The Las Vegas Raiders made an interesting free agent signing last week, inking 33-year-old Greg Van Roten to a deal. While Van Roten is an NFL journeyman, playing for seven NFL teams and spending two years in the CFL since 2012, he has started in 54 games as an interior offensive lineman during his tenure in the NFL.
That experience makes him a contender to start for the Silver and Black in 2023 as he’ll enter a training camp battle with incumbent starting right guard, Alex Bars. Based on statistics provided by Pro Football Focus, that’s a matchup that should favor Van Roten.
Last season, Van Roten logged 194 snaps at right guard, 159 at center and one more at left guard for the Buffalo Bills. Of those 354 reps, 229 came in pass protection where he allowed 10 pressures (no sacks or QB hits, just hurries) for a pass-blocking efficiency rating of 97.7 and grade of 60.4. As a run blocker, he earned a slightly below-average 58.6 mark on 125 opportunities.
Meanwhile, Bars saw significantly more playing time with 707 snaps at right guard and 145 on the left but earned lower grades across the board. His 38 pressures (five sacks, 11 QB hits and 22 hurries) on 528 opportunities earned just a 55.4 pass protection grade and a 95.7 efficiency rating. He was even worse on his 324 run-blocking snaps with a grade of 39.6 in that department.
Van Roten was clearly more effective as a pass blocker last season with a pressure rate of about 4.4 percent to Bars’ 7.2 percent, with the former also posting a better grade and efficiency rating. While the difference in grades wasn’t as significant, the former Bill was superior in the ground game as well.
However, the sample sizes from last season were pretty different between the two players, so let’s go back and dive into Van Roten’s 2021 campaign for a more apples-to-apples comparison.
With the New York Jets, he logged 700 snaps with 10 starts and 12 games played in total. He allowed 37 pressures (three sacks, one QB hit and 33 hurries) on 474 reps in pass protection to earn a grade of 53.7 and an efficiency rating of 95.5. That certainly levels the playing field as Van Roten’s numbers were slightly worse than Bars’ numbers from last year, including a 7.8 percent pressure rate for the former, with a larger sample size.
But the running game was a different story as Van Roten posted a career-high 75.0 mark as a run blocker in 2021. That figure was good enough to finish in the Top 15 among qualifying guards in the league, while Bars has only earned an above-average run-blocking grade once in four seasons, a 63.5 mark in 2021 on just 50 opportunities.
The only season where the two players have a comparable sample size during the same timeframe came in 2020—752 snaps for Van Roten and 617 snaps for Bars—and the former still outperformed the latter.
In pass protection, Van Roten recorded 482 snaps and gave up 24 pressures (three sacks, two QB hits and 19 hurries) which came out to nearly a 5.0 percent pressure rate, a 71.5 grade and a 97.0 efficiency rating.
Bars was more productive with nine pressures (two sacks, zero QB hits and seven hurries), about a 2.3 percent pressure rate and a 98.6 efficiency rating. But his 57.3 grade in pass protection suggests he was getting beat more frequently than his counterpart, it just didn't result in as many stats because the ball was getting thrown faster.
For comparison, Nick Foles and Mitchell Trubisky—the two quarterbacks Bars blocked for that year—recorded average time to throws of 2.40 and 2.70, respectively, while Joe Flacco and Sam Darnold posted times of 2.83 and 2.86, respectively.
As a run blocker, Van Roten was still superior in 2020 but not by much. He earned a 54.4 grade from PFF in that department while Bars was two and a half points behind with a mark of 51.9.
This projects to be a close battle in training camp. While the numbers going into it favor Van Roten, Bars does have the advantage of knowing the playbook and having familiarity working with his teammates. This will be a good case study for what’s more important; historical production or continuity with the rest of the line.