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Could Aaron Rodgers recruit his former starting guard to NY Jets?

Jon Runyan
Jon Runyan

Jon Runyan is among the Green Bay free agents that Aaron Rodgers could recruit to the New York Jets

After acquiring Aaron Rodgers in 2023, the New York Jets made an all-out effort to surround him with familiar faces. Allen Lazard, Billy Turner, Randall Cobb, Malik Taylor, Tim Boyle, and offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett all followed Rodgers from Wisconsin to New Jersey.

Every single one of those additions was a failure. You would think the Jets might learn their lesson and steer clear of allowing Rodgers to recruit his buddies again in 2024, but there are no indications he plans to relinquish his role as the quasi-assistant general manager. It should be expected that Rodgers will continue influencing the Jets’ roster decisions until proven otherwise.

With that in mind, it makes sense to turn our attention to some of the former Green Bay Packers players who will become available this offseason.

Current Las Vegas Raiders wide receiver Davante Adams is the obvious headliner. New York tried to trade for Adams at the deadline and seems prepared to pursue him again.

But the Jets’ greatest position of need is the offensive line, and at that position, there is a Packers starter who is set for free agency and would be an interesting target for New York even if Rodgers wasn’t on the team: Jon Runyan.

ESPN’s Rich Cimini briefly mentioned Runyan in a December 24 article where he discussed Packers players who might be on the “Rodgers 2024 watch list.” Cimini stated the Jets are “leaning on Rodgers, the way the Tampa Bay Buccaneers leaned on Tom Brady in 2020. Brady recruited key players such as tight end Rob Gronkowski, who helped them to a Super Bowl. The Jets hope Rodgers, in Year 2, can do the same.”

Rodgers’ cronies – such as Lazard, Cobb, and Turner – were flops in 2024. Is Runyan a player who can flip the script on Rodgers’ recruiting abilities? Let’s take a look at what he brings to the table as a free agent.

Jets free agent profiles:

Basic info

  • Age: 26.4
  • Height: 6-foot-4
  • Weight: 307 pounds
  • College: Michigan
  • Experience: 4 years (Drafted Round 6, Pick 192 by Green Bay in 2020)
  • Teams: Packers (2020-present)
  • Previous contract: 4 years, $3.47M (Rookie contract)

Measurables

  • Data from 2020 Combine (via Mockdraftable)
  • Percentiles among all-time offensive line prospects

Jon-Runyan-40-Time-Combine

  • Height: 6’4″ (32nd percentile)
  • Weight: 306 pounds (30th)
  • Arm length: 33.25in (37th)
  • Hand size: 9.125in (4th)
  • 40-yard dash: 5.08s (83rd)
  • Vertical jump: 30.5in (79th)
  • Broad jump: 107in (74th)
  • 3-cone drill: 7.57s (78th)
  • 20-yard shuttle: 4.69 (60th)
  • Bench press: 24 reps (44th)

Runyan recorded a Relative Athletic Score (RAS) of 8.47/10.

Role

Runyan made his first career start in Week 2 of 2021, his second NFL season. Since then, he’s started each of Green Bay’s past 53 regular season and playoff games.

All 16 of Runyan’s starts in 2021 (plus one playoff start) were at left guard. In 2022, he started his first six games at left guard before moving to right guard for the final 11 games. Runyan remained at right guard for each of his 19 regular season and playoff starts in 2023.

Runyan held the role of a typical starting lineman through the midway point of 2023; he’d play every offensive snap as long as he was healthy. However, in Week 9 of this past season, the Packers started to rotate Runyan with backup guard Sean Rhyan, a 2022 third-round pick.

For a six-week span from Weeks 9-14, this was only for a few series per game. Runyan had an average snap percentage of 88% over this span while Rhyan played 12% of the snaps.

But starting in Week 15, Rhyan began to steal nearly half of Runyan’s snaps. Through Green Bay’s final six regular season and playoff games (Week 15 through Divisional), Runyan’s average snap percentage was 57% while Rhyan played 43% of the snaps.

2023 performance

Excellent pass protection

Runyan put up great numbers in pass protection. He allowed 21 total pressures on 568 pass-blocking snaps, per Pro Football Focus, giving him an allowed pressure rate of 3.7% that ranked 11th-best out of 78 qualified guards (87th percentile).

