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Last week, the Jets -- who are expected to be active in free agency -- were linked with a move for free agent tackle Jack Conklin. In fact, initial reports indicated that Conklin had already made up his mind that he was signing with the Jets, although later reports walked that back and said they'd be one of multiple suitors.
Those later reports that softened the position could have come from the Jets, as a pre-emptive strike against allegations of tampering if they'd already negotiated with him while still under contract, or by Conklin's agents in an effort to make it known they're still available for business. However, if the later reports are true, then the Jets could end up in a bidding war.
Conklin is one of the top offensive linemen on the market and will command a large salary with several teams vying for his services. With so much cap room at stake, the Jets need to optimize their outlay. With that in mind, is Conklin an ideal fit for their system or would they be trying to fit a square peg into a round hole?
The Conklin-to-the-Jets reports were initially met with some skepticism because some people questioned how well he might fit into their running game. For whatever reason -- perhaps because he came from a Big Ten school -- there's been an assumption that Conklin would be better off in a man/power running than a zone-based system which relied on more athletic linemen.
However, this doesn't necessarily stack up with Conklin's history. He played in a zone-based system at Michigan State and had a successful college career. Also, while you might look at the success of Derrick Henry last year and assume that a big back who leads the league in rushing must be a sign of a power running game, the Titans blocking schemes are actually founded on Alex Gibbs-style wide zone principles.
So how does this compare with the Jets' current system? The Jets' offensive line coach -- Frank Pollack -- has a background in zone blocking schemes, and they've attempted to build their running game around Le'Veon Bell, who thrived on outside zone and cutback runs with the Steelers.
Bell, in fact, also attended Michigan State, so he's succeeded in an identical zone-based scheme to Conklin. While their playing careers didn't overlap, Conklin was practicing with the team as a redshirt freshman in Bell's final season, and Bell recently tweeted that he'd like to see Conklin back in green and white.
In 2019, the Jets ultimately ended up running a system where they ran as much man/power as they did zone. Additionally, most of their zone runs were inside zone with not many outside stretch plays despite Bell's success on such plays in the past. In theory, this wouldn't be an ideal system to maximize Conklin's value, but it's likely the Jets operated like this because of their offensive line personnel issues and that adding a player like Conklin would actually enable them to vary things up and play to their strengths more.
Conklin's reputation as an athletically limited player still seems to plague him, even though he allayed those concerns with an outstanding set of combine workout numbers and has continued to with his play over the duration of his rookie contract.
However, while any suggestion he could be too limited to thrive in certain run blocking schemes may be misguided, it's worth considering how well he would fit as a pass protector. Pro Football Focus have noted that while he is solid in pass protection, he's not as consistent as the other top paid tackles around the league and benefits a lot from additional blocking help by way of chips and double teams.
This again might not be an issue for the Jets, for whom Ryan Griffin stayed in to pass protect almost 10 times per game last year, placing him among the league leaders. This may, however, have been something they were again forced into by offensive line personnel deficiencies and, in an ideal world, they'd prefer to instead open things up a lot more next year. Adam Gase likes his quarterback to get rid of the ball quickly too, which could further alleviate any concerns.
Ultimately, any top free agent lineman looks set to produce a big upgrade for the Jets, although Conklin will be expensive with some estimates suggesting he'll cost around $18 million per year on the open market.
He can't play left tackle, limiting their draft options, and may provide more of an upgrade as a run blocker than he does in terms of pass protection. However, based on his history, Conklin should be a player Gase will be able to make good use of.