The Most Elusive 300lb Man In Modern Sports
By: S. Paul Lukoskie
Ever since Jonathan Ogden retired at the end of the 2007 season the Baltimore Ravens have been desperately searching for a player that can hold down the left side of the offensive line. Even though the coaching staff and front office can find late round gems at almost every position on the defensive side of the ball, the offensive tackle position still remains a glaring weak spot nearly 5 years and upwards of 10 draft picks and free agent acquisitions.
Why is it that the Ravens have such a tough time finding an answer to protect the best quarterback this franchise has ever had? Well, after a lot of research, Iâ€™ve come to the conclusion that itâ€™s not just the Ravens.
Free Agent Acquisitions:
The fact is that premier left tackles in the NFL do not hit the open market. Teams almost always lock these guys up well before they are at a restricted or unrestricted free agency point. Consider the top LTâ€™s over the last 5 years. How many were actually permitted to hit the market while they were in their prime? Even average LTâ€™s such as Donald Penn with Tampa Bay were franchised and then extended. Joe Thomas was even extended before he reached the end of his rookie deal with Cleveland and the Browns are not a beacon for spending. In your own opinion, if you were to consider your top left tackles in the NFL (for me it would be Joe Thomas, Jake Long, Dâ€™Brickashaw Ferguson, Ryan Clady, and Michael Roos), how many times do those guys hit free agency before they are 31,32, or 33 years old? The answer is quite simply never because the rarity of finding a great to even an average left tackle is next to impossible.
The NFL Draft:
I turned my attention to the draft next and my discovery was right what I thought it would be, but I was a little stunned to see the magnitude of it.
*For the purpose of my research I produced a scale and assigned arbitrary numerical values to the different â€œlevelsâ€ of left tackles in the drafts dating back to 2007.
5 – Good to Outstanding Starting LT in the NFL. [Think Joe Thomas & Dâ€™Brickashaw Ferguson]
4 – Above Average Starting LT in the NFL. [Think Duane Brown & Joe Staley]
3 – Average Starting/Performed decently when given opportunity at LT. [Think Jordan Gross & Donald Penn]
2 – Below Average Starting LT in NFL/Limited time to develop before team moves on. [Think Jâ€™Marcus Webb & Michael Oher]
1 – Should not be a LT/Depth tackle with little chance to ever start/Cut/Out of NFL. [Think Tyler Polumbus & Levi Brown]
2010 NFL Draft: Out of 23 total offensive tackles drafted, only 9 were given positional designations of left tackle (39%), only 5 started at least one full season (22%), of those 5 starting left tackles 2 were taken in the top 10 of the draft and have outperformed their draft colleagues.
4th Overall â€“ Trent Williams, Washington Redskins. [Grade: 4. Heâ€™s a solid young tackle when heâ€™s healthy. Definitely could improve to a 5 as he enters his prime.]
6th Overall â€“ Russell Okung, Seattle Seahawks. [Grade: 4. Like Trent Williams, heâ€™s a very talented young left tackle entering his prime.]
2nd Round â€“ Rodger Saffold, St. Louis Rams. [Grade: 2. Has shown flashes of eventually becoming a 3 or 4, but has been inconsistent. Probably better suited at right tackle or guard.]
3rd Round â€“ Jared Veldheer, Oakland Raiders. [Grade: 4. To find an above average starting left tackle in the 3rd round is a massive anomaly. Oakland got very lucky.]
4th Round â€“ Jason Fox, Detroit Lions. [Grade: 1. Heâ€™s a 2nd string guy behind Jeff Backus who is a below average starting left tackle.]
5th Round â€“ Ed Wang, Buffalo Bills. [Grade 1: Depth swing tackle on a team that has been desperate for a good left tackle for years.]
6th Round â€“ Marshall Newhouse. [Grade 3: Outperformed two 1st round left tackle prospects in Bryan Bulaga and Derrek Sherrod. Played well in place for injured Chad Clifton. In line to start at LT for Green Bay in 2012. Anomaly.]
6th Round â€“ Ramon Harewood, Baltimore Ravens. [Grade: 1. Two major knee surgeries on both knees in back-to-back seasons. Heâ€™ll be out of the NFL after this summer.]
7th Round â€“ Jâ€™Marcus Webb, Chicago Bears. [Grade: 2. Started at LT for Chicago in 2011, but was really inconsistent. Team will likely move on before Webb reaches potential.]
So, in the 2010 draft the â€œaverage gradeâ€ for left tackles after the 1st round was a 2 and the major likelihood that only Jared Veldheer will be the only quality starting left tackle chosen after the 1st round. If you were to consider all left tackles taken after the top 15 you would still have an average of 2 as there were no left tackles taken after Okung until Rodger Saffold in the top of the 2nd round.
2009 NFL Draft: In the 2009 draft we saw 21 offensive tackles chosen, including Alex Boone who was undrafted. Of those 21 tackles 5 were given the positional designation of left tackle for at least one full season (24%) and of those 5 there were 3 who were named starting left tackles (14%). The interesting thing about the 2009 draft is we started to see right tackles being valued extremely high as well, but their initial selection was as a left tackle prospect.
8th Overall â€“ Eugene Monroe, Jacksonville Jaguars. [Grade: 3. Heâ€™s been a solid starter for the Jags for 3 seasons now. Will likely get extended in Jacksonville and has potential to get up to a 4.]
