A few days ago, the Jets signed former San Francisco 49ers guard Laken Tomlinson to a three-year deal in free agency. Today we break him down in detail.
The 30-year old Tomlinson is listed at 6’3” and 323 pounds and was a first round pick out of Duke in 2015. He spent two years with the Lions before moving to San Francisco and was a pro bowler for the first time at the end of last season.
Tomlinson headed to Duke as a three-star prospect in 2010 and red-shirted his freshman season. He moved straight into the starting line-up in 2011 and was a four year starter who progressed over the course of his career.
In his junior year, Tomlinson was a second-team all-ACC selection and then he was voted as an All-American in his senior year.
After attending the senior bowl and the scouting combine, Tomlinson was selected by the Lions with the 28th overall pick in the 2015 draft. He started 24 games in his first two years, but was a minor disappointment and ended up being traded to the 49ers for a fifth round pick after preseason in 2017.
With the 49ers, Tomlinson made a slow start but eventually settled into his role and went from strength to strength. In 2018, the Jets might have had some interest in signing him but he earned an extension for a lower-than-expected $18 million over three seasons.
In all, he’s started 80 games in a row and got some well-deserved recognition at the end of last season when he was named as a pro bowler. The Jets signed Tomlinson to a three-year deal worth up to $41.2 million.
Now let’s take a look at what Tomlinson brings to the table, divided into categories.
Tomlinson is big and strong with excellent length and, although his workout numbers at the scouting combine were disappointing, he improved his numbers in nearly every category at his pro day, posting above average numbers across the board.
Clearly his success since being in the league has put to rest concerns that he would be limited athletically at this level.
Tomlinson has only played at left guard since being acquired by the 49ers and may now be moving back to the right side with the Jets. However, he has some experience in this role.
He played all four years at Duke as a right guard and, while still in Detroit, also played 124 snaps at right guard in regular and preseason action. It therefore shouldn’t take him long to reacquaint himself with the position.
Tomlinson had also played a couple of snaps as a jumbo package tight end early on with the Lions.
Tomlinson has posted solid pass protection numbers throughout his college and pro career, although there were some experts who felt he might struggle to produce as consistently in pass protection once he was no longer in the 49ers’ system which includes a lot of play action and not much straight dropback-type plays. Fortunately, the Jets run the same system, so this should be a moot point.
The pressure rates he has allowed over the course of his career have been acceptable and he’s never allowed more than four sacks in any season. He’s not flawless, though, as he can struggle to recover when he loses leverage on initial contact.
Tomlinson is able to use his length to keep pass rushers at bay and has the ability to sink down and anchor against a bull rush. He has developed some good patience in his approach since being drafted and this has helped him become more consistent over the course of his career.
Tomlinson is big and powerful and has the ability to control his man at the point of attack or drive him off his spot.
He can block well on the move too, as he has shown that he can be effective when pulling or making reach blocks and on stretch plays.
Tomlinson has a good understanding of angles, although he can have issues locating and locking onto his target in space as he doesn’t always find it easy to change direction to square up to players with good lateral quickness.
The 49ers have been effective in short yardage situations over the past few years with six one-yard touchdowns in 2020 alone. In 2021, they had nine rushing touchdowns from inside the three-yard line.
Obviously with his size, Tomlinson is a good person to run behind in these situations, although it doesn’t hurt that he’s had Trent Williams next to him on that side for the past few seasons.
From early on in his career, Tomlinson has demonstrated the ability to leak out and lead the way on screen passes, as he does here.
On this play, however, he releases his man too early and the play is blown up by the quick pressure.
Tomlinson usually plays with good pad level, although there are times when he comes in too high in space and struggles to engage his man cleanly as a result.
On this play, his block carves out a good running lane. Tomlinson comes in low with his first strike to gain an early advantage but has to battle to hold his ground as the defensive lineman gets under his pads to stand him up and unbalance him.
In pass protection, he can allow his footwork and hand placement to get sloppy when under duress, although he is a battler. Facing Aaron Donald a couple of times per season has been a challenge, as you’d expect.
Tomlinson actually had a career-high in 2021 as he was called for eight penalties - four for holding and four false starts. Penalties haven’t been a major issue for him in the past, though, as he averaged just four accepted penalties per season until last year.
He has 20 holding penalties and 15 false starts in his career but only one personal foul for unnecessary roughness. He otherwise has just one illegal hands to the face call.
Tomlinson played one snap on the kick return unit in preseason in 2017 but otherwise has only ever played on the placekicking unit.
On this play, he almost allowed the defender to hurdle over the long snapper and block this game winning field goal attempt, but just about realized what was happening in time and got enough of him to prevent that.
Tomlinson is extremely intelligent and has plans to go into medicine at the end of his football career. On the field, he displays good football IQ and awareness and was said to have impressed his coaches in Detroit with his understanding of the playbook.
From watching his film, it’s impressive how comfortable he was at picking up stunts, especially once he had gained some chemistry with his teammates. This was an area where the Jets had some issues at times in 2021.
Tomlinson is a mature player who is regarded as extremely coachable possessing a desire to work with a purpose. It sounds like he’ll be a solid mentor for some of the younger players including Alijah Vera-Tucker.
On the field, he was said to have developed his physicality and made more of a concerted effort to finish plays later on in his college career, which has served him well at the next level and given him a nasty edge.
Here’s a good example of Tomlinson showing good awareness and effort as he goes “looking for work” in pass protection.
The Jets had a lot of injury issues in 2021 and seem to have targeted players with good durability during the offseason. That’s certainly the case with Tomlinson, who has played over a thousand snaps in five straight seasons - something only four Jets achieved in 2021.
Tomlinson missed eight starts in his two years with the Lions but he still played in those eight games. The only game he actually missed was his first game with the 49ers, which was presumably just because he wasn’t ready yet having only just been traded to them.
The only serious injury he has had in his career didn’t cause him to miss any time as he injured his MCL in the 2018 season finale but was ready in time to start the first preseason game in 2019. He also had a neck injury with the Lions but did not miss any time.
Tomlinson has obviously already proven he can play in the Jets’ offensive system because the 49ers play the same system. He also has good familiarity with offensive line coach John Benton and offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur. Head coach Robert Saleh was also on that staff, of course.
The sole concern over this move is that Tomlinson excelled as a left guard with the 49ers but the Jets already drafted Vera-Tucker to fill that spot so he’s going to have to move to right guard. This may be overblown though, as noted earlier.
He’s also played with multiple current Jets while in San Francisco; Austin Walter, DJ Reed, Kai Nacua, Tevin Coleman and Isaiah Williams. In addition, he was a teammate of Thomas Hennessy while at Duke.
Tomlinson has enhanced his reputation around the league and been a key contributor in some of the 49ers’ recent success and now has an opportunity to be a dependable veteran leader as the Jets try to build a postseason contender.
Early on in his career, he lacked consistency and had his doubters, but he’s definitely improved and has played his best football over the past two seasons. Again, this could be in part because he gets to play with the all-pro Williams on his shoulder, but he’s certainly proven he can be a productive member of an dominant line, which is what the Jets will hope to have in 2022 and beyond.
His durability should be a key factor, as it will help with continuity if players aren’t constantly in and out of the lineup. The Jets targeted Morgan Moses for the same reason last year and that seemed to pay off.
The right guard spot has been a weakness for the past couple of years - although some of the criticism Greg Van Roten has received is overblown because he’s a solid professional. Tomlinson should therefore provide an upgrade and bring the Jets one step closer towards developing a dominant line of their own.