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Hold your horses with this NY Jets draft comparison

Troy Fautanu
Troy Fautanu

Don’t fall into the trap of comparing a draft prospect to a current New York Jets player

The New York Jets’ draft options are fascinating following their free-agent haul. What they should do in Round 1 will be endlessly debated until April 25, the opening night of the draft.

The Jets could reportedly seek to trade back and recoup some draft capital. They don’t have a second-round pick after the Aaron Rodgers trade in 2023. If they do so, there’s one player whose name has constantly come up in mock drafts and recent speculation: Washington’s Troy Fautanu.

The speculation is not without merit. Daniel Jeremiah has Fautanu listed as his 12th overall prospect and third-best tackle in the draft, behind only Taliese Fuaga (No. 9) and Joe Alt (10). In his most recent mock draft, he has Fautanu going at No. 16 to the Seattle Seahawks. That’s right about in the range where the Jets might look to trade back.

The appeal of Fautanu is obvious, too. He can play tackle and guard, which would give the Jets insurance at both positions. With the injury history of Tyron Smith and Alijah Vera-Tucker, that’s an estimable attribute.

Still, there’s a comparison that’s bandying about Jets mock drafts: linking Fautanu with Vera-Tucker because of both players’ ability to play inside and out.

That take is incredibly lazy and showcases a lack of understanding of offensive line play.

Versatility vs. ineptitude

In Week 9 of the 2023 season, the Jets moved Max Mitchell inside to guard when they faced the Los Angeles Chargers. Mitchell promptly allowed five pressures and a sack, heavily contributing to the Jets’ 27-6 defeat. His 8.3% pressure rate in that game was not far off from his 8.9% rate for the season.

Does Mitchell have tackle-guard versatility, or is he simply an inept player? Anyone who watched the Jets would say it’s the latter. The same applies to Billy Turner, who played tackle and guard equally poorly.

The strength of Vera-Tucker is that he played both tackle and guard well. He is undoubtedly a better guard according to the film, but he more than held his own at tackle, allowing the Jets’ offense to function despite widespread failure at other positions along the line.

Thumbnail comparison

The first question to ask is whether Fautanu can come close to matching Vera-Tucker’s capabilities in that area. If not, what’s the point of the comparison? It’s lazy one-to-one thinking based on a relatively superficial attribute. Many college tackles project as guards in the NFL precisely because they’re not good enough to play tackle at the NFL level. That doesn’t make them versatile; it lowers their draft stock.

Even without digging deep into the film, we can get a thumbnail comparison between the two players by looking at their Pro Football Focus metrics from their final seasons in college, both at left tackle.

  • 2020 Vera-Tucker (6 games): 2.6% pressure rate (41.3% true pass set rate), 84.2 PFF pass-blocking grade, 76.3 PFF run-blocking grade
  • 2023 Fautanu (13 games): 3.7% pressure rate (37.2% true pass set rate), 88.2 PFF pass-blocking grade, 61.9 PFF run-blocking grade

While Fautanu’s PFF pass-blocking grade was better than Vera-Tucker’s, his pressure rate was a full point higher, and his run-blocking grade was significantly lower. That already hints at a possible weakness in Fautanu’s game at tackle compared to Vera-Tucker’s.

It’s worth noting, though, that Fautanu’s arms are 34½ inches long, far longer than Vera-Tucker’s 32⅛-inch arms. Perhaps that means Fautanu can hold up at tackle better than Vera-Tucker at the NFL level.

The film

When you actually watch the two players, though, you see that the comparison ends at the superficial.

This is what Joe Blewett wrote about Vera-Tucker in his film breakdown of AVT coming into the NFL: “I want to clarify that AVT doesn’t have many weaknesses. His game is almost boring to watch because of how clean of a prospect he is.”

Meanwhile, Blewett pointed out that Fautanu plays out of control. You see a tackle who has erratic hand placement and consistently tries to shove opponents with mixed results. Those technique issues will show up at tackle and guard alike regardless of his arm length.

Here’s an example of an edge rusher swiping away Fautanu’s hands and nearly getting to the quarterback and another of a rusher avoiding the punch. He got away with it in college, but NFL pass rushers will feast on his constant attempts to shove at an opponent’s chest. Imagine Bryce Huff or Quinton Jefferson facing Fautanu.

Look beyond the surface

The overarching point here is to avoid lazy draft comparisons based on superficial similarities. Player comparisons are notoriously flawed. Beware those narratives during draft season.

As Blewett’s draft reviews come out, you’ll notice more and more differences between his approach to prospects and the perspectives of the so-called experts. In large part, that’s because of stand-alone film study rather than a willingness to go based on consensus narratives.

Most of us are not experts when it comes to offensive line evaluation; rather than relying on hype, at least watch an in-depth breakdown before formulating an opinion in that area.

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2 months ago

I like Fautanu, not because of a lazy comparison, but because I watched the combine.
Fautanu is strong and smooth with his footwork. He may well need to be coached up on techniques like hand placement, but I think he’ll be successful in the NFL. He also has a reputation of being nasty, which our team hasn’t had since Mawae and could use.
I would still take Fuaga and Alt before Fautanu, for the record.

Peter Buell
Peter Buell
2 months ago

The two most likely trade downs seem to be with either Denver or Las Vegas to jump Minnesota for QB JJ McCarthy.
I don’t want to trade down for a 3 but if we add one of our 4th rounders with the trade down to 12 or 13 maybe we can get a 2nd round pick.
If Denver those who really want Bowers (I’m 50/50) will need just one team to pass on him to be able to draft him.
Bowers and 2nd round pick based on mocks will have thisr choice of DT, WR, Edge..if they don’t trust McDonald or one of the 2 qbs Penix or Nix.
Would be a nice 2 rounds. Wouldn’t be unhappy with JC Latham T with 1st pick either.
A happy problem with many choices.

2 months ago

Mel Kiper was the first to break that comparison, and I’ve notice that it’s gaining momentum. I don’t think Kiper would give a “lazy” analysis, but I do think the draft hype train is off the tracks, however considering his longevity, I don’t think fans relying on his opinion is that much of a reach.