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Should NY Jets consider moving Joe Tippmann to guard?

Joe Tippmann
Joe Tippmann

Moving Joe Tippmann to guard is an outside-the-box idea for the New York Jets to consider

With arguably the worst offensive line in the NFL, the New York Jets must be open to every possibility when considering their options to fix the unit. No idea is a bad idea.

The Jets’ offensive line is sorely lacking in talent. There are only two surefire starters on their roster: Alijah Vera-Tucker and Joe Tippmann. Which positions they will play, though, remains in question.

Discussions about Vera-Tucker’s position are much more common than discussions about Tippmann’s position. It is unknown whether Vera-Tucker will play guard or tackle, whereas it feels safe to assume that Tippmann is penciled in as the Jets’ starting center. And, most likely, it does seem as if the Jets are planning to start Tippmann at center.

But I wouldn’t completely rule out the possibility of New York moving Tippmann to guard. It’s an outside-the-box idea that would present the Jets with one more potential pathway to rebuilding the offensive line.

In addition to giving the Jets another option to consider, it can also be argued that Tippmann’s potential impact can be maximized at the guard position. The move could benefit both the team and Tippmann himself.

Let’s unpack the concept of moving Tippmann to guard.

Why Tippmann could make a larger impact at guard

NFL teams value guards more highly than centers. This is evidenced by the market value of both positions.

The average annual salary among the current top 15 highest-paid centers is $8.5 million. For guards, that number is $14.5 million.

Why do teams view guards as more valuable than centers? It’s simple: their impact in pass protection.

This is absolutely not to say that centers aren’t important in pass protection. Of course they are. Whether it’s setting protections, providing help to the guards, picking up blitzes, or picking up stunts, there are numerous areas where centers play a crucial role in protecting the quarterback. They matter. A lot.

Just not as much as guards.

This is a natural result of how defensive lines are typically deployed in the modern NFL. In today’s pass-happy league, the nose tackle is an endangered species. It’s becoming increasingly rare to see those classic base 3-4 packages with a terrifying monster over the center and two other defensive tackles beside him. Most teams only have two defensive tackles on the field for the majority of the game, especially in passing situations.

According to NFL Next Gen Stats, the average defense in 2023 had a player aligned at nose tackle for only 5.4 pass-rush snaps per game. That means the average center only had to handle about five plays per game in which they needed to block a pass rusher who was lined up directly across from them.

The decline of the nose tackle means centers are facing one-on-one reps in pass protection far less frequently than guards. Of course, centers still have plenty of plays where they block somebody one-on-one even if there isn’t a nose tackle lined up directly across from them. The point is that the eradication of head-up nose tackles has taken away a large chunk of one-on-ones that used to belong to centers and transferred them over to guards.

Defenses are spreading out to mirror the trends we are seeing from offenses. Clogging the middle isn’t a priority anymore – they want the linemen to have space so they can pin their ears back and get after the quarterback. This means that on the majority of passing plays, the center is uncovered while the two guards are forced to deal with the two defensive tackles. As a result, centers are frequently left without somebody to block on passing plays.

Data from NGS supports this. In 2023, centers faced a one-on-one rep on just 38.5% of their pass-blocking snaps. Guards, on the other hand, had to block one-on-one 51.9% of the time.

That is a significant difference. The average NFL team ran 36.3 passing plays per game. This means the average team’s guards had to block one-on-one about 19 times per game (51.9% of 36.3) while the average team’s center only had to do it 14 times per game (38.5% of 36.3). That adds up to a difference of nearly 85 plays over the course of a season.

To be clear, this is not to say that an offensive lineman can only affect a play if he is blocking one-on-one. We’re not discounting the non-1v1 plays; a lineman isn’t necessarily obsolete on a play where he isn’t blocking one-on-one. He is still responsible for helping out his teammates, properly executing a double team, or staying ready to pick up a stunt, among many other things. You can still have an important role in a play without being in a one-on-one, especially at center.

With that being said, one-on-one reps are where offensive linemen make their money. That’s where they provide real value – when they’re asked to shut someone down on an island without help. These are the high-variance, high-stakes situations that separate the stars from the scrubs.

