The offensive line was an area that the New York Jets had hoped to avoid changing too much this offseason, but unfortunately they were not able to complete their plans. The Jets lost up and coming right tackle Austin Howard to the Oakland Raiders, replacing him with veteran Breno Giacomini. The Jets also failed to make any additions at guard, choosing instead to retain Willie Colon. There are some significant questions about the line as the Jets head towards the draft, and don’t be surprised to see them invest a couple picks up front.
We’ll start at center, which is the only stable position on the line for the Jets. Nick Mangold remains one of the best in the business, and his presence both as a player and a leader is incredibly valuable to the Jets. Mangold was selected to his fifth Pro Bowl this season, and he will continue to be the anchor of the line. Mangold is backed up by Caleb Schlauderaff, who is a versatile player the Jets like. However, if he sees much of the field it is only because something went very wrong.
Moving to tackle, D’Brickashaw Ferguson started to show a few signs of slipping this past season. Make no mistake, he is still among the better left tackles in the NFL, but the Jets pay him nearly $12 million a year to be elite. Ferguson is now 30 years old, so the Jets have to hope he finds his form again this season. Across from him, Giacomini is a solid veteran who is strong in the run game but will struggle against top pass rushers. He is a downgrade from Howard, but no so much so that the Jets need to be overly concerned about a drop off.
What is concerning, however, is the Jets’ depth at tackle. Oday Aboushi didn’t play a down his rookie season, and he is an unknown quantity who is far from a lock to make the team. Ben Ijalana is a former second round pick who is very injury prone, and the Jets can’t feel safe with him as their top backup. Look for the team to add at least one veteran to the roster before camp, and they could spend a mid round pick on a tackle as well.
Finally we reach the guard position, which is a major concern for the Jets. Brian Winters was a third round pick last season, but he had some major struggles, particularly in pass protection. Playing between Ferguson and Mangold protects him somewhat, but he needs to make major improvements. On the other side, Colon had a strong season but it coming off yet another major injury. Colon is a road grader in the run game and the Jets love his intangibles, but he has to stay healthy.
Depth is an issue here as well. Schlauderaff can play guard, but Will Campbell joined Aboushi on the bench for their rookie seasons. The Jets need to make an addition that provides them with depth and competition. If Winters struggles or Colon gets hurt, the Jets don’t have anyone to fill the void.
The free agent market is pretty picked over, but Davin Joseph or Wade Smith would be worth a flier. Otherwise, the Jets will have to look to the draft, which holds a solid group of guards. David Yankey, Xavier Su’a-Filo and Gabe Jackson are the top three and all look like second round prospects who could be immediate starters. However, the Jets will likely wait a little longer to target the position, and players like Cyril Richardson and Trai Turner could be options in the fourth round range.
No matter how they choose to acquire it, it is clear that the Jets need depth on the offensive line. A quality guard is absolutely essential, and a reliable third tackle would be a nice addition as well. The middle rounds of the draft are likely going to be the best way for the Jets to acquire these players, and look for them to use at least one or two of their nine Day 3 picks to work on the offensive line.