New York Jets Offensive Line 2020 Preview

Joe Belic with a deep dive preview of the New York Jets offensive line…

The offensive line hasn’t received much praise this preseason, which isn’t surprising, considering it’s comprised of five players who have never played a single snap together. Strong play up front is established through continuity and, given the current state of the world coupled with an unorthodox training camp, the situation is disconcerting. However, the unit isn’t lost, and there is a chance the line meshes and functions cohesively—hopefully, prior to Week 1.  Still, growing pains are expected, and with an opening schedule featuring dominant defensive fronts, the cause for concern remains justified.

Should the fanbase be worried?

Can they pull it together?

As presently constructed, does the offensive line have what it takes to protect Sam Darnold?

Personally, I’m hopeful, but the jury is still out…

This is an introductory piece I’m dubbing the “Up Front Review,” aiming to answer these questions through a periodic season-long analysis: monitoring the OL’s role in wins/losses, highlighting the development/performance of individuals, and the unit as a whole. Naturally, there will be a lot of Mekhi Becton and, notably, Connor McGovern’s ability to QB this offensive line and handle the “pivot.”

I spent this summer working through my first semester at The Scouting Academy, a program I recommend to anyone interested in player evaluation or increasing football knowledge in general.  Several critical factors and position specifics were emphasized pertaining to the OL: mental processing, competitive toughness, athletic ability, play speed, use of hands, and anchor, to name a few.

To open this week’s review, I assess the current line, its likely starters, and highlight each individual’s strengths and weaknesses by utilizing the aforementioned critical factors and position specifics. I hope it’s something you all enjoy!

Connor McGovern (OC):

Having a viable center is crucial for every team, especially for one with a young QB. Setting protections and communicating with the rest of the offensive line is a tremendous responsibility, and McGovern’s presence, in my opinion, will have the most significant influence on the future success of this unit.

Awareness is essential no matter the position; however, it becomes more vital as players move closer to the middle of the line where mental processing and the ability to diagnose is paramount.  Last season the Jets were bad—to put it mildly—at identifying stunts/twists and, luckily for the Jets, this is one of McGovern’s strengths.

Below, the Raiders “sugar the A gap” by bringing two linebackers up to the LOS in an attempt to confuse the QB and offensive line, but McGovern isn’t fazed. He comes off the snap with solid quickness and good footwork via use of the scoot technique (the idea here is to gain ground by losing ground) and shoots a two-handed strike tight to the inside. The linebacker attempts to torque McGovern so the looping 4-tech can have free access through the A gap. McGovern momentarily loses his balance but recovers, quickly looks inside, passes off his defender, and intercepts the looper by dropping his post foot while applying good hand placement to gain leverage and finish the block.

Although quick, a great deal went into the play above. McGovern’s short-area quickness, awareness, and toughness were on full display.  The Jets haven’t had a center with these skills since Nick Mangold.

Overall, McGovern is a bona fide starter and a massive upgrade, demonstrating very good use of hands in pass protection, competitive toughness, and the anchor necessary to hold ground and keep Sam Darnold clean.  Yet, he does come with weaknesses—although not many. At times, McGovern has trouble maintaining proper pad level in space while climbing to the second level and, as a result, struggles changing directions at full speed and sustaining blocks versus instinctual linebackers.  Still, I don’t want to make more out of this than it is, it’s correctable, and McGovern can improve.

Strengths:

  • Good Anchor
  • Mental processing (diagnosing stunts/twists)
  • Play speed to execute and make plays
  • Use of hands in pass pro (timing/placement)
  • Zone and Gap blocking
  • Reach blocks
  • Overall pass protection
  • Combo/Double team blocking and angles to the second level
  • Functional strength
  • Ability to stay square
  • Competitive toughness
  • Short area quickness, foot speed, agility
  • Footwork

Weaknesses:

  • Sustaining blocks on the second level
  • Pad level and change of direction at top speed
  • Push/movement one-on-one base blocking versus larger DL (0 and 1 tech)
  • Can get top-heavy at times and lose balance

Mekhi Becton (LT):

In early January, I wrote a piece on Mekhi listing him as a potential target for the Jets at pick eleven while he was still being mocked in the second round. I was high on him then, and I still am.

He’s a monster in the running game, bulldozing defenders and clearing lanes suitable for a school bus to pass through. Mekhi has one of the meanest first punches that, at this point, already rivals some of the best OL in the NFL. Athleticism becomes increasingly vital as linemen move to the outside, and for a man his size, Mekhi is exceptionally fluid. Nonetheless, his use of hands in pass protection remains a work in progress and, if he expects to take his game to the next level, he’ll have to add to his arsenal and master the art of independent hands. Becton tends to start with the same two-handed strike (to the inside), which won’t be as effective versus elite pass rushers who have studied his film; the goal is to become diverse and limit predictability. Incorporating different pass sets and hand usage will be instrumental to his development.

