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Did Jets Make Mistake Not Drafting OT In 2022?

  • Justin Melo
  • August 9, 2022
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New York Jets offensive tackle Mekhi Becton is feared to have suffered a season-ending knee injury during Tuesday’s practice, according to multiple reports. Becton and the Jets are awaiting further test results to confirm the severity of the setback. 

Becton suffered the injury to his surgically repaired knee on the second play of practice and limped badly off the field with the assistance of trainers. Becton’s injury may open Jets general manager Joe Douglas up to criticism for not drafting an offensive tackle with one of his three first-round selections in the 2022 NFL Draft. It would be revisionist history. Douglas does not deserve criticism for how he handled the draft.

Douglas passed on an opportunity to draft Evan Neal or Ikem Ekwonu with the fourth overall selection, instead opting for cornerback Ahmad Gardner. To play devil’s advocate, offensive tackle is a more premium position than cornerback, but it’s fair to understand why the Jets felt good about the state of their tackles compared to their cornerbacks. Unknown commodities such as Bryce Hall, Brandin Echols, and Michael Carter II earned the majority of snaps at corner last season. While they overachieved at times, the Jets needed to invest heavily at cornerback this summer to allow head coach Robert Saleh to truly run his preferred system in the secondary. The necessary investments arrived via Gardner and free-agent signings D.J. Reed and Jordan Whitehead

Also, providing Becton with one final opportunity to prove he’s a quality starter made sense given the draft capital invested in him, coupled with the flashes of potential he showcased throughout his rookie season in 2020.

The Jets then drafted wide receiver Garrett Wilson with the No. 10 overall selection. It’s fair to wonder if the Jets would have considered drafting offensive tackle Charles Cross with that pick had he been available. However, Cross was drafted one selection earlier by the Seattle Seahawks. The Jets seemed intent on drafting a receiver with that selection, however, and it’s tough to blame them given the cast of characters rookie quarterback Zach Wilson was forced to throw the ball to toward the end of last season. 

Drafting an offensive tackle invests in the development of your quarterback, but so does providing him with a potentially dominant pass-catching target like Wilson. It’s the Cincinnati Bengals argument all over again. The Bengals received criticism for drafting Ja’Marr Chase over an offensive tackle. Chase only happened to help the Bengals reach Super Bowl LVI. There’s more than one way to build a team.

And finally, Douglas drafted EDGE Jermaine Johnson II with the No. 26 overall selection. This pick probably needs the least defending of the three. Johnson was easily the best player available and the Jets executed a draft-day trade-up in order to secure his services. There was a sizable gap between the Johnson selection and the next offensive tackle drafted. The next offensive tackle wasn’t selected until the Titans took Nicholas Petit-Frere in the third round. The Jets could have potentially traded up a bit higher for Trevor Penning or Tyler Smith, but Johnson made sense given the Jets recorded an abysmal 33 sacks last season. 

Receiving more pressure off the edges in 2022 was a priority. The Jets eventually drafted offensive tackle Max Mitchell in the fourth round.

It’s also not like the Jets haven’t invested in their offensive line. They aren’t the Chicago Bears, who signed 40% of their offensive line starters in the previous two weeks. Douglas followed up the selection of Becton by drafting another offensive lineman, Alijah Vera-Tucker, with a first-round selection in the 2021 NFL Draft. Douglas traded up in order to select Vera-Tucker, who enjoyed a standout rookie campaign at left guard. Douglas also signed the excellent Laken Tomlinson to a lucrative contract this offseason, who is a plug-and-play starter at guard. Douglas has poured considerable resources into his offensive line since his arrival in 2019.

Becton is (or was, depending on the results) set to enter a fate-deciding campaign with the Jets. The former Louisville product has been criticized due to previous weight and injury issues. The No. 11 overall selection in the 2020 NFL Draft, Becton has yet to live up to his pre-draft billing. 

A foot injury and concussion limited him throughout last offseason. The worst occurred when the regular season began. Becton suffered a knee injury in his first start that eventually required surgery. Rather than the four-to-eight-week recovery timeline expected with his injury, Becton ended up missing the remainder of the season. It’s the same knee he’s re-injured now.

There’s no denying that relying on Becton this season came with a buyer-beware label attached to it. The Jets essentially acknowledged this by planning to move forward with George Fant as their left tackle this season. Originally a right tackle, Fant moved to the blindside last season following Becton’s injury. Fant allowed just one sack in 15 starts at left tackle and appeared primed to take over the position permanently with Becton kicking over to the right side. That plan could still change in the coming days.

Free-agent offensive tackle Duane Brown recently visited the Jets, per reports. Becton’s injury is likely to increase the Jets’ interest in Brown. The 37-year-old Brown remains an effective offensive tackle despite his advancing age. Should the Jets manage to convince Brown (he has other offers) to join their program, they’ll likely receive starting-quality play from him in 2022, and any criticism for how Douglas managed the offensive tackle position this offseason likely goes away. 

The one caveat here is that Brown is exclusively a left tackle. His signing would likely require Fant to move back to right tackle. That may irk Fant given that he appears set to play left tackle this season. It’s worth noting Fant and Brown played together in Seattle and their existing relationship could help potentially smooth things over with Fant should he have to make another unexpected position change.

The Jets remain in rebuild mode. They’ve significantly improved their roster on paper this offseason. Douglas enjoyed an outstanding period in free agency and the NFL draft. Expectations have been heightened as the Jets should win several more contests than they did in 2021. The roster remains in transition, however. 

The Jets had too many holes to fill in one offseason. Had Douglas drafted an offensive tackle earlier, it would have come at the expense of cornerback, receiver, or EDGE rusher, and we’d potentially be having a similar conversation surrounding one of those positions. Left tackle may take priority next offseason, but Douglas handled things appropriately this summer.

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Justin Melo