Lichtenstein: O-Line A Priority, But Sputtering Jets Also Have Need For Speed


Fixing the Jets’ league-worst offense from 2019 will be priority No. 1 this offseason for general manager Joe Douglas. The organization is fortunate to be ahead of the curve in one respect in that it has its franchise quarterback, Sam Darnold, under a rookie contract. So it’s just a matter of putting the proper pieces around him. Both big and fast pieces.

 I have zero doubt that Douglas, a former offensive lineman in college, will invest heavily in that unit both in free agency starting in March and in April’s draft. Fans could see as many as four new faces on the Jets’ starting 2020 O-line. Douglas will at least have plenty of options. 

How Douglas addresses his team’s glaring dearth of game-breaking speed, however, is another story.

The one player who demanded respect from Jets opponents the last few seasons, wide receiver Robby Anderson, has stated that he is prepared to enter unrestricted free agency next month. It has been reported that the bidding for Anderson’s services will start at around $13 million per year, and will likely go up from there. 

Alabama wide receiver Jerry Jeudy carries the ball up the field against Duke on Aug. 31, 2019, at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta. John David Mercer/USA TODAY Images

Per, Anderson ranked fifth in the NFL in targets of 20 yards or more downfield since 2016 with 112. However, he has never broken the 1,000-yard mark in any season and his season-high in touchdowns was the seven he tallied in 2017. 

Much of the blame for such relative underproduction lay elsewhere, from lousy quarterback accuracy to the aforementioned offensive line woes. Still, I would never pay him like a No. 1 receiver. 

While Anderson has missed only two games in his four-year career (he was the only Jets offensive player to suit up for all 16 games last season), he has a slight frame. He is prone to fumbling and, per PFF’s bookkeeping, he avoided only four tackles in 52 receptions last season.  Only eight of 53 receivers with at least 75 targets recorded fewer. I can’t recall a time when Anderson took a slant-type pattern to the house. Every long gain seemed to be over the top of defenses. 

Worse, Anderson has a deserved reputation for inconsistent effort in fighting with defenders for contested balls thrown in his catchable radius. A couple of times last season, Anderson slowed up on deep passes that had big-play potential.

Anderson, who will turn 27 in May, still exhibits these maturity issues, even if he has kept himself clean off the field since his reckless driving arrest in January 2018. He was also arrested in 2017 for allegedly pushing a police officer, but that charge was eventually dropped.

He’ll sometimes display the proverbial diva tendencies you often see from more accomplished players at his position. He’s been seen pouting like a petulant child. He has been flagged four times in the last three seasons for unsportsmanlike conduct. At least the sole instance in 2019 didn’t kill his team, as the Jets were already beating up on the Raiders in the fourth quarter. 

However, Anderson’s speed and improvement on other routes will get him paid by someone.  And that would leave the Jets with a rough predicament. Internal options? Not on this roster, unless Vyncint Smith makes an unbelievable leap in his development this offseason. The other returning players under contract — Quincy Enunwa, whose full recovery from a neck injury is uncertain at this time, and slot receivers Jamison Crowder and Braxton Berrios — don’t get downfield very often.

The free agent market for top-flight receivers is thin as well, since most believe the Cowboys will find a way to keep Amari Cooper in the fold. Breshad Perriman is intriguing, but he’s more of a one-trick pony than Anderson. Perriman’s 36 receptions for Tampa Bay last season were his career high. 

That leaves the draft, where the Jets should be enticed by several players with their 11th overall selection in the first round. If they end up choosing a defensive player, even a needed edge rusher, expect a lengthy rant from me in this space. 

The prevailing wisdom is that Douglas will end up with one of the four tackles who have moved into the top of most mock drafts, with either Iowa’s Tristan Wirfs or Louisville’s Mekhi Becton deemed the most likely to fall into Douglas’ lap. 

To me, the better path would have Douglas re-sign free agent left tackle Kelvin Beachum to a short-term deal and then use his first-round pick on a wide receiver, with Jerry Jeudy (Alabama) and CeeDee Lamb (Oklahoma) at the top of the class. I prefer Jeudy, but I also wouldn’t mind if Douglas snagged his Tide teammate, Henry Ruggs III. 

Douglas should probably look into trading down a little if Ruggs impressed him, too, since the earliest I’ve seen him go in mock drafts is to Denver at No. 15. Ruggs may be less polished than Jeudy and Lamb, but this guy is electric. At 6 feet, he can also contribute in the red zone.

Imagine a Jets offense with the downfield capability of guys like Perriman and Jeudy/Ruggs, along with Crowder in the slot, Chris Herndon at tight end and Le’Veon Bell at running back.  Shore up the offensive line by using two of their other three draft picks in the top 80 and then dipping into their cap space to bring back Beachum (and maybe guard Alex Lewis) while also snagging a guard in free agency (more on this in weeks to come).

Maybe then next season’s offense won’t be such an eyesore.   

 For a FAN’s perspective of the Nets, Devils and Jets, follow Steve on Twitter @SteveLichtenst1.