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NY Jets free agent profile: Ravens G Kevin Zeitler

Kevin Zeitler
Kevin Zeitler

Kevin Zeitler headlines a free-agent guard class that the New York Jets are sure to tap into

With Alijah Vera-Tucker being the only starter-quality guard on their roster (and it’s uncertain whether he will even play there), the New York Jets are certain to be major players in the free-agent guard market.

Perhaps the most recognizable name in this class is Kevin Zeitler of the Baltimore Ravens.

Basic info

  • Age: 33.9
  • Height: 6-foot-4
  • Weight: 340 pounds
  • College: Wisconsin
  • Experience: 12 years (Round 1, Pick 27, 2012 NFL Draft, Bengals)
  • Teams: Bengals (2012-16), Browns (2017-18), Giants (2019-20), Ravens (2021-23)
  • Previous contract: 3 years, $22.5M, $16M guaranteed (Signed with Ravens in 2021)

Measurables

  • Data from 2012 Combine (via Mockdraftable)
  • Percentiles among all-time guard prospects

Take the data with a grain of salt, as it was recorded 12 years ago and Zeitler was listed as 26 pounds lighter than he was this year.

  • Height: 6-foot-4 (45th percentile)
  • Weight: 314 pounds (55th)
  • Arm length: 32.75in (26th)
  • Hand size: 10.25in (72nd)
  • 40-yard: 5.39s (30th)
  • Vertical jump: 29in (66th)
  • Broad jump: 101in (50th)
  • 3-cone: 7.77s (56th)
  • 20-yard shuttle: 4.61s (80th)
  • Bench press: 32 reps (87th)

Zeitler earned a Relative Athletic Score (RAS) of 7.66/10.

Role

Zeitler was the Ravens’ starting right guard. He played all 982 of his offensive snaps at that position. The veteran made 15 starts, missing one game with a knee injury and one game for rest in Week 18.

If you’re pursuing Zeitler, it’s purely for him to play right guard. All 181 of Zeitler’s career starts have come at right guard. He’s only played four snaps at other positions.

2023 performance

Excellent pass-blocking

Statistically, Zeitler was one of the NFL’s best pass-blocking guards in 2023. According to Pro Football Focus, Zeitler allowed 19 pressures on 574 pass-blocking snaps, giving him an allowed pressure rate of 3.3%. That ranked eighth-best among 78 qualified guards (min. 200 pass-blocking snaps).

In Baltimore’s offense, Zeitler’s job as a pass-blocker was slightly less difficult than the average guard. He had to face a true pass set (excludes plays with fewer than 4 rushers, play action, screens, short drop backs, and throws under 2 seconds) on 42.5% of his pass-blocking snaps, which is a bit lower than the positional average of 43.2%. It ranked 48th out of 78 qualified guards.

When it comes to net pressure rate, which adjusts each player’s pressure rate based on their true pass set frequency, Zeitler still ranks as the ninth-best guard out of 78 qualifiers (-2.0%).

Zeitler did a great job of preventing costly pressures. Of the 19 pressures charged to his name, 16 were hurries while just three resulted in the quarterback getting knocked down. Zeitler allowed only two sacks and one hit.

Middle-of-the-pack as a run blocker

Zeitler earned a run-blocking grade of 59.7 at PFF, which ranked 36th out of 78 qualifiers.

For what it’s worth, the Ravens had their worst rushing production in 2023 when running in Zeitler’s direction. Here is a look at their EPA per attempt on designed rush attempts in four different directions, per Next Gen Stats:

  • Outside tackles to left: 0.12 EPA per attempt (3rd)
  • Inside tackles to left: -0.08 EPA per attempt (7th)
  • Inside tackles to right: -0.15 EPA per attempt (14th)
  • Outside tackles to right: -0.08 EPA per attempt (12th)

Some crucial stuffs allowed near the goal line contributed to the middling numbers.

Decent at minimizing penalties

Zeitler was called for four penalties on 982 offensive snaps. His average of 4.1 penalties per 1,000 snaps ranked 32nd among the 65 guards with at least 500 offensive snaps. The positional average was 4.9.