23rd Overall â€“ Michael Oher, Baltimore Ravens. [Grade: 2. He has the athleticism to be an average left tackle, but the technique just isnâ€™t there and has shown better poise at right tackle. Ravens will likely move on from him after his rookie contract is up in 2013.]
2nd Round â€“ William Beatty, New York Giants. [Grade: 2. Athletic and has prototypical size, but lacks technique and durability. Probably better suited as a right tackle or guard.]
4th Round â€“ Troy Kropog, Tennessee Titans. [Grade: 1. 2nd string left tackle behind one of the best in the NFL, Michael Roos.]
7th Round â€“ Lydon Murtha, Miami Dolphins. [Grade: 1. He was actually drafted by Detroit before being cut. 2nd string tackle behind one of the best young guys in the NFL, Jake Long.]
So, similar to the 2010 Draft, the â€œaverage gradeâ€ for left tackles taken after round 1 was a 2 and if you were to include everyone taken outside of the top 15 youâ€™d have an even lower â€œaverage gradeâ€ of 1.5.
2008 NFL Draft: The 2008 draft yielded some of the best left tackle prospects weâ€™ve seen in years. Jake Long, Ryan Clady, Brandon Albert, Sam Baker, and Duane Brown have all been average to the best in the league entering their prime. Jake Long and Ryan Clady are two of the most consistent and well rounded pure left tackles in the league and Duane Brown went from a right tackle/guard projection to becoming one of the most athletic and dominant run blockers in the NFL. That said, out of 25 offensive tackles taken only 7 were given the position designation of left tackle (28%) and 5 of those 7 were taken in the 1st round. Of those 5 taken in the first round 3 were taken in the top 15 and other than Duane Brown in Houston, only 2 can really be given an above average to great accolade.
1st Overall â€“ Jake Long, Miami Dolphins. [Grade: 5. Heâ€™s got the size, athleticism, and technique that all great left tackles have. Heâ€™s one of the top 3 left tackles in the NFL and heâ€™s just entering his prime.]
12th Overall â€“ Ryan Clady, Denver Broncos. [Grade: 5. Was a day-1 starter at left tackle in Denver and is widely considered one of the top 5 left tackles in the NFL.]
15th Overall â€“ Brandon Albert, Kansas City Chiefs. [Grade: 3. Never truly impressed as a left tackle, but has always been solid. There are still some who feel if KC can get an upgrade at left tackle that theyâ€™d actually move Brandon Albert to RT.]
21st Overall â€“ Sam Baker, Atlanta Falcons. [Grade: 3. Heâ€™s been up and down and was replaced at times this past season by Will Svitek. Still, heâ€™s better than a lot of other teamsâ€™ left tackles.]
26th Overall â€“ Duane Brown, Houston Texans. [Grade: 4. A lot of folks thought this was a major reach by Houston (who traded back up for him). Duane Brown has developed into a very athletic and nimble left tackle for someone who was projected as a right tackle or guard.]
4th Round â€“ Anthony Collins, Cincinnati Bengals. [Grade: 1. Actually, Collins isnâ€™t that bad of a player and has done decently well when given the opportunity. However, he sat behind one of the better LTâ€™s in the NFL, Andrew Whitworth.]
7th Round â€“ Demetrius Bell, Buffalo Bills. [Grade: 2. Bell has been a below average starting left tackle for Buffalo over the past couple of years. It took him a while to develop and even after developing heâ€™s still just not very good, which is why heâ€™s an unsigned free agent right now in his prime.]
This draft featured a first round where a ton of tackles were taken and a majority of them ended up moving to different positions after being prospective left tackles (Gosder Cherilus, Chris Williams, and Jeff Otah). There were also multiple offensive tackle prospects who ended up dropping to guard and becoming pro-bowl caliber guards (Josh Sitton & Carl Nicks, for example). So, even though there were really only 2 left tackles taken after the 1st round the â€œaverage gradeâ€ was 1.5. After the top 15 the average jumps up a little bit to 2.5 and the overall average of all the left tackles from the 2008 draft is 3.4, which is pretty good.
As we can see from looking at these 3 draft classes, the left tackle position is extremely difficult to project and develop and itâ€™s almost impossible to find quality starting caliber left tackles after the 1st round and arguably after the top 15. In 3 draft classes (2008, 2009, & 2010) there have only been 4 starting caliber left tackles with a grade of 3 or higher (Brown, Baker, Veldheer, & Newhouse) and only 2 (Brown & Veldheer) who are performing at an above average level. Between those two, Veldheer was the only one taken after the 1st round, which why I say he is such an anomaly.
When you think about the evolution of the NFL offense and how it has become centered around the quarterback and prolific passing attacks you can understand why the left tackle is arguably the most important position on the field and why so many teams are desperately searching for an answer at the left tackle position and why teams clamor over signing even the most average left tackle in the league. Some teams are even so desperate that theyâ€™ll give a long term deal to a below average left tackle (as evidenced by Arizona re-signing Levi Brown) in the hopes that they can develop into something more.
At the end of the day, if you want a shot at a top left tackle you have to be picking in the top 15 of a draft. So, in this upcoming 2012 draft look for at least 3 left tackle prospects to be taken in the top 15 (Matt Kalil, Jon Martin, & Riley Reiff) and I wouldnâ€™t be surprised to see upwards of 5 tackles taken in the 1st round (Mike Adams, Kelichi Osemele, & Cordy Glenn). And out of those 6 tackle prospects there will likely be 2 who are designated as left tackles leaving 4 who will drop down to guard and/or be right tackles.