As the season looms, I decided to take a deep dive into each position group within the organization and grade each group. This offseason, New York Jets GM Joe Douglas devoted both financial resources and draft capital towards improving one of the worst offensive lines in the league. Now, the Jets enter 2020 with a diverse group of both young talent, productive starters, and vets looking to establish themselves. With a lot of high potential guys, stable vets, and some key talent, let’s take a closer look at how this line grades out.
LT: Mekhi Becton
The mountain of a man joined the Jets as the 11th pick in this year’s draft. As part of the core group of top linemen, Becton is already considered to be a potential star. His unique combination of size and athleticism makes him a weapon in the run game. Not only that, but he’s a solid pass blocker. His lack of advancement in terms of detecting pass rush moves is worrisome, but it remains to be seen how ready he is to handle the top pass rushers in the game.
LG: Alex Lewis
Lewis was an aggressive and vocal leader in that offensive line room last year. Now he’s carved out a role on the roster and as a starter. Right now, his health for Sunday is questionable. In the short term, Lewis is classified as an average starter, but a strong season could earn him a long term role in the green and white.
C: Connor McGovern
The prized signing of the offensive line and my favorite new addition is the key man up front. McGovern is one of the most underrated centers in the game. McGovern is one of the least penalized linemen in football and one of the highest quality centers. His veteran presence and skill will add stability at the center of the line and contribute to the cohesiveness of the entire unit.
RG: Greg VanRoten
A lifelong Jet fan will be a starter from day one. VanRoten is just like Lewis. Both want to be here. Are fighting for a job next year and are quality linemen, but not superb. VanRoten is a poor pass blocker and a solid run blocker. If he can just hold his own as a pass blocker and provide stability, that will be a big asset. In the end, my hopes are mid-level for VanRoten this season.
RT: George Fant
Fant is not a crazy talented right tackle. He’s not going to be the reason this unit takes a big step up. However, Fant is built more like a tight end than a lineman. His athleticism is the best of any lineman on this team. His ability to fit into Adam Gase’s scheme and be a lead blocker is something that is a plus for the team. Still, Fant is unproven and the most worrisome of all the starting linemen, and I’m intrigued to see if he develops throughout the season or if the Jets turn elsewhere.
This bench is not one that is loaded with talent. Instead, it’s loaded with guys who have the potential to come in and be an average filler if need be. They’re cheap and young linemen who provide a lot of versatility. Two guys to watch in this bunch are Clark and Edoga. Edoga was a starter in the past and could slot in for Fant if he struggles. The rookie, Clark has the potential to be a long term fixture on this line if given a shot.
This line is still not proven or where it needs to be yet. The lack of in-game reps together is worrisome. Still, the talent is there and the competitive fire. This is a group that could outperform this grade. If they can be improved, they could be the reason this offense takes a massive jump. If they don’t, they could once again be the detriment of the team.
These positional battles will be especially crucial for the New York Jets to figure out, especially with a potential lack of preseason games.
If the NFL has its way, the New York Jets and their gridiron brethren are making their way to summer camp.
While several notable players have voiced concerns, the league has nonetheless put out a plan that would commence training camp on July 28. Jets proceedings would take place at One Jets Drive in Florham Park, which would be hosting its sixth summer tune-up. The number of preseason games remains a point of contention among the league and the players’ association, thought the Jets’ exhibition opener on August 13 against the Giants has yet to be officially canceled.
But with a shortened slate almost all but assured, training camp takes on greater importance. Games may be the primary source of fans watching depth chart and roster battles, but camp exploits are going to be more important than ever, especially for a team looking for chemistry and coherence.
Where will the most intriguing battles be? ESM investigates…
Right: Chuma Edoga/Brian Winters/Greg Van Roten/George Fant
Left: Alex Lewis/Cameron Clark
Protecting Sam Darnold’s blindside was one of the biggest offseason priorities. The Jets came through via the selection of Louisville’s Mekhi Becton at 11th overall in April’s draft. But big questions remain on the other side.
The veteran Winters, the longest-tenured green player on the New York roster, will probably be fighting for a roster spot. His release is accompanied by cap savings of over $7 million, but management seemed more than happy to give the guard another chance.
“(He’s) a guy that just battled, battled his tail off all year after injuring his shoulder in the preseason and fighting through,” general manager Joe Douglas said in February, per Brian Costello of the New York Post. “You’re going to be hard-pressed to find a better teammate, a tougher guy than Brian Winters.”
