Will the Jets offensive line be better, worse, or about the same in 2016?
The starting unit will see at least one change and possibly more in 2016. The 2015 starting offensive line featured D'Brickashaw Ferguson at left tackle, James Carpenter at left guard, Nick Mangold at center, Brian Winters at right guard and Breno Giacomini at right tackle. Ferguson is now retired and has been replaced by Ryan Clady. Breno Giacomini may be on the hot seat, with Brent Qvale his likely replacement if Giacomini doesn't start or is cut. It is also possible that Qvale, whom the Jets seem to like, could replace Winters while Giacomini remains in place at right tackle.
2015 was not a great year for the Jets' offensive line. Giacomini and Winters were among the worst in the NFL at their respective positions. Ferguson was aging badly, allowing the second most pressures in the NFL among starting tackles according to Pro Football Focus. Mangold was solid, but he was hurt for two weeks and the remainder of the year was somewhat of a down year for him in what has been a great career. Carpenter was very good, having perhaps the best year of his career.
Whether 2016 will be a better year than 2015 for the offensive line depends on the outcome of multiple events with a high degree of uncertainty. James Carpenter is in the prime of his career coming off a good year. There's no reason to expect age related decline at this point in his career, but entering his 6th year in the NFL, there's no reason to expect he has a lot of upside either. Put Carpenter down for more of the same, which is quite good. The rest of the line is full of uncertainty.
Ryan Clady is a younger, better replacement for Ferguson. A two time All Pro and four time Pro Bowler, Clady at his best has been a superior player. If there were no health issues Clady would represent a clear and substantial upgrade over 2015. But there are health issues. Clady has missed 30 games in the last three years. Missing 14 games with a lisfranc injury in 2013, then missing all of 2015 with a torn ACL, Clady has been unable to remain healthy recently. Is this part of a pattern? Can we now label Clady injury prone? Probably not, but who knows? Two unrelated injuries do not make a trend. At age 29 Clady is not yet in age related decline territory, or at increased risk of injury due to age. This is a tough call. If you think Clady is likely to get injured again in 2016, or if you think his surgically repaired knee won't hold up well and he'll never be the same player again, Clady might represent a downgrade even from the diminished Ferguson. If Clady misses substantial time, the left tackle position is likely to be a disaster, with no other player on the roster capable of manning the left side. So Clady could either be a substantial upgrade or a substantial downgrade. I'm going with upgrade on the theory that Clady is not injury prone, just a bit unlucky recently. I wouldn't object to anyone taking the opposite position however.
Nick Mangold is another year older. When healthy he is still very good. However, the NFL trenches may be taking their toll on Mangold's health. Mangold has missed time due to injury in three of the last five years, after never missing a game the first five years of his career. Mangold will be 33 years old by the end of the 2016 season. He is clearly on the down side of his career. Although a bounce back year from a slight decline last year can't be ruled out, the odds at this point in his career favor decline over improvement. With injury risk also rising as he ages, I am going to mark Mangold down for worse in 2016.
That leaves the two problems on the Jets offensive line, Breno Giacomini and Brian Winters. Giacomini was one of the worst starting right tackles in the NFL in 2015, and as he turns 31 this season, the chances of much upside are not great. There is the possibility that he will be replaced by Brent Qvale, who at this point is a complete unknown. There is the temptation to say how could Qvale be any worse, but of course, without knowing what Qvale is, there is always the possibility a backup could be even worse than the bad starter. I'm going with stays the same at right tackle, which in this case is not a good thing.
Brian Winters is the incumbent starting right guard. Winters was somewhat improved in 2015, but that still only raised his play from worst in the NFL level to one of the worst in the NFL. He is adequate in run blocking, a disaster in pass blocking. At just 25 years old, going into his fourth year in the NFL, there is still some upside possible with Winters. Factor in that this is a contract year for him, when players often magically take great leaps forward, and I'm going with better at the right guard position.
The backups in 2016 should include most of the usual suspects, along with most of their suspect abilities. Dakota Dozier, Jarvis Harrison, Wesley Johnson, Ben Ijalana and Brent Qvale all may return, joined by 2016 5th round draft pick Brandon Shell. None of these guys have ever gotten significant NFL playing time, so it's difficult to assess just what they represent, but if preseason play is indicative, for the most part it is not encouraging. On the other hand, with the exception of Ijalana all of them are young enough to still have possibly significant upside, so we cannot completely rule out the possibility that one or more develops into a solid starter. Qvale in particular is a guy the Jets seem to like. Without seeing them yet in 2016 it's very difficult to determine if the backups will be better this year, but given their youth, let's mark them down for some improvement based on potential development.
Putting it all together, the Jets offensive line represents a puzzle. Overall I've got them down as better at left tackle, right guard, and the backups, the same at left guard and right tackle, and worse at center. That makes for an overall grade of better. However, I have very little conviction with any of those outcomes. If Mangold or Clady go down we're looking at a disaster. If both go down we're looking at the worst offensive line in the NFL. On the other hand, it's not out of the question Winters continues on an upward trajectory to somewhere close to average-ish, Clady returns to All Pro form, Qvale replaces Breno and is better, and Mangold bounces back from a bit of a down year for him and returns to Pro Bowl form. If all those things were to happen we'd be looking at one of the top lines in the NFL. This position may be the one with the widest set of plausible outcomes on the team.
What about you? How do you see this year's offensive line compared to the 2015 Jets? Will the 2016 group be better, worse, or the same? Let us know in your comments, and give us your reasons why.