Strength In O-Line Depth Is Key For The Jets

Protecting Sam Darnold is key for the Jets going into the season and beyond
Michael Nania
Wed, August 7, 7:55 AM EDT

Joe Douglas has only been at the helm of the New York Jets front office for a short while, but the former offensive lineman has already made a point to Jets fans that trench play is going to be one of his utmost priorities.

Firstly, Douglas went out and signed former Carolina Panthers center Ryan Kalil to a one-year deal, yanking him out of retirement and straight into the Jets starting lineup.

Shortly after, Douglas swung a trade for former Baltimore Ravens guard Alex Lewis, parting with only a conditional seventh-round selection, bolstering the depth of the unit.

The Jets have been struggling up front for years, and those issues came to a head in 2018. Offensive line struggles doomed the Jets offense, and made life miserable for rookie quarterback Sam Darnold.

Douglas didn’t get the opportunity to run a full offseason at the helm of the Jets, but he hasn’t let that stop him from making his mark on the 2019 squad. He quickly recognized the holes in the offensive line, and has gotten to work patching up those holes on the depth chart as best as he can with the limited time and resources left as the season nears.

Seeing Douglas put such a premiere emphasis on the offensive line this early in his tenure is a sight for the sore eyes of Jets fans. For the first time in a while, the Jets might actually have respectable offensive line depth.

Fans can tend to set their expectations for depth players too high. After all, backups are backups for a reason. No team is going to have “good” players in backup roles, and it’s always going to be a challenge when a starting player goes down.

However, there is still a range of quality that exists between the best worst and groups of reserves across the league.

For the Jets, the fact that they now have a multitude of former starters on their backup offensive line is a plus. Although none of these players were high-quality starters, they were good enough to earn starting roles in the NFL. That’s an upgrade over a backup group made up of players who were never good enough to earn a starting role – which was the level of security the Jets have had in recent years.

Additionally, the Jets boosted their upside to a new level. Back in March, they selected an offensive lineman in the top-100 for the first time since 2013 – more on him later.

Let’s take a look into the four players that spearhead what could be an above-average group of reserve offensive linemen for the Jets in 2019.

Center: Jonotthan Harrison

Harrison took over for the fledgling Spencer Long near the end of the 2018 season, and was pegged to be the team’s starter in 2019 until Kalil came along.

While Harrison provided below-average play while on the field in 2018, there are a few things he offers that make him attractive as a backup.

First off, Sam Darnold had a lot of success while Harrison was at center. Does this mean Harrison was solely responsible for that success – or even partially responsible? Absolutely not; but we know that Darnold and the Jets offense succeeding with Harrison in the lineup is within the realm of possibility, since we’ve already seen it happen. That’s a calming thought for the Jets (and their fans) to have in the back of their heads if Harrison has to relieve Kalil at any point in 2019.

Secondly, Harrison brings some intriguing athleticism to the table. At the NFL Draft Combine, Harrison ranked in the 95th percentile among offensive linemen in the broad jump, and the 74th percentile in the 40-yard dash. With only two season’s worth of career starts under his belt (32) and in his prime at 28 years old when the season begins, the slight possibility exists he could still have some untapped potential to dip into.

Guard: Alex Lewis

Lewis is the newest member of the Jets offensive line, recently acquired via trade from the Baltimore Ravens.

A product of Nebraska, Lewis was a lower-level starter in Baltimore, but he offers versatility and an odd knack for having a plus impact.

Lewis, who is still just 27 years old, started 18 games as a member of the Ravens. 16 of those were at left guard, but he also started a couple of games at left tackle back in 2016. Coincidentally, one of those two starts was against the Jets at MetLife Stadium.

I was very surprised to dig up this stat, and it likely has little correlation with Lewis’ ability, but it is very interesting nonetheless. In 2016 and 2018 (the two seasons Lewis was healthy for Baltimore), the Ravens went 12-6 when he started for them. In the 15 games they played without him in the starting lineup, the Ravens went 6-9.

Guard: Tom Compton

Compton, who is 30 years old and entering his eighth year in the league, brings a ton of versatility and experience to the table. He signed with the Jets back in March, while the team was still under the leadership of Mike Maccagnan.

He has started 30 games in his career, including 14 last season in his sole campaign with the Minnesota Vikings. All of his starts in 2018 came at left guard, but over the course of his career, Compton has started at least one game at every offensive line position outside of center.

Tackle: Chuma Edoga

Edoga, only 22 years old, was selected 92nd overall by the Jets in the third round of the 2019 Draft. Going into his rookie season, it appears that he could be the top reserve tackle on the Jets.

A product of USC, Edoga spent a good portion of his college days protecting Sam Darnold. Edoga isn’t the only former college teammate of Darnold’s on the squad – wide receiver Deontay Burnett is the third young Trojan currently holding a spot on the team.

While Edoga has technical refinements he needs to make to fulfill his potential, he’s a lengthy tackle with quick feet. With time, he has the upside to develop into a solid starter.

 

By Michael Nania

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