Greg Van Roten is not as bad of a starter as many seem to think. He is a competent stopgap piece for the NY Jets.
Look, I’m not saying Greg Van Roten is “good.” All I’m saying is that he is better than a lot of people think he is. I see a lot of talk amongst New York Jets fans claiming that Van Roten is “terrible” or “horrible.”
That is certainly not the case.
You would be correct if you made those claims about Van Roten early in the 2020 season. The Long Island native was brutal to begin the season.
From Weeks 1-4, Van Roten allowed 15 pressures, tied for the most in the league among guards. His 8.9% allowed pressure rate was the worst among qualifiers while his 51.7 run-blocking grade ranked at the 19th percentile among qualified guards.
Van Roten played a primary role in the Jets’ 0-4 start. However, from that point onward, he started to be more of an asset than a liability.
From Weeks 5-17, Van Roten allowed only 9 pressures on 308 protection snaps. That’s an allowed pressure rate of 2.9%, which placed at the 82nd percentile among qualified guards over that span. He also slightly improved his run blocking, earning a 57.1 grade that placed him at the position’s 34th percentile.
Overall, Van Roten proved to be a slightly below-average starter. He finished the season with an overall PFF grade of 63.0, which ranked at the 45th percentile among guards to play at least 400 snaps. Van Roten was solid as a pass blocker (71.5 grade, 79th percentile) but subpar as a run blocker (54.4 grade, 22nd percentile). It’s also worth noting that he committed zero penalties.
Let’s take a look at the best and worst of Van Roten’s 2020 season to get a complete idea of what he offers.
Cold start in pass protection
Van Roten was constantly losing battles in both phases over the Jets’ first four games (Bills, 49ers, Colts, Broncos). Let’s start out with a few examples of his issues in pass protection.
Van Roten takes on the 3/4i-technique defensive tackle, Shelby Harris. Van Roten sets up outside and quickly throws a two-hand punch. Harris uses his inside arm to swipe away Van Roten’s hands, and he uses his outside arm to swim over top. The beautiful combo move leads to pressure that results in a sack.
Van Roten battles the 3-technique defensive tackle. Off the snap, the DT aggressively engages Van Roten, setting up to 2-gap against the run (stay in position to play either one of the gaps beside him). Once the DT sees Sam Darnold keep the ball, he gets into his pass-rush move. With Van Roten’s hips opened to the inside, the DT rips through to the inside using his outside arm, beating Van Roten to create pressure.
When he’s struggling, Van Roten is highly susceptible to inside moves. Most of his pass-protection losses come in this fashion rather than through power or to the outside.
Van Roten takes on Ed Oliver here (3/4i-technique). Oliver begins to work inside and Van Roten appears to punch with his inside hand. Just as Shelby Harris did in the first clip, Oliver uses a swipe-swim combo to win inside. Darnold is forced to scramble.
Cold start in the run game
The Jets run a split zone (tight end working to the backside, opposite the flow of the offensive line) with a jet motion. Van Roten takes the 3-technique with the goal of moving him towards the sideline, staying between the defender and the middle of the field.
He fails as the DT keeps hands tight, loads his punch, and fires accurately into Van Roten’s chest to knock him back, freeing himself up to shed the block and work inside to make the stop.
George Fant passes off the 4i-technique to Van Roten before continuing downfield to pick up the linebacker. Van Roten fails to pick up the DT despite a strong pass-off from Fant. He’s caught leaning out in front, which results in him stumbling forward from the contact of Fant’s pass-off.
That allows the DT to use Van Roten’s momentum against him and send him downfield. Van Roten’s hands are also a bit too wide, which prevents him from recovering. The DT penetrates the B-gap and makes the stop.
The Jets run mid-zone. Van Roten is tasked with driving the 3-technique outside, keeping his body between the defender and the middle of the field.
