive line. Thankfully, Becton has the makings of one of the best tackles in football, and McGovern has improved as the season has gone on. Barring a strong finish, there will be three spots open for him to fill up front, and he has the cap space and draft capital to do so. At the end of the day, addressing the unit will be Douglas’ top priority, as he must properly protect whoever his quarterback is in 2021.

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