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Thread: Diminishing importance of Left Tackles in the NFL

  1. #1
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    Diminishing importance of Left Tackles in the NFL

    Left behind

    In today's pass-happy NFL, the image of the left tackle is taking a beating


    Originally Published: April 5, 2013
    By David Fleming | ESPN The Magazine

    http://espn.go.com/nfl/story/_/id/91...-espn-magazine

    IN APRIL 2008, the Dolphins were so eager to make Michigan left tackle Jake Long the No. 1 pick overall and the cornerstone of their franchise that they signed him to a $57.5 million contract four days before the draft. Long more than lived up to that deal, becoming only the fourth tackle in 50 years to make the Pro Bowl in each of his first four seasons -- before a triceps injury sent him to injured reserve last December.



    Yet almost five years after the '08 draft, the Dolphins let Long -- who at 27 is entering his prime -- hit the open market without even offering him his $15.4 million franchise tag salary. Long ultimately became the 11th free agent offensive tackle to sign this offseason, inking a four-year deal with the Rams that could be worth as much as $36 million. But the contract came after he lingered on the market for a week, with his old team as the only other real suitor.



    So why the dramatic drop in urgency and currency for such a productive player? Actually, it's not Long who has lost so much value -- it's his position. The left tackle, once considered an essential building block for every franchise, has seen its importance erode in this era of read-option spread offenses. That's something NFL teams with high draft picks need to consider on April 25, when two left tackles, Texas A&M's Luke Joeckel and Central Michigan's Eric Fisher, are expected to be top-five picks.

    Times have changed dramatically since 2006, when the Ravens' Michael Oher was the inspiration for The Blind Side. That best-selling book and eventual blockbuster movie helped mythologize the left tackle's role in protecting the quarterback's back. But in '06, the ideal QB still stood in the pocket and worked through his progressions before delivering the ball downfield. Today, QB drops are shorter, the ball comes out quicker, the passers are far more elusive and the pressure is coming from all over, not just the right defensive end. As a result, Oher doesn't even protect the blind side anymore. In Super Bowl XLVII, he started at right tackle.



    Who would have ever predicted that when the Ravens made Oher their first-round pick in 2009? "If there's a great left tackle available, sure, people are still gonna take him," says Phil Savage, executive director of the Senior Bowl and former GM of the Browns. "But I absolutely think you're going to see more and more people rethink the idea of the left tackle as this top-notch, highest-paid, building block kind of player."



    Savage's reversal on the position is telling. In 1996 he was the director of player personnel in Baltimore when the Ravens drafted left tackle Jonathan Ogden with the fourth pick overall. In 2007, while running the Browns' draft, Savage selected LT Joe Thomas third overall. It's hard to dispute the impact of either guy; Ogden, in fact, was just elected to the Hall of Fame. But there's no disputing this either: Of the 12 left tackles drafted in the top 10 since 2004 -- at a collective price of more than $500 million -- only three have a postseason victory, and not one has an NFL title to his credit (Ogden won a ring in 2000). And although Thomas and Long have been to 10 Pro Bowls between them, neither has won even a single playoff game.



    Consider this also: In the first round of the 2007 draft, Savage bypassed Adrian Peterson, who last year had one of the greatest seasons by a running back in NFL history. To take Long in 2008, Miami passed over QB Matt Ryan, who has led the Falcons to the playoffs four times and took them to last season's NFC championship game. "I do not regret taking Jake Long," former Dolphins executive Bill Parcells told ESPN.com in April 2011. "But you always wonder if you should have taken a quarterback."



    For decades, old-school thinkers like Parcells and former Colts president Bill Polian considered quarterback, left tackle and pass rusher to be the "holy trinity" of team building. Now the argument can be made that the correlation between victories and elite left tackles no longer exists. "When coaches talk about position hierarchy, left tackle isn't among the top few anymore," an AFC team exec says. "Now it's QB, pass rusher, cornerback, wide receiver. A guy like Joe Thomas shows that a great left tackle isn't nearly sufficient."



