In looking at both the past season and upcoming 2022 season, a main talking point for the Jets is their offensive line. This past season the unit dealt with multiple injuries and absences of varying lengths. Mekhi Becton hurt his knee in Week 1 of the season, leaving a void that had to be filled by George Fant then Morgan Moses had to fill in Fant’s void. Center, Connor McGovern also missed most of the second-half of the season. Mixed in with sporadic COVID-19 related absences, the Jets depth and talent on the offensive line was tested repeatedly this season. When forced to play the likes of Greg Van Roten and other reserve players, the play of the line suffered and made life for Zach Wilson much more difficult.
For all of the team’s injuries on the offensive line, there were many positives in the trenches this season. Rookie guard, Alijah Vera-Tucker showed elite traits, using his athleticism to consistently get to the second level in the run game and fend off multiple pass-rushers in the passing game. He only allowed two sacks the entire year and made Pro Football Focus’s All-Rookie OL Team. Fant only allowed 18 pressures in 15 games while also only allowing one sack the entire season. On top of good play from McGovern, Moses, and mid-season addition Laurent Duvernay-Tardif, the Jets offensive line ended up being much better than anticipated.
Yet, issues arise when considering which offensive linemen are currently under contract. Moses and Tardif are free agents and losing both players would be a giant hit to the team’s much needed depth. It is no guarantee that either player will return either, as Moses proved how much is left in the tank for him and Tardif proved he had not lost a step after stepping away to be a doctor.
Even with this in mind, Moses called his time with the Jets “a blessing” and said that the organization followed through on everything that convinced him to play for the team. The tackle also said that the team is on the right track going forward and is confident that the Jets will find success soon. “It’s a trickling effect from your coach being 100 percent a players’ coach out there, running around with the players. He just wants you to get better, and as he gets better he wants to bring you along. When you get that it’s contagious, and everyone wants to be apart of it. So I think overall the winning is around the corner,” said Moses.
Moses also spoke on fellow tackle Mekhi Becton, saying how the young left tackle is “coming to work everyday and getting better” in order to fulfill his potential as a player. “He’s changing his mindset, he has a lot of great guys around him, leaders like George Fant, and a lot of older guys who have been there and done it…I look forward to seeing how his career takes off.”
Vera-Tucker said that he is “excited” about what the Jets’ 2021 rookie class can do in their second season and beyond. Vera-Tucker said he wants to improve in every facet of his game, but wants to focus on pass protection. “I think there is always room for improvement, but from what I can say now, without looking at every single game in close detail, I’d say the pass pro. I’d like to get better at that, my strengths and weaknesses with that,” said Vera-Tucker.
Vera-Tucker elaborated on his pairing with Becton on the left side, saying that “the vision” is still in place for the team’s future. “It’s gonna be a lockdown left-side and I’m excited for it. I talk to Mekhi everyday, that’s my guy. We see the vision, we see what Coach Saleh and Joe Douglas are trying to create here at this organization. All I can really say is that I’m excited for it,” said Vera-Tucker.
The Jets are well-armed with draft capital and cap space, something already well-known among Jets fans. This puts them in a prime spot to upgrade the entire team, and the offensive line is an aspect that still needs additions. Regardless if the team resigns Moses or Duvernay-Tardif, the Jets need to shore up its guard depth behind Vera-Tucker. In addition, the Jets need to think beyond this year’s draft; George Fant is only signed for one more season and Mekhi Becton is still recovering from a fractured knee-cap.
Keeping this in mind, the Jets need to try to resign Duvernay-Tardif and dip into the 2022 Draft for a tackle like Evan Neal, Ikem Ekwonu, or Charles Cross in the first round. If they pass on a lineman in the first round, a player like Zion Johnson from Boston College could fill that need in the second round.
Regardless of the specifics, the bottom line is that the Jets need to both retain their depth on the offensive line and continue to add talent to it. This is a unit that started to mesh together in the latter half of the 2021 season, and the Jets must do everything in their power to ensure that the group grows even further next year. Zach Wilson’s development is tied together with the offensive line play, and the quarterback’s continued development will be based on what can be built off of the previous season.