Here’s the game that played a huge role in making Laken Tomlinson a New York Jet
New York Jets guard Laken Tomlinson was heavily featured in the new team-released documentary “Flight 2022”, which focuses on all aspects of the team’s 2022 offseason to this point.
In Episode 2, it is revealed that the Jets ranked Tomlinson as their No. 1 free-agent guard over the more well-known Brandon Scherff, with Tomlinson’s durability (1 game missed in 7 seasons) giving him the edge.
But that is not the only anecdote that caught my attention from the doc’s Tomlinson content.
Greg Nejmeh, the Jets’ director of pro personnel, singled out one specific performance that caught his attention when watching Tomlinson’s film: His game against the Colts in Week 7 of the 2021 season.
“I think the one game that sticks out to me was against Indy when Trent [Williams] didn’t play,” Nejmeh said. “I thought [it] was one of his best games. This dude was… he was awesome in that game. He just had more finish, more nasty.”
Tomlinson was forced to play without the luxury of lining up beside superstar left tackle Trent Williams, who is largely considered the best offensive lineman in the NFL today. Williams sat out due to an ankle injury.
Tomlinson rose to the challenge – in both phases of the game.
In pass protection, Tomlinson pass-blocked on 32 snaps and allowed zero pressures. In the run game, Tomlinson earned an excellent 73.2 run-blocking grade at Pro Football Focus, helping the 49ers average 5.3 yards per carry on rush attempts to the left side. He also committed zero penalties over 56 total offensive snaps.
Some critics of Tomlinson have attributed his strong play to the fact that he gets to play next to Williams. This performance against Indianapolis squashed that claim.
The 49ers ended up losing the game by a score of 30-18, although it was certainly no fault of Tomlinson’s. Without him, the score would have been even more lopsided.
Tomlinson’s Indy performance undoubtedly played a large role in vaulting him up the Jets’ free-agent guard rankings. His film in that game is a big reason why he is currently wearing green and white.
Let’s see exactly what Tomlinson did that day to catch the eyes of the New York Jets.
Laken Tomlinson movie breakdown vs. Colts
Tomlinson lined up at left guard for the 49ers, wearing No. 75.
To kick things off, we see a great example of Tomlinson’s strength in the run game. Tomlinson and the center work a combo block on the 1-technical defensive tackle. Once the center peels off the block and moves to the second level, Tomlinson does the rest himself.
Tomlinson turns his hips inside and seals the 1-tech out of play, allowing Elijah Mitchell to get a big lane to the outside. Tomlinson’s strength is apparent as the 1-tech struggles to disengage.
An excellent pass protection rep from Tomlinson here. Tomlinson slides to his right to block the nose tackle one-on-one, completely dominating the duel.
When Tomlinson frames a defender well and gets good hand placement, the battle is typically over at that point. You can see that on this play. He’s got a strong anchor and does not get bulled into the pocket often. He must be defeated quickly with speed and finesse.
Tomlinson makes a stellar second-level block on All-Pro linebacker Darius Leonard in this play. He immediately works to the second level, focusing on Leonard. Tomlinson beats Leonard to the outside and then gets hands-on. He works his hands into Leonard’s body, flips his hips, and effectively seals Leonard out of the running lane.
We type, Tomlinson does not look as unathletic as his 2015 pre-draft testing numbers suggest. I still don’t think he’s an uber athlete, but he moves better than you might think. Couple his respectable movement skills with his incredible feel for taking good angles, and you have a guy who is more than capable of playing in a wide-zone offense.
Tomlinson shows off some great awareness in pass protection on this play. He initially blocks the nose tackle one-on-one. Once he notices the nose tackle trying to work his way outside, Tomlinson realizes that a stunt is coming (meaning that the outside rusher is going to crash inside while the inside rusher is going to loop outside).
Upon recognizing the stunt, Tomlinson immediately turns his attention outside, ready to help out his left tackle. Tomlinson arrives just in time to pick up No. 51 and prevent him from creating pressure. Jimmy Garoppolo is given the chance to get off a relatively clean throw.
Another nice pickup from Tomlinson – this time coupled up with some of the “nasty” that Greg Nejmeh was talking about.
