Later today, the Hall of Fame selection committee will meet to select the Class of 2019. Former Jets' center Kevin Mawae, who spent eight of his 16 NFL seasons with the team is one of the finalists. We're therefore going to take an in-depth look at Mawae and what he brought to the table.
Mawae was recruited to LSU in 1989 and had a solid four-year collegiate career that saw him earn first team all-SEC recognition in his sophomore year and third team all-American honors as a junior.
Mawae was drafted early in the second round by the Seattle Seahawks and made the PWFA all-rookie team in 1994. However, at the end of his four-year rookie contract Mawae's career really took off, as the Jets offered him the highest contract for a center in NFL history.
Mawae arrived in New York at the same time as future Hall of Fame running back Curtis Martin and the successes of the two were intertwined over the next eight seasons. Mawae's first year with the Jets saw them go 12-4, win a home playoff game and reach the AFC title game, where they blew a 10-0 lead against the Broncos.
The Jets never got that close again with Mawae, but he did lead three other playoff teams, two of which made the second round, including another AFC East title winner in 2002.
The individual accolades began to roll in too, as Mawae was a Pro Bowler and first-team all-pro for the first time in 1999. By the end of his eight years with the Jets, Mawae was a six-time Pro Bowler and five-time first team all-pro. He also paved the way for Martin to lead the NFL in rushing in 2004.
After both Martin and Mawae had seen their 2005 seasons ended prematurely by injury, Martin retired and Mawae moved on to Tennessee to be replaced by rookie Nick Mangold. In four seasons with the Titans, Mawae went to the Pro Bowl two more times and was a first-team all-pro twice.
He finally retired after the 2009 season, since which time he spent the 2016 season as an assistant offensive line coach under offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains in Chicago. He also spent last year as an offensive analyst on Herm Edwards' staff at Arizona State.
Now let's look in more detail at Mawae, based on in-depth research and film study and divided into categories.
Mawae is renowned for his legendary athleticism but is small by modern standards, as he was only listed at 289 pounds. He has good length at 6'4" and displays excellent functional strength on film.
Unfortunately, his career predates the scouting combine data, so we don't have any concrete numbers for his 40-yard dash or anything of that nature. Pro Football Focus lists his 40-time as 5.27 but that might be an estimate as it would only be average for the position anyway.
Mawae made his name as a center, but actually didn't start off his pro career or his college career at that position. At LSU he played mostly as a left tackle in his first three years, with one start at left guard and three at center, before moving to center for his senior year.
With the Seahawks, his first 27 starts were at right guard but he became the starting center in his third season and remained there for the final 14 years of his career.
As noted, Mawae is associated with being extremely athletic and an effective blocker on the move. He coupled that with an innate ability to take good angles and engage his target cleanly in space to drive him out of running lanes:
Mawae wasn't just athletic enough to pull laterally and throw a wham block though. He would get out in front of plays and pick up a target down the field, who he would often be able to take completely out of the play:
In many ways, Mawae and the Jets had a revolutionary approach to running the football. Being so athletic that he could get out in space ahead of the fullback, that meant Mawae could throw the lead block on a linebacker, leaving the blocking back with a much easier assignment of taking out a defensive back.
This led to a situation whereby the opposing defense would react to Mawae's first movement and so they were able to use him as a decoy to create big yardage on counter plays. Here's a well designed play where the right side of the line walls off the left side of the defense and Mawae starts off moving left. Everyone overreacts to that and the wing/fullback is able to block down to create a one-on-one in the hole, which - for Curtis Martin - was like taking candy from a baby:
Mawae wasn't just great on the move though. To be an elite center, you have to have the foundation of being able to control your man at the point of attack and Mawae does that here, almost effortlessly steering his man out of the middle and sealing him to the outside:
Couple that with an aggressive play-to-the-whistle attitude and Mawae can take you completely out of a play if you even think about taking one off:
Sometimes working in combination with his guards, Mawae was able to create huge running lanes at the point of attack:
However, he also had the capability to peel off a combo block and pick up a man at the second level, as he does here:
At other times, he'd just head out directly to the second level, where - with a head of steam and his ability to square up his man in space and extend his arms - he is able to drive his man back to create yet more running room:
Mawae's ability to create a surge at the point of attack was useful in short yardage situations, but the Jets would also make use of his ability to block on the move and find a target in space:
Mawae is an aggressive pass blocker, who will often come out of his stance and get an initial hit on his man to rock him backwards. Where possible, he'll take his man to the ground or drive his man back, creating some of the cleanest pockets you could ever wish to see for the likes of Vinny Testaverde and Chad Pennington.
When challenged by a bull rush, Mawae is excellent at re-anchoring to keep his man from penetrating the pocket and if he ever loses a leverage advantage, his athleticism and hustle come into play with his elite ability to recover and get back in front of his man.
Mawae was still an elite pass blocker even after leaving the Jets, as he gave up a low pressure count and only surrendered two sacks in his last three seasons.
However, his contributions in the passing game were not limited to pass protection. Mawae's athletic ability also made him a major asset in the screen game.
