Every time it feels like the New York Jets Week 16 COVID-19 outbreak might be finished, another couple of players test positive.
On December 28, the latest additions to the reserve list were linebacker Jarrad Davis and guard Isaiah Williams, according to Dennis Waszak Jr.
Davis’ absence could mean an elevated role for rookie Hamsah Nasirildeen or Del’Shawn Phillips, but another loss on the O-line could spell trouble.
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Big Problem at Guard
Although Williams is technically on the practice squad, his absence in Week 17 could end up being very relevant. The Jets’ interior offensive line is reeling from illness and injury after remaining healthy for the majority of the season.
Both starting guards — Alijah Vera-Tucker and Laurent Duvernay-Tardif — are currently sidelined because of COVID-19 and head coach Robert Saleh did not include either in his list of returning players on Monday.
Center Connor McGovern is also out for the season after an MCL injury versus Jacksonville.
That shifted replacement guard Dan Feeney over to center with Greg Van Roten back at right guard and Williams on his left. Technically, he was the third-stringer at the LG position — fourth if you count Cameron Clark who’s on the injured reserve.
Now the Jets could be forced to start another practice squad elevation in his place. This time, the likely candidate appears to be former Minnesota Vikings 2019 fourth-round pick, Dru Samia.
Waszak also announced this week’s practice squad protections on December 28. These players usually end up getting a call-up on Sunday and they were: Samia (G), Dan Brown (TE), Ross Pierschbacher (C), and Tanzel Smart (DT).
If AVT and LDT don’t test negative by Sunday, one of these two elevated offensive linemen will likely start, barring an extra offensive tackle moving to guard or a last-second signing.
Brown could also start at tight end with Tyler Kroft on the COVID-19/reserve and both Trevon Wesco and Ryan Griffin done for the year. Rookie Kenny Yeboah is expected to return in time as well, and there’s always “Conor (The TD Maker) McDermott” in a pinch.
Smart should also rotate in at defensive tackle in place of Freedom Akinmoladun, who played behind Sheldon Rankins and Nathan Shepherd in Week 16.
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Scouting Samia, Pierschbacher
The ex-Viking, Samia, is no slouch. He was once a four-star recruit who excelled at Oklahoma with all-conference honors in 2017 and 2018, and during the latter, he also earned the Big-12 Co-Offensive Lineman of the Year award.
Samia was drafted to develop into a starter with Minnesota but things didn’t go as planned for the former Sooner. Per Pro Football Focus, the interior lineman was absolutely dreadful in 2020, with 14 quarterback pressures allowed on 136 pass-blocking snaps. That yielded a pass protection grade of 17.0.
His run blocking wasn’t much better, earning a 41.2 over another 136 snaps. Overall, PFF gave Samia a 33.1 for his efforts. He’s played every NFL snap at right guard.
After 15 games and four starts in two seasons, the Vikes decided to cut Samia loose. The Oklahoma product only turned 24 in August, so this could be the start of his redemption story. Realistically, the more reasonable hope is that he doesn’t get Zach Wilson killed against a ferocious Tampa Bay Buccaneers pass rush.
If Saleh decides to go the other route, he’ll be choosing to start a third-year pro that has only played one NFL snap. Pierschbacher is a center by trade and a former fifth-round selection out of Alabama.
The two-time National Champion is still looking for his first major opportunity at the highest level.