Comparing 2023 performance to previous track record

Zeitler’s pass-blocking dominance in 2023 (3.3% pressure rate) was no fluke. He was similarly dominant in each of his past two seasons with the Ravens, allowing a 3.0% pressure rate in 2022 and a 2.2% rate in 2021. He also maintained his propensity for minimizing hits; Zeitler allowed two knockdowns in 2022 (2 sacks, 0 hits) and one in 2021 (1 sack).

Zeitler earned better run-blocking grades over the previous two seasons, although he has always been more highly regarded as a pass-blocker in his career. PFF had him with a 67.5 run-blocking grade in 2022 and 68.7 in 2023.

The penalty number was also consistent with his career production. Zeitler averages 3.8 penalties per 1,000 snaps for his career.

The concern with Zeitler is whether he can transfer his production to another team outside of Baltimore. The Ravens have a long-standing track record of excellence when it comes to coaching the offensive line. They frequently take in unheralded or declining offensive linemen and make them look good in their scheme.

There are a couple of examples on their current starting line. Baltimore’s right tackle, Morgan Moses, was cast aside by the Jets after a shaky 2021 season and has spent the last two seasons thriving in Baltimore on a $5 million per year contract. At right guard, Baltimore has John Simpson, a former fourth-round pick of the Raiders who signed with the Ravens last January on a reserve/futures deal. Simpson was among the league’s better pass-blocking guards this year, alongside Zeitler.

For Zeitler, the source of this concern is how he performed back in 2020 with the Giants, which was his last season before he arrived in Baltimore’s offensive line utopia.

In 2020 – which, importantly, was his first season on the wrong side of 30 – Zeitler allowed a career-worst 4.4% pressure rate, which ranked 39th out of 68 qualified guards (43rd percentile). His overall PFF grade also dropped to a career-low of 65.9, marking his first-ever season under 73.

It seemed like Zeitler was on the way down at the time. Baltimore salvaged his previous high-level production for the next three years, but as he turns 34 this year, can he keep thriving in another system?

Scheme fit

Over his first two years in Baltimore, Zeitler played in an extremely gap-heavy run scheme under offensive coordinator Greg Roman.

Based on PFF’s tracking, 70.1% of Zeitler’s run-blocking snaps in 2022 were gap plays, which led all guards. His 2021 rate was 62.7%, ranking fifth.

However, with Todd Monken replacing Roman as the Ravens’ offensive coordinator in 2023, Baltimore’s run game became more balanced. It still leaned heavily toward gap plays, but the split was less extreme. Zeitler’s gap rate dropped to 50.2%, ranking 12th out of 64 qualifiers. He was 51st in zone rate at 39.7%.

Even with this decline, Zeitler’s role in Baltimore was still a decent way off from the split he would likely have to play in New York. While the Jets aren’t as zone-heavy as many people think, they employed a traditional split last year, which remains a drastic change in comparison to Zeitler’s gap-heavy background. For instance, Laken Tomlinson ranked 29th out of 64 qualifiers with a 50.8% zone rate and 30th with a 38.3% gap rate.

Zeitler has always been a power/gap scheme kind of guy. Back in 2020 with the Giants, he had the sixth-highest gap rate at 57.6%.

Interestingly, Zeitler consistently earns better grades from PFF as a zone-blocker:

  • 2023: 69.3 zone grade (19th of 64), 53.1 gap grade (46th)
  • 2022: 87.6 zone grade (3rd of 64), 58.8 gap grade (26th)
  • 2021: 80.0 zone grade (15th of 70) 60.8 gap grade (31st)
  • 2020: 71.7 zone grade (21st of 63), 61.3 gap grade (27th)

The film seems to back this up. Zeitler looks surprisingly comfortable on zone plays.

Zeitler looks plenty capable on this outside-zone rep in October.

Here’s another one from 2022.