In Green Bay’s offense, Runyan’s job was slightly easier than the league-average guard. Runyan dropped into a true pass set (excludes plays with fewer than 4 rushers, play action, screens, short dropbacks, and throws under 2 seconds) on 40.5% of his pass-blocking snaps, which was below the position average of 43.2% and ranked 58th out of 78 qualifiers.

Runyan’s pressure numbers were still strong when accounting for this, although he does slide a few spots. Whereas Runyan ranks 11th out of 78 players in raw pressure rate, his net pressure rate (which adjusts expectations based on TPS frequency) ranked 16th. That still puts him at the 81st percentile.

Closer to average when looking solely at sack/hit prevention

Total pressures include three levels of outcomes: hurries, hits, and sacks.

In terms of total pressures, Runyan was excellent in 2023, but he was closer to the middle of the pack when you remove hurries and isolate his ability to prevent sacks and hits.

Runyan gave up two sacks and six hits in 2023. With eight sacks-plus-hits on 568 pass-blocking snaps, he allowed a sack-plus-hit rate of 1.41%, which ranked 46th out of 78 qualifiers (42nd percentile). The league average for guards was 1.36%.

Similar to Rams guard Kevin Dotson, there was a strong tendency for Runyan’s allowed pressures to be converted into knockdowns. Eight of Runyan’s 21 total pressures were sacks or hits, a 38.1% rate. This ranked 66th. The league average for guards was 26.1%.

Poor run blocking

Runyan was viewed as a poor run blocker in 2023. His 50.4 run-blocking grade at PFF ranked 61st out of 78 qualified guards (22nd percentile). Sports Info Solutions also had him in the lesser half at his position, although they didn’t view him quite as poorly as PFF. SIS placed him 18th out of 33 qualified right guards with a 2.8% blown-block rate in the run game.

Further evidence of Runyan’s poor run blocking is the improvement in Green Bay’s rushing production on carries in Runyan’s direction after they started rotating him with Sean Rhyan.

Through Week 14 (before Rhyan began to play nearly half of the snaps), on designed rush attempts between the tackles to the right side, Green Bay ranked 25th in yards per attempt (3.6) and 19th in success rate – i.e. the percentage of attempts yielding positive EPA (36.5%).

From Weeks 15-18 (when Runyan and Rhyan had a 57/43 snap split), Green Bay rose to 13th in yards per attempt (4.0) and 11th in success rate (44%) on designed rush attempts in that same direction.

A closer analysis of the play-by-play data confirms that Rhyan was the primary source of the improvement. I went through the play-by-play data from Weeks 15-18 and charted the Packers’ yardage on all designed rushing attempts to the right side (regardless of inside or outside tackles), and compared how they did on plays with Runyan at right guard versus Rhyan.

While Green Bay had immense rushing success to the right side with both players over this span, Rhyan took a fairly large edge. The Packers averaged 6.4 yards per attempt with Rhyan on the field versus 5.6 with Runyan.

Comparing 2023 performance to previous track record

Runyan’s strong pass protection was no outlier. He’s been excelling as a pass blocker ever since he stepped into the starting lineup in 2021. Runyan’s career pressure rate is 3.3%, even better than his 2023 rate of 3.7%. He was at 2.8% in 2022 (11th of 64 guards) and 3.1% in 2021 (11th of 68).

The knack for allowing sacks and hits was out of the ordinary. His 38.1% pressure-to-knockdown conversion rate was a career-worst. His career average before 2023 was 26.8%, close to the 2023 league average of 26.1%. Runyan only allowed 11 knockdowns (5 sacks, 6 hits) from 2021-22 before allowing eight in 2023 alone.

The poor run blocking is also nothing new. Runyan’s career-best run-blocking grade at PFF is only 58.2, and his average over the past three seasons was 54.2.

In terms of penalties, Runyan had six in 2023, which was a career-high and tied him for the ninth-most among guards. This was an outlier. Runyan had just one penalty in each of his previous two seasons. His career average of 2.5 penalties per 1,000 snaps is well below the 2023 league average for guards (4.9).

Overall, Runyan’s track record is quite consistent. Throughout each of the past three seasons, he was generally a very good pass blocker and a subpar run blocker.