Van Roten creates solid lateral movement, but he allows the DT to shed him and work to the backside. The DT halts his momentum, uses Van Roten’s momentum against him as he tosses him outside by his inside shoulder, and sheds to make the tackle on La’Mical Perine.
Pass protection improvement
At his best, Van Roten can amass plenty of excellent pass-protection reps in which he holds up for a very long time.
Van Roten duels with the 2i-technique. He gets both hands inside, stays low, and anchors down to stymie the bull rush. Once anchored down, Van Roten generates power from his lower body and shoves the DT even further down the field.
The DT is seven yards away from Joe Flacco at the time of the pass.
Van Roten takes an aggressive set against the 3-technique, quickly getting his hands into the DT’s chest. Van Roten widens his feet, gets nice bend at the knees, and stays square to the DT, quickly gaining control.
Knowing that his help is to the outside, Van Roten allows the defender to carry himself into the right tackle (Conor McDermott) and tight end (Chris Herndon), where he is left with nowhere to go.
Good work on the stunt pickup by Van Roten. The linebacker standing up over the B-gap crashes down into the A-gap, looking to lure Van Roten inside so the DT on the opposite side of the line can loop around through Van Roten’s B-gap.
Van Roten picks up the LB. He knows he has to pass off the LB and pick up the looping DT, but with Josh Andrews (at center) still working on passing off his own defender, Van Roten stays patient and holds the block a bit longer as he waits for Andrews to be ready to take the LB. Once Andrews accepts the LB, Van Roten passes him off and shifts his focus to the looping DT.
In the midst of shifting to the DT, Van Roten keeps one hand on the LB. He and Andrews combine to blast the LB outside, obstructing the looping DT. Van Roten finally peels off of the LB and throws a two-hand punch into the DT, stalling him. Stunt shut down.
Van Roten generally does a solid job of providing help in pass protection, an ability that we saw more frequently as the season went on.
Here, Van Roten first makes sure that McGovern has control of the 1-technique and that the linebacker is not blitzing. Once he confirms both of those things, he looks for work. Van Roten ranges outside to help out Fant, blasting Fant’s man into oblivion.
This is some great recognition. Van Roten identifies the blitzing safety and absorbs his rush. In the midst of blocking the safety, Van Roten notices the linebacker looping behind the safety to rush through the B-gap. Van Roten tosses the safety towards the traffic and quickly flips his hips outside to pick up the linebacker.
Run game flashes
Van Roten was less of a liability in the run game after the first four weeks of the year. He executes a great pull block here, crossing the formation to kick out the edge defender and create a hole for Le’Veon Bell.
Van Roten works inside to the 1-technique. The DT’s lateral movement is not created by Van Roten, as it occurs naturally through his reaction to the motion of the offensive line. However, Van Roten does a nice job of maximizing the natural movement by holding the DT completely stationary. Van Roten plants his anchor and holds his spot, not allowing the DT to create a single inch of penetration into the large B-gap that opens up. Perine runs behind Van Roten for a healthy gain.
I won’t be campaigning for the Jets to build a Greg Van Roten statue in the MetLife Stadium parking lot anytime soon, but I think he deserves a tad more respect than he gets.
Van Roten is not an atrocious player. He is a slightly subpar starter. If he maintains the Jets’ starting right guard spot entering 2021, he will head into the year with a better track record of production than the starting right guard of at least 10 other teams.
Obviously, the Jets need to work on finding a long-term upgrade over Van Roten. For now, though, he is a good option in his stopgap role. He is good enough to not drag the entire unit down while the team searches for an upgrade. That’s a luxury. A lot of teams have stopgap offensive linemen who are not nearly as competent as Van Roten (the Jets have fielded some of these in recent years, including Ryan Clady, Ryan Kalil, and Jonotthan Harrison).
There’s an old saying that an offensive line is only as good as its weakest link. In the case of this Jets offensive line, if the unit’s worst player is Van Roten as a middle-of-the-pack right guard, it should have a chance to be quite successful.
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