I’ve got to disclose the potential for bias on this one. Tampa Bay Buccaneers center Ryan Jensen and I have something in common. We’re both from and love the great state of Colorado.
Oh, he was also my personal favorite as an off-season target in 2018, and I don’t think I imagined I’d ever get as excited as I was when the Bucs brought him over from Baltimore last summer.
All that said, we’re going to stay as objective as we can. Here we go.
2018 CAP EXPENSE: $12M
TEAM RANKING: 4TH
NFL RANKING: 65TH
POSITION RANKING: 2ND
Being the second-highest paid center in the NFL is a lot of pressure. It’s also a big accomplishment.
The fact Jensen is where he is today makes him more successful than just about anybody expected he’d be coming out of powerhouse college…..Colorado State-Pueblo.
He’s not the first Thunderwolves alumn to make it to the NFL, but he’s definitely climbed the league ladder higher than any before him.
In the five years following his selection in the sixth round by the Baltimore Ravens, Jensen went from playing in one game with no starts in his first two seasons, to playing in eleven and starting six in his third.
By the time he got to his fifth-year, he was a sixteen-game starter for the Ravens. Which he turned into a nice payday and sixteen more starts in 2018 for the Bucs.
Which leads us to here and now.
Playing on the offensive line makes it difficult when you’re trying to measure statistical success.
If you look at NFL.com’s player stats for Jensen, it’s fairly simple. He played in sixteen games. He started sixteen games. Tying for the most started games in the regular season for the 2018 season certainly justifies the $12M in cap space surrendered by Tampa Bay, right?
Pro Football Reference isn’t much better, but they do give us a penalty log, on which they credit Jensen with 11 penalties worth 120-yards total. Up from his 2017 total of four called and two accepted penalties.
In fact, Jensen had more penalties called and accepted in 2018 than he had in his first five years in the NFL combined. He also doubled his career total in unnecessary roughness penalties getting flagged four times this past season compared to just two in his time with the Ravens.
These numbers tied him for the team lead in penalties called – Demar Dotson also had eleven – but Jensen stands alone at the top with penalties accepted and yards accrued.
Nobody on the team had more than eight penalties accepted outside of Jensen.
Of course, penalties aren’t the only measure of a lineman.
Moving over to Pro Football Focus (dodges tomato) we see that Jensen was third in pass protection and third in run blocking among the starting offensive linemen.
It gets better. Of the 25 sacks credited to the Bucs offensive line, Jensen surrendered just one. The only starter with just one sack credited to him.
He was also only responsible for two quarterback hits, and his 25 total pressures allowed on the year placed him with the fewest. Again, this is among starters.
The biggest thing he might have brought to the Tampa Bay frontline though, is attitude. Jensen is a fighter. A scrapper. He doesn’t lose willingly, and he doesn’t take it well.
Sticking with PFF, Jensen’s eleven penalties called and accepted placed him alone at the top of the list among all NFL centers. Mike Pouncey from the Los Angeles Chargers came in second with eight penalties called and accepted.
Of centers who played on at least 80% of their team’s snaps (21) in 2018, Jensen finished 14th in pass blocker grading and 18th in run blocking.
However, he finished forth in sacks allowed. Three centers didn’t catch the blame for a single sack in 2018 despite playing over 1,000 snaps. They were Rodney Hudson (Oakland Raiders), Jason Kelce (Philadelphia Eagles) and Cody Whitehair (Chicago Bears).
Snap count is an important statistic as well. When you’re looking at value versus performance, the fact Jensen was one of just seventeen centers on all 32 NFL teams to play over 1,000 snaps is pretty important as well.
The question here though is, did it mean enough to justify the second-largest cap hit in the league for 2018?
I think most would argue the Bucs offensive line just didn’t get the job done in 2018.
Ali Marpet was the best of the group, and while many people felt he was a Pro Bowl snub, even he finished 23rd in pass protection and 26th in run blocking when compared to other offensive lineman who took at least 80% of their team’s snaps.
Demar Dotson had the fewest pressures on the Bucs offensive line, and he finished 29th in the league. Deshaun Watson was sacked more than any quarterback in the league, and even he had a lineman finish better than that.
So, yes. The Bucs gave up more than they got in return when comparing the impact of cap space versus the production of Ryan Jensen.
The most glaring stat on here to me was the penalties. And I look at Jensen’s penalties the way I look at Jameis Winston’s turnovers to a certain point.
There are the unacceptable ones. False starts mostly. I don’t think any lineman would even try to excuse themselves of a false start penalty. Jensen had two of those.
Holding penalties are extremely subjective. Some, like clothesline tackling of a defender, are just obvious. But really, you show me a hold against one player, and I’ll show you a no-call that looks the exact same on another.
The unnecessary roughness is where I’ve honed my focus. Like I mentioned in the team portion of this, Jensen is a fighter. It’s the only way you get to go from CSU-Pueblo, to the NFL, to the highest paid center in the game.
His first two personal fouls came in the first two games of the season. I remember them, and I remember your reactions to them. Everyone loved them. It was so nice to see a lineman with a mean streak who stood up for his teammates – and more importantly – his quarterback.
His second-two, well those were much less better received. The season had gone downhill fast. The Bucs were on the playoff line or out of it completely. And frustration was at an all-time high.
But, as with Winston, with Jensen we’re going to have to take the good with the bad. The good: we have a center in Tampa Bay who is going to fight for every thing on every play. The down: sometimes that fight is going to get him in trouble.
More so in 2018 than ever before, but his team was also losing in 2018 like never before – to him. It’s good that he’s not used to losing, and it’s good that he doesn’t want to get used to it either.
Jensen has three years left on his deal and he turns 28 this May. He may not have lived up to the contract status in his first year, but we can all bet he’ll be doing everything he can to make sure it doesn’t happen again.
And if it doesn’t work out again in 2019, the Bucs can get out with no dead cap space next off-season. Here’s hoping it doesn’t come to that.