If the entire unit performs as expected, this is where the New York Jets offensive line will rank.
Yesterday, I took a look at the career numbers of each projected starter on the New York Jets offensive line to nail down a realistic ceiling and floor for the unit.
This time, we will be estimating the unit’s most likely level of performance – where it would rank league-wide if every player performed on par with expectations.
How much better will this iteration of the Jets offensive line be than the one that destroyed the offense in 2019? Let’s take a look at each projected starter’s career numbers to get an idea of what we should expect from the position in 2020.
Our projected five-man lineup for the sake of this exercise will be Mekhi Becton (LT), Alex Lewis (LG), Connor McGovern (C), Greg Van Roten (RG), and George Fant (RT). We will be using Pro Football Focus’ grading system as a basis.
Mekhi Becton (LT)
It is impossible to know exactly what type of player Becton will be until he actually steps on the field and logs a significant amount of playing time, so we will base our expectations for him off of the rookie-year performances of recent top-15 picks.
Here are the rookie campaigns of tackles selected in the top-15 since 2006 (with significant playing time), sorted by overall Pro Football Focus grade:
A reasonable expectation for Becton would be to meet the average performance level of the above group.
If Becton’s rookie-year rankings are equal to the average percentile rankings of that 24-player group (you can find the group’s pass and run-blocking numbers here), here is what his grades would look like, based on the 2019 leaderboard:
- Overall grade: 64.8 (42nd percentile)
- Pass blocking grade: 68.7 (40th percentile)
- Run blocking grade: 60.8 (46th percentile)
Based on how similarly-talented tackles have fared as rookies, it appears that “slightly below-average” is the baseline for Becton in 2020.
Alex Lewis (LG)
Over 35 career games (20 with Ravens, 15 with Jets), here are Lewis’ career averages and how they would have ranked among qualified guards in 2019:
- Overall grade: 55.1 (18th percentile)
- Pass blocking grade: 65.2 (42nd percentile)
- Run blocking grade: 50.7 (24th percentile)
Contrary to PFF’s grading, I would argue that Lewis is about an average guard based on what I have seen on film, but we will roll with these grades for the purpose of this study.
Connor McGovern (C)
Finding a median for McGovern is difficult due to his limited experience at center (24 starts). He struggled mightily over his first eight starts at the position in 2018 (after switching from right guard mid-season) but had a fantastic 16 starts in 2019.
Here is how McGovern fared over eight starts in 2018 (ranks out of 32 qualified centers):
- Overall grade: 46.8 (31st / 32)
- Pass blocking grade: 26.2 (32nd / 32)
- Run blocking grade: 55.8 (20th / 32)
And here is how he fared over 16 starts in 2019:
- Overall grade: 71.9 (10th / 32)
- Pass blocking grade: 82.5 (5th / 32)
- Run blocking grade: 64.0 (16th / 32)
McGovern’s 2019 sample is much more predictive than his 2018 one, considering that it was more recent, twice as large, and he had a full offseason to prepare for the role.
With that being said, it does make sense to take the 2018 season into account in order to level out expectations and reach a reasonable middle ground. It would be unwise to assume that McGovern’s best season will be his baseline going forward.
Let’s take McGovern’s 2019 grades and drop each one down by 3.0 points – that allows us to set a projection that is below his career-year in 2019, but still much closer to that campaign than his 2018 struggles, which is fair considering the differences in sample size, recency, and preparation.
With 3.0 points removed from each of his 2019 grades, here is how McGovern would have ranked among qualified centers in 2019:
- Overall grade: 68.9 (16th / 32)
- Pass blocking grade: 79.5 (9th / 32)
- Run blocking grade: 61.0 (21st / 32)
A league-average level of play – with good pass protection and below-average run blocking – seems to be a fair midpoint for McGovern.
Greg Van Roten (RG)
All 27 of Van Roten’s career starts to date came at left guard for the Panthers from 2018-19. Here are his averages over that stretch and how they would have ranked among qualified guards in 2019:
- Overall grade: 62.7 (52nd percentile)
- Pass blocking grade: 71.0 (62nd percentile)
- Run blocking grade: 59.0 (40th percentile)
Like McGovern, a reasonable baseline for Van Roten appears to be league-average play with better performance in protection than in the run game.
George Fant (RT)
Fant has only started-and-finished 18 of his 51 career regular season and playoff appearances, rotating in-and-out as a sixth lineman throughout most of the other 33. He struggled mightily when lining up at tackle throughout an entire game, posting these numbers (ranks among tackles if posted in 2019):
- Overall grade: 52.0 (6th percentile)
- Pass blocking grade: 55.5 (9th percentile)
- Run blocking grade: 50.4 (14th percentile)
Fant has flashed the brightest when used as a reserve or in unconventional roles. In 2018, when not starting-and-finishing a game, Fant posted a tremendous overall grade of 83.0, which would have ranked eighth-best among all tackles over that entire season.
He was not quite as dominant in that role in 2019, earning an overall grade of 65.0 that would have ranked at the 43rd percentile among tackles over the entire season, but that is still far more competent than his track record as a starter.
Here are Fant’s career averages in games where he did not start-and-finish at tackle, but did participate offensively in a limited role (ranks among tackles if posted in 2019):
- Overall grade: 71.7 (60th percentile)
- Pass blocking grade: 67.9 (35th percentile)
- Run blocking grade: 70.1 (83rd percentile)
In yesterday’s ceiling/floor projection, we used Fant’s numbers as a starter for his floor. It seems fair to balance out Fant’s weak grades as a starter with his strong flashes of upside as a rotational player to find a middle ground.
Here are the median points between Fant’s career grades as a starter and his career grades as a non-starter (ranks among tackles if posted in 2019):
- Overall grade: 61.9 (26th percentile)
- Pass blocking grade: 61.7 (18th percentile)
- Run blocking grade: 60.3 (45th percentile)
That is where we will settle for Fant’s projection in this study. He simply has not showcased enough to be seen as anything but a well below-average tackle until proven otherwise. This is why the Jets desperately need Chuma Edoga to break out in his second season and prove worthy of the right tackle spot – if Fant claims the job, there is little reason to believe he won’t be a liability.
Using the baseline expectations that we set for each of the five projected starters, here is how the Jets offensive line’s cumulative performance would look. The percentile rankings listed are where each grade would stack up among qualifiers in 2019.
With those numbers, the Jets offensive line would have landed at 21st-of-32 in Pro Football Focus’ overall grade this past season, including 17th in protection and 21st in the run game.
Although that ranking leaves a lot to be desired, it would still be a substantial leap forward from the unit’s No. 31 rank in 2019.
Baby steps. A 10-spot leap in 2020 would be an excellent stepping stone to set up a rise into the elite ranks in 2021. Becton will have a great chance of taking a monumental jump in his second season, Cameron Clark should be ready to compete for a starting guard spot, and more outside additions will likely come through free agency or the trade market.
The potential for sheer dominance on the offensive front is still a few miles down the road. For now, all Sam Darnold and Le’Veon Bell need from their offensive line is something they did not get any of in 2019 – competency. If everyone performs up to their capabilities, the unit will achieve that modest-but-crucial goal.
Where do you think the Jets offensive line will stack up in 2020?