The New York Jets and Kelechi Osemele are at a similar crossroads, as both are entering crucial stretches of their NFL timelines together.
No matter where you turn, you can’t escape the concept of a reboot. Movies, television shows, even football leagues, aren’t exempt from the concept. Nor is, apparently, the reboot of an individual’s NFL career and that concept is perfectly on display through Jets offensive lineman Kelechi Osemele.
One of the newest New York Jets, Osemele has a strong football resume to the naked eye. After a tenure rife with Big 12 accolades at Iowa State, Osemele entered the NFL as a second-round pick in 2012, chosen by the Baltimore Ravens.
It’s hard to find a better start for a touted blocker’s career, as Osemele started a full season, one that concluded with a Super Bowl title in New Orleans. The next season’s title defense failed for both the 8-8 Ravens and Osemele, who spent the final nine games of the season on injured reserve, an offseason back surgery awaiting him. Osemele returned with a vengeance in 2014, making 28 more starts over the next two seasons with the Ravens before playing his Baltimore success into a $60 million deal with the Oakland Raiders.
In Oakland, Osemele began work on his personal professional accomplishments. In helping the Raiders to their first playoff appearance of the decade, Osemele reached his first Pro Bowl, representing the reborn Raiders in the Pro Bowl with fellow blockers Donald Penn and Rodney Hudson. The Raiders failed to capitalize on their newfound success in 2017, but Osemele and his couple of comrades were all-stars once more.
But, like the Raiders themselves, a decline in quality was part of an eventual departure from Oakland.
Last season, Pro Football Focus ranked Osemele 61st among guards, earning “below average” marks from the PFF analysis for the first time in his career. Oakland’s line regressed as a whole in 2018 (quarterback Derek Carr was sacked 51 times, tied for third-worst in the league). But the decline of a prime Osemele was particularly crippling, with the Raiders regressing to a 4-12 mark. He wound playing in 11 games, missing the outliers with injuries.
“(I was) dealing with injuries and battling through that the entire year and not being able to play like myself,” he said on a conference call hosted by the team last month. “That’s part of the game. It happens. I just have to stay healthy this next season and play like a Pro Bowl player that I usually play like.”
Unable to be moved in the flurry of Oakland trades brought upon by the recommencement of the Jon Gruden era, Osemele got his opportunity for a fresh start last month, traded to Jets for a sixth-round pick on March 14. Shortly after, Osemele met with the New York media for the first time through the conference call. His enthusiasm was unbridled, his use of the word excitement rivaling that of Tim Tebow‘s opening statements seven years prior. Not only is he interested in putting his own career back on track, but he’s looking forward to what he can offer to the Jets as a whole.
“I feel like I have a certain presence. I think I bring … a certain professionalism for the younger guys to look up to and I keep my nose clean, I stay out of trouble, so that’s good. I think there are a few qualities that I bring to the team.”
But with new territory brings a new opportunity. What Osemele has in front of him is an opportunity to etch his names into the more prominent pages of the NFL history book, one that comes in New York, the grandest of athletic stages.
Playing offensive line may be one of the most thankless jobs in all of sports. It certainly can be considered the most underrated. There’s rarely an opportunity to appear in the box score, whether it’s designed trickery (a tackle-eligible pass) or an accident, be it beneficial (a recovered fumble in the end zone) or not (a tackle on an interception). The Jets are set to embark on an offensive adventure, one in which their success in scoring will run through the touted tandem of quarterback Sam Darnold and running Le’Veon Bell.
Like many blocking legends before him, Osemele can make an eternal football name for himself by doing the underrated gritty work ahead of that pair.
Attached to almost every legendary skill player in NFL history is a blocker who made his job a little easier. Peyton Manning had Jeff Saturday for over a decade in Indianapolis. Larry Allen guided Emmitt Smith to the NFL’s career rushing yards record and three Super Bowl titles. Locally, Joe Namath had tackle Winston Hill to work with throughout his entire career, even ending things together with a final abbreviated season with the Los Angeles Rams in 1977. Both hold a spot in the Jets’ Ring of Honor, visible at MetLife Stadium on Sunday’s.
Osemele has a chance to become that guy in New York. If he can help the Jets out an offensive slog that’s nearing a decade, he can likewise play a big part in the Jets’ potential return to glory.
The blocker is aware of the implications over the next several seasons. He has expressed a sense of pride and determination in becoming a “bodyguard” for Darnold, using the term in both his opening statements and in videos released by the team. Osemele even went as far to personally tell Darnold of his dedication to his new duties over Instagram, where he said the two spoke privately.
“I hit him up and told him I’m his new bodyguard here,” he said with a laugh. “I’m really excited about that.”
If Osemele is seeking revenge on his former Oakland compatriots, he won’t have long to wait. The Jets are slated to battle the Raiders at some point this season in a visit to East Rutherford.
If his comments are any indication, Osemele is ready to leave the past behind and be the power the Jets are looking for. He admitted he was “shocked” by the Jets’ interest in him, with many believe they’d inquire further about the availability of Bronco-turned-Panther Matt Paradis. But he’s ready for the challenges that lie ahead. One of Osemele’s biggest talking points was his size, as with a new home comes a new weight.
Coming at 330 lbs. last season, Osemele was down to 307 at the time of the call. He mentioned he wants to get that up to 315 by the time the season starts, but seems to consider it merely another addition to his list of New York goals.
“I’m as strong as I’ve ever been. I’m as explosive as I’ve ever been. Knock on wood. Stay healthy. That’s the only thing that would limit me is an injury. That was what stopped me last year from playing at a high level. So, you look at the film. The film speaks for itself. I’m going to dominate like I always do.”