On this play, Mawae is way downfield when he buries a defender to spring Leon Johnson for an 82-yard touchdown which seemed to be the catalyst for that Mawae/Martin team to discover their identity and make a run to the AFC East title:
What's noticeable about Mawae in the screen game is that he doesn't just charge out in front of the play aimlessly. You'll see him assessing the landscape in front of him, like a quarterback going through his progressions. Again, his abilities to find the perfect angle on his man and engage him in open space are crucial here. On this play, Mawae ensures he gets outside leverage on his man before engaging him and braces himself to anchor against the contact as the defender tries to blow the play up:
This might be the best play of all though. It ends with Mawae knocking a defensive back flying with a hellacious pancake block, but before he gets to that, Mawae has time to assist his teammate and re-position the defender so he is sealed to the inside:
Mawae wasn't just athleticism, strength and effort. What made him so effective was his excellent technical ability. Here's a play where he excels by showing quick feet to position himself so he can angle off the defensive lineman with a wide base:
Here's a good example of Mawae keeping his hands inside and constantly re-adjusting so he maintains a leverage advantage throughout the play and is eventually able to take his man down. Most linemen wouldn't be able to sustain that block anywhere near as long, let alone prevent the defensive player from leveraging his way into the path of the ball carrier, unless they moved their hands to the outside, risking a holding call:
Mawae has been lauded for his smarts throughout his career and used to make all the line calls, often calling his own number as the primary lead blocker.
In pass protection, he's fun to watch as he'll often be the spare man and keeping his head on a swivel, ready to dole out some punishment:
His awareness in such situations is excellent as it was very rare that he'd be late to pick up a stunt or blitz.
Mawae didn't have major issues with penalties over the years, but did get hit with the occasional holding penalty here and there and has been considered a player that would "push the envelope".
In an interview in 2004, Mawae remarked that although sometimes other players have said he'll cross the line, you'll never see his name on a list of dirtiest players. Amusingly, five years later, he was actually voted the fifth-dirtiest player in the league, but said he was proud of this because he plays the game hard, although he admitted to the occasional leg-whip.
Mawae brings a classic offensive lineman mindset where he'll step in and protect his teammates, which can also sometimes land him in hot water:
According to Pro Football Reference, Mawae averaged just under three holding penalties a year while with the Jets and had five of his six career 15-yard penalties (one facemask, two unsportsmanlike conduct and two unnecessary roughness penalties) while with the team. For his career as a whole, he averaged less than five penalties (and less than four accepted penalties) per season.
Mawae obviously didn't need to contribute on special teams at the NFL level, although he did do some long-snapping at LSU.
Mawae's father was an army sergeant and he carried that discipline and attitude into his NFL career going onto to be an extremely well-respected leader and perennial team captain throughout his career.
On the field, he personifies hard work and consistent effort, bringing intensity and nastiness to his game and playing to the whistle.
He is well known for his devout Christian faith, which was established after he tragically lost his brother in a car accident early on in his pro career.
Towards the end of his career, Mawae was the president of the NFLPA's executive committee and was a central figure in the run-up to the 2011 lockout. He continued to serve in that role until 2012, but announced his retirement in 2010 after being unable to find a team. This was widely assumed to be because he had developed a reputation as a "clubhouse lawyer".
Having said that, although he was a pro bowler for the final time in his last season, that was felt by many to be based on his reputation as his grades and performance had fallen off somewhat in that final year and Mawae had turned 39 just after the end of the season.
Mawae had good durability throughout his career, including starting every game in his first seven years with the Jets. This famously included the 2004 season where he broke his right hand but, rather than miss any time, wore a cast on that hand and taught himself to snap left-handed in time for his next start. He seemed to enjoy the experience, wielding the cast as a club.
In 2005, his final season as a Jet, Mawae's consecutive starts streak was broken at 177 when he suffered a season-ending triceps tear during the sixth game of the year.
He went on to start 61 of 64 games with the Titans.
Having never focused on Mawae in this much detail before, it's readily apparent that he's one of the most fun players to watch in Jets history.
He's obviously really good - you need only listen to the testimonials from ex-teammates and opponents far and wide to affirm that. However, Mawae isn't just a player that was "good" enough to be a first-team all-pro several times; he's actually a player that changed the game, following in the footsteps of Dermontti Dawson to make that type of athletic game-changing center something other teams would strive to develop for themselves.
That seems to be exactly the sort of player the Hall of Fame was created to provide recognition for and Mawae will hopefully get his chance to earn a spot alongside Dawson this time around.
Mawae is without question a worthy candidate to be enshrined into the Hall of Fame. However, with a strong class this year, he's not a stone-cold lock to get in this time. However, in the event he doesn't make it, he'll definitely have a strong case next year.
Previously: We looked at Joe Klecko and his ongoing hall of fame candidacy 18 months ago. Also, for more Mawae content, check out this tribute article for when he was inducted into the arguably-more-prestigious-than-Canton TJB Hall of Fame.