INDIANAPOLIS — Putting players around Sam Darnold will be one of the Jets’ “focuses and focal points” this offseason.
When general manager Mike Maccagnan said that Wednesday at the NFL Combine, he didn’t mean only the skill positions. Protecting Darnold will be as critical as adding playmakers, so upgrading and filling holes on the offensive line will be a priority for the Jets.
“Right now that’s a position that we’re going to look very strongly at in free agency,” Maccagnan said. “That’s no surprise I don’t think to anybody out there. I think there’s some good players in the draft, but it’s an area we’re going to look at going forward. It’s definitely an area we want to improve upon.”
The Jets already have waived center Spencer Long, one of their free-agent signings last year. Left guard James Carpenter and center Jonotthan Harrison will be free agents. All three started at times last season.
Right guard Brian Winters, left tackle Kelvin Beachum and right tackle Brandon Shell are under contract. That leaves openings at left guard and center, but the Jets could widen their search either in free agency or the draft. Some of the top free-agent linemen include Patriots tackle Trenton Brown, Dolphins tackle Ja’Wuan James, Broncos center Matt Paradis and Rams guard Rodger Saffold.
The draft has “some good offensive linemen,” according to Maccagnan, but the Jets won’t take one with the No. 3 pick. They’re expected to grab an impactful defensive player/pass rusher, with Kentucky linebacker Josh Allen and Alabama lineman Quinnen Williams potential choices.
But Maccagnan has said he is open to trading down, which would create the possibility of taking an offensive lineman, depending on where the Jets draft. The top linemen are Florida tackle Jawaan Taylor, Alabama tackle Jonah Williams, Washington State tackle Andre Dillard, Oklahoma tackle Cody Ford, Boston College guard Chris Lindstrom and Kansas State tackle Dalton Risner.
The Jets already have met with a number of them, including Taylor and Williams. Taylor said it would be “a dream come true” to block for Darnold. “He’s a great quarterback,” he said. “I’d love to go out and block for him.”
Taylor considers himself the best offensive tackle in this draft class and said he brings “a lot of physical aggression and nastiness to the offensive line.” The Jets could use that.
Taylor said he had a great meeting with the Jets that included watching video. He’s not taking part in any drills at the combine because of a hamstring injury. He said he’s feeling better but hasn’t been cleared yet. He bench-pressed 225 pounds 24 times Thursday.
Weight and weight loss are big parts of his story. Taylor weighed 383 pounds as a junior in high school. He already had committed to Florida, but at a camp there, Gators offensive line coach Mike Summers told him he needed to lose weight or Florida would rescind his scholarship offer.
That’s all Taylor needed to hear. He cut out fried foods, pizza, macaroni and cheese and other pastas and worked out three times a day, and he said he lost 52 pounds in 2½ months.
He weighed in at 312 Wednesday.
“I pretty much made a [180-degree] turn,” he said. “My conditioning got a lot better. I was a much better player, especially on the field getting to the second level and being able to pull on screens. Just different things I can do. It just changed my game a lot and bettered me as a player.
“I had to have a strong mind to keep up with my weight. It paid off. I never went back.”
Taylor said his focus is on being the best run blocker and pass protector he can be at the next level.
“I feel like I’m the best offensive tackle in the draft class,” he said. “I feel like I have some more to prove. I’m not perfect, but I feel like I’m the best.”