    Nor is he necessary. After all, Eli Manning won two Super Bowl MVPs with former fifth-round pick and converted guard David Diehl protecting his backside. Aaron Rodgers sets up behind fifth-round pick Marshall Newhouse. And who can name Tom Brady's left tackle? How about Peyton Manning's? Considering that those two legendary QBs had the quickest releases in the league last season -- 3.03 and 3.04 seconds, compared with the league average of 3.46 -- do the names really matter? Linemen simply don't have to hold their blocks as long as they used to.



    Meanwhile, to counter quick-strike passing attacks, defenses like the Giants' and Ravens' have started to take a shorter, more direct path to the quarterback by overloading pressure up the middle, which places more value on guards and centers. That's why Alabama's Chance Warmack could become just the seventh guard taken in the top 10 of the draft since 1988. And because running backs and especially tight ends are too valuable in the passing game to stay in and block -- catches by tight ends are up 16 percent since 2008 -- even the right tackle position is on the rise.



    In the end, the importance of protecting the quarterback hasn't diminished; it's just that the responsibility and rewards are now more evenly distributed across all five O-linemen. "It used to be you found a great left tackle and built the rest of it from there," Savage says. "Now, because of defenses, you'd better be solid across the entire line. Instead of the super-elite left tackle, it's about five men who block well in a system. You could write a whole book about how the spread offense has impacted the NFL game."



    In that book, the chapter about left tackles could be titled Blindsided.

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    Great post, pretty insightful stuff.

    You can probably take this a few steps further, as to why some teams prefer cooper over warmack. The more bubble screens, misdirections and zone read plays, the more athletic the lineman are gonna need to be to get downfield and out in space.

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    Quote Originally Posted by FijiJet View Post
    Left behind

    In today's pass-happy NFL, the image of the left tackle is taking a beating


    Originally Published: April 5, 2013
    By David Fleming | ESPN The Magazine

    http://espn.go.com/nfl/story/_/id/91...-espn-magazine

    IN APRIL 2008, the Dolphins were so eager to make Michigan left tackle Jake Long the No. 1 pick overall and the cornerstone of their franchise that they signed him to a $57.5 million contract four days before the draft. Long more than lived up to that deal, becoming only the fourth tackle in 50 years to make the Pro Bowl in each of his first four seasons -- before a triceps injury sent him to injured reserve last December.



    Yet almost five years after the '08 draft, the Dolphins let Long -- who at 27 is entering his prime -- hit the open market without even offering him his $15.4 million franchise tag salary. Long ultimately became the 11th free agent offensive tackle to sign this offseason, inking a four-year deal with the Rams that could be worth as much as $36 million. But the contract came after he lingered on the market for a week, with his old team as the only other real suitor.



    So why the dramatic drop in urgency and currency for such a productive player? Actually, it's not Long who has lost so much value -- it's his position. The left tackle, once considered an essential building block for every franchise, has seen its importance erode in this era of read-option spread offenses. That's something NFL teams with high draft picks need to consider on April 25, when two left tackles, Texas A&M's Luke Joeckel and Central Michigan's Eric Fisher, are expected to be top-five picks.

    Times have changed dramatically since 2006, when the Ravens' Michael Oher was the inspiration for The Blind Side. That best-selling book and eventual blockbuster movie helped mythologize the left tackle's role in protecting the quarterback's back. But in '06, the ideal QB still stood in the pocket and worked through his progressions before delivering the ball downfield. Today, QB drops are shorter, the ball comes out quicker, the passers are far more elusive and the pressure is coming from all over, not just the right defensive end. As a result, Oher doesn't even protect the blind side anymore. In Super Bowl XLVII, he started at right tackle.



    Who would have ever predicted that when the Ravens made Oher their first-round pick in 2009? "If there's a great left tackle available, sure, people are still gonna take him," says Phil Savage, executive director of the Senior Bowl and former GM of the Browns. "But I absolutely think you're going to see more and more people rethink the idea of the left tackle as this top-notch, highest-paid, building block kind of player."