Based on the little footage I’ve seen in camp; he’s already made some strides in this area. Below, Becton comes out with his hands “on guard” and drops into a 45-degree angle set, does a nice job of establishing a half-man relationship (outside knee lined up with the edge rushers crotch), which is critical in delivering an effective strike, and deploys solid hand placement to the bicep/shoulder and pec area as opposed to his typical two-handed punch. It still needs work, but this is a positive sign.

“Proper hand placement for a tackle is actually on the bicep and on the opposite pec.” —Joe Thomas

Strengths:

  • Anchor
  • Pro ready vertical set/kick slide (can reach set points)
  • Athletic Ability
  • Play speed in space
  • Physical toughness
  • Functional strength
  • Use of circular force
  • Punch
  • Run blocking (played almost exclusively Zone but has the makeup for Gap too)
  • Creating movement at the point of attack
  • Angles to the second level

Weaknesses:

  • Identifying stunts/twists
  • Predictability in use of hands
  • At times hand placement in run and pass pro
  • Can get top-heavy/lunge
  • Cut blocks
  • Can have difficulty steering edge rushers up arc
  • Missed assignments in the run game
  • Relies too much on strength
  • Can overrun second level LBs and fail to sustain/latch

Alex Lewis (LG):

Lewis’s film could be described in one word: inconsistent. Overall, I see him as a borderline starter, but he exhibits some qualities that lead me to believe he could be more. Lewis handles himself well in pass protection by displaying competent use of hands (playing long), the ability to keep his helmet out of blocks, and the technique to put himself into position to latch/control. However, he has trouble dropping his anchor and holding ground versus a bull rush due to a lack of functional strength matched up one-on-one against larger DL. He’s an adequate run blocker at best, and although I believe he’s better than his 48.9 RBLK grade (PFF), Lewis struggles within both Zone and Gap concepts. He’s often late identifying stunts/twists and doesn’t possess the requisite play speed to recover. For a team lacking depth, durability also remains a concern as Lewis has missed time every season to date.

That said, Lewis still has a chance to improve, and I am looking forward to watching him play alongside a viable center. Jonotthan Harrison’s inability to man the “pivot” definitely was a catalyst to rough play among the rest of the line, namely with Lewis.  Harrison’s limitations in awareness with stunts, twists, protections, blitzes, and his lack of balance put Lewis in challenging positions to execute his assignments. Jonotthan Harrison is an all-star caliber person, but he isn’t a starting level center and, after watching more film, releasing him was a good football move.

Lewis, at this point, is an adequate OL, yet below is a play that leaves me optimistic. Lewis roots his feet off the snap, baits the 4i tech with his outside hand, mirrors the defender by dropping his post foot to gain leverage/control, hop steps with a wide base, refits his hands to the armpit area then snaps his hips forward to lift the defender and finish him to the ground.

Strengths:

  • Use of hands in pass protection (placement/timing)
  • Can keep his head back and play long
  • Footwork post snap in pass pro (solid ability to drop post foot, mirror, and control)
  • Can hit his set points
  • Use of the jump set to get in position, thwart momentum, or sell the run
  • Angles to second level when left uncovered
  • Angles off combo blocks when the LB plays shallow to the LOS
  • Solid lateral movement on pulls and ability to displace first level defender
  • Competitive toughness (displays fight to stay in position)

Weaknesses:

  • Play strength
  • Angles and hand placement on down blocks
  • Movement/Push on base blocks
  • Can struggle on DBLs even with help
  • Easily stacked and shed
  • Difficulty getting to the outside shoulder and execute reach blocks (zone)
  • Anchor versus larger DL and has trouble versus built momentum (can get walked back and fail to maintain pocket integrity)
  • Inconsistent awareness of stunts/twists and blitzes
  • Struggles playing the “cover” role on combo blocks due to adequate footwork
  • Displacing second-level defenders once he’s through a hole on Pulls
  • Can get top-heavy/lunge

George Fant (RT):

Fant has spent most of his career as a swing tackle (6th man) coming off the bench. He started 24 of 46 games played in his career, including only seven out of sixteen last season.  Early film of Fant in 2019 is fairly rough (especially versus Cleveland) so I was a bit discouraged. Still, I witnessed a player who became more comfortable in his role and, by the end of the regular season, I was left intrigued. Whether Fant can handle a full-time job remains in question, but if he’s able to match his natural athleticism with improved technique, he could be a solid starter.

From a physical standpoint, Fant’s athletic ability stands out, and he’s a nice fit for the zone system the Jets deploy. His measurables are very similar to that of Tristan Wirfs (OT)—who broke multiple records at the combine—which should be reassuring for the fanbase.

