Breaking down the return of New York Jets OT George Fant
Offensive tackle George Fant returned from an eight-game absence for the New York Jets in Week 13. It’s a topic that has been somewhat swept under the rug this week, and I’m not sure why. This is an important story that deserves more attention than it is getting. Fant has the potential to be a massive upgrade for the Jets’ offense as they prepare for the stretch run.
Fant is a player who performed so well in 2021 that I labeled him as the team’s best player of the season. And there was a very strong case for that. Fant was one of the NFL’s most dominant pass protectors. He allowed only 18 pressures all season across 584 pass-blocking snaps, a rate of 3.0% that ranked third-best among left tackles.
If Fant is healthy, the Jets could be adding an elite pass-blocking tackle to their offense. That would provide a sizable increase to the offense’s potential.
Yes, Fant is now back at right tackle while Duane Brown holds down the blind side. But I think Fant is just as capable of thriving at right tackle as he is at left tackle.
Prior to 2021, there was no statistical evidence Fant was better at left tackle than right tackle. In fact, the opposite may have been true. His pressure rate at right tackle before 2021 was 5.6% while his pressure rate at left tackle was a significantly worse 10.2%. I think 2021 was just a late breakout year for Fant, who did not start playing football until his final year in college. My guess is he would have done just as well on the right side.
Fant’s 2022 season got off to a rough start as he did not look like the same player he was in 2021. Fant allowed 13 pressures on an 8.9% pressure rate over the first three games of the season (playing LT in those games). It turns out that Fant was not completely healed from the knee injury that ended his 2021 season, as he was placed on injured reserve due to the issue. The knee had been bothering Fant all offseason as he was often held to a limited workload in practice.
It was clear that some extra time to rest and reach full health was the best option for Fant. Fast forward to the Jets’ Week 13 game in Minnesota, and Fant was deemed healthy enough to make his return.
Rookie Max Mitchell got the start at right tackle while Fant began the game on the bench. Mitchell started the game poorly (allowing multiple run-stuffs and one sack) and the Jets yanked him for Fant late in the second quarter.
Fant went on to play 60 offensive snaps, and from watching his tape, I thought he appeared to be back in peak form. His foot quickness was back to its premier level, he looked more explosive coming out of his stance, and he held much sturdier through contact when attempting to maintain his blocks.
His statistical production backs up what the film showed. Fant was credited with allowing two pressures over 45 pass-blocking snaps, giving him a solid pressure rate of 4.4% (the 2022 NFL OT average is 5.5%).
The performance is especially impressive considering the competition. Minnesota’s side-switching EDGE duo of Danielle Hunter and Za’Darius Smith entered the game with a league-high total of 105 combined pressures (9.6 per game). Fant and Brown held the duo to 5 pressures as both Hunter and Smith had their worst pressure rate of the season.
Is Fant back to full health and ready to give the Jets a significant boost for the playoff chase? Let’s take a look at his film against the Vikings and find out.
George Fant film vs. Vikings
George Fant lines up at right tackle and wears No. 76.
Our first clip is a great one to exemplify the condition Fant appeared to be in. His unique athleticism is fully displayed on this play.
Fant knows that the edge rusher (Hunter, #99) is in a wide alignment and that Ty Johnson is out there to chip him. So when the ball is snapped, Fant first focuses on the rusher standing over him (Smith, #55). Seeing Smith go inside, Fant leaves him for Nate Herbig to pick up and turns his attention outside. Fant smoothly turns his hips and explodes outside to match Hunter as he attempts to burst around the corner. Fant blasts Hunter past the QB and into the ground.
That looks like a healthy Fant to me.
Hunter goes for the bull rush against Fant and Fant holds sturdy. Fant’s strength looked better in this game than it did at the beginning of the year. A healthy knee is obviously important to be able to hold your ground in situations like this. Fant seems to have better lower body strength now than he did at the start of the year, allowing him to handle power moves much more effectively.
Good work against a stunt. Fant passes Hunter inside to Herbig and Connor McGovern helps pass off the defensive tackle to Fant on the outside. Fant picks him up and the Jets successfully ward off the stunt.
Also, look at Fant’s noticeable explosiveness out of his stance.
This is a tough situation for Fant. He has to respect Smith, who is standing over him, but he is also responsible for the edge rusher without any help. Fant is able to handle it thanks to his athleticism. He extends his drag hand (inside hand) to help pass off Smith to Herbig but then quickly flips his hips and gets outside to pick up the edge rusher. Fant matches him and then eats the bull rush, standing tall. Great rep.
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Fant again looks explosive out of his stance and then does a nice job of holding his ground against a power move.
There wasn’t much to evaluate about Fant’s run blocking in this game as the Jets rarely ran while he was in there (15 of 60 plays) and usually ran left when they did. This was an interesting play though.
The Jets have Fant pull across the line and lead the way for Zonovan Knight. Fant takes a good angle on the linebacker and gets a nice pop on him, although he does not maintain the block. It’s a mixed bag: the movement skills, angle, and initial contact are good, but he could maintain the block better. Duane Brown letting the edge defender inside is the main reason this run fails, though. If Brown kicked out the edge, perhaps Knight would have run by Fant before the linebacker could get off of him and make a play.
Nice patience from Fant in his set here. He squares up his man and waits for him to declare. Once Fant feels the power rush coming, Fant quickly throws his punch in an attempt to make first contact.
Fant lands his two-hand punch in the defender’s chest before the defender can engage, and that tilts the battle in Fant’s favor as it slows the defender’s momentum into the rush and denies him from getting both hands into Fant’s chest. The defender still manages to get his inside arm into Fant’s chest but Fant is able to rework his outside arm into the defender’s chest to further slow his momentum. With a good base and a strong anchor, Fant hangs tough.
Fant does a good job on this combo block with Herbig as they move the 3-technique inside.
Here’s a rare loss from Fant. He goes for the two-hand punch on Hunter but Hunter defeats it as he chops Fant’s outside arm and then rips through with the inside arm. Hunter gets the win but luckily Mike White gets the ball out before Hunter can get there.
Interesting duel here. Hunter comes out of his stance high, but then gets lower as he engages, and this causes Fant to miss his punch way high. His hands end up striking Hunter in the head. This leaves Fant’s chest completely exposed, and he should be toast at this point, but Fant does a good job of saving face. He reworks his hands into Hunter’s shoulder pads and slows him up enough to keep the pocket protected. It’s a mixed bag because of the initial whiff but Fant recovers as well as he could.
Great work by Fant on Garrett Wilson’s 60-yard catch. Fant goes with an aggressive set on Hunter to help sell the play fake, jumping out and engaging him immediately. Fant holds Hunter in check and does not let him get anywhere near the pocket or the passing lane.
Another good play-action rep from Fant. He aggressively engages Smith to sell the run action and then holds strong after the fake is complete. Fant gets both hands into Smith’s chest and completely dominates the battle, not allowing him to get anywhere near the QB.
Fant’s performance in Minnesota was a very encouraging sign for the Jets. If he can keep this up, the Jets’ offense will become much more dangerous over the next five games as they push for the playoffs.