Over the next month, we're taking a brief and early look at some of the potential solutions that could provide offseason upgrades for the Jets in each position. Today, we continue with a look at the guard position:
Last year's starters, James Carpenter and Brian Winters, each struggled to perform at the level they did in 2016. Much of that has been attributed to the fact that Wesley Johnson was overmatched at center, although Johnson had made eight starts in 2016 without it seeming to affect them.
Winters was apparently playing through injuries for most of the season, eventually missing the last few games after deciding to get surgery. Carpenter is still only 28 so it seems premature to write him off as over the hill.
For the second straight year, Dakota Dozier got a few starts as the primary back-up and the Jets offense didn't seem to miss a beat with him in.
The team is perhaps second-guessing their decision to sign Winters to a long-term extension worth over $7 million per year in 2016, especially since he doesn't seem to be a big upgrade over the pending free agent Dozier. However, the hope is presumably that he'll be better this year if he's healthy and they upgrade elsewhere along the line.
Winters may also be more comfortable if the team transitions to more of a zone blocking scheme. However, Carpenter may not as he was quoted as saying he preferred power/man blocking schemes a few years ago.
In terms of depth, Brent Qvale and Ben Ijalana are two tackles that have occasionally played inside in the past. However, Qvale is a restricted free agent and Ijalana is a potential cap casualty. Ben Braden, who spent his rookie season on the practice squad, might be ready to compete for a roster spot.
The biggest prize on the free agent market for offensive linemen is all-pro Andrew Norwell from the Carolina Panthers. Norwell is a very good run blocker, but he might be even better in pass protection. He graded out as the best pass protecting guard in the NFL this year, as he gave up zero sacks and zero hits.
There's a drop-off after Norwell. Evan Smith, Josh Kline and Jack Mewhort are all in the next tier. Smith, the former Buccaneer, will be 33 in July so he's not much of a long-term option and will probably stay in Tampa. Kline, the former Patriot, had a decent first year with the Titans in 2016, but struggled as a run blocker in 2017. Mewhort was developing into a solid young guard over the past few years, but he was struggling with a knee injury in 2017 and ended up going on injured reserve in October.
A few players we already mentioned in the tackle and center solutions articles that might actually be better solutions at the guard position include Justin Pugh, Zach Fulton, Matt Slauson and Todd Berger.
Most of the other free agent options would not seem to be significant upgrades over what the team would be expecting to get from Winters or Carpenter anyway, especially if they can upgrade at center.
Of course, some of these players may get extended before they hit the open market, but trading for a starter could also be an option.
The consensus best lineman prospect in the draft is Notre Dame guard Quenton Nelson. Nelson is a beast up-front and could be a difference maker in the running game. Is a guard a viable option with the sixth pick though? While it would be a pick with a high-floor, the potential to get a similar difference-maker later on may tempt some teams to pass him up.
UTEP's Will Hernandez is one of the fastest-rising guard prospects following his strong performance during Senior Bowl week. He brings a similar level of nastiness as Nelson, although the question will be does he move well enough to thrive in a zone-based system?
Isaiah Wynn from Georgia is another sought-after prospect. Wynn played left tackle this year, but lacks ideal length, so he's expected to move inside as he has played guard in the past. Wynn is a good technician though, so perhaps we can't completely rule out him playing on the edge.
In the later rounds, Iowa's Sean Welsh is a versatile player who could be good for depth and a potential starter down the road. Unlike Wynn, when Welch was moved to tackle for a few games this year, he really struggled. However, he's been a solid guard and can also play center.
Finally, the 6'8" Cody "The Continent" O'Connell has drawn a lot of attention because he's so big. However, a review of his film shows that he's pretty raw in terms of technique and somewhat clumsy. At that size, he might not be ideal for a zone scheme, either.
How would you approach this position? Is there anyone out there you'd target who we didn't mention? Let's have your thoughts in the comments.