The Jets didn’t do a great job at protecting Sam Darnold during the 2019 NFL season. The issues experienced by their offensive line hurt Leveon Bell’s debut year in Jersey as well. It was the biggest woe for a New York Jets team that went 6-2 in the final eight weeks of the campaign.
And so, general manager Joe Douglas set on a journey to fix the pocket in free agency as well as the upcoming NFL Draft. He was supposed to have in mind a star tackle in addition to another tackle in the first round. It didn’t all go that way.
The Jets were inactive for the first day of the NFL’s legal tampering period. In the next couple of days, the offensive line received much-needed upgrades. Also, Alex Lewis, the best performer of the group last year, was brought back.
That way, the team is likely to have four new starters in 2020. One of the four tackles in the draft is still pretty much in the cards for Douglas’s staff. The Jets are still relatively thin at wide receiver, at least until they re-sign Robby Anderson.
Here’s how the depth chart looks as of currently:
LT George Fant
LG Alex Lewis
RT Chuma Edoga
The Jets also signed former Colts center/guard Josh Andrews, who is probably off to the backup role in Florham Park. In addition, Chuma Edoga might not be the starter at right tackle come Week 1. Neither could be Brian Winters, who is on the verge of getting cut after the Jets signed Van Roten last night.
Some of the work could have been done. Some of the questions remain intact. Despite that, the Jets offensive line could thrive with the complete change of the line and investing in it was the right call by Joe Douglas.
How Could it Look Come September?
Connor McGovern, Alex Lewis and George Fant are almost locked in to start. The only looming question is whether Fant will be on the left or the right side. Fant was a left tackle going back to his rookie year with Seattle in 2016. Both Andrew Thomas and Makhi Becton, their two options in the draft, are left tackles. It might be easier to move a talented draftee to the other side than a guy like Fant who has never played there.
Fant played under 50 percent of all snaps in three of his seven starts. He was definitely up-and-down, which is where the criticism towards him stems.
The case with Winters/Van Roten is an interesting one. It makes a ton of sense to move on from Winters. He’s owed $7 million in 2020 and played just 52 percent of all snaps due to an injury. Instead, they now have Van Roten, who was solid in the last two years with Carolina. They probably won’t count on Edoga, either.
Here’s a projected look at the line:
LT George Fant
LG Alex Lewis
C Connor McGovern
RG Greg Van Roten
RT Andrew Thomas
Fant lost his starting place with the Seahawks when he missed the 2017 season with an injury. Despite that, he pretty much put his career back to relevance with a bounce-back year in 2019.
He did start seven games as a left tackle last season. However, as we noted, he only played 100% in three games. He was barely solid, and that’s the problem. In the wake of a nightmare 2019 for Sam Darnold’s pocket, the Jets needed to spend big, not look for bargains. Even if the plan was to move him to right, there’s no point in giving him $10 million a year instead of getting someone like Conklin, a league-level proven right tackle.
No words are big enough to praise McGovern for his 2019 performance. He had a terrific year in Denver, which included 100 percent snap participation and zero penalties.
The center was a problematic place for the Jets. If anyone was good enough to fill in the hole left by Ryan Kalil, it’s McGovern. We can criticize Douglas for not spending at tackle. However, he made a huge move at center.
Greg Van Roten
Van Roten has been very good with the Panthers. During the last two years, he started 27 consecutive games until his season-ending injury in 2019. In 47 games (1,791 snaps) with Carolina and Green Bay, Van Roten committed just one penalty.
Provided that he has a healthy season, he’d be an upgrade over Brian Winters if the Jets move on from him.
Where Does the Jets’ Offensive Line Stand?
The Jets’ offensive line is in an interesting spot. On the one hand, they added a lot of quality. On the other, they face the challenge of plugging in at least one tackle out of his natural position.
Despite that, the Jets should provide good protection for Darnold. Their response to pass-rush around the edges might be flawed with a rookie tackle and an unproven tackle on the other side. But McGovern, Van Roten and Alex Lewis could surprise a lot of people. The Jets interior lineman trio should be light out and give reasons for optimism.
This all goes through selecting an OT with the 11th overall pick. The Jets offensive line is better off with an elite young player at RT rather than Edoga, who will develop until he becomes the starter after the end of Fant’s tenure.
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