That brings us to another reason guards are considered more valuable: they are tasked with containing better players than centers. Not only do guards go one-on-one more often, but they do it against tougher competition.

The league’s best pass-rushing defensive tackles – the big-money superstars like Aaron Donald, Quinnen Williams, and Chris Jones – spend most of their time lining up against guards. Players who spend most of their time rushing against centers tend to be run-stuffing types who are bigger, less athletic, and less skilled in the passing game.

The difference in competition is displayed by the league-average pass-blocking numbers among guards and centers. Guards are charged with allowing pressure more often than centers. According to Pro Football Focus, guards allowed pressure on 5.2% of their pass-blocking snaps in 2023 while centers allowed pressure only 3.9% of the time.

That might seem like a small difference, but it adds up. Because of the increased pressure rate allowed by guards, there is more room to gain and lose value compared to average. The gap between the best guards and the worst guards is larger than the same gap at center – therefore making the best guards more valuable than the best centers.

In terms of “pressures saved” – a metric I calculated that shows the net total of pressures a player allowed compared to expectation based on his position’s average pressure rate (adjusted for the player’s frequency of true pass sets) – the most impactful pass-blocking guard in 2023 was Brandon Scherff, who saved 21.1 pressures versus average. The most harmful guard was Chandler Zavala at -18.4. That’s a margin of 39.5 pressures between the best guard and the worst guard.

At center, the most impactful pass blocker was Jason Kelce with 14.1 pressures saved versus average. The worst center was Tyler Larsen at -11.1. That’s a margin of just 25.2, over 14 fewer pressures than the margin between the top guard and the worst guard.

So, with all of this information in mind, it’s fair to say that if the Jets believe Tippmann is a talented offensive lineman, the guard position might be the best spot to maximize his impact on the game. With significantly more one-on-one pass-blocking reps, particularly against star defensive tackles, Tippmann’s effect on the outcome would be much more substantial.

How placing Tippmann at guard can present the Jets with new options

Being open to using Tippmann at guard would create new pathways for the Jets to explore when evaluating their options to improve the offensive line.

In particular, the Jets could add the possibility of signing a free agent center to their list of options. There are a handful of starter-quality centers on the market, such as Lloyd Cushenberry, Tyler Biadasz, Andre James, and Connor Williams. Williams is a question mark since he is coming off an ACL injury, but Cushenberry, Biadasz, and James are fascinating options based on their recent production.

Depending on how free agency plays out, it’s possible the Jets’ best-case outcome for the offensive line could include Tippmann at guard and one of the aforementioned free agents at center. If the goal is to put the best five players on the field, you want to remain flexible and keep your mind open to as many potential combinations as possible.

Money is a factor here as well. Centers are cheaper than guards. In theory, it should cost the Jets less to sign a center than it would be to sign a guard who is equally as talented relative to his position. With Tippmann already in place, the Jets could save cap space by forming a Tippmann/FA center duo rather than a Tippmann/FA guard duo. If all things were equal talent-wise, moving Tippmann to guard would be the wisest financial decision.

It comes down to how the Jets evaluate Tippmann’s ability at guard compared to their free agent guard options. While the Jets might be able to get a center for cheaper than an equally talented guard equivalent, what if they believe there would be a significant production drop-off for Tippmann by moving him from center to guard? In this case, they would consider a Tippmann/FA center duo to be worse than a Tippmann/FA guard duo, so the cap savings would not be worth it.

That brings us to the biggest X-factor of this conversation.

Is Tippmann a good fit for the guard position?

Tippmann only played center in college (outside of a brief 11 snaps in his freshman season), but the Jets began experimenting with him at guard once he arrived in New York.

After starting at center in the Jets’ first two preseason games, Tippmann started at left guard in the third game, playing 15 snaps there. That’s all the action he would get at guard in the preseason (compared to 152 snaps at center). Despite the lack of game experience at guard, the Jets slotted Tippmann in at right guard when he made his starting debut in Week 3.

Tippmann started four games at right guard, logging 199 snaps there. He left with a quad injury just 12 snaps into his fourth start, which sidelined him for one game. When Tippmann returned in Week 9, he started at center, where he remained for the Jets’ final 10 games of the season.