Winters’ journey to maintain his role in the starting lineup faces a major challenge with the arrival of Chaminade High School alum Van Roten, who served as Cam Newton’s security in Carolina over the last three seasons. The arrivals of Van Roten, who can also play tackle, and Fant also raise some heat on Edoga, who was thrust into a starting role due to injuries last season.
Even with the arrival of the dominant Becton, Darnold’s blindside isn’t fully safe. Becton seems set on the outside, but there are major reservations on the interior. Alex Lewis (pictured) may be the name currently penciled in on the depth chart, but he has (understandably) shown some concerns about partaking in the season and could be an opt-out if and when we get to that point. It could be a chance for day three choice Cameron Clark, the pride of the Charlotte 49ers, to work his way into the starting five.
The Jets have been placed in a fortuitous, yet responsibility-laden position where they have not one but two backfield saviors in the forms of Darnold and Le’veon Bell. They’ve started the long arduous process with the drafting of Becton and spending their offseason money on experienced veterans. But as this logjam on the line shows that their work is far from over.
Primary Spell RB
Frank Gore vs. La’Mical Perine
Bell has vowed to right the wrongs of 2019. Reliable rushing assistance will help him attain that goal and help has been obtained from opposite ends of the football experience spectrum.
Bilal Powell and Ty Montgomery were not retained, their roles filled by the rookie Perine (pictured) and Gore, who’s anything but. Even in his advanced age, Gore has proven himself useful while playing AFC East bingo. His 4.1 average over the past two seasons with Buffalo and Miami would not only be highest on the Jets last season but also ranks in the top 20 amongst running backs with at least 300 carries over the last two seasons. Gore also has the advantage of working in an Adam Gase system during his 2018 exploits with the Dolphins.
The Jets, however, also have plans for Perine, their fourth-round pick out of Florida.
“We all like his skill set. He’s one of those guys that’s able to do all three phases that you look for a running back to do: be able to run the football, be able to be involved in the passing game, be able to protect,” Gase said of the former Gator, per Demetrius Harvey of Sports Illustrated. “I think we are getting a guy, too, that is very hungry, that is going to be playing with a chip on his shoulder. He obviously was surprised that he lasted to the pick he lasted, and anytime that we can get guys that are coming in like that, that’s a good thing for us.”
This isn’t to say that there isn’t a place for both Gore and Perine on the team. But it’ll be interesting to see which one gets more opportunities if and when training camp commences.
Avery Williamson/Blake Cashman/Patrick Onwuasor
A shortened or eliminated preseason might wind up helping the Jets in the sense that they would avoid situations like that of Avery Williamson’s last season. The veteran suffered a torn ACL in an exhibition in Atlanta and wound up missing the entire 2019 season. Cashman, a fourth-round pick out of Minnesota, filled in very well in Williamson’s absence before suffering a season-ending injury himself. Further depth came in the form of ex-Baltimore Raven Onwuasor while Neville Hewitt and James Burgess were also re-signed.
Releasing Williamson would’ve saved the Jets $4.5 million in cap, but he was nonetheless retained for another go at it. Whatever work the Jets get in this summer will be absolutely vital for Williamson, currently at the top of the depth chart in one of the Jets’ deepest position groups. If Williamson has made one thing clear this offseason, it’s that he’s not going down without a fight.
“I definitely want to go in being a leader on the defense and just knowing that I’m going to make plays,” Williamson said to Olivia Landis in a video on the team’s official site. “That’s what I did my first year with the Jets and I’m ready to continue that. Once we get back as a group, just going out in camp and proving myself again and showing them that I still have that same fire and the same ability to make those big plays.”
Sam Ficken vs. Brett Maher
When you’re a team that struggles to consistently enter the end zone, a good kicker is a must. The Jets have attempted 63 field goals over the last two seasons (tied for seventh-most in the NFL). That issue was easy to tolerate with Pro Bowler Jason Myers at the boot, but the team went through four different kickers after he left for Seattle. Ficken was retained after being the last of these legs, while Maher was added from Dallas shortly after season’s end. Their percentages were at the literal bottom of the league’s qualified rankings.
Ficken (70.4 percent) was nonetheless retained, his case perhaps helped by a pair of ten-point games in December victories over Miami and Pittsburgh. Maher (66 percent) is perhaps the most notable Jekyll and Hyde case in recent NFL memory, offsetting 60-yard gems with 30-yard flops (sometimes in the same game, like the Cowboys’ October loss to the Jets in East Rutherford). Having a reliable kicker will be vital, creating a safety blanket for a growing offense.
The New York Jets committed to the rebuild of their offensive line this off-season, which was a problem that general manager Joe Douglas had no choice but to address.
