With the offseason underway, we’re going to take an in-depth look at each of the Jets’ new signings. We begin with a look at offensive tackle George Fant.
The 27-year old is listed at 6’5” and 322 pounds and was undrafted out of Western Kentucky in 2016. He spent his first four years with Seattle, during which time he has started 25 regular and postseason games. The Jets reportedly have agreed to sign Fant to a deal worth $27 million plus incentives over three seasons with $9 million fully guaranteed.
Fant is a pretty incredible story, given that he barely played any college football. He played four seasons of basketball for the Hilltoppers, during which time he was a three-time all-Conference USA selection.
He resisted calls from teammates and coaches to join the football program until after he had graduated then joined the team and played in just two games as a tight end. He caught one pass and recorded two tackles in those two games
At the end of the season, Fant bulked up and was listed as an offensive lineman at his pro day despite never having played the position. He impressed the Seahawks with an impressive set of workout numbers and was signed as a priority undrafted free agent.
Against all odds, Fant showed enough raw potential to make the roster and found himself in the starting line-up as a rookie due to injury. He ended up starting the last 10 games as the Seahawks were impressed with his progress despite some inconsistencies.
Unfortunately, he couldn’t build on that in his second season as he suffered a season ending injury in preseason. Seattle ended up trading for Duane Brown which meant that Fant entered 2018 as the swing tackle behind Brown and 2016 first-rounder Germain Ifedi.
After initially riding the bench, Fant started to get a lot of playing time as an extra tight end where he proved to be a useful asset. He got a chance to start the last two games of the year.
In 2019, he played the same role, again seeing lots of action as a sixth lineman and making four starts at left tackle, including one in the postseason. He entered the offseason as a free agent with some talk that Seattle might bring him back to play right tackle for them. However, the Jets signed him on the first day of free agency.
Let’s move onto some more in-depth analysis of what Fant brings to the table, based on in-depth research and film study.
Fant’s pro day workout was extremely impressive and, as others have noticed, compares favorably to that of Tristan Wirfs.
Having bulked up from 270 to 296 for the event, Fant ran a 4.84, posted a 37” vertical and 119” broad jump and recorded outstanding agility numbers. He also posted 22 bench press reps which is below average for an offensive lineman. Since then, Fant has bulked up to a listed 322 pounds and had to rehab a serious knee injury though.
Fant’s athleticism shows up on film as he has quick feet, moves well laterally and can get out in front of the ball carrier. As he entered the league, his functional strength was somewhat lacking, but that’s notably improved over the past few years.
As a further sign of his athleticism, check out this incredible catch he made in a practice clip he shared on social media:
He also caught an eight yard pass in the flat after lining up as an eligible receiver with Seattle. That would have gone for a first down but he tripped and fell without being touched.
Fant had never played offensive lineman when he worked out at his pro day. He also did drills as a linebacker, defensive end, defensive tackle and tight end.
In his first two seasons, Fant only played left tackle in preseason and regular season action. However, he got some preseason work at right tackle in preseason in 2018 and then started playing the jumbo tight end role part of the way through the season.
Within that role, Fant primarily just lined up alongside one of the tackles as an inline tight end or effective sixth linemen. However, they did use him in some creative looks, out in the slot or in the backfield and motioning him onto the edge of the line. Seattle also sometimes shifted all their linemen down pre-snap so that he ended up as a left tackle with the original left guard snapping the ball.
Here’s one run blocking rep where he lined up in the slot:
In all, Fant started 10 games at left tackle in his rookie campaign and four at the same position last season. He also started two games at right tackle in 2018. Nine of his 25 career starts have been because he’s been on the field for the first play at tight end. He played 454 snaps at tight end over the past two seasons, averaging just over 15 snaps a game when he didn’t start on the line.
The main question everyone needs to know when assessing Fant is whether he’s going to be able to effectively protect Sam Darnold, especially if he ends up manning the blindside.
The challenge here is comparing Fant’s work with Seattle with what he’s expected to do with the Jets. You’d expect Sam Darnold to vacate the pocket or get rid of the ball quickly most of the time, whereas Wilson’s ability to elude pressure and keep plays alive often requires their linemen to maintain the blocks for a longer period.
There are two sides to the effect of this. For one thing, Wilson can run into trouble or keep the ball too long so his linemen’s pass blocking numbers might be artificially worsened when they actually did a good job. However, his elusiveness likely means there are some plays where any other quarterback would have been sacked but Wilson eluded it so it just ended up as a pressure.
Let’s look at a very specific example that illustrates this. Despite lining up as a tight end, Fant gets a tackle assignment here as he is required to block Danielle Hunter on an island:
On the face of it, Hunter sacks Wilson. However, Fant actually does a really good job of stonewalling him to give Wilson plenty of time to see the field. Really this is a coverage sack and Fant actually flashes some good potential on this play.
As a rookie, Fant looked totally overmatched at left tackle. He struggled to hold up against bull rushers and often got beat off the edge. In all, he gave up eight sacks in 10 starts and one relief appearance but it could have been more if not for Wilson’s elusiveness because he also surrendered a high rate of pressure. Despite his struggles, Fant competed really hard and consistently battled to stay on his man.
Since that time, Fant has made some dramatic improvements. He looks polished and balanced in his sets and has reps where he effortlessly repels the pass rusher’s moves to stonewall him:
Perhaps his biggest improvement has been against the bull rush. He still gives a lot of ground initially at times, but he has done a much better job of being able to re-anchor. This is a sure sign he’s improved his upper body strength as he’s bulked up over the past few years.
