Last week, the Jets signed former Baltimore Ravens offensive lineman Gino Gradkowski, so we’re going to take an in-depth look at his strengths and weaknesses.
The 29-year old Gradkowski, who is listed at 6-foot-3 and 300 pounds went to college at Delaware and was a fourth round pick in the 2012 NFL draft. He started every game in the 2013 season, but has only started four games since then.
Gradkowski was initially recruited to West Virginia, where he redshirted his first season and played just one game in year two. After Rich Rodriguez’s departure, Gradkowski decided to transfer to Delaware and started 33 games over the next three seasons. He was a two-time all-CAA selection and earned FCS all-American honors in his senior year.
With most sources projecting him as a mid-to-late round pick, Gradkowski was selected in the fourth round of the 2012 draft despite being a combine snub.
As a rookie, he played on special teams and was mentored by veteran Matt Birk, winning a Super Bowl ring although he didn’t play much on offense. In 2013, he started all 16 games, but then he lost the job the following season and moved back into a reserve role.
Having been traded to the Broncos, he played for them in preseason but did not make the team. Atlanta claimed him and used him mostly as a back-up, although he did start the last game of the season.
In 2016, Gradkowski signed a three-year deal with the Panthers, where he started off as a back-up but moved into the starting line-up due to injuries. However, after three starts, he was suffered an injury of his own and was placed onto season-ending injured reserve.
Gradkowski injured his knee again in preseason last year and then re-aggravated it in the last preseason game so he was released with an injury settlement and didn’t play all season. The Jets signed him last week when a spot opened up due to Ben Ijalana going onto injured reserve.
Now let’s look at what Gradkowski brings to the table, divided into categories.
Gradkowski is not very big and lacks prototypical length. However, as a former high school basketball player, he moves well and shows good athleticism.
His pro day measurables were mostly either average or slightly above. He managed 29 bench press reps. However, it was his lack of lower body strength which concerned scouts.
In the NFL, all 20 of Gradkowski’s starts have been at center. He has played some snaps at the guard position due to injuries in regular season action but never more than for a few series. He’s also been used a few times as a jumbo package tight end.
At Delaware, he actually played right guard in his sophomore year and left guard in his last two seasons.
Over the course of his career Gradkowski has generally been a better run blocker than pass protector. Despite not being known for his strength, he doesn’t get stood up or allow penetration as much as you might expect as he generally seems to operate with good pad level in the running game.
His main strength, however, is his athleticism and when blocking on the move he does a good job of finding his target in space.
He also displays a good understanding of angles and leverage in the trenches.
However, his lack of length can limit him at times as opposing players are able to shed his block by getting his hands off them.
Pass protection is a different matter, as Gradkowski gave up the third highest amount of pressure at his position during his one season as a starter. However, he was only responsible for three sacks. His pass protection numbers haven’t been too bad when employed in spot duty over his last two years though.
Gradkowski’s main issue is that he struggles against a bull rush because he plays with a weak base and finds it hard to re-anchor when moved off his spot.
His lack of length can hamper him here too, as his opponents are able to shed his block and leverage their way past him to pressure the quarterback.
His athletic ability can also make him a potential asset getting down the field out in front of screen passes.
As noted, Gradkowski usually plays with good pad level and blocks well on the move but can have issues with keeping control of his block and keeping a wide base in pass protection. Here’s a good example of “low man wins”.
He displays an ability to make a reach block, working his way to his man’s outside shoulder with excellent footwork to seal him back to the inside.
Bad snaps were an issue earlier on in his career as he was credited with four fumbles in his first three seasons, although he also recovered one.
Penalties haven’t been a major issue for Gradkowski, who has been called for holding four times in his career. He’s also had a couple of personal fouls for unsportsmanlike conduct and unnecessary roughness.
Gradkowski has played on the placekicking unit and as a wedge blocker on the kick return unit over the course of his career, but hasn’t made many significant contributions.
He had one penalty for an illegal block in the back and also fielded a squib kick and returned it 12 yards.
Gradkowski is regarded as smart and apparently watches a lot of film which gives him a good understanding of offensive and defensive schemes. Playing multiple positions has also helped in this regard.
On the field he seems to have good awareness in pass protection and doesn’t make many mental errors.
Gradkowski was a team captain in college and regarded as a leader and a hard worker with toughness and heart.
Gradkowski comes from a football family as his older brother Bruce started 20 games as an NFL quarterback between 2006 and 2010. He doesn’t have any off-field issues, although he did get fined for one of his personal fouls.
Gradkowski is presumably healthy now after the knee issues that limited his opportunities in 2016 and 2017. Prior to that, he had minor issues with his back and a concussion but nothing that caused him to miss considerable time.
Gradkowski was considered as a zone scheme fit when he entered the league and has mostly played on teams where that’s their main system.
He’s presumably being brought in to add to the Jets’ depth at center, since injuries are causing the likes of Jonotthan Harrison and Dakota Dozier to have to be deployed elsewhere.
During his career, he has been teammates with Brandon Copeland, Terrence Brooks and Charles Johnson.
In Gradkowski’s one year as a starter, he graded out as one of the worst starters in the league, according to Pro Football Focus, but was far from being historically bad. However, he was not a popular player among Ravens fans and some sources online rate him as one of the worst draft picks in franchise history despite only being a fourth round selection.
In any case, he’s spent the rest of his career as a reserve and spot starter.
That’s probably his ceiling at this stage of his career and he joins a Jets roster than has several players who fit that description, so it would be optimistic to expect him to come in provide any kind of a significant upgrade.
Nevertheless, his experience in zone blocking systems and his versatility to play any of the inside spots give him an outside chance at earning a role ahead of some of the players who are struggling to get to grips with the new system. He’ll need to impress in camp and the remaining preseason games to have a chance.