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The Decline and Fall of D'Brickashaw Ferguson and Nick Mangold

Are the two offensive line stalwarts losing the skills that made them the best in the league?

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Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

In 2006, the New York Jets drafted both D'Brickashaw Ferguson and Nick Mangold in the first round with the fourth twenty-ninth overall picks. Ferguson came from the University of Virginia, and Mangold came from Ohio State University. Since then, Ferguson has been selected to three Pro Bowls, in 2009, 2010, and 2011. Mangold has been selected to four Pro Bowls, in 2008, 2009, 2010, and 2011. In addition, Mangold has been selected as an All-Pro three times, in 2009, 2010, and 2011. Both are often considered to be among the best at their position in the league.

However, as some commentators have noticed, this distinction has not been as well deserved in recent years. It seems to some that Ferguson and Mangold's reputations are built on past achievements, not their current playing ability. The following tables show Ferguson and Mangold's ProFootballFocus grades and the number of quarterback sacks, hits, and hurries they are responsible for. Next to their overall grade, I have included their rankings among all players at that position. Although both were drafted in 2006, ProFootballFocus' grades do not begin until 2008, so for the sake of continuity and simplicity, we will begin there:

Ferguson Overall Pass Block Run Block Sacks Hits Hurries
2008 36.9 (2nd) 19.3 10.9 5 3 15
2009 30.4 (3rd) 14.5 15.2 6 3 13
2010 30.1 (3rd) 19.9 7.7 3 9 18
2011 12.2 (13th) 12.4 -5.9 8 7 22
2012 23.5 (6th) 16.9 0.1 2 5 19
2013 -2.3 (24th) 3.3 -6.8 5 1 21
Mangold Overall Pass Block Run Block Sacks Hits Hurries
2008 38.2 (1st) 6.7 28.7 2 2 2
2009 42.6 (1st) 7.5 33.7 1 1 5
2010 30.6 (2nd) 5.2 23.6 1 1 10
2011 27.1 (2nd) 6.4 20.9 3 1 4
2012 20.5 (6th) 2.7 15.8 3 2 8
2013 -9.0 (30th) 2.5 -11.6 0 1 12

There are a few things here that should be pointed out. Both players peaked in 2009 when the offensive line was considered the best in the league, which isn't a surprise, but since then there has been a significant decline. Ferguson has given up considerably more sacks, hits, and hurries than Mangold, but that isn't a surprise either. At the left tackle position, Ferguson often faces the opposing team's best pass rusher. As he defends the blindside, the quarterback is typically unable to see an oncoming rusher and dispose of the ball, in contrast to a rusher coming up the center of the line in full view.

How much has the changing of the left guard impacted the chemistry of the line? Unsurprisingly, both players were at their best when they had Alan Faneca between them. With Matt Slauson, Vlad Ducasse, and now Brian Winters, they've struggled considerably.

Both Ferguson and Mangold are widely considered to be among the veteran leaders on the team. In fact, Mangold helped interview offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg, which is extremely unusual for someone that isn't a franchise quarterback. However, Mangold is entrusted with calling the protections on the line and often advises the quarterback, first Mark Sanchez and now Geno Smith, on possible audibles.

Nobody questions Ferguson or Mangold's mental acumen or leadership in the locker room. But there's no doubt that both Ferguson and Mangold's physical skills appear to be declining. Let me be clear: I am not saying either one of these players is finished or washed up. For all I know, they will rebound and give their greatest performances in their thirties. But so far, the trend line points downward.

Ferguson has always been more of a "finesse" tackle better at handling the speed rushers, rather than a mauler, as noted by his grades listed above. It's possible he has simply gotten slower as he's gotten older. Mangold has been hurt in recent years with some injuries, including his ankle and wrist, which have likely hurt him as well.

The team must now begin looking at possible replacements, or at the very least, capable backups, should Ferguson or Mangold need to be replaced. As we saw when Colin Baxter was forced to start briefly at center against the Oakland Raiders, the team simply cannot survive without a competent line. The team is reportedly very interested in Dalton Freeman as a backup center once he comes off injured reserve, and they have been using Oday Aboushi as a backup left tackle. Are they the future? Now is the time to start finding out, before the team is left without viable replacements.