New York Jets Training Camp Preview: Offensive Line

David Aitken with a training camp preview of the New York Jets offensive line

David Aitken continues his training camp of the 2017 New York Jets with a look at the offensive line position. Here is the earlier piece looking at tight ends…

Projected Depth Chart/Starters

LT: Kelvin Beachum / Ben Ijalana

LG: James Carpenter / Dakota Dozier

C: Wesley Johnson / Jonotthan Harrison

RG: Brian Winters / Brent Qvale

RT: Brandon Shell / Ben Ijalana

On the outside, offensive line is yet another position where the Jets are dangerously lacking starting quality. Long gone are the days where the Jets had proven top ten talents at virtually every position. Just like most other positions on the roster, Maccagnan stripped the unit of veterans and the Jets are now left relying on a number of players for contributions that have no or mixed track records as starters.

Yet there are two major differences between this unit and how Maccagnan has approached the rest of the roster. For one, offensive line is one of the only spots the Jets have made a notable investment this offseason. A three year, 24 million dollar deal for left tackle Kelvin Beachum and a 29 million dollar extension for guard Brian Winters were this offseason’s major outlays. Under the radar slightly has been the two year, 10.5 million re-signing of Ben Ijalana – significant money for a swing tackle.  Secondly, the “unprovens” of the group actually got a taste of starting action last year. To a greater extent than at other positions, these are players slated to start on merit.

“Merit,” still, is being graded on a curve. There is excitement over 2016 5th round pick Brandon Shell, but it’s based on a small sample size. Shell is still technically only competing for a starting position with Ben Ijalana. The hope is that the high note on which Shell finished 2016 is a sign of things to come, and he can distance himself from Ijalana in preseason. Shell, after an unforgiving preseason last year, rode the bench until the last three games of the season. He shined in pass protection in this limited action, credited with no pressures on 114 snaps according to Pro Football Focus. It’s a small sample size and offensive line numbers can’t always be taken as gospel, but still encouraging for a player that looked like a 24-year-old project when drafted. There is similar optimism for center Wesley Johnson, a former Steelers draftee perhaps given up on too early. Johnson started eight games in 2016, and was essentially a wash when compared to a declining and injury plagued Nick Mangold. Johnson will enter training camp basically unchallenged, and the Jets should feel comfortable they have at least a replacement level starter in Johnson. If nothing else he was a part of a competent interior running game, as the Jets ranked top ten in Football Outsiders’ adjusted line yards metric for runs designated mid/guard.

Outside of defensive end, the guard positions are where the Jets are best set long-term. Maccagnan’s signing of James Carpenter in 2015 may have flew under the radar at the time in comparison to other major deals, but two years in it’s arguably his best signing. Brian Winters has paid back Idzik’s early faith in full, earning a 4-year extension this offseason worth up to 29 million. The pair, along with Powell, will be the source of anything good the Jets are able to accomplish in the run game.

Left tackle Kelvin Beachum is the one “splash” signing, but he does carry some obvious risk. After the failed Ryan Clady trade, Maccagnan once again moved for a player that is struggling to prove major injuries are behind him. Still, the former Steeler and Jaguar is an intriguing gamble. In 2014 he was one of the league’s better left tackles at just age 25. His 2015 was cut short with an ACL tear and he hit free agency. The Jaguars signed him to a one year “prove it” deal with an option to kick in a big extension this past offseason if he performed well. He didn’t, and was released. But ACL injuries are serious and it can take an extended recovery period to reach old heights. A decent enough structured contract means the Jets can save some cap releasing him in 2018 if things don’t get better, and best case scenario he’s a respectable starting tackle for the next few seasons.

Position Group Strength: 5

There is a “least of our problems” feel to the Jets offensive line, but it is important to keep in mind that Beachum, Johnson and Shell are all close to being unknowns. In an ideal world they all are competent and the Jets have the foundation of a solid offensive line. It may be more realistic to expect one or two of the trio to take a step forward but the Jets still requiring a starter somewhere long-term. Secondly, while it’s one of the Jets positions where the chance of starter caliber play is actually decent, it’s a group that lacks a cornerstone or potential top player. Offensive line is a position where the performance can often be greater or less than the sum of its parts, but there isn’t really high-end potential anywhere. Lastly, the depth is absolutely horrible.  

Best Case Scenario: The unit performs greater than the sum of it’s parts and is an above average unit, buoyed by a bounce back season from Kelvin Beachum and Brandon Shell building off the back of 2016. The joint Maccagnan-Idzik offensive line rebuild project is complete.

Prediction: Far from spectacular, but the line will be the least of the Jets’ problems on offense. It’ll be a league-average unit where in an ideal world the Jets are looking for upgrades at several positions, but won’t need to be prioritized. 

Photo Credit: www.sny.tv