The New York Jets have constructed a roster filled with players who keep their penalty numbers to a minimum.
Flags were thrown on 3,499 plays in the NFL throughout the 2020 season, with 2,989 of those being accepted for a total of 25,828 yards. That’s 14.7 miles’ worth of penalty flags, which is slightly longer than the driving distance between MetLife Stadium and the Barclays Center (13.2 miles).
Penalties represent the hidden value that is overlooked by general passing and rushing statistics. Nestled beneath the Xs-and-Os game at the forefront of the sport is the rule-following battle: Who breaks the rules less often?
There are a lot of yards to be won and lost here. Oftentimes, a team can outplay its opponent on an overall level but lose the game because the opponent did a much better job of staying disciplined and avoiding penalties. This is why it is important to amass players who excel at preventing yellow nylon from being tossed onto the field.
Let’s take a look at how some of the players on the Jets roster have done throughout their NFL careers (or NCAA in the cases of rookies or players with limited NFL snaps) at avoiding penalties.
In the charts below, is each player’s career penalty average per 1,000 snaps and how it compares to the 2020 NFL average at their position. For players who have switched positions, such as Connor McGovern and Lamarcus Joyner, only their seasons at their projected position in 2021 are included.
The most glaring name on this list is Carl Lawson. Penalties have been a weakness for the star pass rusher since his rookie season. He has committed more than twice as many penalties on a per-snap basis than the league average edge rusher. Lawson tied for 10th at his position with six penalties in the 2020 season.
Fortunately, Lawson kept the damage to a relative minimum as three of those penalties occurred pre-snap. He did not commit any roughing the passer penalties after being called for four of them over his first three seasons.
Foley Fatukasi has been penalty-prone with seven flags over just 900 snaps, while Jabari Zuniga needs to prove he can put his college issues in this area behind him after he was knocked with 12 penalties over 1,518 snaps at Florida.
Second-year man Bryce Hall had trouble with penalties in his rookie season, committing five penalties in approximately a half-season. All five penalties came in a different game. Hall was knocked with three holding calls and two pass interference calls.
On the positive side, the young names on the Jets roster provide a lot of hope in this area.
Undrafted free agent rookies Bryce Huff and Lamar Jackson combined for one penalty over 759 snaps in their 2020 debut campaigns. Incoming rookie cornerbacks Jason Pinnock and Michael Carter II combined for 10 penalties over 3,676 snaps in their ACC careers, both committing less than half as many penalties per snap as the average NFL cornerback in 2020.
Sheesh, Chuma Edoga.
Edoga, New York’s third-year tackle out of USC and a third-round pick of Mike Maccagnan’s, has been absolutely terrible in the penalty department. He has committed a monstrous average of 16.8 penalties per 1,000 snaps that is more than triple the 2020 league average for tackles (5.0).
Mekhi Becton needs to clean up his penalty proneness after being called for seven penalties over 691 snaps as a rookie. His average of 10.1 penalties per 1,000 snaps was a tad over double the positional average.
Becton’s penalty problems are not too drastic considering that the majority of them occurred pre-snap. He did not have any issues with post-snap penalties, which are far more detrimental than pre-snap ones. Six of Becton’s seven penalties were pre-snap, with five false start calls and one illegal formation call. The seventh penalty was a holding call that was declined.
Clark’s numbers come from his days at tackle in college, as he has not played an NFL down yet (even in the preseason). He committed a career-high eight penalties over 845 snaps in his final season at Charlotte and was fairly penalty-prone throughout his career.
Fant has already showcased tremendous improvement in the penalty department since going through major troubles early in his tenure with the Seahawks and just needs to prove he can maintain it.
Over his first two seasons, Fant was called for 15 penalties over 1,177 snaps, an atrocious average of 12.7 per 1,000 snaps. Since 2019, Fant has been called for a measly three penalties over 1,368 snaps, a stellar average of 2.2 per 1,000 snaps. He committed two penalties over 829 snaps (2.4 per 1K) in his first season as a Jet.
Leading the charge when it comes to penalty minimization on the Jets offense are three offensive linemen and a tight end.
Greg Van Roten and Chris Herndon are tied for the offensive lead, each posting a plus-2.7 differential. Van Roten had zero penalties over 752 snaps in his first season with the Jets and committed only two penalties in each of his two seasons as a full-time starter with the Panthers. Herndon has been called for two penalties over 1,318 snaps in his career.
Connor McGovern has been as clean as a radio edit when playing the center position. In 2019, his first season as a full-time center, he played 1,013 snaps without being called for a single penalty. That was the third-most snaps without a penalty by a center in a single season in the 2010s decade. McGovern did a nice job in his first season as a Jet in 2020, being called for three penalties over 969 snaps.
This represented major progress for McGovern after he started his career with some penalty issues at the guard position. McGovern has committed 7.0 penalties per 1,000 snaps at the guard position, with all of those snaps at guard coming from 2017-18.
Alijah Vera-Tucker comes out of college with a mostly clean rap sheet. Over his Trojans career, Vera-Tucker committed two penalties over 1,065 snaps at guard (1.9 per 1,000 snaps) and two penalties over 466 snaps at left tackle (4.3 per 1,000 snaps).
What are your primary takeaways from the penalty numbers of the Jets’ 2021 roster?