He showed that against Nick Bosa in one of the games he started at left tackle last season:
Fant held up well in that game, as he didn’t surrender a sack. In fact, in the six starts he’s made at tackle over the past two years, he’s not given up a sack in four of them.
In the other two, he gave up a sack and several pressures against the Browns in his first start of 2019, but was much improved and posted much better numbers over the rest of the season. In 2018, he had given up two sacks against the Cardinals, although they were the only two pressures he surrendered in that game. One came on a stunt and the other on this inside move:
One thing that was noticeable was that there were a lot of reps where Fant got some help from the guard but totally stonewalled his man without the helper having to intervene. These were often some of his best-looking reps. Whether they didn’t trust him but perhaps should have or Fant drew confidence from knowing that safety net was behind him is hard to say.
Overall, he’s definitely made progress, is starting to display some real consistency and rarely looked overmatched over the past few seasons.
While Fant has the potential to develop into a reliable pass protector, even if he’s not there yet, it might actually be his fit as a run blocker which enticed the Jets to target him for their system.
Fant’s athleticism will be an asset in pass protection, but it will also allow the Jets to make their running game more varied. With Le’Veon Bell as a focal point, the Jets were expected to run a lot of outside zone last year, but hardly ever did and that’s probably because they didn’t think their existing offensive line personnel was built for it.
In addition, the fact Fant often had to occupy his blocker for longer than usual when Wilson was in the pocket will hopefully mean he has good habits in terms of staying on his block in the running game so a patient runner like Bell can wait for a lane to open up. He opens up the kind of huge running lane Bell never saw last season on this play:
Among the other things he brings to the table are some good power at the point of attack, as he displays here:
This is the kind of thing he can bring to the table that many other tackles can’t, though. Lining up at left tackle after a pre-snap shift, he has the speed to beat the linebacker to a spot and turn him to the inside on the reach block:
He also shows an ability to peel off to the second level, which he demonstrates on this play:
Fant’s contributions helped the Seahawks lead the league in rushing in 2018. They finished fourth in 2019.
Despite Fant’s obvious ability to get out in front of ball carriers, there aren’t a lot of highlights of him doing this on screen passes. It’s obviously something he’s capable of though.
While Fant brings a lot of positives to the table as a run blocker, he does need to improve his consistency of technique at times. On this play, his pad level is too high and he gets overpowered by Marcus Davenport:
Another occasional issue when blocking in space is that Fant gets his angles wrong and doesn’t square up his man before making contact. This leads to him lunging into his block or losing leverage:
He will also lunge after his man after losing a leverage advantage as a pass blocker from time to time. Fant moves his feet well, but has to be consistent with that otherwise he occasionally gets beaten:
On the whole, his technique is pretty good, which is a testament to Tom Cable, who has a history of developing project linemen who have transitioned from another position (or even another sport).
Fant’s on-field discipline has been another area of improvement. He gave up nine penalties as a rookie, but reduced that to six in 2018 and had only one last year. Six of these 15 penalties were for holding and two were for clipping.
He has never had an unnecessary roughness or unsportsmanlike conduct penalty.
Fant’s awareness seems to be pretty good and he combines that with his length and athleticism to handle stunts and blitzes quite well.
Here’s an example of him passing his assignment off to the left guard and then picking up the blitz to allow Wilson to get his throw off:
Fant has had seven pre-snap penalties in his career, albeit that he had none last season. In fact, five of his six false starts came in his rookie season.
Fant has only ever contributed as a blocker on the placekicking unit while with Seattle and wouldn’t be expected to do any more with the Jets.
Fant’s progress over the past five seasons has been nothing short of remarkable. He’s been commended for his versatility, team-first attitude, tireless work ethic and hard-hat mentality.
On the field, Fant flashes nastiness at times and will dole out punishment at times as he plays with aggression and fire.
Fant’s season-ending injury in 2017 was a torn ACL which could have derailed his career. However, since returning, he has looked just as athletic as before and even stronger.
He also missed almost the entire 2019 preseason with a high ankle sprain and was slowed by a groin injury in the playoffs.
As noted throughout this article, Fant appears to have been targeted primarily because he’s a good fit for the Jets’ system.
This raises the question as to what role the Jets might have earmarked for him. He could play left tackle, right tackle or as a swing tackle and the Jets arguably need all three.
$10 million is probably considered starter money, but if Fant ends up as the swing tackle, the chances are he’ll have to make a few starts at either tackle spot and the ability to use him in that sixth lineman role does bring legitimate added value too.
Right now, though, unless they re-sign Kelvin Beachum, make a move for a Jason Peters or Trent Williams type or use the 11th pick on a left tackle, you can temporarily pencil him in as the blindside pass protector.
It really is impressive to see the growth Fant made since he was so raw and overmatched in his rookie year. For him to earn a contract worth up to $10 million per season seemed improbable a few years ago, but the Jets clearly see some potential and value there.
This is not a sure thing though. Although Fant played consistently down the stretch last year, his body of work is not big enough that you can say for sure how he’s going to handle a starter’s workload. If, indeed, that ends up being his role.
When you look at some recent Seattle linemen who didn’t necessarily grade out well throughout their time with the Seahawks but appeared to be on an upwards curve when they left, the likes of James Carpenter, Mark Glowinski and even Breno Giacomini all graded out better with their new team.
As noted, it can be difficult to grade these linemen because they’ve been blocking for Wilson and might move to a system where their assignments generally become easier when they move teams. If Fant can follow that pattern he could prove to be a shrewd investment.