With the offseason underway, we’ve been taking an in-depth look at each of the Jets’ new signings. We continue with a look at offensive lineman Greg Van Roten.
The 30-year old is listed at 6’3” and 305 pounds and was undrafted out of Pennsylvania in 2012. Van Roten took a long road to becoming an NFL starter, spending two years in Canada and finally making his first NFL start in 2018 with the Panthers; his fourth NFL team. He started 27 games in a row before landing on injured reserve.
Van Roten grew up in the New York area with a family of Jets fans and was a left tackle in high school. He went to Pennsylvania where he didn’t play in his first season but then started 30 games in a row at left tackle over his final three years.
After going undrafted, Van Roten spent his first two seasons with the Packers, during which he saw brief action off the bench in 10 regular season and two playoff games. However, he didn’t play another NFL game over the next three seasons.
After being released in final cuts by Seattle in 2014, Van Roten was without a team all year, so went to Canada to play two years with the Toronto Argonauts. He was an all-star there, so at the end of his second season he tried to get back into the NFL and was signed by Jacksonville. However, they cut him during OTAs.
He got a camp invite with the Panthers and impressed them during camp, earning a contract and making 10 appearances in a reserve and special teams role.
Having signed a two-year extension, Van Roten became the full-time starter at left guard and played every snap in 2018. He played every snap in the first 11 games of 2019 as well, but missed the last five after being placed on injured reserve.
The Jets signed Van Roten to a three-year contract in the first week of free agency.
Let’s move onto some more in-depth analysis of what Van Roten brings to the table, based on in-depth research and film study.
Van Roten has solid size and, although his arms are of below average length, he has a wide frame that gives him an 82” wingspan.
At his pro day, Van Roten put up outstanding numbers across the board with a 5.06 in the 40-yard dash, 34.5” vertical, 112” broad jump and 4.38 short shuttle. He also posted 31 bench press reps.
Although all 27 of his starts with the Panthers were at left guard, Van Roten has excellent versatility. He played left tackle in college and played some snaps at center earlier on in his NFL career.
In preseason action, he’s seen some brief action at right guard and right tackle over the course of his career and extensive work at left guard and center.
He played tackle, center and guard in Canada, but was named to the all-star team as a right guard. Van Roten also saw some action as a jumbo package tight end and a few snaps in the backfield while with the Packers.
Van Roten has graded out well as a pass blocker, giving up just three sacks in his 27 starts, including none in his last 10. He also significantly reduced his pressure rate in 2019.
In 2018, he had some issues holding up against the bull rush with Cam Heyward recording a sack on this impressive play.
However, that was one of the areas where he showed improvements in 2019 as he showed an ability to stonewall smaller rushers and re-anchor against bigger ones.
He also improved in terms of his ability to hold up against a one-on-one pass rush move. On this play from 2018, Jonathan Allen is quick with his hands and creates the separation to get upfield on Van Roten.
However, in 2019, he looked balanced in his sets and was more aggressive in landing the first punch to slow his man down.
A lot of the time, he wasn’t exposed to one-on-one rushes though because the Panthers set up in such a way as Van Roten was left spare to help out the left tackle or the center.
Van Roten had the only holding penalty of his career on a pass protection play where the defensive tackle drove him back off his spot, flushing Cam Newton from the pocket.
What stands out about Van Roten is his strength. There’s a lot of impressive plays where he squares up his man and drives him back and the Panthers regularly ran behind him with confidence. That led them to have a unit that placed in the top five in rushing in each of his two years as a starter.
However, that’s not to say he doesn’t move well. He has excellent mobility and the ability to block on the move. Some of his most impressive blocks have been while pulling or trapping.
He isn’t just effective in a man/power scheme though, as he shows an ability to move well laterally and stay on his block which will serve him well on zone blocking plays.
When Van Roten gets a downhill surge he’ll look to peel off onto another blocker and has done this to good effect on some big plays.
On this play he gets to the second level and is aggressive with his first strike so the linebacker has no chance to stack and shed.