Below are back-to-back reps (at LT) versus San Francisco on the final game of the regular season. This game, in particular, showcased his progression from a fringe starter to a potential everyday player.

Fant comes out “on guard” and roots his feet, establishes a half-man relationship, demonstrates good use of independent hands via accurate placement/timing with a deliberate strike to the chest using his outside hand, then follows it up with a right hand to the shoulder to keep the defender at bay and control the edge rusher (Nick Bosa).

This next clip, again, exhibits the development I was hoping to observe while evaluating his film. I’d like to see him keep his helmet out of this play. Still, Fant gets into position (via a 45-degree set), deploys good use of hands, this time utilizing a half-moon approach to Armstead’s bicep/shoulder area, with the other hand firmly on his outside pec. Although it’s hard to spot, Armstead attempts a swim move to break free, but Fant drops his anchor, refits his right hand to the armpit area, lifts, and holds his ground versus a dominant defender.

Strengths:

  • Athletic Ability
  • Play speed in space
  • Quickness, lateral agility, change of direction
  • Overall Pass Pro
  • Solid Anchor although struggles to hold ground versus a bull rush at times
  • Solid footwork but can cross his feet or overset occasionally
  • Ideal physical build for a Zone blocking scheme
  • Sound combo blocker but inconsistent angles to the second level
  • Functional Strength

Weaknesses:

  • Needs to play more “on guard” (exposes chest with wide arms & is vulnerable to bull rush)
  • Inconsistent hand placement/timing in pass protection and run blocking
  • Punch strength
  • Ability to sustain/latch on the second level
  • Can get top-heavy/lunge in pass and run blocking
  • Struggles controlling DL on reach blocks (zone)
  • Can lead with his helmet
  • Needs to be more consistent finishing blocks
  • Identifying Stunts/twists/blitzes but has his good moments
  • Needs to work on staying square (can open up hips/gate too early)
  • Can overset, fail to establish a half-man relationship, and leave the inside path to the QB vulnerable at times

Greg Van Roten (RG):

A native New Yorker, Van Roten is an adequate yet serviceable OL who wins more with effort than skill. He plays to the whistle, and his toughness is admirable. Van Roten displays the necessary quickness off the snap, gets his feet in position, hits his set points (although can overset at times), and exhibits solid use of hands in Pass Pro (playing long). He gets really low out of his stance and does a very good job of staying “on guard” and protecting his chest, but I would like him to bring his hips in more; he tends to get top-heavy and can lunge for contact. Van Roten demonstrates a strong anchor via rooted feet, tight hands, low pad level, and ability to hop and snap his hips into his bridge (which is the strongest position for offensive linemen). Mental processing is on display when left uncovered in Pass Pro as he keeps his eyes active to help teammates and/or intercept defenders trying to slip into his gap. Van Roten makes reliable use of the drag hand when assisting adjacent linemen while simultaneously looking for work. However, he does suffer from lapses in judgment and can leave the pocket exposed.

Van Roten is a scheme versatile run blocker ideal for IZ/Gap concepts. He displays the ability to pull, define a gap, and displace first level defenders in Power. He possesses the technical skills to be utilized on double teams in DUO or as a combo blocker on IZ due to proper timing/placement with his feet and hands. Van Roten can wash defenders with accurate hand placement to the inside shoulder/armpit area, moving laterally to open up potential lanes on Zone runs or execute a hinge to thwart backside pursuit. However, he can struggle to reach/scoop block, and I have reservations about his overall effectiveness within Outside Zone concepts, particularly on the playside.

Below, Van Roten (at LG) executes a sort of snatch-and-trap technique to take advantage of the 3-tech who became top-heavy after Van Roten successfully deployed a jump set to sell the run on a play-action pass. Van Roten demonstrates a good understanding of leverage and uses it to bring the defender to the ground. It’s rare to see an OL do this effectively, and fortunately, Van Roten’s film features several examples of this method.

Strengths:

  • Solid anchor
  • Solid hand placement/timing in pass pro
  • Very Good job at protecting his chest and staying “on guard”
  • Can Pull and displace/seal first level defenders and define a gap
  • Angles to the second level when left uncovered
  • Always looking for work
  • Competitive toughness (scrappy player who plays to the whistle and looks to finish)
  • Disciplined (only 4 penalties in his entire career)
  • Functional Strength
  • Effective in short-yardage situations

Weaknesses:

  • Leads with his helmet
  • Can get top-heavy and lunge for contact
  • Can get walked back versus larger DL
  • Reach/scoop blocks (zone)
  • Change of direction on the run
  • Inconsistent awareness of stunts/twists
  • At times has lapses in judgment/mental processing when assisting others in pass protection
  • Better than expected lateral movement but not quite a strength