Having looked at each of the Jets’ draft picks in detail, we’ve now moved on to discuss each of their undrafted free agent signings. We continue today with a breakdown of USC offensive lineman Toa Lobendahn.
The 23-year old is listed at 6’3” and 295 pounds and was a second-team all-Pac 12 selection in 2017. He started 45 games in his career with the Trojans, at four different positions.
Lobendahn was a sought-after high school recruit and was recruited to USC where he was a full-time starter as a true freshman. He started again in 2015, although his season was cut short due to injury. He then ended up redshirting in 2016 after suffering another injury in the season opener.
Lobendahn returned to the starting line-up in 2017 and was an all-Pac 12 second-team selection at the left tackle position. He then moved to center for his redshirt senior season, prior to which he was added to the watchlist for the Outland Trophy and the Rimington Trophy.
After an up and down year, Lobendahn wasn’t invited to the scouting combine but was signed as an undrafted free agent by the Jets after the draft.
Now let’s take a look at what Lobendahn brings to the table, divided into categories.
Lobendahn lacks ideal size, although he did hit the 300-pound mark at his pro day weigh-in. He has short arms, but an adequate wingspan.
At his pro day, Lobendahn impressed with 36 reps in the bench press. Only one combine invitee managed to beat that this year.
He also had a solid 102” broad jump, but his vertical was poor. He is considered a limited athlete.
Lobendahn’s versatility is impressive, as his 45 starts included five at right guard, eight at left guard, 18 at left tackle and 14 at center. He moved to center in 2018, having previously only started three games there.
At the pro level, he would probably lack the length to play the tackle position and may be undersized to play as a guard unless in a pure zone scheme.
In his senior year, while playing the center position, Lobendahn managed to go the whole season without giving up a sack. However, he was susceptible to being pushed back into the pocket, especially against bigger defenders.
As a left tackle in 2017, he gave up five sacks. He also gave up five sacks as a freshman, in a season where he split time between left tackle and left guard.
At the tackle position, he was also susceptible to speed-to-power and defensive players were able to get his hands off them too readily, both in the running game and pass protection.
Lobendahn shows some promise in his ability to block on the move. He showed a decent ability to pull, which is something he has said he enjoys, while at USC.
He also shows the ability to get out to the second level and lock onto a target in space to drive them out of the play.
At the point of attack, he had more mixed results, often losing leverage or getting stood up in the trenches.
While Jets fans have been desperate for the team to bring aboard someone who is an option at the center position, the bad news is that Lobendahn had some Spencer Long-style issues with the shotgun snap in 2018.
This was a problem for Lobendahn on and off throughout the season and there was no finger issue to blame this time. Communication issues led to a turnover on this play too.
The issue also led to a number of false start or snap infraction penalties over the course of the season.
Lobendahn’s initial hand placement is generally good and he will reset his hands to try to control his block. However, his man is often able to shed his block eventually.
At the snap, Lobendahn can be beaten by initial quickness and appears to lack the athleticism to recover once losing leverage because he too often resorts to lunging at his man.
In space, he seems to have a good understanding of angles and moves his feet well to set up his man.
Lobendahn has had plenty of issues with penalties over the course of his career, with 24 in his 45 starts. 11 of these came in 2018, including the snap infraction and false start issues mentioned previously.
Lobendahn didn’t contribute on special teams at USC. With the Jets, if he was on the team as a reserve lineman, he’d at least be expected to block on the placekicking unit.
Lobendahn obviously understands the game well, having contributed in so many different roles and has been praised for his awareness.
However, there are times where he fails to anticipate in pass protection. On this play, he’s the spare man after the nose tackle takes a wide route around the outside, but fails to get across to pick up the blitz.
Here’s a play where he is at left tackle where the communication between himself and the left guard gets messed up on a blitz.
Lobendahn is another undrafted free agent who is obviously a high-character individual. Clay Helton described him as “a man of honor” and “one of the loves of my life” during the season last year. He is known for having a great work ethic and a drive to succeed.
He’s also been praised for his toughness and won the team’s Carlisle Courage award in 2017, along with another award for his work in the weight room. He was a team captain in 2018 and has been described as a quiet leader with a positive and occasionally goofy character.
On the field, he’s been praised for having a nasty attitude, but his penalty count is still a concern.
Despite having started 45 games for USC, which is among the all-time leaders for Trojan linemen, Lobendahn has had plenty of injury issues over the years. He redshirted the 2016 season after suffering a torn ACL and MCL in the season opener, having already seen his 2015 season end prematurely because he needed season ended surgery due to knee ligament damage. He had torn his other ACL in high school.
Lobendahn’s toughness was on display after each of these injuries. After the injury in high school, he still played another three games before realizing how serious it was. Similarly, he lined up for the next play after his 2016 injury.
Lobendahn also missed one game in 2017 due to a staph infection and the 2018 season opener due to a strained pectoral muscle.
Lobendahn’s versatility means that hopefully the Jets can find a role that suits him but he might be limited due to his size, as already mentioned. The Jets being in a zone-based system should help him, although that will mean he doesn’t get a chance to pull very often.
His transition to the Jets’ system should be aided by his former teammates Sam Darnold and Deontay Burnett having been with the Jets last season. Another teammate, Chuma Edoga, will go through his rookie year at the same time as Lobendahn.
Lobendahn is another high-character addition with versatility and connections to a couple of players already on the team.
Although he graded out extremely poorly in 2018, much of that was due to the bad snaps and penalties rather than how well he carried out his blocking assignments. It’s worth pointing out that he graded out better in 2017 and 2015 than Edoga did in all but one of his seasons at USC.
The Jets need a center and, while Lobendahn is unlikely to compete for a role as a rookie, he could perhaps be a good developmental project. He’ll need to work on his snaps, functional strength and blocking technique though.