There are times where he is initially stood up at the line of scrimmage, loses leverage on a block or misses his target in space, but overall Van Roten has the ability to make positive contributions to the Jets’ running game.
As noted, the Panthers would run behind Van Roten with confidence in short yardage situations. On this play, he wins the leverage battle with the defensive tackle to create a running lane.
However, they ran behind him on this game-deciding play with four seconds left and, on this occasion, his missed block allowed his man to bottle up the run, costing Carolina the win.
While you would expect Christian McCaffrey to make a lot of yardage on screen plays for the Panthers - and he does - Van Roten was often involved in delaying the pressure or selling a playfake rather than getting out in front of the ball carrier. However, he shows on this play that he definitely has the ability to do this to good effect.
As noted, Van Roten’s strength stands out on film and it enables him to overcome initial leverage disadvantages as he does on this play.
One thing he does well is get in an initial strike on his man and extend his arms to buy himself some time to react to their first move.
His footwork is generally good and he takes good angles in space and will battle to reset his hands in the trenches.
Van Roten has just four penalties in his career. Other than the holding penalty already mentioned, he had one false start, one penalty for being illegally downfield on a pass and one illegal block in the back when a wide receiver reversed his field after a fumble.
As an Ivy Leaguer who was an honor roll student at Pennsylvania and has experience of playing so many different positions, you might expect his football IQ to be one of his major strengths. However, based on the film this could be an area where he has some room for improvement.
Within his role in pass protection, where he’s required to react to which of his teammates require help, he will dole out punishment at times and shows some signs of excellent awareness.
He also shows an ability to function within a unit. On this play, the Bucs pick up a weakside rush by running a slide protection scheme that frees up the left tackle to pick up the man coming off the edge.
This type of cohesive pre-snap adjustment was something the Jets seemed incapable of mastering last year.
Despite these signs, Van Roten will have lapses at times where he won’t offer help although it’s required, or - as you see on this play - leaves someone else hung out to dry by helping someone who doesn’t need it.
The only sack he gave up last season was in the opener as he was too preoccupied with double-teaming Aaron Donald and Dante Fowler stunted inside.
There seem to be fewer lapses in run blocking situations, although he has had one pre-snap penalty, as noted.
On special teams, Van Roten’s main role has been as a blocker on the placekicking unit, as you’d expect. However, he also had some reps early on in his career as a blocker on the kick return unit.
Van Roten has obviously shown incredible determination and persistence to make it to this point having been out of the league five years ago.
He has a good work ethic and is constantly looking to improve. In Canada he became a leader for the Argonauts and also quietly showed some leadership last year by helping new addition Matt Paradis learn the new system.
Van Roten’s absence at the end of last season was due to a dislocated toe, which caused him to be placed on injured reserve for the final five games of the year.
He otherwise hasn’t had major injury issues in his pro or collegiate career.
Van Roten’s athleticism, versatility and on-field discipline make him a solid fit for the Jets offense. He’s also capable of contributing both in zone schemes and man/power.
It will be interesting to see where Van Roten ends up. He played left guard these past two seasons, but the Jets did already re-sign the incumbent left guard, Alex Lewis, to a deal twice the size of Van Roten’s.
He’ll most likely compete for the right guard role with Brian Winters, who could easily be traded or cut if the Jets are impressed with Van Roten due to the potential cap saving.
While Van Roten’s NFL experience at right guard is just three preseason snaps in 2018, he was a CFL all-star at the position so it wouldn’t be a major adjustment for him.
If he does end up on the bench, he could definitely be a useful utility player.
Van Roten is a signing which improves the Jets’ depth on the offensive line, which was an obvious goal heading into the offseason. Whether the Jets will be upgraded if Van Roten ends up as a starter remains to be seen, but the Jets will probably have more confidence in his durability than they currently do in Brian Winters.
Although he’s already into his thirties, he should have plenty of tread on his tires having barely played in three of his seasons as a pro and not at all in one.
Whatever his role in 2020, the Jets are destined to rely on Van Roten to contribute at some point. His versatility and recent success should serve him well whatever the Jets ask of him.