The center position is one of the tougher positions in football. The New York Jets have made it look even harder since Nick Mangold retired in 2016.
Last offseason, it looked like Ryan Kalil might be the guy. The New York Jets offensive line was like a donut, it had a big hole in the middle. As it turned out, 34-years-old was too old to keep going. Truthfully, it wasn’t just him, not a single offensive lineman played well for Gang Green last year.
I wouldn’t be opposed to every single lineman getting replaced this offseason, but the center position may be able to be fixed at a lower cost. Lloyd Cushenberry III, the center for this year’s National Champion Louisiana State Tigers, looks like he’ll be around for the Jets second-round pick or possibly at 68th with the pick Gang Green received in the Leonard Williams trade.
Not only was Cushenberry a two-year starter, but he actually played better this last season despite the team switching to a new offense. Therefore, Adam Gase’s tendency to actually set up offense to exploit his own players’ weaknesses shouldn’t even have an effect on Cushenberry. He’s already shown that he performs regardless of the system, and also, his skill set is rather system-less too.
Cushenberry has great first moves. Behind impressive length as well (6’3,” 312 lb frame) is impressive strength, which he combines with very tough hands. Coming off the snap, Cushenberry’s punches are powerful, and he has exceptional latch strength in his grab moves.
At times the LSU center gets beat at first contact. But he makes up for it with an impressive ability to recover. He has the foundation of an NFL-ready skill set and is viewed as such.
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While he doesn’t have the best lateral mobility, he was a steady player for the Tigers. The New York Jets should be able to work within his skill set. After all, Gase wants his quarterback, Sam Darnold to be a drop-back passer, which limits the amount of lateral movement Cushenberry would even need to have in the offense.
As far as the running game goes, Cushenberry likes to fire out hard at the nose tackle. Exactly what Gang Green needs if they intend to keep running Le’Veon Bell between the tackles.
As he develops in this league, Cushenberry should be a solid starting center. He will not have a tough transition to the NFL game due to the top-caliber competition he faced in the SEC. When the Jets part ways with Brian Winters after the 2020 season, Connor McGovern could move over from center to guard and Cushenberry can take over in the middle.
It will be important for Joe Douglas to draft in the trenches this year, and the New York Jets GM knows what he’s doing. Douglas will need to draft O-Linemen early and Cushenberry could be one of them.