Was George Fant always better at left tackle than right tackle?
New York Jets offensive tackle George Fant enjoyed a breakout season in 2021. He was a stalwart in pass protection, allowing the third-lowest pressure late among left tackles at 3.0%. It is also the lowest pressure rate ever allowed in a season by a Jets offensive tackle since Pro Football Focus began tracking pressures in 2006.
Fant initially beat out Morgan Moses to win the Jets’ starting right tackle job entering Week 1. That is the same starting spot Fant held throughout the 2020 season after signing a three-year, $27.3 million with the Jets in March 2020.
Once starting left tackle Mekhi Becton went down with a knee injury in the third quarter of the Jets’ season opener, Fant slid to left tackle, and he would remain there for the entire year as Becton never returned. Fant looked like a brand-new player after making the switch.
Now that Fant has played the best football of his career at the left tackle position, the Jets are left with a conundrum once Becton returns.
Do the Jets roll with their initial plan and hand Becton his left tackle spot, moving Fant back to right tackle? Or do they stick with what was working and leave Fant at left tackle while making Becton move to the right side?
Fant and Becton each have plenty of experience on both sides. Prior to 2021, Fant had made 18 starts at left tackle and 14 at right tackle in his NFL career (including playoffs). Over his first two collegiate seasons at Louisville, Becton rotated between left tackle and right tackle in every game he played.
So, whichever way the Jets go, being forced to move would be nothing new for either player. They’re both used to flip-flopping.
What’s important here is not whether the two players are comfortable with moving – it’s how comfortable they are playing each position. Is Fant actually better at left tackle than right tackle? Would Becton perform worse or provide less value if he moved to right tackle?
Answering those questions will help the Jets achieve their ultimate goal: figuring out whether they would get better production from a Becton/Fant duo or a Fant/Becton duo.
Comparing George Fant’s LT and RT production
When looking at Fant, most of the obvious signs suggest that he is better at left tackle. He had his best season there and even said himself that he feels more comfortable at the position.
“That was my thing, leaving Seattle I wanted to play left tackle. I feel really comfortable at the position. I think that’s where I offer the best abilities and (I’m) able to help the team the most,” Fant said shortly after Becton was drafted in 2020.
But when you dig deeper into Fant’s career track record, things get a little more complicated.
Here is a comparison of Fant’s career production in 18 starts at left tackle and 14 starts at right tackle prior to the 2021 season (includes playoffs):
- Left tackle (18 starts): 10.2% pressure rate, 54.4 average overall PFF grade
- Right tackle (14 starts): 5.6% pressure rate, 55.7 average overall PFF grade
Before 2021, there was no indication that Fant was significantly better at left tackle than right tackle. His overall grades at PFF were similar while he allowed pressure at a far more frequent rate when playing left tackle.
Fant’s 5.6% pressure rate at right tackle was fairly league-average for the position, but his 10.2% pressure rate at left tackle was awful. For comparison’s sake, Chuma Edoga’s career pressure rate is 8.7%.
Looking at Fant’s two starts at left tackle for the Jets in 2020, he was a mixed bag, just like he was throughout the year at right tackle.
In his second start at left tackle, Fant was solid, allowing only two pressures against the Dolphins. But in his first, he struggled mightily. Fant gave up six pressures against the Cardinals, which still stands as his worst total with the Jets. He was wrecked for a sack by backup linebacker Dennis Gardeck, who had never played a defensive snap over 34 prior career games (only playing on special teams).
So, what gives? How did Fant randomly become so darn good at left tackle in 2021 if he struggled so much at the position beforehand?
That brings me to my theory: I think 2021 was going to be Fant’s breakout year regardless of which side he played on.
George Fant would have broken out on either side in 2021
First of all, the Jets’ scheme change to Mike LaFleur’s wide-zone rushing attack always seemed like it would be beneficial for the athletic and mobile Fant. While it’s not in the run game where Fant shined the most this year, playing in a more suitable scheme certainly had to help improve his overall comfort, aiding his pass protection.
“This system is really built for me,” Fant said before the year. “This is the most excited I’ve been going into a season so far. Being in Seattle for all those years, we kind of ran something similar. But seeing the 49ers and how they were running a wide zone when I was in Seattle, I already kind of had an idea of what they were going to do. Very excited to work with them, get in this system and really show what I’m capable of.
“This system is going to really highlight that for me. This year, honestly, is a jump year for me. That’s what I’m manifesting, that’s what I’m ready to show.”
Secondly, when you look past Fant’s age (29) and NFL experience (this was his sixth year) and solely focus on his experience level as a football player, it is not a surprise that he broke out at this stage of his career.
Fant never played football until his fifth year at Western Kentucky University, at which point he was already 23 years old. He did not play the sport in high school and spent his first four years in college playing basketball.
The 2021 season was only Fant’s seventh one playing football despite being 29 years old.
Think about it. Most successful NFL players break out in their second or third professional season. That comes after three to four years of playing in college – so, generally, you’re talking somewhere from five to seven seasons of high-level football (college or NFL) before a player gets to his peak.
Fant took his leap directly within that five-to-seven-year breakout window.
Not only was the 2021 season just Fant’s seventh as a football player in any capacity, but he only had four full years of true in-game experience under his belt coming into the year.
Fant barely played in his lone season with Western Kentucky’s football team, logging only 26 offensive snaps. He also missed the entirety of his second season in the NFL with the Seahawks due to a torn ACL in the preseason.
That leaves the 2021 season as Fant’s fifth true year of full-fledged competitive football – directly at the beginning of that five-to-seven-year breakout window.
Looking back on the whole picture, it seems likely that Fant would have enjoyed a similarly successful season if he stayed on the right side. New York’s scheme is a good fit for him and he is only now entering his prime years as a football player.
The Jets should feel confident that Fant will be able to maintain his production no matter which side of the line he plays on.
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