Tomlinson sets up to the outside but notices the stunt coming as the 4i-tech (No. 99) loops inside rather than engage with Tomlinson. Tomlinson turns his head inside, ready to pick up the penetrator. The center does a good job of passing the penetrator off to Tomlinson.
When Tomlinson picks up the block, he knows the defender has heavy inside leverage on him, and because of that, he knows there’s no way he is going to get between him and the quarterback.
So, instead of trying to gain proper positioning, Tomlinson decides to just plow the defender laterally across the line of scrimmage. Tomlinson does so successfully, keeping the defender away from the pocket. He tops it all off by throwing the guy to the ground.
If Nejmeh had one particular play in mind when he brought up this game, this is unquestionably it.
I’m not sure that much needs to be said here. Just watch in awe as Tomlinson bursts to the second level and quite literally manhandles one of the best linebackers in football.
Tomlinson generates some excellent lateral displacement on the 1-technique here, moving him from inside of the hashes to halfway between the hashes and the numbers.
Off the ball, Tomlinson stays low in his stance to generate power. Upon contact, Tomlinson’s accurate hand placement into the midsection of the defender is what allows him to maintain the block and create movement. Mitchell runs behind Tomlinson for a good gain.
Nothing too fancy. Just another smooth stunt pickup from Tomlinson.
As soon as he notices the hesitancy from his man, he knows it’s time to redirect his attention to the outside. Tomlinson prepares to absorb the charging edge rusher and does just that, eating him up and keeping the pocket clean.
Good stunt pickups aren’t sexy and won’t make it into any highlight reels, but they are extremely important nonetheless. Many of the most bone-crushing sacks that we see are the result of a well-executed stunt that fooled the offensive line. Linemen who are good at picking up stunts will prevent those sacks from happening.
Tomlinson is solid in these situations. He allowed pressure on just 1.96% of his non-true-pass-set snaps in 2021 (any snaps that are not a true one-on-one battle), which ranked 26th-lowest out of 66 qualified guards (62nd percentile). The Jets will be hoping he can rub some of that off on Alijah Vera-Tucker, who struggled with the mental aspects of pass protection in his rookie year.
Despite the sack (which happens due to the left tackle’s loss), we see a really good one-on-one rep in pass protection from Tomlinson here.
Tomlinson sets outside and is left on an island with the 4-technique. The defender tries to win with a rip move to the inside – Tomlinson shuts it down. Tomlinson flips his hips and then does an outstanding job of catching the defender’s body, securing a tight grip in the upper-body/shoulder-pad area to close off the rip move. He then anchors down just in time to prevent himself from being pushed into the quarterback.
After Tomlinson anchors, the defender then tries to throw a club move with his outside arm. Tomlinson doesn’t even move, all thanks to the strong grip he has established on the defender’s upper body. Tomlinson then drives the defender away from the pocket.
To cap things off, we see Tomlinson with a good one-on-one protection rep against former teammate DeForest Buckner. The two-time Pro Bowler tries to hit Tomlinson with a long-arm move, but Tomlinson eats it up.
Laken Tomlinson brings the traits that the New York Jets needed for their offensive line
In addition to everything he brings on the field, Tomlinson appears to be the exact type of leader that the Jets needed off the field, too.
“Do you think he could be that spark guy?”
That’s what Joe Douglas asked Mike LaFleur about Tomlinson while preparing for free agency, as heard in Episode 2 of “Flight 2022”. LaFleur worked with Tomlinson for four years in San Francisco.
LaFleur replied, “He is a spark guy because he is out there every single day. First practice of OTAs to the last game of the season. He will not miss a practice. … The guys like him.”
Throw in his on-field strengths and you have a guy who is worthy of a $40 million contract at the guard position.
As heard in Episode 2 of “Flight 2022”, Jets offensive line coach John Benton listed the following strengths in his scouting report of Tomlinson:
- “Body type”
- “First step quickness”
- “Can get to all targets”
- “Consistently affects defenders on arrival”
- “Productive at all three levels”
- “Works well in combos”
- “Gets to all set points”
- “Really good lateral range”
- “Change of direction”
- “Physical player”
- “Play hard”
- “Smart and aware”
- “Gets a lot of knockdowns, had the most knockdowns of the [free agent] group”
All of those traits were on display in the Colts game.