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Scouting Jets guard Kelechi Osemele

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NFL: Oakland Raiders-Minicamp Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

With the new league year underway, we’re going to break down each of the Jets’ new additions in detail. We start today with former Ravens and Raiders offensive lineman Kelechi Osemele.

The 29-year old Osemele is listed at 6’5” and 330 pounds and was a second round pick out of Iowa State back in 2012. He’s a two-time pro bowler and has started 93 games in his NFL career. Osemele was acquired from the Oakland Raiders for an exchange of day three picks and will be under contract for this year and next year.

Background

Osemele, whose parents come from Nigeria, was born in Houston and attended college at Iowa State, where he would go on to make 44 consecutive starts. In his senior year, he was named as an All-American and an All-Big 12 first-teamer.

Osemele was a projected first round pick, but lasted until the late second round before being selected by the Ravens. He began his career with them at right tackle, giving up seven sacks in his rookie season. However, he moved to left guard for the postseason and started all four games in the Ravens’ run to their second Super Bowl championship.

In his second season, Osemele moved to left guard permanently but got injured in week seven and ended up on injured reserve. However, he returned to start 14 games in the following season. In 2015 he was again the starter at left guard, but moved out to left tackle for the final four games.

Having signed a big money deal with the Raiders, Osemele moved back to left guard and helped Oakland to a 12-4 record. He earned an arguably overdue first pro bowl appearance at the end of that year and then went to the pro bowl again after the 2017 season.

2018 saw Osemele struggling with some injuries, a change in system and a unit-wide talent deficiency. He missed five starts and was probably less than 100 percent for most of the rest.

2019 gives Osemele a chance for a fresh start with the Jets, after they traded a fifth-round pick for him, while also receiving back a sixth-rounder in the deal. If he can bounce back to his pro bowl form that will be a massive upgrade over James Carpenter and will provide a big boost to the offensive line unit as a whole.

Now let’s take a look at what Osemele brings to the table, divided into categories.

Measurables/Athleticism

Although Osemele is listed at 330, he has been endeavoring to get into better shape following the struggles of last year and a recent social media post indicated he was now down to less than 300 pounds. Before his senior year at ISU, Osemele was actually listed at 347.

Osemele possesses a powerful frame and long arms and, although most of his combine numbers were below average, he did showcase the strength and explosiveness you can see on film with a good broad jump and 32 bench press reps.

Usage

As noted above, most of Osemele’s appearances at the NFL level have been at left guard, although he started out as a right tackle and held up surprisingly well in 2015 when asked to play left tackle down the stretch. He’s also played some snaps at right guard.

The plan will be for him to replace Carpenter as the starting left guard, but that experience elsewhere could be valuable in case the Jets need to shuffle the pack due to a gameday injury on the line.

Pass Protection

Osemele has posted outstanding pass protection numbers throughout his career, typically giving up less than two pressures per game on average. Since moving inside, he’s been particularly effective. He gave up three sacks last year, but that was the first time since his rookie season he’s given up more than two and one of those was when he was moved out to left tackle:

He had given up seven sacks when playing right tackle as a rookie, but his sack numbers have always been low when playing guard. To his credit, he didn’t give up a sack when he started the four games at left tackle in 2015 though.

When working inside, Osemele is able to move his feet well and uses his length effectively. He can anchor well against a bull rush and keeps battling through the whistle.

Run Blocking

Osemele is a powerful run blocker who will lock onto a block and drive his man forwards. He does an excellent job of staying on his block at the point of attack and will often create a surge and peel off to the second level.

At the second level, he can be very effective although he won’t always be able to lock onto his target in space:

The Raiders mostly operated out of a zone blocking system in Osemele’s first two seasons with them, but Jon Gruden installed a power running scheme last season, so Osemele was required to pull at times:

Short Yardage

Osemele is very effective in short yardage situations as his ability to fire off the line and get a drive on his man can open up some solid running lanes:

Screen Blocking

Osemele flashes the athleticism to get out in front of screen passes and is patient in terms of setting himself up with an angle to block his target out of the play:

On this play, Osemele sells the run action and then spins off his block to get to the outside. The safety isn’t fooled and is able to get out ahead of Osemele so he can’t seal him to the inside. However, he quickly reacts and turns his attention to the defensive end, who he takes out to prevent him from chasing the play down when the runner cuts back:

Footwork/Technique

Osemele was regarded as raw when he first entered the league, but his footwork is excellent and he is able to recover quickly when losing a leverage advantage by adjusting his hand placement and battling to stay in control.

In pass protection, you can see he moves his feet well and is ready to repel the interior rusher’s first move:

One of the things that makes Osemele so effective as a run blocker is how he sets up his blocks. He really has a strong understanding of angles and you’ll see him square himself up perfectly before he initiates contact in the trenches.

Once he’s got his hands on his opponent, Osemele can overwhelm him. Look how he keeps his feet driving on this play, but without allowing Darron Lee to leverage his way off the block:

All-pro defensive lineman Gerald McCoy talked in depth about Osemele’s technical skill in a 2017 article for the Player’s Tribune.

