For all that went wrong for the New York Jets in 2016, the offensive line was surprisingly not one of them and put together an average season.
The unit allowed 35 sacks and 95 quarterback hits, tied for 16th and 20th in the league respectively. Meanwhile, New York’s running backs averaged over four yards per carry despite not having a successful aerial attack to balance it.
However, the unit looks very different in 2017 after only returning two starters. Here’s a closer look at the Jets’ offensive line.
Projected starters: Kelvin Beachum (LT), James Carpenter (LG), Wesley Johnson (C), Brian Winters (RG), Brandon Shell (RT)
Depth players to watch: Ben Ijalana (LT), Brent Qvale (RT)
One big number: 2 — the number of returning starters the Jets have. Since D’Brickashaw Ferguson retired after the 2015 season and Nick Mangold was cut this past offseason, Mike Maccagnan and the Jets front office are in the midst of rebuilding an offensive line that recently lost its two staples.
Youngster to watch: The best prospect the Jets have at offensive line is Brandon Shell, a 2016 fifth-round pick who flashed signs of success toward the end of the 2016 season. Although he only played 204 snaps, he was very successful during that brief sting, earning a 79.9 grade from Pro Football Focus. That mark, albeit in a significantly smaller sample size, would rank him in the top third of NFL tackles. Shell, who is the great nephew of Art Shell, a former All-Pro tackle, has an NFL pedigree and lots of potential.
Don’t forget about: Considering many of New York’s recent free agent signees are no longer with the team, its acquisition of James Carpenter looks even better. Carpenter’s 83.0 grade from PFF ranks 17th among all NFL guards. What’s even more impressive is his 88.1 pass blocking grade, 10th in the league. Without Mangold, Carpenter is the best Jets offensive lineman and potentially the future of the unit.
Jet Factor: After earning a four-year, $29 million extension, right guard Brian Winters is not only the most important player on New York’s offensive line, but actually one of its best players overall. PFF gave Winters a 77.1 grade, which ranks 31st of 72 NFL guards. That grade is the second best among Jets lineman, only trailing Carpenter. Winters’ main contribution will be paving running lanes for the 1-2 punch of Matt Forte and Bilal Powell. Forte struggled in his first season as a Jet, but Powell’s 5.5 rushing yards per game prove that he can be a starting caliber running back at his best.
How it all goes well: The first step in a successful year for New York’s offensive line is health. Ijalana, a competitor for a starting job, had a knee scope on June 13 while Beachum struggled in 2016 after he tore his ACL in 2015. The Jets also need their two guards — Carpenter and Winters — to continue their success after great 2016 seasons. The wild cards are the young, inexperienced players, which includes Shell and Johnson. If they can prove their worth, and be penciled in as 2018 starters, it would help speed up the Jets’ rebuild.