While it was too small of a sample to draw any definitive conclusions from, Tippmann showed an abundance of promising signs during his short stint at right guard. He came out of the gates hot, allowing just one pressure (including zero sacks or hits) on 85 pass-blocking snaps across his first two games against New England and Kansas City. Tippmann had a rough game in his third start against Denver, yielding four pressures (1 hit, 3 hurries) on 35 pass-blocking snaps.

Even with the Denver game, Tippmann finished with five pressures allowed on 129 pass-blocking snaps at right guard. That’s a pressure rate of 3.9%, which would have ranked 16th-best among 78 qualified guards in 2023.

Tippmann also flashed in the run game, earning a 73.5 run-blocking grade from PFF during his time at right guard. That would have been 11th-best out of 78 qualified guards.

You always want to verify the PFF grades with the film. In this case, there are plenty of good plays on tape to back up the grade. Tippmann truly did look impressive in the run game when he was at guard.

Tippmann also had just one penalty on 199 snaps.

Altogether, Tippmann was excellent in all facets during his time at right guard. He looked legitimately fantastic, backed up by both the numbers and the film. The small sample is the only issue.

While Tippmann still played well after moving to center, especially considering the messy situation around him, he was not quite as impressive as he was at guard. His production declined in every area.

In pass protection, Tippmann allowed 15 pressures on 449 pass-blocking snaps at center, including three sacks and two hits. His 3.3% pressure rate was still good, as it would have been 11th-best among 36 qualified centers at the end of the 2023 season, but relative to his position, it was slightly less effective than his 3.9% pressure rate at guard. The 3.3% pressure rate was 0.6% better than the league average for centers (3.9%) while the 3.9% pressure rate was 1.3% better than the league average for guards (5.2%).

Tippmann’s run-blocking grade declined to 63.7 over his time at center. This would have ranked 24th out of 36 qualifiers at the position.

Penalties were a huge problem, as Tippmann led all centers with seven of them from Weeks 9-18. Tippmann also struggled with his snap accuracy, a nagging issue that came to a head when he launched an errant snap against the Commanders that was recovered by the defense. This is something Tippmann must improve if he wants to find a home at center. If he moved to guard, this issue would be negated.

Overall, I would say Tippmann played around the level of an average starting center when taking his surroundings into account – which is a great way for a rookie to begin his career. At guard, though, he was well above average.

Tippmann clearly played better at guard than he did at center. We need to see more before we can say he is indisputably better at guard, but he performed well enough that New York should not be shoehorning him at center just yet. He is an appealing option at both positions, and the Jets should weigh the pros and cons of each position (both in terms of how it impacts Tippmann himself and the construction of the entire unit) before making a decision.

The counterarguments

The money factor we discussed earlier presents one of the main counterarguments against this move.

While sliding Tippmann to guard could net the Jets some short-term savings by signing a center instead of a guard, it could hurt their long-term cap situation. If Tippmann establishes himself as a high-end guard, he is going to make significantly more money on his future contract extension than he would if he establishes himself as a high-end center. The Jets can exploit the system by keeping Tippmann at center to improve their long-term financial stability.

Another one of the main arguments against putting Tippmann at guard is that it would ruin the dream of finally finding the franchise’s next stud center to anchor the offensive line for years to come.

While we began this article by breaking down the many tangible reasons why centers are less valuable than other offensive linemen, there are so many intangible aspects of the center position that are invaluable. They play an integral role in getting the entire offense on the same page. When you have a star player in this role, it changes everything. Jets fans know this well. The franchise has experienced some of its best years when it had a solidified long-term anchor at center, whether it was Kevin Mawae from 1998-2005 or Nick Mangold from 2006-2016.

From 1998-2016, the Jets were a decent franchise. Over this 19-season span, they had a .500 record (152-152), seven playoff appearances, and seven playoff wins – all while never recording back-to-back losing seasons. It’s the time since 2016 that has established the Jets as a total laughingstock, with the 2016 season kicking off an eight-year streak of losing seasons. And it is no coincidence that both the beginning and end of the Jets’ competent stretch coincide perfectly with the state of the center position.

