George Fant, Jamison Crowder, and Jeff Smith headline the positives for the New York Jets offense in their Thursday night loss to Denver.
George Fant had a clean performance
In his return to the starting lineup, Fant was not tagged with allowing a single pressure over 54 snaps in protection.
While Fant rarely faced star edge rusher Bradley Chubb and usually faced mediocre rusher Malik Reed, Fant was excellent when Chubb lined up across from him. Chubb picked up no pressures over eight pass-rush snaps from the left side (matchups primarily against Fant), while he collected a whopping 10 pressures over 34 pass-rush snaps from the right side (matchups primarily against Conor McDermott).
On the season, Fant has been knocked with allowing five pressures over 125 snaps in protection, a rate of 4.0% that ranks 20th-best out of 58 qualified tackles (67th percentile).
The Jets’ starting tackle duo of Fant and Mekhi Becton has been rock-solid, with Becton playing at a borderline elite level and Fant doing a mostly average job. If the Jets go into 2020 having only Becton and Fant locked-in as reliable pieces, that will be a great start for Joe Douglas‘ offensive line revival. The team had zero pieces coming into 2020. Adding two in one offseason – one of them being an elite franchise cornerstone – is a plenty solid springboard.
It’s only been three games for Fant, but it looks like he is certainly building upon the progress he showed on tape in 2019. Whether Fant can maintain his solid start and put together a truly respectable season that locks him in as a 2021 starter is one of the major X-factors for the future of the team. Fant will have a huge cap hit of $9.4 million next year, which the Jets can get out of with $2 million in dead money and $7.4 million in savings. If Fant proves himself to be a perfectly average starting right tackle, the Jets will happily pay the $9.4 million price tag to go into 2021 with both tackle spots secured. Average starters on the offensive line are hard to find – Jets fans should know that very well.
Of all the moves Douglas made outside of the draft in this past offseason, Fant is the one that will tell us the most about his scouting ability (especially at the pro level – NFL talent). Fant was a career backup, a highly overlooked player on the free agent market. Douglas’ decision to invest in Fant as a starter at a major position of need was a clear showing that he and the organization believed in Fant’s untapped potential because of what they saw on film. While Fant’s performance to that point was not worth starter-level money, Douglas and his staff believed he could be molded into that type of player.
So far, Douglas is looking good here. Fant needs to keep proving him right over the next 12 games.
The interior offensive line is a problem
While the tackle spots are looking strong, the offensive line’s interior trio has been holding the group back, primarily in pass protection.
Connor McGovern has not been the top-10 center he was in Denver last year. His reaction time in pass protection has been strangely slow, as he has been consistently late with providing help to his guards and picking up blitzes. It’s been odd to watch since this was one of McGovern’s main strengths as a Bronco.
With 13 pressures allowed over 151 protection snaps, McGovern has allowed a pressure rate of 8.6%, second-worst among centers ahead of only Broncos rookie Lloyd Cushenberry.
McGovern allowed 15 pressures over 566 protection snaps (16 games) in 2019. His 2.7% pressure rate ranked 10th-best at the position.
Alex Lewis and Greg Van Roten have been liabilities in protection. On 162 protection snaps each, Lewis has allowed 13 pressures while Van Roten has allowed 15. Their pressure rates of 8.0% and 9.3%, respectively, rank 51st and 54th out of 56 qualified guards.
I do think it is worth noting that Sam Darnold‘s severe jitteriness and hesitancy in the pocket has probably made these pressure numbers look worse than they should. Darnold has missed countless open reads this season, so pressure has often been seeping through after the ball should have already been thrown.
With that said, the interior trio is still to blame for the offensive line’s shakiness at times this season.
Lewis and Van Roten were never considered to be long-term pieces, so barring a drastic turnaround for either veteran, it is clear that the guard spots will be at the top of the checklist for Douglas in 2021. Targeting the guard position high in the draft and in free agency will be important.
Rookie fourth-round pick Cameron Clark is waiting in the wings as a developmental piece at guard, making the transition from playing left tackle at Charlotte. It would be helpful for the Jets to get a chance to evaluate him a little bit this season. Clark was placed on injured reserve ahead of Week 1, so he is eligible to return whenever the Jets feel he is ready. It’s too early to bench one of the veterans for Clark, but that could happen later in the season, and if not, he will likely get a chance due to injury at some point anyway.
McGovern’s start is concerning. The Jets are tied to him through 2021 and cannot escape from his deal until the 2022 offseason. In his prime at 27 years old and coming off of a season in which he was a very good player in just his first full year at center, the Jets expected him to be one of the five long-term pieces, but he does not look like one so far.
While McGovern hit his stride at center in 2019, he played guard in college and began his NFL career there. If things continue trending downhill at center, perhaps the Jets can kick him back to guard and see if he can establish himself as a long-term piece at that position.
McGovern’s contract makes it clear he will be starting for the Jets next year, so it is crucial that he turns it around this season and proves he is not a weak link, whether it be at center or guard. Just getting up to a competent level would suffice, but he has shown that he has the talent to be a top-10 center. If McGovern can return to that level, the Jets may be able to go into 2021 feeling great about three of the five positions on their offensive front.