George Fant’s amazing 2021 campaign features one tiny asterisk
Over 15 games, Fant allowed just 18 total pressures (including only one sack) across 594 pass-blocking snaps. That is a pressure rate of 3.03%, which stands as the third-lowest rate in the NFL among left tackles behind only Tyron Smith (2.39%) and Andrew Whitworth (2.50%) – two likely Hall-of-Famers.
Not only that, but Fant set a new Jets franchise record for the lowest pressure rate allowed in a season by an offensive tackle since Pro Football Focus began tracking pressures in 2006. The previous record was held by Damien Woody, who had a mark of 3.17% while playing right tackle in 2008. D’Brickashaw Ferguson held the previous record for a left tackle with a 3.81% mark in 2008.
Run blocking is still not a strength of Fant’s – his 58.7 run-blocking grade at PFF ranks 49th out of 60 qualified tackles entering Week 18 – but his pass protection was elite this year, more than making up for his mediocre run blocking.
Fant was an unquestionably great player in 2021. There is no disputing it, and the point of this article is not to refute that.
However, there is one notable piece of context behind his 2021 production that is important to keep in mind when projecting his future outlook with the team: Fant faced a very easy slate of opposing edge rushers this year.
Analyzing the opponents faced by George Fant
I looked at every game started by Fant at left tackle this season and compiled a list of every opposing edge rusher who rushed at least once off the right side of the defensive line (thus, across from Fant on the left side of the Jets’ offensive line).
To measure the cumulative talent level of all players that Fant matched up against, I took each defender’s season-long PFF pass-rushing grade and pressure rate, weighing the value of their production based on how many right-side pass-rush snaps they played (how often they matched up vs. Fant – so, players who rushed against him more had a bigger impact on the overall averages).
There were 49 opposing edge rushers who lined up across from Fant this season and went after the quarterback. Cumulatively – weighting each player’s numbers based on how often they faced Fant – their 2021 statistics are as follows: a PFF pass-rush grade of 63.6 and a combined pressure rate of 9.5%.
Those are mediocre numbers. The league averages among edge rushers this season are 67.4 and 10.1%, respectively.
For reference, out of all qualified starting edge rushers in the NFL, the one who is closest to a 63.6 PFF pass-rush grade is Atlanta’s Dante Fowler, who ranks 43rd out of 62 qualifiers (31st percentile) in the category with a 63.0 grade. Fowler has only 4.5 sacks in 13 games this year.
The Chargers’ Uchenna Nwosu has a 9.5% pressure rate, which, like Fowler’s pass-rush grade, ranks 43rd out of 62 qualifiers. Nwosu has four sacks in 16 games this season.
So, essentially, the average edge rusher faced by Fant this year was about as talented as a 31st-percentile starter with four-to-five-sacks, such as Fowler or Nwosu.
From Denver’s Malik Reed (17 pass-rush reps vs. Fant), to Atlanta’s Steven Means (14), to Houston’s Jacob Martin (14), to Philadelphia’s Derek Barnett (24), Fant spent a lot of time this season matching up against edge rushers with lackluster production. There were few intimidating rushers on his slate of opponents.
Here’s the promising thing for Fant: in the rare instances he did face strong competition, he was up to it.
There are only three legitimate upper-echelon edge rushers that Fant played a significant number of pass-blocking reps against (10+ reps) while at left tackle: New England’s Matthew Judon (twice), Cincinnati’s Trey Hendrickson, and New Orleans’ Marcus Davenport.
All three players have excellent pass-rush grades and pressure rates this season. Judon and Hendrickson are double-digit sack players while Davenport likely would have been one if he stayed completely healthy (he has 7.5 in 10 games).
Across his four games against Judon, Hendrickson, and Davenport, Fant allowed four pressures on 165 pass-rush snaps – a rate of 2.42% that is even better than his overall season average.
It’s certainly promising that Fant did everything he could to dispel the “weak competition” argument over his small number of opportunities against top-flight pass rushers.
With that being said, it is still not a large enough sample size to completely ensure that he would hold up in the future against a schedule featuring a more normal number of stars. That’s only four games out of 14 starts at left tackle.
