With the offseason underway, we’re going to take an in-depth look at each of the Jets’ new signings. We continue with a look at offensive lineman Connor McGovern.
The 26-year old is listed at 6’4” and 306 pounds and was a fifth round pick out of Missouri in 2016. He spent his first four years with Denver, during which time he has started 36 games, including all 16 last season. The Jets reportedly have agreed to sign McGovern to a deal worth $27 million over three seasons with $18 million fully guaranteed.
He should not be confused with the other offensive lineman called Connor McGovern, who attended Penn State and was drafted by the Cowboys last season.
McGovern played on both sides of the ball in high school before being recruited to Missouri, where he red-shirted his first season in 2011.
After playing as a rotational lineman in 2012, McGovern moved into the starting line-up and made 40 starts in a row over the next three seasons.
After a solid workout at the combine, McGovern solidified his status as a day three pick and was ultimately selected by the Broncos in the fifth round. He stayed on the 53-man roster all year, although he didn’t play.
McGovern made his NFL debut in the season opener in 2017 and would go on to start the last five games. In 2018, he began the year as the starter at right guard and then replaced the injured Matt Paradis at center over the second half of the season.
He became the full-time center in 2019 and put together his best season so far. Of the 32 centers to play more than 50% of the snaps in 2019, Pro Football Focus graded Connor McGovern in 10th place overall and 5th for pass protection.
The Broncos were reportedly set to bring McGovern back on a long-term deal but they changed their mind when they signed Graham Glasgow to a contract worth $11 million per year. That enabled the Jets to jump in and sign him.
Let’s move onto some more in-depth analysis of what McGovern brings to the table, based on in-depth research and film study.
McGovern posted tremendous numbers in his combine workout with solid numbers across the board, including a 5.11 in the 40-yard dash and a 33” vertical.
McGovern has average size and lacks ideal length but has good strength and power, as evidenced by his 33 bench press reps at the combine and a reported ability to bench over 500 pounds.
On film, in addition to that strength and power, he also shows an ability to block on the move, a quick first step and good change of direction skills. Here’s a good example of him displaying some athleticism on the move:
McGovern didn’t actually play center in college, although he displayed good versatility by starting multiple games at right guard and both tackle positions. He played left tackle as a senior.
In Denver he saw preseason action in all three interior spots, including center, as a rookie, and over the next few seasons. His first regular season action as a starter saw him start the final five games at right guard in 2017 and then he remained at right guard for the first half of the 2018 season. When Paradis was injured, he took over at center for the second half of the year and was given the job full-time for 2019.
McGovern also saw some action as an extra tight end in jumbo packages earlier on in his career.
As noted earlier, McGovern graded out really well as a pass protector in 2019, really settling into his role as he gave up just one sack and less than one pressure per game.
What he does well is move his feet to stay in front of his man. Also, while he lacks length, he has big, strong hands and will often be the aggressor when landing the first punch in a pass protection set. He’s obviously required to keep his head on a swivel but possesses the explosiveness to move across and pick up a blitz or stunt.
One weakness in the past has been that McGovern can be inconsistent in terms of creating a wide base. This can make him susceptible to the bull rush, but obviously his dramatically improved numbers in 2019 suggest he’s addressed this to an extent. Here’s an example of him getting put on skates, from 2018:
When required to pass block one-on-one, his previous experience at tackle will be beneficial but he can still be susceptible to being beaten when playing at guard:
McGovern’s combination of strength and athletic ability makes him a formidable run blocker, both at the point of attack and in space. When did Le’Veon Bell ever see a running lane like this to run through last season?
His main weaknesses have been that he often gets initially stood up at the point of attack and sometimes doesn’t adjust his angle to wall off his opponent in space. Here’s an example of the latter:
When he is able to fire off the line and not allow the defensive lineman to get his pads under him, McGovern can use his strength to drive his man back:
Although, as we’ve already seen, he is capable of making blocks on the move, both on stretch zone runs and when pulling, McGovern sometimes needs to do a better job of bracing for contact against defensive linemen powering off the line to penetrate into the backfield:
The Broncos, perhaps surprisingly, didn’t run that many screen passes with the interior linemen getting out in front of the pass catcher over the past year, but here’s one example that shows this is something McGovern can do:
As already noted, McGovern is generally good in terms of hand placement or hand fighting and moves his feet really well.
However, he can lose battles in trenches from time to time. On this example, he loses leverage and allows the defensive lineman to free up his outside arm to throw McGovern off him:
Although he sometimes doesn’t square up to his target when blocking in space, he generally does a good job of moving his feet and adjusting his hand placement to reset his angle once he’s locked onto a block:
With his athleticism, McGovern can use good technique to make the kinds of blocks not many other linemen are capable of. Here’s a spectacular reach block on a defensive lineman that had lined up over the left guard’s outside shoulder:
One of the things McGovern struggled with after moving to center was the shotgun snap. He was struggling with this in training camp last year in particular. However, the coaches were confident they’d resolve the problem and McGovern told media he’d identified the problem with his technique in terms of his hip position and said improve his consistency once he built some muscle memory. It wasn’t an issue once the season began.