The Jets ranked 31st overall in offensive line efficiency, which attested to their struggles at the quarterback position. Their adjusted sack rate was 9.8% on the season, as they turned over nearly every starting position on the line.
Ultimately, the Jets need their offensive line to mesh quickly and hit the ground running in 2020. They cannot afford to have an inexperienced unit without chemistry. The Jets made five moves in free agency to shore up the line.
They re-signed left guard Alex Lewis, left tackle George Fant, center Conor McGovern, guard Greg Van Roten, and center/guard Josh Andrews. They spent a relatively modest $40 million on all of the players acquired. In addition, they drafted Mekhi Becton with the 11th overall pick in the 2020 NFL draft.
Becton will likely slide in at left tackle, and Fant will move over to the right side. Overall, the Jets added nearly 2000 pounds to their offense of line. Interestingly, Andrews, Fant, and Van Roten were all undrafted free agents. Lewis and McGovern were later round picks. Becton is the highest of the bunch being drafted in the first round. A majority of their starters are overachievers at the NFL-level.
The new players added have 78 career starts, most of which are by McGovern over the last three seasons (36).
Overall, this unit has the potential to be solid, but they are also in a position to fall apart quickly. The majority of their players have minimal experience as starters or are average at best. McGovern made the transition to center years ago, and he solidified himself as one of the better options of the position given his new deal with the Jets. He was by far the best acquisition in terms of ready-talent. Van Roten is unpredictable, Fant is a solid run blocker but problematic in the passing game, and Lewis/Andrews are reserve options.
I believe a lot of the Jets’ success in 2020 relies on Becton, who will slide into a tough position with minimal experience against premium level talent at the collegiate level. Coming out of Louisville, Becton has faced off against some solid players, but his size might be an issue for him in the NFL. Stronger and faster pass rushers could expose his size and balance. However, he has exceptionally nimble feet for a player that’s 364 pounds. If he can adjust to the NFL quickly and protect Sam Darnold’s blindside, the Jets will be in decent shape moving forward.
You probably read that headline and thought, “Sheesh, how many more offensive linemen can this team sign?”. Quite frankly, Joe Douglas has spent loads of resources between draft picks and money towards fixing the offensive line. Although he’s done a great job, the New York Jets could add another offensive lineman who would turn the line into an above-average line. That lineman is the newly released 3-time pro bowler, Larry Warford.
Who is Larry Warford?
Larry Warford was a third-round pick by the New Orleans Saints during the 2013 draft. At 28 years old, Warford has started on the Saints offensive line since his inception into the NFL. He’s only missed a handful of games in that time, and he’s received three Pro Bowl nods in the last three years. Warford is a durable and talented guard. Had he hit the market at the start of free agency, he’d have been a hot commodity. Now, with the addition of Saints’ first-rounder Cesar Ruiz to pair with their other young offensive linemen, the Saints felt that Warford and his $12.9 million dollar cap hit (2nd highest next to Drew Brees) were not worth it anymore. Warford now faces a likely extensive market.
The New York Jets Should Target Him
As I previously mentioned, although the Jets overhauled their offensive line, you never say no to a Pro Bowler. The tackles and center position may be solidified, and the Jets may have established competition at guard, but Warford is an instant game-changer. His durability and leadership would make him an asset. If you release Brian Winters and allow Alex Lewis, Cameron Clark, and Greg Van Roten to compete for the other guard spot, then Warford can be a starter on the line.
The fact is, the Jets need to continue to improve and establish completion at a position that is still not all the way improved. Adding a Pro Bowler in his prime would take the Jets’ offensive line to another level.
The New York Jets continue to load up on offensive linemen. Joe Douglas has reiterated his desire to build through the trenches and this pick continues to do that. Cameron Clark was a 1st Team All-Conference USA recipient last season and two year Captain for Charlotte, and now the formidable leader and solid offensive lineman joins the Jets.
Who is Cameron Clark?
Cameron Clark joined the Charlotte 49ers in his Sophomore year and made an impact at left tackle. Clark won team MVP for how he stepped up and made a difference. Then, in the past two years, he’s been a durable left tackle who’s started every game for the team. Clark is a very good run blocker who can assert his presence on opposing defenders. He likes to throw guys around. He didn’t get much time against high-level competition except for one incredible performance against Clemson.
He threw Clemson defenders around like rag-dolls. Clark is likely going to transition to the interior and become a guard. Having played left tackle, he could move to left guard and compete with Alex Lewis right away. Quite frankly, if he can develop into a formidable offensive guard, he would form a nasty combo with Mekhi Becton. Although he has flaws and will need development, I like this pick and it’s probably my favorite pick so far on Day 3.