Scheme fit

Runyan would be a smooth scheme fit in New York thanks to his familiarity. He started 34 regular season and playoff games in front of Aaron Rodgers. Runyan also played two seasons under Nathaniel Hackett, making 17 starts in a Hackett-led offense.

Durability

Runyan is as clean as they come in the durability department. Since he was drafted, he’s played in all 72 of Green Bay’s regular season and playoff games.

Projected cost

Over The Cap projects that Runyan will earn $5.5 million per year. Pro Football Focus offered a slightly higher projection at $6.7 million per year.

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 Runyan’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

Runyan’s three-year track record of top-tier pass protection is extremely promising. As I always mention in this section, I like to see cold-hard production from free agents. I don’t care how many Pro Bowls you made, how deep into the playoffs you got, how good of a leader you are, where you were drafted – I could go on and on with meaningless selling points that get free agents paid. I want to see tangible evidence of impact. Runyan has it, just like D.J. Reed and Tyler Conklin did.

I think Runyan’s continued pass-blocking efficiency in the 2023 season is a promising sign. Before 2023, his numbers from 2021-22 could have been viewed as misleading due to the presence of Aaron Rodgers.

As a seasoned veteran with as strong a control of the offense as anyone in league history, Rodgers does a lot to make his offensive line look good. Pre-snap, he ensures everyone is on the same page. Post-snap, he gets the ball out on time. These skills eliminate potential pressures that likely would have been charged to the offensive linemen if an average quarterback were under center (or much worse than average, in the Jets’ case).

So, it was promising to see Runyan continue putting up good numbers in 2023 despite the exit of Rodgers and the entrance of a first-time starter in Jordan Love. This adds validity to Runyan’s pass-blocking numbers.

When evaluating an offensive lineman’s statistics, you always want to take as many factors into account as possible to figure out whether his numbers are a true indicator of his talent. Numerous factors can affect a lineman’s numbers, making him look better or worse than he actually is. In the case of Runyan, we have a player who carried over his high-level pass-blocking from a Hall-of-Famer to a first-timer, which points to him being a legitimate difference-maker.

Yes, the Jets would be reuniting Runyan with Rodgers and Hackett anyway, so even if his numbers are a product of Rodgers and the Packers’ system, the Jets would be giving him a chance to replicate his success in essentially the same environment. However, you don’t always want to bank on familiarity. Just look at Allen Lazard. Aaron Rodgers went down and Lazard’s flaws were revealed. It turns out he was a Rodgers coattail rider all along.

When evaluating free agents this year, the Jets need to make sure they target players who can succeed regardless of the circumstances – especially when looking at Rodgers’ cronies. If someone is only good when he’s around Rodgers (or whatever star/system/coach he comes from), what difference does he actually make? Runyan’s 2023 performance inspired confidence that he will not fall into the same trap as Lazard.

Runyan’s durability is another huge plus. Given their chronic injury woes up front over the past few years, the Jets need as much reliability as they can get from the position, and it doesn’t get any better than Runyan.

While Jets fans will groan if/when the team signs another one of Rodgers’ cronies this offseason, the scheme familiarity is a plus in Runyan’s case. Communication and chemistry are more essential for offensive linemen than any other position. Those things were non-existent within New York’s offensive line last season. Adding a player who has multiple years of experience with the quarterback and offensive coordinator would certainly help to get the unit on the same page.

Red flags

My biggest concern with Runyan is Green Bay’s decision to move him into a rotational role this past season.

While Runyan’s pass-blocking numbers remained strong in 2023, it’s concerning whenever a player’s coaching staff makes a decision that completely contradicts what the data is telling you. Could Runyan have really been playing all that well if the Packers’ coaches (who watch him every day and evaluate every snap of his film) decided the team’s best move was to nearly slice his snaps in half?

This is something you rarely see with offensive linemen, so it grabs your attention when it happens.

Not to mention, the decision paid dividends for Green Bay. It would be foolish to suggest this move alone changed Green Bay’s fortunes, but the Packers did finish the season 3-1 with 25.8 points per game after making the switch. Then, they followed it up with a dominant Wild Card win and a close Divisional loss.

