New York Jets center Connor McGovern is looking sharp in the preseason
After ranking as the NFL’s ninth-best center at Pro Football Focus for the Denver Broncos in 2019 – his first season as a full-time starter at the position – McGovern came to New York with high expectations.
McGovern did meet those expectations in one phase of the game, posting a 70.5 Pro Football Focus run-blocking grade (68th percentile among qualified centers). However, he was disappointing in pass protection, earning a 42.7 grade that was second-worst.
McGovern got off to a brutal start with the Jets. Over his first eight games, he had an overall PFF grade of 50.1, ranking fourth-worst among centers.
In the second half of the 2020 season, McGovern made strides that pushed him into the 2021 offseason with momentum. Over his final eight games, McGovern earned an overall PFF grade of 73.3 that ranked eighth-best among centers – placing him right back at the tier he reached with the Broncos in 2019.
McGovern’s turnaround was mostly based on his run blocking. McGovern had the fifth-best run-blocking grade among centers from Weeks 9-17 with a stellar mark of 77.0. His pass-blocking grade of 54.0 was a massive improvement over his first-half grade (36.5) but it still only ranked 25th out of 38 players (35th percentile).
For McGovern to truly reclaim his status as a top 10 center, he must get his pass protection back up to a strong level. He was PFF’s fifth-ranked pass-blocking center in 2019 (82.5 grade).
Through two preseason games, McGovern is off to a good start on the road to recapturing his elite pass protection ability. McGovern has given up zero pressures over 22 protection snaps across the Jets’ two preseason games.
Now, that’s nothing to get too excited over, as a 22-snap sample is barely more than half a game’s worth, but it is still promising to see McGovern showing signs that he may be on the path to fixing the primary weaknesses in his game.
Let’s take a look at some examples of McGovern’s excellent pass protection in Green Bay.
Connor McGovern pancakes the 1-technique
Consistency is the biggest key in pass protection, but it is a nice bonus when a player has the ability to occasionally forge a flashy protection rep that is utterly dominant and creates surplus comfort for the quarterback. McGovern has recorded reps like this at a solid frequency throughout his career.
Here, McGovern takes on the 1-technique defensive tackle who aligns over his left shoulder. He works with Dan Feeney to help sell the play fake by working into a combo block. After engaging, McGovern pulls out his right arm and uses it to chop down the defender’s arms. That knocks the defender off-balance, and McGovern pancakes him.
Connor McGovern reworks his hands on the 3-technique
Every good offensive lineman needs to be able to quickly regain control after initially falling behind in a battle.
McGovern takes the 3-technique defensive tackle, who works inside. McGovern opens his hips a bit too wide to the right side and also comes in with his hands slightly wide. The DT takes advantage of these factors, working inside on McGovern and pushing him back by firing his hands into McGovern’s chest.
The DT is in an advantageous position early in this battle. McGovern forges a comeback thanks to great hand usage.
McGovern denies the DT’s hands, catching the DT’s wrists and deflecting them away as the DT tries to create more penetration. McGovern uses the momentum of that motion to flip his hips outside, putting himself in a better position to protect the pocket. He reworks his hands into the chest (left hand) and back (right hand) of the defender, shoving him far away from Zach Wilson.
Left guard Jimmy Murray is guilty of allowing pressure on Wilson.
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Connor McGovern helps out Greg Van Roten
A big part of a center’s job in pass protection is providing help to his teammates.
Right guard Greg Van Roten takes on the 3-technique defensive tackle and uses an aggressive approach as he immediately steps forward and fires a two-hand punch. Van Roten misses as the DT swipes his hands away and works to the inside.
McGovern saves the day. He ranges over and positions himself to pick up the DT as he tries to penetrate the A-gap. Van Roten is bailed out.
Connor McGovern helps Van Roten and gives Zach Wilson room on TD pass
McGovern’s pass protection was an underrated key factor in Zach Wilson’s first touchdown pass to Tyler Kroft.
Once again, Van Roten takes an aggressive set and allows the defender to beat him inside. McGovern gives a quick peek to his left side before swiftly ranging to his right, positioning himself to provide inside help. McGovern absorbs a bull rush from the DT and anchors down strongly, giving Wilson a comfortable pocket to launch his touchdown pass to Kroft.
McGovern has the potential to be one of the better centers in the game. He has put together extended stretches of high-quality play in both phases. He just needs to prove he can thrive in both phases at the same time.
If McGovern re-establishes himself as a top 10 center, the ceiling of the Jets’ offensive line will rise considerably.