By MICHAEL FAIRLIE //
There has been a lot of talk about the Jets taking an offensive tackle in the first round of the upcoming draft. Fueling that speculation is the fact that the team could surely use an upgrade over Breno Giacomini at RT. It can also be argued that D’Brickashaw Ferguson has not exactly been all-world at LT and he is approaching the twilight of his career.
The Jets would certainly benefit from the salary cap room they would obtain by getting rid of one or both of their current starting tackles. They have also, at least publicly, expressed their belief in Brent Qvale as being capable of filling in at either spot. I could see one of the two sent packing. However, I find it hard to believe that they will get rid of both Giacomini AND Ferguson.
With an extremely limited amount of salary cap space, it is highly doubtful that they will be able to find an instant replacement for either tackle spot in free agency. On top of that, besides Qvale, there are really no viable options to take over those roles currently sitting on the roster.
Being that the team definitely needs an impact player at outside linebacker as well as possibly needing a starting quarterback, offensive line is not necessarily the biggest need on the team. And although there are a couple of good ones expected to be available when the team gets around to choosing in the first round, it is not vital that they pick one on the first day.
As everyone that follows the game of football knows, just because a player is stamped with a first round grade does not mean that they are a sure thing. For every Orlando Pace taken in the first round there is a Jason Smith. For every D’Brickashaw Ferguson there is a Jeff Otah.
I know that the same can be said about every position group, but the offensive line is definitely one of the hardest spots to predict when making the jump to the NFL. There are just not enough quantitative statistics to compute and weigh according to level of competition. The evaluation is one that is more speculative than probably any other position.
As fans of the Jets are aware, you can find quality offensive lineman throughout the draft. Brandon Moore was a starting RG for a decade with the Jets after making the team as an undrafted free agent who played DT in college. Jason Fabini started at both tackle spots for seven years after being taken in the 4th round.
This year is no different than most others in that there will be options at the offensive tackle position available throughout the draft. If the Jets decide to take a pass rusher, quarterback or even running back in the first round, while passing up on OSU’s Taylor Decker or Michigan State’s Jack Conklin, all is not lost.
So what are some of the options for the Jets to look at after the first day of the draft?
Le’Raven Clark – OT – Texas Tech – 6’5/316
Expected to go between the 2nd and 3rd rounds, Clark, who stands in at 6’5 316 pounds, has the perfect frame for a prototypical NFL offensive tackle. He started 51 straight games for the Red Raiders, playing at the LT position for his final three years, where he earned All-Big 12 honors each season. He was also an Outland and Rotary Lombardi Award candidate in 2015.
Clark is an exceptional athlete for a man his size, with the quick feet and flexibility needed to keep up with speed rushers. He utilizes his core strength and long reach together with his fast reaction time and flexibility to disrupt the flow of edge rushers, buying time for his quarterback in the passing game.
Being that Texas Tech utilizes an excessively pass-heavy offense, Le’Raven did not get as much experience as a run blocker as you would like. However, he was able to demonstrate his quickness off the snap and his ability to quickly seal the edge when called upon. Clark displays the instincts and toughness to develop into an excellent run blocker.
Although he has excelled as a pass blocker, he may actually be better suited for the right tackle spot until he refines his technique through NFL coaching. He certainly exhibited his athletic abilities in the Senior Bowl, but also showed that he can use some work on his technique. Clark could compete for a starting job at OG or RT immediately and eventually develop into a starting LT on the next level.
Pearce Slater – OT – San Diego State – 6’7/342
Projected as a Day 3 pick who could go anywhere from the 5th to the 7th round, Slater is straight out of central casting as an NFL RT. Pearce is a 6’7, 342-pound mauler who has a nasty attitude and can do some serious damage in the run game. He demonstrates exceptional quickness and agility for such a massive man as well as the ability to get to the second level with authority.
Slater sometimes relies too heavily on his brute upper-body strength and tends to wall-off defenders instead of following through with his leg drive to knock them backwards. He will need to refine his hand technique to avoid taking holding penalties in the NFL, especially in pass blocking situations. Slater also needs to improve on his reaction time to edge rushers.
In addition, Pearce will be seeing far more legitimate competition on the professional level, so he will need to be coached up on the finer points of his game. If he can take to the coaching and improve on his technique, he has the kind of size and strength that cannot be taught and could turn into a dominant RT in the NFL.
Brandon Shell – OT – South Carolina – 6’5/324
Also expected to go in the last couple of rounds, Brandon is a true giant with enormous power throughout his massive frame. He started his final 47 games at South Carolina, where he played at RT until his senior year when he made the switch to the left side. After the season, Shell showed well during the East-West Shrine week and at the scouting combine.
An exceptional run blocker, Shell can clear the way for his running back and engulf linebackers on the second level. He is highly effective with his arms in pass protection, stopping speed rushers in their tracks. He also has the core strength to impede bull rushers.
However, Brandon is going to need to refine his footwork so he can adjust quickly enough to NFL-caliber pass rushers in order to avoid taking false start penalties from trying to compensate for speed off the edge.
He is definitely better suited for the right tackle spot in the NFL and will require solid coaching to strengthen his technique. Shell is certainly equipped with the size, strength and tools to succeed as a mauling right tackle on the professional level.
That is far from a comprehensive list of players available at the tackle position. There are plenty of other options to consider throughout the draft, and it will be up to the Jets’ scouting staff to do their countless hours of homework and find the right guy for the job.
The main thing is that there is no reason to panic and take one in the first round, unless of course they truly feel they have found Ferguson’s replacement at LT and they plan on cutting him loose.