Overall, Green Bay’s success throughout the season tended to improve alongside the reduction of Runyan’s playing time:

  • Weeks 1-8 (Runyan plays every offensive snap): 2-5, 19.0 points per game, 287.0 yards per game
  • Weeks 9-14 (Runyan begins yielding a handful of snaps; plays 88% of snaps over this span): 4-2, 22.3 points per game, 378.7 yards per game
  • Weeks 15-Divisional (Near-even split begins; plays 57% of snaps over this span): 4-2, 28.7 points per game, 389.5 yards per game

Again, let’s not pretend this move alone is what sparked Green Bay’s turnaround – it was mostly due to Jordan Love figuring things out and turning into a star – but this is worth noting for prospective teams who are pondering whether Runyan is worth signing as an every-down starter.

Runyan’s poor run blocking doesn’t concern me too much, as I think most people would agree that pass blocking is far more important for a Jets team with a 40-year-old quarterback coming off an Achilles injury. We know the Jets aren’t going to be getting a perfect player if they decide to fill a starting spot with a mid-level veteran guard in free agency. Give me pass blocking if the Jets have to pick one or the other to save money.

Still, it will be important for the Jets to establish a strong run game to take pressure off Rodgers, so you don’t want to add too many subpar run blockers, if possible.

If you sign Runyan, you know for a near fact that his run blocking is going to be a liability. He hasn’t come close to showing the potential to be a plus run blocker for a full season. So, if you sign him, you’re accepting that he’ll be a minus in the run game, meaning you’re fully banking on him thriving in pass protection to earn his money.

The verdict

For the right price, I think Runyan makes a lot of sense for the Jets. His red flags prevent me from seeing him as a player worth breaking the bank for, but if he can be had at the price of a mid-level starter, he is an ideal cost-effective target to fill one of the Jets’ vacant starting spots.

Over The Cap’s estimation of $5.5 million per year is the ballpark I’m thinking of. PFF’s estimation of $6.7 million is getting a little high for me, but I could probably stomach that. I’m thinking it would make sense to target Runyan on a two-year deal in the range of $10-13 million with somewhere from $5-7 million in guarantees.

Personally, my ideal plan for the Jets’ starting offensive line involves the following: signing Tyron Smith to start at left tackle, signing a mid-level starting left guard (replacing Laken Tomlinson, who I see getting cut), keeping Alijah Vera-Tucker at right guard, and drafting a starting right tackle in the first round.

Runyan offers similar qualities to players like Kevin Zeitler and James Hurst that would make him a strong target for that left guard spot within the Jets’ budget. Firstly, he is known as a good pass protector, which is the phase New York would probably prefer for that player to favor (considering they’re not finding someone who’s great in both phases at this price). On top of that, he is extremely durable and has experience with Rodgers and Hackett.

Zeitler and Hurst are higher on my list than Runyan, but the former Packer is right behind them. Add Runyan to the list of potential starting guard options to keep an eye on in free agency.

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Jets71
Jets71
4 months ago

The Jets will need to make a signing like this regardless, even if Runyon turns into a depth or rotational piece they need him. I agree with your plan on Smith, you broke down 3 other guards, and of all the guards a Smith/Hurst signing makes the most sense (based on your info). I think they will sign 3 total OL, so even if they get the other 2, Runyon could be a nice piece. I prefer Onwenu over him but who knows if Onwenu signs with the Jets.

Side note, Lazard came BEFORE the Rogers deal. I’m not saying potentially getting Rogers wasn’t part of the decision process but the Jets were in the market for a WR. Davis was widely considered a cap casualty and many thought Lazard brought the same type of game, but was a younger version. I think the Jets liked Lazard regardless of Rogers. The narrative that he was one of the Rogers hand picked guys isn’t exactly true.

Jonathan Richter
Jonathan Richter
4 months ago
Reply to  Jets71

I think the reality is, those were the GB guys who happened to be FAs that year. Runyon would be a nice piece, and I think way more affordable than Zeitler.

I can’t see Tyron Smith coming here. He’d be leaving nice warm, low-tax Texas, for cold, miserable, high-tax NJ. He’d be signing up to play for everyone’s favorite O line coach, Keith Carter. And if Rodgers goes down again the future of the Jets is completely up in the air. He’s going to have lots of suitors. I doubt our madhouse of a front office will be appealing.

Trent Brown is more realistic, as he already plays in cold, high-tax state.

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