I dove into the film of the Ravens’ recent playoff win over the Texans and pulled three examples of Zeitler leading the way for a big run on outside zone.

Zeitler may not be the most fleet-of-foot at his age and size, but thanks to his understanding of leverage, good hand placement, and strong lower body, he is still able to consistently seal defenders out of his gap on zone plays. Perhaps he would transition just fine to the Jets’ offense.

Durability

Zeitler has a reliable track record of durability, playing 182 out of 195 possible games in his career (93.3%). That equates to 15.9 games in a 17-game season.

Zeitler has played at least 15 games in nine consecutive seasons. He missed two games in each of the past two years. In 2023, Zeitler missed one game with a knee injury and sat out in Week 18 along with the rest of Baltimore’s starters. Zeitler missed two games with a knee injury in 2022 as well.

Flag Check

I recently wrote a pair of articles that analyzed what the Jets can learn from their hits and misses in free agency. The idea was to determine which green flags and red flags at the time of the signings turned out to be the best predictors of what would happen.

Let’s take a look at Zeitler’s profile and see which aspects of it are reminiscent of the Jets’ hits (like D.J. Reed and Tyler Conklin) and which aspects are concerningly similar to the Jets’ whiffs (like Laken Tomlinson and C.J. Uzomah).

Green flags

With both Reed and Conklin, I discussed the importance of using advanced metrics to evaluate the player’s true impact instead of judging him on surface-level things like Pro Bowls and consecutive starts (Tomlinson) or misleading box-score stats and playoff wins (Uzomah). Zeitler fits the bill.

Regardless of the fact he doesn’t have any accolades to his name, Zeitler has been producing high-quality advanced numbers over the past three years and for the majority of his career. That’s a very reliable track record to bank on. His reputation is built on pure production with no bells and whistles.

Zeitler has displayed solid production in multiple situations throughout his career, which helps to combat the notion he might be a scheme beneficiary. He’s proven himself to be a good football player for a long time. We don’t have to worry about the viability of a random late-career breakout.

His durability is a cherry on top.

Overall, there are a lot of reasons that Zeitler feels like a safe free agent.

Red flags

At the time they were signed, the common red flag between Tomlinson and Uzomah was the possibility of their respective performances not being transferable to a new situation. Tomlinson and Uzomah appeared to benefit from excellent situations in their old homes, spurring late-career breakouts that came out of nowhere. This was a concerning sign when projecting them to a new team that would be asking more of them.

For Zeitler, I’m sensing similar concerns regarding the impact that his former home had on his play, albeit for very different reasons.

My biggest red flag with Zeitler is the mystery of whether the Ravens’ favorable situation is making possible effects of his age. I don’t deny that he’s been great for Baltimore. But if he leaves that comfortable situation, how will he play next year at 34 years old?

Unlike Tomlinson and Uzomah, Zeitler didn’t need to find a favorable situation to break out. He was an instant success as a rookie and already thrived for three different teams across the first eight seasons of his career before joining Baltimore, proving he had legitimate talent. Tomlinson and Uzomah were run-of-the-mill players until superstar teammates came along to make them look better. So, let’s be clear, the scenarios are certainly different.

However, it’s Zeitler’s age that makes the effect of his surroundings a concern for me.

If he were three years younger, Zeitler coming from Baltimore wouldn’t be a concern because he had the other successful stints under his belt. But now that he’s 34, the Ravens’ optimal environment is definitely a concern. Considering the direction he was trending in 2020, it’s fair to wonder if Zeitler would look as good as he does right now if he landed somewhere other than Baltimore. That was arguably the best possible situation for him to preserve his career into his mid-thirties.

If you’re the Ravens, you’d feel awesome about re-signing Zeitler. He’s proven he can thrive in your environment for three years now, so it makes sense to continue riding him until the wheels off. But if you’re a different team, you have to be at least slightly concerned about what might happen if you take a 34-year-old Zeitler out of Baltimore.

The verdict

Despite the red flags, I believe Zeitler has enough going for him to be worth a pursuit from the Jets.

