The New York Jets’ center competition appears to be an unexpected two-man race
When the New York Jets did not draft an offensive tackle in the first round, the urgency to upgrade the offensive line became acute. Upon the selection of Joe Tippmann in the second round, fans’ blood pressure appeared to lower a bit. Even though the team didn’t get a tackle, the thought was that they improved one position along the line.
It was immediately apparent that Tippmann was going to face competition for the starting spot. After all, snapping for Aaron Rodgers is a complex role. It requires an advanced understanding of protections, cadence, and defenses. Still, the expectation was that, at the very least, Tippmann would be in the fight.
The shock is that this is not the case: Tippmann is languishing with the third-team offense. Jets fans are up in arms, calling the second-rounder a bust before he takes an NFL snap. Cool your Jets, folks.
The Jets actually have a fourth center option in Trystan Colon-Castillo. Schweitzer has started 60 of his 80 career games across six seasons with the Falcons and Commanders. Colon has started four of 20 games in three seasons with the Ravens.
Here is a statistical comparison of McGovern, Schweitzer, and Colon from 2020-22. We’re using a weighted average because Schweitzer and Colon have not always started.
- Pro Football Focus run-blocking grade, 2020-22: McGovern 72.7, Schweitzer 70.1, Colon 66.5 (position average: 67.8)
- Pressure rate allowed, 2020-22: McGovern 3.9%, Schweitzer 4.7%, Colon 2.8% (position average: 3.21%)
- Sack rate allowed, 2020-22: McGovern 0.77%, Schweitzer 0.80%, Colon 0.69% (position average: 0.39%)
- True pass set pressure rate allowed, 2020-22: McGovern 5.3%, Schweitzer 7.4%, Colon 5.4% (position average: 4.9%)
- True pass set sack rate allowed, 2020-22: McGovern 1.1%, Schweitzer 2.1%, Colon 1.8% (position average: 0.71%)
- Penalty rate: McGovern 1/305 snaps, Schweitzer 1/181 snaps, Colon 1/107 snaps (position average: 1/272 snaps)
Schweitzer started in 2020, primarily at guard. He had over 400 snaps each in 2021-22, where he saw more center reps. Colon played a lot less, seeing just 320 blocking snaps in 2020-22 combined. He shifted primarily between guard and center. McGovern started at center throughout. This makes comparison somewhat difficult.
Still, if there’s one certainty, it’s that Schweitzer is a poor pass-blocker. Joe Blewett was not impressed with his film, adding that Schweitzer is a better guard than center. He did not agree with Schweitzer’s solid PFF run-blocking grade, either. To add fuel to the fire, Schweitzer takes too many penalties.
Meanwhile, Blewett liked Colon’s film a lot better. Although Colon’s run-blocking grade was below average, his numbers in pass protection were far better than Schweitzer’s. However, he did record too many penalties. There is also a significant concern about his short arms (30.5 inches), which is in the first percentile among offensive linemen.
McGovern is an average center. He was a top-11 PFF run-blocking center from 2020-22, although Michael Nania had a less sanguine view of his 2022 performance. His pass-blocking leaves something to be desired. He is better than average at avoiding penalties, which is helpful.
Tippmann’s college numbers show his potential to be a far better pass-blocker than McGovern. He had just a 1.4% rate in his college career with a sack rate of only 0.2%, including a 2.1% pressure rate and 0.35% sack rate in true pass sets. His 81.2 PFF run-blocking grade in college was in the 97th percentile among centers. He did get called for too many penalties, recording one every 161 snaps, including one every 126 snaps in 2022. Blewett had questions about Tippmann’s technique but saw his potential, particularly as a blocker in space and a pass protector.
Schweitzer’s performance in practice so far has mirrored what his numbers and film say about him. He ruined an entire practice with multiple bad snaps, which show up amply on his film. Still, he’s splitting first-team reps with McGovern, and Robert Saleh has said that this is actually a competition. Meanwhile, we haven’t heard a peep from Colon.
Saleh also made statements about Tippmann being overwhelmed learning the playbook and the mental side of the NFL. That is what concerns fans so deeply: considering that it was a deep center class, taking a center in the second round and having him behind the eight-ball sounds somewhat alarming.
To me, the fact that the Jets are giving Schweitzer reps ahead of Tippmann is upsetting mainly because Schweitzer is such a poor center. If he was actually a legitimate first-team option, it would make sense to keep the rookie on the third team.
It’s also somewhat frustrating that the Jets are giving Schweitzer a look when they have another veteran backup option on the roster who has shown more in limited action. If the Jets are going to keep only one backup guard (with Tippmann as the other backup interior lineman), I’d prefer that it be Colon over Schweitzer.
I am somewhat concerned about Tippmann getting third-team reps only because I had hoped he could legitimately push McGovern for the starting role. Protecting Rodgers should be the No. 1 priority for the offensive line, and Tippmann has the potential to be better than McGovern in that area. Still, if he’s not ready, pushing him up the depth chart would be foolish.
For what it’s worth, Tippmann (No. 66) looked solid as a blocker in his first NFL game action, albeit against backups and third-stringers. His snap accuracy appears to need work.
How will it shake out?
This is what I think will happen, although my opinion could definitely change as camp goes on. I assume that McGovern has the starting center job all but locked up. That’s fine; he’s competent at his position. It was a great job by Joe Douglas bringing back the team’s starting center on close to a veteran-minimum contract.
For better or worse, it’s virtually a lock that Schweitzer will be on the roster. The Jets signed him to a two-year, $5 million deal with $3.165 million guaranteed (which is more than McGovern’s contract). They’re not going to cut him. However, I would hope that he is not the second center on the depth chart. At a minimum, I would like to see Tippmann overtake him. I do think that is possible; if Sauce Gardner was taking second-team reps behind Bryce Hall last training camp, it could be that the Jets are slow-playing Tippmann toward his eventual backup role.
As far as Colon goes, I’ve said all along that I think he’s a practice squad candidate. I’d like to see what he can do, but I just don’t think the Jets will carry 11 offensive linemen. Even if they trade Mekhi Becton, I think it’s more likely that they either keep nine offensive linemen or acquire another tackle than retain Colon. It is also likely that they can keep Colon on the practice squad considering his spare playing time in the league.
Do the Jets know best?
Fans often argue that teams know their players better than outsiders. However, just as often as we’ve seen that be accurate, we’ve also seen teams make grave mistakes.
For example, I’ve given my mea culpa for saying that the Jets were misusing John Franklin-Myers on the edge in 2022. (I would still prefer to see him play more on the interior this season, though.) On the flip side, the Jets deactivated Bryce Huff for the first three games.
The sunk-cost fallacy plays a role here. The Jets invested a lot of guaranteed money in Schweitzer for a backup (just as they had in Jacob Martin in 2022). Therefore, they are inclined to keep him. However, if they have a better internal option, the correct call is to eat the sunk cost and release Schweitzer. I’m not guaranteeing that Colon is better than Schweitzer. I simply think it’s possible that Schweitzer is getting an undeserved opportunity due to his contract.
This is not an error unique to the Jets, as all NFL teams do it, but it’s an error nonetheless. Tippmann deserves to be the third-string center if he isn’t ready, but preferring Schweitzer over Colon from the outset is a mistake. Schweitzer’s poor snaps were not unusual. They should have known that before signing him.
It will be interesting to see how the center position works out this season. If Schweitzer is the second-string center, though, that will not necessarily mean that he is the second-best center available to the team—not by a long shot.