The best thing you can do against Kelechi is to get him moving his feet. Because if you don’t, and you let him get leverage on you … man, he’s gonna punish you. I mean, he’s 6′ 5″, maybe 6′ 6″, and like 330 pounds. He’s a space eater. But he’s also athletic. He’s super strong and he has huge hands.

Seriously … you don’t wanna lock up with him. But if you do, you better hope your hands are inside. Because if he gets his hands inside, it’s gonna be a long day for you.

See, what he does is, when he gets his hands inside, he waits for you to try and shed the block — to spin or twist off him — and then he uses your weight against you to put you on the ground. That’s his counter. He won’t grab you and swing you, like a hip toss, which would be a penalty. He just uses your momentum against you and straight slams you — just runs you into the ground. That’s legal, and he’s perfected it.

Aggressiveness/Physicality

In the same article, McCoy describes Osemele as “nasty” and “flat-out mean” and it’s easy to see evidence of that when watching Osemele’s film.

He’ll often bury his man, as McCoy describes above, keeps blocking or looking for someone else to block until the whistle and will lay the lumber when helping out in pass protection:

Simply put, he’s a finisher. He doesn’t just block his guy for two seconds and then the pass is thrown and his job is done. He’ll stay on that man and drive him back and throw him to the ground if he can, but without being so over-aggressive that players can exploit this and get past him. It’s the kind of thing that can fire up and inspire teammates, coaches and the fanbase.

Penalties

Penalties haven’t been a major issue for Osemele in his career. He’s averaged six per season with a high of eight, but has had just four in each of the last two seasons and only had one after week two last year.

Just under half of his penalties have been for holding, but that’s still less than three holding penalties per year on average.

Despite the fact he doles out punishment, battles hard and is often still scrapping with his man after the whistle has blown, Osemele has only been called for three 15-yard penalties in his career, one of which was a face mask penalty.

Special Teams

Osemele has only ever contributed as a blocker on the placekicking unit at the pro level and wouldn’t be counted on for many special teams contributions with the Jets.

Instincts/Intelligence

In college, Osemele was on the academic honor roll three times, so he’s obviously smart and he displays this on the field, especially in pass protection where he is often the spare man and identifies who to give help to.

He’s also excellent at anticipating and dealing with stunts, although he was a step late in giving help on this play from last season:

As a run blocker, Osemele again exhibits good awareness as he will adjust his leverage accordingly when runs are bounced outside or in cutback situations. He also shows good instincts in terms of finding someone to block and anticipating where he needs to be to cut them off in space.

Osemele doesn’t seem to make many mental errors, but he has been called for 13 false starts and three illegal formation penalties. He’s only been called for one of these since 2016 though.

Attitude

As already noted, Osemele consistently displays aggressiveness, hustle and effort from the snap to (after) the whistle. His on-field demeanor is excitable and infectious, but he’s not a dirty player and, while things can get chippy, he doesn’t seem to take things too far in terms of trash talk or fighting.

Off the field Osemele is a popular teammate who is a good leader and has been a team captain. He has dispelled the work ethic concerns some draft experts had when he entered the league and doesn’t have any off-field issues.

Injuries

Osemele did start the season opener last year, but he had been missing practice time in the lead-up to it with a back issue. Later in the year, he missed time with a knee problem and then at the end of the year he was dealing with a toe issue.

While none of these were serious, they caused him to miss five starts and probably affected his performance in the other games. The Raiders were also fined for filing an incorrect injury report on him, so may have been trying to mask the severity and getting him to play through some things.

Osemele also had a back issue in 2013. This required him to go on injured reserve and miss the last nine games as he required surgery.

In college, he played through some ankle issues in his senior year, but didn’t miss any starts.

Scheme Fit

The Jets’ system under Adam Gase, with Frank Pollack as the offensive line coach, should be a better fit for Osemele. They’re expected to lean mostly on zone blocking schemes rather than the power schemes introduced by Jon Gruden last year.

With Le’Veon Bell now on board, the Jets desperately need offensive linemen who can sustain and stay on their blocks in order to set up Bell’s patient style. Osemele is excellent at this, so the two could be crucial to one another’s success.

Conclusions

Osemele is obvious an impressive physical specimen with natural ability who has put together a great career. The only concern would be whether he’s on the downside of that career now, especially after he was less effective than in the past with the 2018 Raiders.

However, there were some obvious reasons behind that. In a better-suited system and with the extra efforts he’s made to ensure he’s in great shape, hopefully Osemele will have eradicated those issues and can go back to being dominant in 2019.

Even from watching his 2018 film, he still looks the part, still brings that nastiness and still has moments where he single-handedly sets up a successful play or prevents a disaster. The unit as a whole struggled due to all the changes and the rookies who were thrown to the lions, so that brought everyone’s performance down, but Osemele still played convincingly enough to show that he still has what it takes to be dominant.

If it doesn’t work out, the Jets are not necessarily on the hook for the second year of his contract, so it’s a low-risk move. They’ll be hoping his presence elevates the unit and gives this new-look Jets offense pride in their new identity.