For the first time since 2005 the New York Jets offensive line will not feature Nick Mangold or D’Brickashaw Ferguson when they line up for week 1. The Jets are going with a full on youth movement upfront. Let’s run through the current likely starters in order from the player with the most to prove, to the player with the least to prove heading into 2017…
Right Tackle, Brandon Shell – The Jets gave up a 2017 4th rounder to land Shell last year in the 5th round of the NFL Draft. Shell is already 25 years old despite having only one season under his belt. Down the stretch last year, Shell was gradually able to work his way up (aided by injuries in front of him) from being inactive, to being a situational/special teams player to starting the team’s final three games. Shell held up surprisingly well, showing the athleticism the Jets drafted him for in the running game and holding up better than expected in pass protection. The sample size is small but the expectation is for Shell to beat out veteran backup Ben Ijalana at right tackle. Mike Maccagnan badly needs this pick to hit to further boost the Jets depth and show his trade up in the later rounds was justified.
Center, Wesley Johnson – He started one game for the Jets in 2015 and appeared in ten of them in underwhelming fashion. However, Johnson’s role increased in 2016 as he appeared in every game for the Jets and started eight in place of Nick Mangold. He was surprisingly stable in extended action, showing notable improvement from 2015, particularly in the running game as one of the key catalysts of Bilal Powell’s late season surge. The Jets gave him a second round tender as a restricted free agent, setting him up to audition to be the center of the future in 2017. At 26 years old, Johnson has huge shoes to fill for Mangold but is likely to hold off the recently signed veteran minimum free agent Jonotthan Harrison.
Kelvin Beachum, Left Tackle – The Jets only free agent splurge this offseason. The 27 year old was on a promising trajectory with the Pittsburgh Steelers before signing with the Jacksonville Jaguars last year. Whether it was recovering from a torn ACL in 2015, the pressure of his first free agent deal or him simply not being as good as many expected, Beachum disappointed in 2016. The Jets are banking on him being the player he was in Pittsburgh, who they pursued last offseason. If Beachum can stabilize this critical position, it will go a long way to steadying the ship of a weak Jets offense.
Brian Winters, Right Guard – After a rocky start to his Jets career, Winters began to improve late in 2015 when filling in for Willie Colon. He continued his strong play throughout 2016 before getting hurt and missing the final few weeks with a torn rotator cuff. The Jets invested in him with a 4 year, 29 million dollar contract (although they have an out after two years). The 25 year old is one of the more proven players on the offense at this point, which speaks to their overall unit situation. Regardless, the Jets have a pair of road grading guards at the right stage of their career.
James Carpenter, Left Guard – Mike Maccagnan’s best free agent signing by a substantial amount. Carpenter has been the Jets best offensive lineman over the past two years. At 28 years old, he is the elder statesman of the group and is under contract the next two years. The Jets are likely to be fairly run heavy next season, predominantly behind Carpenter who is arguably their best offensive player right now.
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