    Savage's reversal on the position is telling. In 1996 he was the director of player personnel in Baltimore when the Ravens drafted left tackle Jonathan Ogden with the fourth pick overall. In 2007, while running the Browns' draft, Savage selected LT Joe Thomas third overall. It's hard to dispute the impact of either guy; Ogden, in fact, was just elected to the Hall of Fame. But there's no disputing this either: Of the 12 left tackles drafted in the top 10 since 2004 -- at a collective price of more than $500 million -- only three have a postseason victory, and not one has an NFL title to his credit (Ogden won a ring in 2000). And although Thomas and Long have been to 10 Pro Bowls between them, neither has won even a single playoff game.



    Consider this also: In the first round of the 2007 draft, Savage bypassed Adrian Peterson, who last year had one of the greatest seasons by a running back in NFL history. To take Long in 2008, Miami passed over QB Matt Ryan, who has led the Falcons to the playoffs four times and took them to last season's NFC championship game. "I do not regret taking Jake Long," former Dolphins executive Bill Parcells told ESPN.com in April 2011. "But you always wonder if you should have taken a quarterback."



    For decades, old-school thinkers like Parcells and former Colts president Bill Polian considered quarterback, left tackle and pass rusher to be the "holy trinity" of team building. Now the argument can be made that the correlation between victories and elite left tackles no longer exists. "When coaches talk about position hierarchy, left tackle isn't among the top few anymore," an AFC team exec says. "Now it's QB, pass rusher, cornerback, wide receiver. A guy like Joe Thomas shows that a great left tackle isn't nearly sufficient."



    Nor is he necessary. After all, Eli Manning won two Super Bowl MVPs with former fifth-round pick and converted guard David Diehl protecting his backside. Aaron Rodgers sets up behind fifth-round pick Marshall Newhouse. And who can name Tom Brady's left tackle? How about Peyton Manning's? Considering that those two legendary QBs had the quickest releases in the league last season -- 3.03 and 3.04 seconds, compared with the league average of 3.46 -- do the names really matter? Linemen simply don't have to hold their blocks as long as they used to.



    Meanwhile, to counter quick-strike passing attacks, defenses like the Giants' and Ravens' have started to take a shorter, more direct path to the quarterback by overloading pressure up the middle, which places more value on guards and centers. That's why Alabama's Chance Warmack could become just the seventh guard taken in the top 10 of the draft since 1988. And because running backs and especially tight ends are too valuable in the passing game to stay in and block -- catches by tight ends are up 16 percent since 2008 -- even the right tackle position is on the rise.



    In the end, the importance of protecting the quarterback hasn't diminished; it's just that the responsibility and rewards are now more evenly distributed across all five O-linemen. "It used to be you found a great left tackle and built the rest of it from there," Savage says. "Now, because of defenses, you'd better be solid across the entire line. Instead of the super-elite left tackle, it's about five men who block well in a system. You could write a whole book about how the spread offense has impacted the NFL game."



    In that book, the chapter about left tackles could be titled Blindsided.


    Hogwash. Jake Long due to injuries the last two years hasn't been the same player he was. When you add the flat cap and it tough to pay big money to a guy who play has slipped. If he was performing like he was a couple years ago re-signing him would have been a no brainier .

    If this article had any truth than we shouldn't see the LT come off the teams draft board that fast. Anyone want to bet that the top three LT are all gone in the top 10. ( blowing this article premise out of the water)

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    Why cant we be friends? Its a Business!

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    These "writers" need to be drug tested. Sometimes I think they literally have nothing to write about so they over-think something and end up with garbage like this.

    Just b.c every OL position has become more important doesn't mean the LT has been diminished. Every position includes the LT position.

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    What a load of bullsh*t

    As long as the vast majority of QB's remain right handed, then players that can effectively protect their blindside will always be in high demand.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Untouchable View Post
    What a load of bullsh*t

    As long as the vast majority of QB's remain right handed, then players that can effectively protect their blindside will always be in high demand.
    So true, the point the writer should of made was that pass protection has become a higher priority for the other O line positions, not that LTs have been devalued.

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    Quote Originally Posted by sec.101row23 View Post
    So true, the point the writer should of made was that pass protection has become a higher priority for the other O line positions, not that LTs have been devalued.
    +1

    The NFL is becoming a more pass-happy league by the year, yet LT's are somehow less important?

