There are entire industries, products and social programs devoted to safety: security systems, insurance policies, police forces, firemen, airbags, seatbelts and more. We wear the necessary attire in the winter to keep us warm and protected. We religiously wash our hands—especially these days—hoping to scrub away the invisible enemy. Everybody wants coverage of some kind. Why should Quarterbacks be different?
When 250 plus pound behemoths, with the agility of a lion, are chasing you down like a gazelle in the bush, preservation is paramount. The guys up front are a QB’s best friend. They protect his back and do their best to keep the pocket clean when all-pros—like Aaron Donald—have him in their sights. Essentially, the offensive line is like a really solid group of bouncers or bodyguards. They keep the unwelcome out of the club and/or regulate situations when times get rough.
Of course, not all security is the same. For example, the Pittsburgh Steelers (#1 ranked in 2018 by PFF) are considered elite bodyguards, the kind of protection you feel comfortable escorting around a president. Then you have the guys you wouldn’t feel good about safeguarding your childhood piggy bank, we’ll call them the Houston Texans. Essentially, you’re hoping your bodyguards are like Sir Brienne of Tarth, the Mountain or the Hound, but more often than not you end up with a line comprised of one-handed Jamie Lannisters.
As of now, the Jets don’t quite fall into the elite group. When attempting to construct a wall to protect their QB, the last general manager used Band-Aids and glue where concrete and rebar were needed. Especially, at the center position, where it’s become common knowledge that weak play could have a trickle-down effect on the rest of the unit.
While the unit as a whole suffered because of crucial mistakes, some individual efforts on the line give fans a reason to be optimistic. In this week’s “Joe Jet 5,” I rank our offensive linemen from best to worst.
1) Kelechi Osemele: According to sources, “Of Nigerian descent, his name Kelechi means “Thank God” in the Igbo language.” Believe me, as Jets fans, that’s exactly what we should be doing. Osemele has been one of the most dominant guards in the NFL. He’s a two-time pro bowler, one time all-pro, and has a championship ring to boot. Kelechi is by far the best run blocker on this team; he maintained an eye-popping 91.0 run blocking grade in 2015 (PFF) and has notched multiple seasons with an overall score over 80 (pass and run blocking). The highest run blocking grade on the Jets OL last season was a pedestrian 59.0 (Brian Winters).
New GM, Joe Douglas, was part of the team in Baltimore that drafted Osemele (2012) and he’s a newly welcomed addition to a line that has struggled over the last few years. Fans should continue to pray that his influence will be the catalyst that eventually propels this line to the top of the league. Some credit needs to be given to former general manager, Mike Maccagnan, for pulling off a great trade.
Although Kelechi had his worst season (53.7 grade) last year after battling injuries, he’s posted several entertaining videos on Twitter showing himself to be in the best shape of his career; he appears rejuvenated and ready to for the task at hand. Kelechi! Kelechi! Kelechi!
2) Kelvin Beachum: Beachum began his career with the Steelers as a seventh-round pick (2012). He became the starting left tackle in his sophomore year after unseating a subpar Mike Adams in week six. Beachum’s career looked incredibly promising. According to PFF, in his third year—after playing a full 16 games as a starter—he was ranked the fifth overall OT and chalked up an impressive 90.5 pass blocking grade. Kelvin was offered a contract extension—from the Steelers—but turned it down, only to tear his ACL the following year. After a failed stint in Jacksonville, where he scored a career-low 48.8 run blocking grade, Beachum was signed by the Jets.
His signing was not greeted with a lot of enthusiasm by most Jets fans; however, times have changed. Beachum is one of the most unheralded players in the league and an underrated player on the Jets line. He remains incredibly consistent in pass protection and has done a solid job safeguarding Sam’s blindside. According to PFF, Beachum notched a pass blocking grade of 80.5 in 2017 and 79.4 in 2018.
Beachum does come with faults, as he struggles in the run game, but overall Kelvin has been an above average starter and a singular character in the locker room. Beachum is beloved by teammates and is a pillar of the community. While he isn’t the long-term answer at LT, he’s more than capable of holding down the fort until Douglas finds his replacement.
3) Brandon Shell: Shell is one of the few late round draft picks by Mike Maccagnan that have shown promise. Like his counterpart, Kelvin Beachum, he has struggled in the running game with a 57.0 grade this past season (PFF), but his prowess as a pass blocker (69.4 grade) gives reason to be optimistic. He’s still young and many Jets fans are hopeful that his best football is ahead of him. An injury hampered Shell this past season, but he’s entered training camp working with the first group and the Jets remain hopeful he’ll continue to elevate his game. Many pundits are satisfied with Shell as a player but he still carries the label of a “jag.” This will be a defining year for Brandon as he’ll be given the opportunity to prove he’s more than just another guy.
4) Brian Winters: Winters (third round draft pick) is one of two players left from the Idzik era. His career has thus far been somewhat polarizing, marked by inconsistent play and durability issues. He looked like a bust early on—when he gave up ten sacks as a rookie (2013)—only to establish himself as a solid starter in 2015 and 2016, when he racked up a 71.6 and 70.5 overall grade (PFF). Winters has regressed the last two seasons with grades of 56.6 in 2017 and 62.6 in 2018; however, his pass blocking (69.8) was a bright spot in his game this past year. While there were some encouraging moments, Winters only played a full sixteen games three times in his career, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the Jets move on from him after this season.
5) Jonotthan Harrison: I was impressed that Harrison didn’t give up any sacks last season; however, he was the 30th ranked center and had a subpar 54.1 grade in 2018 (PFF). His best overall score (63.4) came in his second season (2015) when he played 669 snaps.
Arguably, after LT, Center has become the most important position on the OL. He needs to be intelligent, have a firm grasp of the playbook, call out protections, communicate with the rest of the OL, take on 350-pound nose tackles, pull to the outside, and at times drop multiple blocks in one play. This sounds like a tall order for somebody that has never been more than a backup in his career. I can’t say I feel comfortable with Harrison in this role, but I hope I’m wrong. This line may only go as far as he takes them.