It is no secret that the Jets had their struggles on offense this past season. Between injuries, inconsistent play calling, and a lack of production from the QB position, there were multiple reasons why the team sat in the bottom tier of the league in various categories. It is arguable, though, that the Jets’ biggest issue this past year was the overall production of the offensive line.
On the whole, the unit struggled massively after Alijah Vera-Tucker, the star offensive lineman from USC, was lost for the season due to injury. Vera-Tucker brought versatility and production this past season; he stabilized the offensive line while playing multiple guard and tackle positions. However, without Vera-Tucker in the lineup, the Jets ended up finishing in the league’s bottom tier in both run-blocking and pass-blocking.
According to PFF, the Jets ranked 29th in overall pass-blocking and 27th in overall run-blocking. These contributed to the Jets’ overall offense ranking 31st in total offense. The Jets had some key additions that contributed heavily to the team’s lackluster blocking performance throughout the year.
Offensive guard Laken Tomlinson, who signed a three-year, $40 million contract this past offseason, was responsible for 27 pressures, 32 hurries, and four quarterback hits on 713 pass attempts. On the ground, PFF gave Tomlinson an overall 46.9 grade on 397 possible run attempts.
For the rest of the offensive line, no one besides Vera-Tucker and center Connor McGovern had above a 60 PFF Grade for run-blocking. McGovern and tackle George Fant each were credited with five sacks apiece, while Fant also allowed eight quarterback hits and 27 quarterback pressures. Tackle Max Mitchell also allowed three sacks in his game action this year.
Despite occasional qualms about PFF’s grading system, their numbers back up the eye test regarding the Jets’ offensive line play after the Vera-Tucker injury. They were constantly beaten by pressure off the edges and struggled to generate a run game that could complement the passing game. In the final three-game stretch, where the Jets failed to score a single offensive touchdown, the blocking in both aspects of the game was abysmal. The Jets were getting beat off the ball and looked less physical and skilled than their opponents.
As with most things in football, the Jets’ struggles cannot be evaluated in a vacuum. The offense, alternating between Zach Wilson, Mike White, and Joe Flacco, never allowed the offense to get into a complete rhythm. Two tweets from Zack Rosenblatt on December 24th showed the differences between Wilson and the other quarterbacks on the roster. According to the stats Rosenblatt shared, the Jets had a 39.8 % pressure rate with Wilson and a 29.6 % pressure rate without him. In addition, the Jets’ time from snap to throw dropped from 3.06 seconds with Wilson to 2.63 seconds without him.
The Jets also dealt with a plethora of injuries that affected the construction of their offensive line. On top of Vera-Tucker, the Jets lost Mekhi Becton, Fant, Mitchell, and Brown at different points during the season. As a result, the tackle spots were constantly fluctuating. Even when a sense of stability was gained, the team struggled with cohesion and communication due to a lack of a consistent starting unit.
Between a large number of injuries and lack of production, this past year showed that Joe Douglas needs to revamp the offensive once again. Fant, McGovern, and Herbig are free agents, and Brown may retire. As a result, the Jets will need to potentially resign multiple players and make additions in free agency and the draft.
Tackle Andre Dillard could be a potential pickup, as he has ties to Joe Douglas and brings positional versatility along the offensive line. Tackle Mike McGlinchey is another possible pickup, as he has links to Saleh and could be a fit based on the offensive coordinator the Jets hire.
In the draft, Ohio State tackle Paris Johnson Jr., Northwestern tackle Peter Skoronski, and Georgia tackle Broderick Jones could be options at the Jets’ number 13 overall pick. In addition, guard Andrew Vorhees and center John Michael Schmit, from USC and Minnesota, could be options in the second round for the Jets.
Additions could also be considered players coming back from injury. Along with Vera-Tucker, Mekhi Becton could make a significant impact for the Jets if he can find his way back onto the field in 2023. Head Coach Robert Saleh spoke about the return of these two players and what that could bring to the Jets’ offense next year.
“Well, I think perfect example, I read a stat when AVT was on the field with Breece and we had a run play, it was something like 90 carries, 5.6 yards a carry, which was number one in the NFL and when it wasn’t, it was under four yards a carry, so it’s a really, really big difference when those guys are on the football field, they just open up everything in regards to, and it makes it easier to protect, it makes it easier for the quarterback, it makes it easier for everybody when the o-line is humming, and the backs are humming, and it just makes everything easier.”
Next to the quarterback position, the offensive line needs to be the highest priority for the Jets this offseason. As the NFL playoffs continuously show, games are won and lost in the trenches. The Jets cannot afford to be in the bottom tier of the league in multiple blocking categories again, especially as the majority of their roster looks ready to compete in the coming years.
It remains to be seen what Douglas’s plan to upgrade the offensive line entails. Yet, it is evident that whatever moves the Jets make in the offensive trenches will significantly impact the team’s 2023 outlook, for better or worse.