Not to mention, Fant left early in the Cincinnati game against Hendrickson, playing just 37% of the team’s offensive snaps. As for Judon, he rotates between sides and plays a lot of coverage, so Fant only saw Judon for about a quarter of his protection snaps in those New England contests (Judon had 10 right-side pass-rush reps in each game).
Davenport was the lone legitimate stud that Fant battled against on a snap-to-snap basis for an entire game. His total of 25 right-side pass-rush reps against the Jets was the second-most of any Fant opponent. Fant played wonderfully against Davenport and the Saints as he gave up one pressure on 53 pass-blocking snaps (1.89% rate).
George Fant’s schedule is merely another piece to the puzzle worth considering: It’s not a major concern
Ultimately, I don’t think this is a major concern. Fant can only face the opponents that the football gods put in front of him. He was handed weak competition, so he did what he was supposed to do and completely dominated it. There are plenty of tackles in the league who struggle with even the worst of rushers and would be nowhere near as productive as Fant against the same schedule of opponents.
It’s not as if Fant was an okay pass protector against this paper-thin schedule. He was an elite one. It would be a different story if Fant could only muster up average-level production against below-average competition, but he was nearly flawless. Even if his schedule difficulty normalizes next year, leading to a natural dip in production, he would be dropping from elite to great, not from decent to bad.
Make no mistake: I still believe this was an excellent season for Fant. I just thought Fant’s level of competition was another interesting factor to throw into the mix for a player whose future in New York is a complex conundrum that was already filled to the brim with different variables to consider.
If you’re interested, here is a list of the edge rushers who rushed off the right side of the defensive line at least 10 times against the Jets in games started by George Fant at left tackle this year:
- IND – Kwity Paye, 29
- NO – Marcus Davenport, 25
- PHI – Derek Barnett, 24
- MIA – Jaelan Phillips, 19
- IND – Kemoko Turay, 18
- BUF – Mario Addison, 17
- DEN – Malik Reed, 17
- TEN – Harold Landry, 15
- HOU – Jacob Martin, 14
- BUF – A.J. Epenesa, 14
- ATL – Steven Means, 14
- CIN – Trey Hendrickson, 13
- DEN – Jonathon Cooper, 13
- NO – Carl Granderson, 12
- NE (W7) – Josh Uche, 12
- ATL – Adetokunbo Ogundeji, 12
- PHI – Tarron Jackson, 11
- NE (W2) – Matthew Judon, 10
- NE (W7) – Matthew Judon, 10
- TB – Anthony Nelson, 10
- NE (W2) – Deatrich Wise, 10
- NE (W7) – Deatrich Wise, 10
- JAX – Jihad Ward, 10
- NO – Jalyn Holmes, 10
Here is a comparison of the weighted talent of Fant’s opponents in each game he played at left tackle along with his production in those games:
|Opponent||Matchup PFF Pass-Rush Grade (EDGE NFL Avg = 67.4)||Matchup Pressure % (EDGE NFL Avg = 10.1%)||Fant PFF Pass-Block Grade (OT NFL Avg = 68.0)||Fant Pass-Block Snaps||Fant Pressures Allowed||Fant Pressure % (OT NFL Avg = 5.6%)|
|W2 vs. NE||62.6||10.0%||84.5||43||1||2.3%|
|W3 @ DEN||59.1||8.7%||82.7||41||2||4.9%|
|W4 vs. TEN||61.1||9.6%||72.5||38||1||2.6%|
|W5 @ ATL||49.6||4.5%||78.5||39||2||5.1%|
|W7 @ NE||67.1||11.3%||63.8||45||0||0.0%|
|W8 vs. CIN||77.8||14.8%||74.6||22||2||9.1%|
|W9 @ IND||66.1||10.5%||57.7||59||2||3.4%|
|W10 vs. BUF||64.0||10.2%||52.4||53||3||5.7%|
|W11 vs. MIA||63.9||9.9%||76.6||43||1||2.3%|
|W12 @ HOU||69.0||8.7%||57.5||31||2||6.5%|
|W13 vs. PHI||61.9||6.9%||85.1||42||0||0.0%|
|W14 vs. NO||69.7||10.6%||71.9||53||1||1.9%|
|W16 vs. JAX||58.6||9.4%||88.5||26||0||0.0%|
|W17 vs. TB||62.6||11.3%||84.1||13||0||0.0%|