    If anything, a reliable passblocker at LT is more important than ever.

    What a crock of sh*t

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    Quote Originally Posted by Untouchable View Post
    +1

    The NFL is becoming a more pass-happy league by the year, yet LT's are somehow less important?

    If anything, a reliable passblocker at LT is more important than ever.

    What a crock of sh*t
    I wonder how much and which team(Chargers, Cardinals, and The Dolphins) paid ESPN to publish that article.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Raider9175 View Post
    I wonder how much and which team(Chargers, Cardinals, and The Dolphins) paid ESPN to publish that article.
    No kidding

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    So the 2nd most important position on a football team is deem to be not that Important by the Twit.


    And these are the Experts.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Tinstar View Post
    So the 2nd most important position on a football team is deem to be not that Important by the Twit.


    And these are the Experts.
    Sports writers are getting dumber by the day

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    I think the importance of EVERY position except QB had diminished in the past 10 years. QB has become much more important at the expense of everything else.

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    Quote Originally Posted by JetsCrazey View Post
    I think the importance of EVERY position except QB had diminished in the past 10 years. QB has become much more important at the expense of everything else.
    And that's the way it should be.

    Just look at the CB market right now. Not a single CB has received a contract in excess of $8 million per this offseason, yet Revis wants $16 million a year?

    LOL

    And you actually have people on this board that want to give it to him.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Untouchable View Post
    And that's the way it should be.

    Just look at the CB market right now. Not a single CB has received a contract in excess of $8 million per this offseason, yet Revis wants $16 million a year?

    LOL

    And you actually have people on this board that want to give it to him.
    I don't think Revis is going to get 16 million.( I'm still waiting for my invitation to the Playboy mansion too - just because I want it does it means it going to happen)
    I think someone will give him 12- 13 million per year . If he waiting for sixteen million per year he going to be waiting for it a longtime. The market will eventually set the price for him.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Raider9175 View Post
    Hogwash. Jake Long due to injuries the last two years hasn't been the same player he was. When you add the flat cap and it tough to pay big money to a guy who play has slipped. If he was performing like he was a couple years ago re-signing him would have been a no brainier .

    If this article had any truth than we shouldn't see the LT come off the teams draft board that fast. Anyone want to bet that the top three LT are all gone in the top 10. ( blowing this article premise out of the water)
    Agree with you here Raiderman.....always thought Long was good but just not great.The fact Vernon Gholston abused him in college ought to have been a sign.There are a number of better LT's than Jake Long in the league and they remain very valuable assets

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    Quote Originally Posted by sec.101row23 View Post
    So true, the point the writer should of made was that pass protection has become a higher priority for the other O line positions, not that LTs have been devalued.

    If I had to guess the writer is probably the agent for Chance Warmack or Jonathan Cooper!

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    The Ravens only turned into a true Super Bowl contender when Bryant McKinnie, their real LT, not Ray Lewis, returned to full form.

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    If there is any diminishing of the LT position, it's only relative to the rest of the OL - as more teams realise that interior linemen are important too, they need to spend money across the O line, which lowers the "premium" amount they can pay a LT.

    Same as we're seeing at CB - there are so many spread offenses that a premium shut-down corner does not have the same impact now compared to a few years ago, so the money has to flow to where the need is. You could argue that the spread is not because of how good the WR's / TE's / RB's are now, it's the QB being able to pick the right man and hit him early with a catchable ball. So the money flows to those QB's ... at least until a defense can work out how to stop that, and then the next evolution happens.

    It's all cyclical ... they key is to be ahead of the cycle, rather than playing catch up.

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    Now it's QB, pass rusher, cornerback, wide receiver.

    Revis may have had a hand in this. How has the spread offense made LT less important, and CBs more important? You need more good corners, but it has made the value of 1 great CB less.

    TEs are too important to stay in and block.

    Another ridiculous statement. If a TE can't pass block then they just blitz his side. We've learned this the hard way. A TE can chip and release, or he can make you pay for blitzing by pass blocking. If a player can do both like Gronk now you don't know what to do with him, but a TE must be able to block to be effective.

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