Lewis, set to turn 28 in April, recently wrapped up his fourth season of NFL service and first with the Jets. The Nebraska alum entered the league as a fourth-round pick of the Baltimore Ravens in the 2016 NFL Draft. He would join the Jets in the latter stages of last summer, as the Jets sent over a conditional seventh-round pick (226th overall) to acquire him from the Ravens.
It didn’t take long for Lewis to reach the starting lineup, as he was called upon to replace the injured Kelechi Osemele. He wound up making a career-high 12 starts, partaking in all but one game overall. Lewis was placed on injured reserve in December after he suffered an ankle injury in the Jets penultimate game of the season.
Blocking runs in Lewis’ blood. The Tempe, Arizona native is the son of former NFL offensive lineman Bill Lewis, who played seven seasons with the Raiders, Cardinals, and Patriots.
With Lewis in tow, the Jets continue to make changes to their offensive line. They previously added Seattle tackle George Fant earlier this week. Further changes could be on the way. Current starting guard Brian Winters, one of the longest-tenured Jets on the roster, would save the Jets $7.2 million in cap space if released. A fellow starter, center Jonotthan Harrison, would yield $2.25 million more.
Other Jets free agents on the offensive line include tackles Kelvin Beachum and Brandon Shell and center Ryan Kalil. All spent significant time in the starting lineup last season.
The New York Jets offensive line has been really really bad this season. They are currently one of the worst offensive line units in football. Mike Maccaganan and his draft pick, trades and signings being there normal amazing moves have failed miserably throughout the early part of the season. However, one of Joe Douglas’s best moves has truly proven to be excellent.
Alex Lewis Has Broken Out
When Lewis was acquired from the Jets I said I had semi-high hopes for him. He had always been a sort of rotational offensive linemen. He’s always been a damn good one though. Since coming from Baltimore, Lewis was on the bench for the start of the season. However, when Adam Gase instituted an open competition for all offensive line positions Alex Lewis and Chuma Edoga were able to get starting spots. Since then, Lewis has been the most reliable offensive lineman. Edoga has been good, Lewis has been great. For the minimal price the Jets got him for, this was a damn good movie. Especially in the wake of another turn of events.
Kelechi Osemele Situation Is Messy
Osemele went down with a shoulder injury and although he has missed time it wasn’t thought to be severe. However, after getting cleared by two doctors he personally felt surgery is a necessity. So, the Jets and Osemele were in a standoff. The Jets made the first move by fining him for skipping practice despite being cleared. Now another phenomenal Mike Maccaganan move is paying off for the Jets. This time they’re disagreeing with a guy who was replaced by Alex Lewis a cheaper replacement and will now get stuck with Osemele’s contract for the foreseeable future. It remains to be seen what will happen next but the Osemele situation is one to watch.
New York Jets general manager Joe Douglas is making moves like a mad man, with the focus being on the offensive line. The Baltimore Ravens have gifted us C.J. Mosley and now they’ve given us offensive line depth.
Alex Lewis was drafted in the 4th round of the 2016 NFL Draft. He’s a second-generation offensive lineman, as his dad was an All American center. It’s in his blood to be a stud at the position.
What are the New York Jets getting with Alex Lewis?
Since being drafted, however, he’s flashed the ability to be a starting-caliber offensive lineman. The problem that has kept him from achieving his potential is injuries. In 2017 he had a shoulder injury which led to season-ending surgery. In 2018 despite playing games and performing very well he still missed two games and had to get neck surgery following the season.
After things with Baltimore fell apart, the Ravens decided to take him out of the running for the starting left guard spot and trade or release him. The Jets evidently took a liking to him and acquired him in exchange for a conditional 7th rounder that goes to Baltimore in the event Lewis makes the 53 man roster. Now with injury questions with Kelvin Beachum and some of the other offensive linemen facing injuries in the past Lewis can play a 6th man type role for this offensive line which could be a bigger asset then many realize for this team.
Another guy who people should keep an eye out for is Kyron Brown. Brown was a key player for the Akron football team for the past few years. He was a captain of the team last season and had pretty solid results in college. Brown had 41 tackles, a sack, and a pick in his final season at Akron.
He had similar stats in his 2nd to last season with 49 tackles, and two picks. In his other past seasons, he had one with a career-high of 3 interceptions. He’s excellent in coverage and a beast on special teams. Now he’s proving it in camp, going from an undrafted player to seeing a bulk of second-team reps and some first-team reps in replacement for Trumaine Johnson when he was dealing with a temporary injury. Brown has already opened some eyes and with a strong training camp, he could not only crack the roster but could make some noise this season.