Examining Connor McGovern’s 2021 New York Jets season to project his future
McGovern (who will turn 29 in April) is under contract for the 2022 season on a cap hit of $10.3 million, which is currently set to rank fourth-highest among centers. However, the Jets can release McGovern to clear $9 million in cap room. They would take on a dead money hit of only $1.3 million.
With the Jets having a vacancy at right guard, there is also the hypothetical possibility of moving McGovern over to right guard while adding a new center. McGovern played right guard at the start of his NFL career.
Analyzing McGovern’s 2021 production is essential as we attempt to deduce how the Jets should handle him going forward. Let’s break down McGovern’s performance in a few different areas to determine approximately what caliber of player he is.
McGovern earned a run-blocking grade of 78.9 at Pro Football Focus in 2021. That ranked ninth-best out of 34 qualified centers (500+ snaps played).
PFF’s grades are subjective, so it’s always important to try and find some other evidence that backs up the claims made by the grades. We can find that for McGovern’s run blocking in the form of the Jets’ rushing numbers in his direction.
From Weeks 1-16 (games started by McGovern), the Jets averaged 4.1 yards per carry on rush attempts that were labeled as “up the middle” in the official play-by-play, per Pro Football Reference. That number ranked 12th-best in the NFL. New York also recorded either a first down or touchdown on 32.3% of their up-the-middle runs, which ranked ninth-best.
So, McGovern’s top-10 run-blocking grade is backed up by the Jets’ equally solid rushing production on runs up the middle.
McGovern is a great fit in the Jets’ zone running scheme. He earned an 87.1 zone-blocking grade at PFF in 2021. That ranked fifth-best out of 34 qualified centers.
It’s no surprise that McGovern is faring so well as a zone blocker. The Missouri product is a superb athlete who ran the forty-yard dash in 5.11 seconds at the 2016 NFL Draft Combine (84th percentile all-time among interior offensive linemen). He also recorded a 33-inch vertical jump (94th percentile) and a 7.5-second time in the three-cone drill (86th percentile).
The power game is more of an issue for McGovern, who placed 25th out of 34 qualifiers with a 58.4 gap-blocking grade. However, that weakness is not a huge deal in the Jets’ scheme as McGovern was given a gap-blocking assignment on just 35.1% of his run-blocking snaps, per PFF.
All things considered, it seems fair to label McGovern as a top-10 run blocker at the center position.
Play: 👉 the Jet X Offseason Simulator
McGovern’s 2020 debut season with the Jets was disappointing due mainly to his woeful pass protection. He tied future teammate Dan Feeney for the most pressures allowed among centers with 33. This was surprising to see from McGovern after an excellent pass-blocking season for the Broncos in 2019 where he allowed 15 pressures.
The Jets enjoyed a bounceback 2021 season from McGovern in the passing game. He sliced his total of allowed pressures down to 19, which only ranked as the 16th-most among centers.
McGovern allowed 19 pressures on 651 pass-blocking snaps in 2021, a rate of 2.92% that was below the positional average of 3.24% and ranked 16th-best out of 34 qualifiers.
PFF scored McGovern with a pass-blocking grade of 68.0 that ranked 15th-best out of 34 qualifiers. It lines up directly with the quality of his pressure rate.
Like the player to his left, Alijah Vera-Tucker, McGovern is a solid one-on-one blocker but must improve when it comes to the other aspects of pass protection, such as blitz pickups and stunt pickups.
PFF tracks every offensive lineman’s performance on “true pass sets”, which are any long-lasting pass-blocking reps that do not include a quick pass, a screen, a rollout, or other external factors that aid the offensive linemen. Basically, it attempts to isolate snaps where the linemen have to engage in a real one-on-one battle.
McGovern is good in true pass sets. He allowed a pressure rate of 4.07% in true pass sets this past season, ranking 11th-best out of 34 qualified centers. For reference, the position average was 4.91%.
Conversely, on snaps that were not true pass sets, McGovern allowed a pressure rate of 1.97%, ranking 23rd out of 34. That’s actually about even with the overall position average, which was 1.98%, but that number was juiced up by poor play from backup centers. The average among the group of 34 qualifiers was 1.81%.
McGovern tied for the ninth-most pressures allowed in non-true-pass-set situations with seven. A supreme level of consistency is required to be elite in this area; nine qualified centers allowed no more than three pressures in non-true-pass-set situations throughout the entire season.
Altogether, McGovern was an approximately league-average pass protector for the center position in 2021.
McGovern is great at avoiding penalties. He was called for three flags in 2021 and has been called for only five over his three years as a starting center.
In 2021, the average NFL center committed a penalty once every 199.7 offensive snaps, per data from PFF. That means the average center would be expected to commit 14.8 penalties over McGovern’s 2,955 offensive snaps from 2019-21. With a measly five penalties over that span, McGovern was flagged at about one-third of the frequency of the average center (once every 591.0 snaps).
With only three missed games in his five-year career, McGovern offers a good track record of durability. His total of 78 games played from 2017-21 ranked 14th among interior offensive linemen over that span.
Should the Jets keep Connor McGovern?
While McGovern is not quite the top-four center that he will be paid as in 2022, his 2021 production and overall track record suggest that he is clearly an above-average center.
The Jets are perhaps only one piece away from filling the offensive line with five players who are at least above-average. It would be risky to cut ties with McGovern and open another hole.
Sure, there is room for the Jets to get better than McGovern, but there is a lot more room for them to get worse. Look no further than the disastrous center play that the Jets suffered through over the previous few years before McGovern’s arrival.
Building a great offensive line isn’t necessarily about accumulating the most collective talent. An offensive line is often only as strong as its weakest link. If the Jets can add a quality right guard, their “weakest” link may end up being McGovern – an above-average player at his position. That would be amazing for the Jets offensive line. They’d have zero below-average starters who could be targeted and exploited by opponents.
It is also common to see offensive lines outperform the sum of their parts on the strength of camaraderie. How do all five guys work together? That’s much more important than the combined talent level of all five players.
McGovern has already logged a full year of experience in New York, building chemistry with the young Alijah Vera-Tucker and amassing experience in offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur’s system. Those things cannot be replaced.
Keeping McGovern as the starting center going into 2022 seems to be the best move for New York.
Audio Version available to members only: Learn more here
Want More NY Jets News & Jets X-Factor Content?
Download the free Jet X Mobile App to get customizable notifications directly to your iOS (App Store) or Google/Android (Google Play) device.
Add Jets X-Factor to your Google News feed to stay up to date with the New York Jets.
Join the official Jets Discord community to connect with likeminded fans.