Remember, this is free agency. If these guys were flawless, their teams wouldn’t dare allow them to negotiate with anybody else. There is always a risk factor that must be accepted when you sign an outside free agent.

In the case of Zeitler, I think he is one of the safest offensive linemen on the market, even if I’m concerned about how he will look outside of Baltimore. This is not a strong year for free-agent offensive linemen. Truthfully, it rarely is – teams cling to good offensive linemen more tightly than good players at any other position besides quarterback. In a league where good offensive linemen are becoming increasingly rare, teams are desperate to keep them when they get ahold of one.

This is why many of the most reliable options on the free-agent offensive line market are typically 30-plus vets like Zeitler. Good, young linemen simply aren’t getting loose. But teams will let old linemen walk. And that’s where many of the best teams find value on the offensive line. It’s common to see contenders filling out their unit with veterans who could be had affordably due to their age but still play at a solid level. Look at Zeitler ($7.5M per year) and Moses ($5M per year) forming the right side in Baltimore.

Zeitler is a player who will fit the Jets’ tight budget due to his age, yet still offers a consistent track record of strong production. The maintainability of that production is a concern due to his age and the scheme he is coming from, but the Jets can afford to take that risk at the price Zeitler will likely command.

Two particular aspects of Zeitler’s game have me feeling comfortable about his chances of making a smooth transition to New York.

First of all, his pass-blocking reputation is flat-out excellent, and that should play well in any offense. The Ravens’ true pass set frequency this year was basically league-average, so I’m not concerned about his numbers being inflated by the scheme. The fact that Zeitler was consistently elite for three straight years is also a promising sign. He’s consistent.

Plus, it’s not as if Zeitler’s pass-blocking numbers are just “pretty good” – they’re great. Even if he takes a dip next year, he’s so high up the ladder that a sizable fall should still make him above-average at worst.

Secondly, Zeitler’s grades and film on zone-blocking plays inspire confidence that he could transition to the Jets’ offense more smoothly than one might think based on his experience in gap-blocking schemes.

Zeitler would be one of my first calls of free agency if I were Joe Douglas.

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Peter Buell
Peter Buell
4 months ago

Playing rt I imagine that means moving Vera-Tucker to rt. Both his years when moved to rt due to injury AND played Denver in Denver he was injured and out for the season.
I hope the Jets medical team along with managment has looked into the causality. Denver field, Denver players, RT.
Though his numbers don’t really support it Ezra Cleveland is a player I like at LG.
Zeigler is ranked #8 at G, Cleveland #25…strong on run weak on pass but only 3 sacks and 3 qb hits over 14 games bet Minny and Jax.
Also, Cleveland will only be 26 next year and most Gs are better than Tomlinson.
I’d also bring back Fant and McGovern as low cost “pro” backups rather than using the practice squad.
Hopefully Jets can get a #2 in a tag n trade for Huff.
They need a draftee at tackle and FA starter who won’t cost alot and buy a year till next years draft
Would be nice if they could use future assets and the Huff return to get a 2nd 1st rounder for T and WR.

Jets71
Jets71
4 months ago
Reply to  Peter Buell

I actually hope they sign Huff. I think a trade back from 10 to pick up the extra picks would be more beneficial, of course that depends on what Huff wants and if there is a trade partner. Just my opinion but after Alt, I don’t like an OT at 10, Latham, and Fashanu don’t excite me. They are both projects and I think if they are betting on a project there are other guys they can take later in the round or even in round 2.

Jets71
Jets71
4 months ago

Any interior lineman who can pick up a stunt for the Jets would be the first to do it since like…the Clinton administration, so I’m on board for that, HOWEVER, the age is a concern.

I wonder how Duane Brown would have “ranked” in your flag system. He was never known to be injury prone, in fact the 4 prior seasons in Seattle he played no fewer than 12 games. Yet in both seasons here he had major injuries.

Last edited 4 months ago by Jets71
Jim Green
Jim Green
4 months ago

Zeitler looks smooth …

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