The 2017 New York Jets were a team characterized by scrutiny. Very few positional units were safe from the criticism that plagued the Jets’ roster. Regarded as being one of the most talentless rosters in the league, it is hard to pinpoint exactly which unit is to blame for the five-win season that landed the team in the bottom tier of the NFL. However, most fans will agree that the New York Jets offensive line was at the top of the list of needs heading into the offseason.
Consequently, many fans were disappointed when the Jets did not address a single offensive line position in the NFL draft. The addition of Sam Darnold is a franchise changing move, but he simply will not succeed without an improved offensive line. Yet fans should not panic in regards to the Jets offensive line in 2018. Rather, fans should expect more from the unit this upcoming season.
Why Fans Should Expect More from the Jets Offensive Line in 2018
The New York Jets addressed the issues on their offensive line mildly during free agency. With no big money spent, or big-name additions, what is the cause for hope in 2018?
Jets fans will remember the excitement for Brian Winters heading into the 2017 season. He had shown promise in previous years and was finally being given an opportunity to start. Yet Winters’ 2017 campaign was a disappointment overall. Missing three games, and underachieving in the 13 he played, Winters was a weak spot on a weak unit. So why should fans expect a turnaround in 2018?
The answer is that Winters’ 2017 performance was one marred by injury. After tearing his abdomen in week 2 against the Oakland Raiders, Winters was not the same player. Attempting to play through the injury surely hindered his performance, and was the cause of his lack of explosion in 2017. Winters claims he is now fully healthy, and if that is the case, fans could see expectations from 2017 become a reality.
Brandon Shell‘s entrance to 2017 was similar to that of Brian Winters but on a much smaller scale. Shell’s pass blocking ability was touted in his three starts during his 2016 campaign. The level of success he demonstrated is illustrated here by PFF. Such pass-blocking efficiency carried over into 2017 and left fans wondering why Shell could not make the leap to the upper-echelon of the league’s right tackles.
One of the answers is that Shell missed four games in 2017 due to head and neck injuries. Another is that Shell still needs to work on rounding out his game. Although he is a very good pass blocker, he needs to work on improving his ability as a run blocker. Some fundamental shortcomings, such as the occasional lunging tendencies, hold Shell back. If he can make the leap in 2018, Shell would have been a steal given his fifth round price tag and an anchor on the Jets offensive line.
The Jets offensive line was lacking greatly in depth during the 2017 campaign. Had there been more talented players on the roster to back Brian Winters, perhaps he would not have tried to play through his injury. This issue was addressed by the Jets during free agency.
The Jets signed Spencer Long to be their new starting center, certainly an upgrade over Wesley Johnson. They did not stop there, however, as they signed the versatile Travis Swanson from the Detroit Lions. Swanson has experience at center, and can also play guard when asked. A similar versatile skillset to Jonotthan Harrison, who is entering his second year as a Jet and is a good depth piece.
The Jets also recently picked up former third-round pick Antonio Garcia. Garcia did not play in 2017 due to injury, but he is a low-risk high reward signing who will provide good depth in the event of an injury to either Kelvin Beachum or Brandon Shell. Garcia is a long, athletic tackle who, if healthy, is an upgrade over Brent Qvale or Ben Ijalana.
The Big Picture
The Jets offensive line is unlikely to be more than a middle-of-the-road unit in the NFL in 2018. They simply do not have enough proven starters to predict any better of them at this point. Still, fans should expect to see improvement over the 2017 unit.
Brian Winters will be fully healthy, and it is now or never to see if he will be able to reach the expectations that were set for his 2017 campaign. Brandon Shell, if he rounds out his game, could prove to be one of the best draft picks of the Mike Maccagnan era. Additionally, the unit is much deeper than last year’s iteration. An injury to one of the starters will not be nearly as crippling as fans saw in 2017. Whether or not Sam Darnold will be the week one starter remains to be seen. In the event that he is, fans should expect to see him far more protected than they saw Josh McCown in 2017.
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