The Jets have placed starting LT Duane Brown on IR, meaning he is out for at least 4 games.— Field Yates (@FieldYates) September 23, 2023
Given the importance of the left tackle position, this creates a large hole for the Jets that they now must fill. So what are their options?
Play Billy Turner at Left Tackle
Earlier this week the Jets suggested that if Brown were to miss time then offensive tackle Billy Turner would simply slide into his place. At face value, this makes sense as it leaves the other lineman in the positions they’ve been practicing in, and because Billy Turner has experience at left tackle (263 regular season snaps). However, this ignores a rather large problem: Billy Turner isn’t very good (PFF overall, run, and pass grade has never exceeded 70 in a season). Compounding that, left tackle is in charge of protecting quarterback Zach Wilson’s blind side and is generally considered the most important position on the offensive line. While this is the “easiest” solution, it may not be the most effective.
Move Mekhi Becton back to Left Tackle
Offensive tackle Mekhi Becton made waves this offseason when he tweeted out “I. AM. A. LEFT. TACKLE!!!” While the Jets were previously unwilling to play Becton at left tackle, the injury to Brown may open up an opportunity for that to change. However, such a change does create a potential problem in that the Jets running success has often come when running behind Mekhi Becton and guard Aljiah Vera-Tucker on the right side.
#Jets yards gained on RB carries to the right side this season:— Michael Nania (@Michael_Nania) September 23, 2023
* 11.5 YPC
* 70% success rate
By comparison, the runs to the left side have been far less successful.
Going left they are averaging 2.7 YPC with a 31% success rate— Michael Nania (@Michael_Nania) September 23, 2023
By separating Becton from Vera-Tucker, the Jets may be stealing from Peter to pay Paul, as the expression goes. While the left side will be improved, the right side will be lessened and the effect on their run game could be that running the ball is ineffective to either side, leading to a less effective offense even if the left tackle position sees a higher level of play.
Moving Alijah Vera-Tucker to tackle
Due to injuries last season, (now) right guard Alijah Vera-Tucker (AVT) saw snaps at left tackle as well as right tackle. While the results were mixed, his level of performance is likely to be meaningfully better than the performances that have been seen from the alternative options (Billy Turner and offensive tackle Max Mitchell) based on what we’ve seen to date. However, important to note is that while AVT performed well in pass protection, his effectiveness in the run game was lessened while at tackle. For a team like the Jets that is unlikely to be very pass heavy this season, this tradeoff may not be all that desirable.
So what should the Jets do?
I think this question has to be considered in two parts: the short-term and the long-term.
The short-term has to do with the Jets upcoming game against the New England Patriots. This game is expected to be played in wind and rain, which makes the run game of particular importance this week. Given this, I would be hesitant to separate Becton and AVT because I think the Jets best chance to win is by running the ball behind these two players early and often. By separating the two, I think they risk better pass protection at the expense of a less effective running game, so I wouldn’t make that move this week given the weather... and that isn’t even to mention the general confusion that is likely to ensue against a very creative coach in Bill Belichick when neither guard is familiar with the player lined up on the outside of them.
The long-term has to the do with all the games that come after Week 3. In order for the Jets to succeed in 2023, they’re likely going to have to find a way to make their pass offensive at least decent. That likely doesn’t occur (at least in my opinion) with Billy Turner blocking Zach’s blindside. Accordingly, I’d probably accept the lessened run effectiveness on the right side and move Becton to left tackle. However, beyond that, once I’ve accepted that lessened run effectiveness, I’d probably also go ahead and move AVT to right tackle in an attempt to maximize the quality of the players at the two highest value offensive line positions. From a team development standpoint, if these players both played well and provided the Jets with two homegrown tackles to build their line around then they’re likely better in 2024 and beyond as well. In AVT’s place as the 2023 right guard, I’d likely go with interior offensive lineman Joe Tippman in hopes that he could mostly fill AVT’s shoes in the run game.
All that to say, none of these options are perfect. We just have to hope the Jets correctly identify the best of the bad options that are available.