The Jets had the NFL’s third-worst record over the 10 seasons prior to Mawae’s arrival. Mawae joined the team in 1998 and the Jets immediately jumped to contender status with a 12-win season and a trip to the AFC championship. They maintained consistent competitiveness throughout his eight seasons in green. Following Mawae’s final season with the Jets in 2005, the torch was passed directly to Mangold, who held the role from 2006 until he retired after 2016. Mangold helped the team earn five winning seasons and four playoff wins. Since Mangold’s retirement, the Jets have the worst record in the NFL.

Here’s one simple way to look at it: The Jets have not won a playoff game without Mangold or Mawae since 1986 – 38 years ago. Without Mangold or Mawae on the team, they have gone 18 straight seasons without winning a playoff game, making just one playoff appearance over that span (1991) while averaging 5.5 wins per season.

In Tippmann, the Jets finally have someone who might be capable of becoming their next Mawae or Mangold. For a fanbase and franchise who have witnessed such a profound impact from the center position, it is extremely enticing to envision Tippmann becoming a decade-long star in the middle of the offensive line, following in the footsteps of two of the most legendary Jets icons.

Should they do it?

I don’t think this is a decision that has to be etched in stone tomorrow. All I would implore the Jets to do is remain open to the possibility of moving Tippmann as they enter the legal tampering period on March 11. I believe he showed enough promise at guard (along with enough concerns at center) to the point where I would still consider him an “interior offensive lineman” at the moment – not a guard or a center just yet.

That is the label I think the Jets should roll into free agency with. Consider Tippmann an interior lineman and focus on building the best trio of interior offensive linemen.

Maybe that includes Tippmann at center, Alijah Vera-Tucker at right guard, and a free agent at left guard, such as Kevin Zeitler or James Hurst. Or, maybe it includes Tippmann at right guard with a free agent like Tyler Biadasz at center and a free agent at left guard, while Alijah Vera-Tucker plays right tackle. There are countless options. I can’t say for sure which is the best, but I do know that the Jets’ odds of building a good offensive line will improve if they give themselves a wider range of options to choose from.

I would trust the Jets’ judgment on this one. From the outside, our opinions on Tippmann’s best positional fit are based on a small sample of in-game reps. The Jets see Tippmann every day on the practice field and in the meeting rooms. Until Tippmann logs a more substantial sample of in-game reps, the Jets’ coaches have a better feel than we do regarding which position he might be better or more comfortable at. They should have a good idea of where he fits best in their plans.

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Peter Buell
Peter Buell
3 months ago

My biggest concern isn’t Tippman. I think he’d be very good at G.
My concern is back to back years AVT got injured after moving to RT and both years they were playing in Denver.
Is it tackle, Denver or just coincidence?
AVT can play well there but he also needs to stay healthy and management needs to look deep into why?

4 months ago

I also think AVT’s health will play into this, meaning, we don’t know how ready he will be to start the season. We are all penciling him in as one of two good players on the OL but he is coming off an Achilles tear. How good will he be? Will he need time to get back to his form? I’m not so sure he’s a ‘can’t miss” good player at this point. I think he’s a question mark until we see more. Also, I don’t know this for sure but there were quite a few pass protection issues with AVT at guard too. I don’t know if it was communication issues, AVT being a young player, or just a lack of his ability, regardless as much as I love his talent, I need to see more production.

They should play Tippmann at the position he is best at playing and forget the money. The best problem they could have is he’s so good they need to worry about paying him big money to keep him. I’ll sign up for that, especially since the OL has been trash for several years now.

The key is they have some flexibility with both players so that means they can pivot as needed to get the best group together.

Last edited 4 months ago by Jets71
3 months ago
Reply to  Jets71

I would also add that AVT is still at risk for another injury. He might just be injury prone. A funny thing I notice about fans and the media is that if a player gets injured one year, they talk the next year as though his odds of getting another injury have gone way down, as though injuries are controlled by some odds-maker in Vegas. It’s kind of a trick our brains play on us. At the beginning of last year, all the forecasts had this kind of underlying tone that since AVT was injured last year, we could depend on him this year. Everyone was that much more stunned when he got injured again, in an entirely different part of his body. But it happened.