Center is primed to a big offseason need for the Jets. The team gambled on young Nick Mangold heir Wesley Johnson to provide the team a promising future in the middle of their offensive line, but he failed to do that. Johnson struggled mightily in all phases of the game as we he was quite literally at the center of a porous, weak offensive line.
We all know the Jets are set to have heaps of cap space at their fingertips this offseason. Fortunately for them, one of the strongest positions on the market is the center position. Players like Matt Paradis, John Sullivan, Spencer Long, Weston Richburg, and Ryan Jensen are all solid or better starters set to test the waters.
The last two names have arguably gotten the most attention among Jets fans. Jensen, who will be 27 at the start of this season, was Pro Football Focus’ 9th-ranked center this season. Richburg, also set to be 27 at the start of the year, was a high draft selection of the Giants in 2014 and was becoming one of the best centers in the game before playing only four games in 2017. There have been a few whispers in the early goings of the offseason that Richburg and the Jets have mutual interest.
I spent some time watching both Jensen and Richburg, and came away impressed with both. I wouldn’t be upset if the Jets made either a top 5 to 10 paid center in the game.
Here are a couple plays from each.
Richburg is a punisher. When he is on (which he usually is), he is capable on putting anybody on the ground. While his main strength has been his pass protection, Richburg can still make some pancakes in the running game, always adding a little extra syrup.
We have talked a bit on here about the ways the Jets offense might change under Jeremy Bates, specifically the team’s blocking scheme (here is an outstanding piece from John B on the zone blocking scheme). As John mentions, Bates, who comes from a Mike Shanahan-influenced background, figures to lean heavy on a zone blocking scheme that is more reliant on athleticism and movement than power and strength. Here, Richburg demonstrates his ability to bring his punishment with him on the go.
Let’s take a little bit of a look at the former Raven, Ryan Jensen. I think he is a very similar player to Richburg. Both have a mean streak and can win with power, but also thrive on the move.
Firstly, take a look at Jensen single-handedly carve a hole by clearing out two defenders. This wasn’t even necessarily a physically dominant play. Jensen is simply quick to beat the barely set lineman off the snap, and makes a great fundamental seal to leave a hole for his running back.
I mentioned how Jensen is similar to Richburg in movement ability. Here is an example. This play is very similar to Richburg’s above. Watch Jensen explode out of the snap and beat the linebacker to the spot by a mile, even though he had already cheated a couple steps in that direction. Then, put him on the floor.
I dug up a few interesting numbers on Jensen. According to Football Outsiders, the Ravens ran the ball up the middle on a 66% frequency, highest rate in the league, and on those runs, ran for the 6th-highest rate of Adjusted Line Yards (adjusted YPC to assign responsibility to the offensive line). Jensen was obviously a big part of that success, while the Ravens clearly trusted him to be a key piece of their run game.
Though the draft is also primed to be stacked with center talent (headlined by guys like Billy Price and Frank Ragnow), the free agent market for centers is looking like a great place for the Jets to spend some money. Who are your favorite targets?
Who is your favorite center option for the Jets?
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