Connor McGovern is not as bad as Jets fans seem to think he is
I’ll state this right off the bat before you get all up in arms: this article is not an attempt to proclaim that Connor McGovern is an amazing player or that the New York Jets should not explore upgrade options at the center position this offseason. All I am attempting to do is explain that McGovern is a decent center, not the terrible one that many fans make him out to be.
Let’s start at the beginning.
The first year of McGovern’s three-year, $27 million contract with the Jets was a rough one. While he flashed in the run game, McGovern consistently struggled mightily in pass protection. He allowed 33 pressures, tying him with now-teammate Dan Feeney for the most in the NFL among centers.
That was a far cry from the Connor McGovern that the Jets thought they were getting. McGovern allowed only 15 pressures in his breakout 2019 season with the Broncos. He ranked as PFF’s ninth-best center that year with a 72.0 overall grade. In 2020, he dropped to 22nd with a 62.2 grade.
McGovern has been much closer to his Denver form here in 2021.
So far, McGovern has allowed 17 pressures on 539 protection snaps. That’s a rate of 3.2%, which ranks 17th-best out of 32 qualified centers.
While that is not quite as good as McGovern’s 2019 rate of 2.5% (15 on 609), which ranked 10th-best, it is a massive improvement over his 2020 rate of 5.5% (33 on 596), which was the worst among qualifiers by a wide margin.
Now that his pass protection is average (rather than abysmal), the impact of McGovern’s vastly underrated run blocking can shine.
Fans really do not appreciate enough how good McGovern is in the run game. He is a unique athlete for the center position, possessing quick burst off the line, swift movement ability in space, and oily hips that allow him to consistently cross the face of defenders and seal them to the back side.
All of the athletic tools you see in the spider graph below (via Mockdraftable) visibly translate to McGovern’s run blocking on the field.
McGovern’s athleticism is a great complement to the fellow plus-athlete beside him, rookie left guard Alijah Vera-Tucker. The duo has combined its abilities to facilitate plenty of rushing success this year.
New York has gained 195 rushing yards through the left-side A-gap (the hole between Vera-Tucker and McGovern), their most of any gap. The Jets are averaging 4.9 yards per carry in that direction. They also have six rushes for 10+ yards into the gap, which is at least double their total into any other gap.
Look at the pair go to work on this 17-yard run by Tevin Coleman against Philadelphia. Vera-Tucker chips the 2i-tech defensive tackle (#98) to help McGovern and still gets outside to block a defensive back. McGovern works all the way around the DT to seal him out of the play and then throws him into the ground as an added bonus.
Here is another athletic block from McGovern. He pulls outside and pins the 5-technique defensive end inside so Coleman can break free.
These are only two plays, but McGovern does this stuff all the time. That block is not as easy as McGovern makes it look. Few centers can pull it off consistently.
McGovern’s athleticism makes him a perfect fit for the Jets’ running scheme, which mixes many different concepts but ultimately has a primary goal of working horizontally and succeeding with runs to the outside.
At PFF, McGovern has a career-high run-blocking grade of 77.1, which ranks seventh-best among centers.
Altogether, I think McGovern is a decent starting center at the moment.
McGovern’s pass protection is slightly below-average – he is solid in one-on-one situations, but he is still very susceptible to frustrating mental lapses when it comes to picking up blitzes and stunts or setting protections. Those mental woes are his primary weaknesses and hold him back from reaching the potential bestowed by his physical abilities.
In the run game, though, McGovern is excellent.
The Jets will have a decision to make on McGovern after this season. He is slated to have a cap hit of $10.3 million in 2022, which is currently poised to rank fourth-highest among centers. However, the Jets can release him to save $9 million of that total while taking on just $1.3 million in dead money.
New York should certainly search for upgrades in free agency, the trade market, and the draft. McGovern has not been good enough to prevent them from doing so, especially considering the cap number he is set to have and how easily the Jets can escape it.
With that being said, I think McGovern can still have value for the Jets next season. If they cannot find a surefire upgrade at center, keeping him around at $10.3 million is not the most catastrophic idea in the world (if they agree with my evaluation that he is a decent/solid starter).
Another possibility is moving McGovern to right guard.
Laurent Duvernay-Tardif is making a strong claim for the 2022 right guard spot with his good play since debuting in the starting lineup in Week 11, but he is a free agent after the year. If Duvernay-Tardif does not return, the Jets could consider moving McGovern to the right guard spot while investing in a new center.
Looking at McGovern’s strengths and weaknesses, it is easy to imagine him making a strong transition back to guard, which is where he started his NFL career. There, his physical gifts can take center stage while his awareness and recognition issues could be minimized without the mental responsibilities of the highly-cerebral center position.
We’ll see how McGovern closes out the season and what the Jets decide to do with him. Just keep this in mind: he is no Wesley Johnson, Spencer Long, or Jonotthan Harrison. McGovern is quite a few tiers above the enormous liabilities that preceded him. The guy can play.
He may not live up to the standards that Kevin Mawae or Nick Mangold set for Jets fans at the center position, but McGovern is a player who I’m sure a decent chunk of teams in the NFL would rather have than their current starting center.
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