The New York Jets are not going to be caught shorthanded at the tackle position in 2023. After a slew of injuries on the offensive line last year, the Jets beefed up their depth during the offseason, and that should lead to some serious competition to crack the starting lineup and the right to protect quarterback Aaron Rodgers.
So bad were the Jets injury issues at tackle last season that rookie fourth-round pick Max Mitchell started in Week 1 and guard Alijah Vera-Tucker unselfishly switched positions to fill the void.
Jets general manager Joe Douglas learned his lesson. New York added quality depth and tons versatility on the offensive line this offseason. Vera-Tucker and Laken Tomlinson return to start at guard, but rookie second-round pick Joe Tippmann will battle veteran Connor McGovern for the starting center gig.
Versatile Alijah-Vera Tucker tells reporters:
I'm always team first. Talking to Coach (Keith) Carter, he has a plan for me and the whole O-Line. I'm comfortable at both tackle and guard.
Right now, I'm taking reps at guard.
— Eric Allen (@eallenjets) May 3, 2023
But it’s at tackle where the Jets will have the most competition, even after failing to land a stud like they planned in the first-round of the NFL Draft last week. So let's break down the competitors for playing time at the tackle position for the Jets in 2023.
Duane Brown will be 38 this upcoming season and is coming off shoulder surgery, but he is the most likely of the tackle candidates to be a starter in Week 1. That’s because Jets coach Robert Saleh loves Brown. He loves his experience (215 NFL starts in 15 seasons), gravitas (five Pro Bowl selections, one All-Pro), leadership, and the fact that he still has something left in the tank at age 38.
Saleh also loves that Brown played 12 games last season despite a rotator cuff injury, making sure he didn’t leave the Jets even more shorthanded than they already were.
Brown struggled in the run game in 2022 (44.4 run block grade, per Pro Football Focus). But he allowed only one sack and had a 72.3 pass block grade.
That’s good news since keeping Rodgers clean, especially from his blind side, is crucial. Brown plays exclusively on the left side, so that blind side protection is mainly on him.
Should Brown falter or be injured, the Jets could slide Mekhi Becton to left tackle. That’s the position he was drafted to play before plans changed in training camp last season.
The Jets would love it if Becton dominated during camp and won the starting right tackle position. But you never know how it’s going to go with the 2020 first-round pick. He flashed in 14 games as a rookie (74.4 overall grade) but has played in just one game since due to knee injuries over the past two seasons. That's the main reason why the Jets did not pick up the fifth-year option on Becton’s rookie contract earlier this week.
Becton has also battled weight issues since turning pro, reportedly surpassing 400 pounds when sidelined in 2021. But he’s shown off an impressively sleek physique on social media posts this offseason and looks like a new man.
Alijah Vera-Tucker on @BigTicket73: “He looks great … slimming down is just going to make him more of a monster.”
— Zack Rosenblatt (@ZackBlatt) May 3, 2023
Becton appears super motivated. If he can remain healthy, the Jets finally could have the freakishly athletic and talented tackle they thought they drafted four years ago. That would be a massive upgrade for the offensive line. Which makes Becton quite likely the biggest — literally (6-foot-7, 360 pounds) and figuratively — X-factor on the entire Jets roster this season.
The latest player added to the tackle competition, Billy Turner signed with the Jets on Monday. The 31-year-old will compete with Becton at right tackle but has the versatility and prior experience to play on the left side, as well as on the interior of the line at guard.
In New York’s best-case scenario, Turner is the next-in-line backup, a veteran who could step in at any point and not miss a beat. He’s started 75 NFL games.
Billy T is ready to fly ✈️ pic.twitter.com/IJ6jA333ih
— New York Jets (@nyjets) May 1, 2023
Turner is also a nice fit in that he and Rodgers were teammates from 2019-21 with the Green Bay Packers. That also means he's already familiar with the Jets playbook, since Turner spent the past four seasons playing for Jets offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett (three in Green Bay when Hackett was the offensive coordinator and last season with the Denver Broncos when Hackett was head coach).
Knee injuries limited Turner to eight games (seven starts) in 2022. That could have contributed to his subpar overall grade (56.3, per PFF), his lowest in five seasons.
2022 was supposed to be a developmental year for Max Mitchell. Selected in the fourth round of the draft, Mitchell instead started New York’s first four games due to the slew of injuries the team faced. He played six games as a rookie (five starts) but missed time with injury and then blood clots in his calf and lungs.
Healthy now, the 24-year-old will be considered for a starting role on the right side of the line. Likely, though, Mitchell will be a backup this season. He had some good moments as a rookie (72.1 overall grade, no sacks allowed in Week 12 against the Chicago Bears) but still needs seasoning (55.5 overall grade, three sacks and 14 QB pressures in six games).
Paris Johnson Jr, Peter Skoronski, Broderick Jones, and Darnell Wright were all off the board by time the Jets were up on the clock with the 15th overall pick in the first round of the 2023 NFL Draft. With the top four tackles gone, the Jets pivoted and selected edge rusher Will McDonald IV.
They did land an intriguing tackle in the fourth round, however. Carter Warren was a captain and four-year starter at Pitt, where he played left tackle. He’s another big dude (6-foot-5, 311 pounds) who’s athletic and a strong pass blocker.
Warren played just four games last season because of a meniscus tear, but says he’s fully healthy now. This should be a developmental season for Warren, but look for him to battle for a starting spot in the future.