The NY Jets were witness to a true breakout season from veteran offensive tackle George Fant in 2021. Seen as little more than a fringe starter entering the year, Fant broke out and established himself as one of the most important players on the entire team.
Fant's breakout campaign seemingly came out of nowhere too with the veteran swing tackle's track record of prior success limited at best. His sudden success could have some believing that regression might be in order for 2022.
After all, when a veteran player magically has a career year at age 29, some are quick to label it as nothing more than a fluke. But a closer look at Fant's career trajectory provides proof that this performance wasn't as out-of-the-blue as many probably think.
Fant was finally given the opportunity he had been searching his entire career for in 2021. He was finally able to be a team's starting left tackle for an entire season. The results were phenomenal.
George Fant maximized his opportunity with the NY Jets in 2021
Fant was legitimately one of the best pass-blocking offensive tackles this past season. Only two offensive tackles (either left or right) finished with fewer pressures allowed than Fant's 18 in 15 games — Andrew Whitworth and Tristan Wirfs.
He was genuinely outstanding, and it's no coincidence that Fant excelled when he finally found stability at his self-described natural position.
To this point in his career, Fant had been a swing tackle. From 2016-2019 with the Seattle Seahawks, Fant had rotated between playing left tackle, right tackle, and as an extra tight end.
He was primarily a left tackle as a rookie in 2016, missed all of 2017 due to a torn ACL, returned as a hybrid right tackle/tight end in 2018 (he played just five snaps at left tackle), and rotated between left tackle and tight end in 2019 playing zero snaps at right tackle — his primary position the year prior.
The rotating continued when he signed with the Jets in 2020. Despite being signed with the expectation that he would play left tackle, Fant was moved to the right side after the Jets drafted Mekhi Becton.
Fant struggled, finishing as Pro Football Focus' 64th-ranked offensive tackle, and entered the 2021 season in a competition with the newly-signed Morgan Moses for the starting right tackle job.
As fate would have it, Becton would suffer a significant knee injury in Week 1 forcing Fant to the left side where he would remain for the rest of the season.
Fant was allowed to play his natural position for essentially an entire season. No flip-flopping, no playing tight end — he could focus solely on playing left tackle.
But while this is the most discussed reason as to why Fant broke out, it isn't the only factor at play here. Two more aspects of his breakout should be considered — his age/experience and the scheme he was playing in.
George Fant finally lived up to his potential with the NY Jets in 2021
Fant has had an unconventional path to the NFL. A former college basketball star, Fant didn't start playing football until his fifth year at Western Kentucky (he didn't even play the sport in high school). And even then, he was used primarily as a tight end.
He may already be 29-years-old, but he doesn't have the experience of your typical 29-year-old. Taking into account his lost 2017 season, this past year was really Fant's fifth year playing offensive tackle at any level of football.
This wasn't a random breakout from a longtime NFL veteran. This was an inexperienced player finally realizing his potential in a scheme and situation that suited him.
But what about that scheme? The Jets touted all offseason that their switch to a wide-zone rushing offense would benefit players like Fant and Connor McGovern who had ample athleticism and mobility.
Despite initial hesitation, that proved to be true on both accounts, but especially for Fant. Fant even remarked before the season started that "the system was built for [him]." Turns out, he was right.
All of those factors contributed to Fant's "breakout" season in 2021. This isn't to say that we should've seen it coming, but rather that it's easily explainable when looking at the context of his situation.
George Fant didn't fluke himself into a great year. A combination of factors, both external and internal, allowed him to play the best football of his career in 2021.
And there's no reason why he can't pick up where he left off in 2022.