Good on-field discipline seems to be a pattern in the players the Jets have brought in so far to upgrade their offensive line. McGovern went the entire 2019 season without a penalty, having only had two penalties in his last eight starts of the previous season following his move to center.
At guard, he’s had more of an issue with penalties as he had three in five starts in 2017 and four in seven starts in 2018. Whether that improvement is down to him developing his comfort level generally or him being a better fit at the center position is something we’ll touch on further down.
Of his six total penalties in 2018, all of them came while blocking. Four were for holding and the other two were for an illegal block in the back. Again, going from that to zero in one year is impressive.
McGovern is regarded as a smart player, whose experience of playing at multiple positions is integral to his success. Also, while at college he was twice named on the academic honor roll.
He generally does a very good job of anticipating and reacting to stunts and delays. With that said, there was one play in 2018 where he got totally lost, which led to a sack:
That’s one of the good things about McGovern’s film though. If he does have a bad mistake like this, it tends to be a one-off and so he perhaps learns from his mistakes and becomes more and more consistent.
He also only has one pre-snap penalty in his career - a false start - and that was back in 2017.
McGovern’s main special teams contributions have been as a blocker on the placekicking unit. Within that role, he had one play against the Giants in 2017 where he got blown off the line on a kick that was blocked.
Other than that he has played one snap on the punt protection unit.
McGovern is regarded as a player with a good work ethic on and off the field. He works especially hard in the weights room, often with former Jets offensive lineman Matt McChesney supervising him.
In terms of on-field discipline, his penalty count has been low since he moved to center, as noted. However, he had one unsportsmanlike penalty in 2017 and a verbal altercation with Shaq Lawson at the end of a Bills-Broncos game went viral after McGovern got under Lawson’s skin by telling him he’d never heard of him.
While he sometimes is guilty of not playing to the whistle when he could theoretically hustle downfield to make another block, McGovern does display a nasty side in the trenches:
So far, McGovern has steered clear of any serious injuries. He was a healthy scratch throughout his rookie year and the only other game he’s missed was when he was benched for one game in 2018 despite the fact many fans and experts thought he was playing well. He was active that day but did not see action.
The only time he’s been listed on the injury report at the NFL level was due to sickness and he still played that weekend.
In college, he suffered a torn pectoral muscle while attempting to bench 515 pounds but didn’t miss any games. He also had an offseason surgery in 2012 but didn’t miss any time.
With 2019 being his best season so far, it’s worth considering if McGovern is better suited for the center position than the guard position. However, he was actually playing quite well at right guard in 2018, despite controversially being benched for one game when the Broncos were struggling. Then, once he moved to center, he initially really struggled with his consistency, although he settled down over the last few weeks.
It seems likely that McGovern’s improvement had more to do with him developing naturally and getting comfortable with his role, and therefore we can’t rule out him moving back to guard in future.
As for whether McGovern is a fit for the Jets’ system, he played in a zone scheme in college and that was expected to be his best fit at the NFL level.
When he joined the Broncos, they ran a zone scheme but that changed to a power/man scheme at the end of his rookie year in which he didn’t see action. Having started to use McGovern in the power/man system over the next two years, the Broncos brought in Mike Munchak as offensive line coach and reverted to more of a hybrid system with elements of zone and power. That coincided with McGovern becoming the starting center and having his best season so far, so perhaps the system change was one of the main reasons for his improvement.
That bodes well for his fit within the Jets’ offense, which also has elements of both. His athleticism, along with that of his fellow new additions, should enable the Jets to run a more varied attack than they were able to last season.
There are some developing patterns so far within the players that the Jets have brought in. McGovern’s athleticism and on-field discipline fit within this and those are the two main things that should make him an upgrade over the Jets’ centers since Nick Mangold’s retirement.
His addition also gives the team some flexibility come draft time. If they draft someone who can play the center position, McGovern can move to guard, but the important thing is that they don’t have to, which gives them the chance to bring that rookie along slowly rather than toss them to the wolves.
While last year was the first time McGovern had played consistently at such a high level, he seems to have made steady progress since being drafted so that’s hopefully something that he can build on with the Jets.
Last year, the Jets brought in Kelechi Osemele and Ryan Kalil and reviewing their film showed plenty of outstanding plays, even in their latter years as they were arguably past their prime. We were optimistic that they each had something left in the tank and could still play with good consistency but that obviously didn’t prove to be the case.
McGovern’s film similarly shows some outstanding plays. However, the difference is that he’s an ascending player. Hopefully this means there’s more chance he’ll be able to eradicate any negatives in his game and play at a high level for a Jets team desperate for some stability at the position.