vel

The ‘Blind Side’ Era is Over

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I know a number of people here are all in on the DL train in the draft and cringe at the thought of drafting a RT in the first round because you don't draft non-left tackle offensive linemen in the first round. I'm here, with the help of FiveThirtyEight, to provide some insight as to why that's a foolish way of think in today's NFL. 

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Quenton Nelson looks exactly like a franchise-cornerstone left tackle: Standing 6 foot 5, 325 pounds, Nelson is “built like a bank safe” and blessed with the athleticism and aggressiveness to be a perennial All-Pro. The quarterback’s protector is often called the second-most-important offensive position, so it’s no wonder that Nelson’s in the mix to be the first non-quarterback to be picked in this year’s draft.

But one thing does separate Nelson from other highly coveted tackles on draft day: He isn’t a tackle. He’s a guard.

How players at one position in the NFL’s otherwise-anonymous quintet of trench warriors became some of American sports’ most-prized athletes is a story so well-known it was turned into a best-selling book, and even a movie: The uniquely gifted protectors of “The Blind Side” emerged in the 1990s to stop the pass-rushing outside linebackers of the 1980s, like eight-time All-Pro Lawrence Taylor.

For years afterward, teams trying to land the next Orlando Pace or Walter Jones had no qualms about throwing high draft picks at top tackles. Even less-than-perfect tackle prospects like Michigan’s Jake Long and Central Michigan’s Eric Fisher were deemed “safe” picks at No. 1 overall — because unlike quarterbacks, who are unlikely to play another position well, if those tackles fail to establish themselves as quality starters, teams have the option of kicking them inside to guard.

As recently as 2012, guards were still afterthoughts, not worthy of the draft-value (and contract) investment that comes with a high first-round selection. Outstanding guard prospect David DeCastro, whom many evaluators deemed worthy of at least a top-10 pick, didn’t come off the board until No. 24 that year.

In the 32-team era,1 62 tackles have been drafted in the first round compared to just 14 guards. On average, those tackles were taken with the 14th pick, while the average guard went between 23 and 24. In fact, after “The Blind Side” was released in September 2006, NFL teams went on a four-year tackle binge, drafting 19 first-round tackles compared to just three centers and two guards.

Last season, though, the market for elite tackles seemed to dry up. Only two — Garett Bolles and Ryan Ramczyk — went in the first round, and both were picked in the back end of the round (20 and 32 respectively). After Alabama’s Cam Robinson was taken with the second pick of the second round, which was lower than most expected, no tackles were taken until pick No. 85. To get a sense of how high in the draft tackles have tended to go over time, we can quantify pick position using Jimmy Johnson’s draft-pick value chart, which assigns a point value to every pick in the draft based solely on how early the pick is, not on which player is taken. Last year, the picks used on tackles in rounds one and two were worth a total of 2000 points, the lowest sum since at least 1994. By comparison, the picks used on the six tackles taken in the first two rounds in 2013 were worth more than 10,000 points.

The trend of devaluing tackles seems certain to continue in the 2018 NFL draft. After Nelson, tackle Mike McGlinchey (average mock draft position: 22.2) is the next offensive lineman projected to go. But then it’s a run of interior linemen: Center James Daniels (28.5) and guards Isaiah Wynn (28.8) and Will Hernandez (28.9) are all set to be drafted ahead of the only other tackle who’s projected to be taken on the draft’s first night, Kolton Miller (31.2).

If Miller doesn’t make it into the first round, it’ll be the first time that fewer than two tackles have been drafted in any first round since “The Blind Side” was released, and it would match the 2005-2006 nadir for high-pick tackles — only three tackles were taken in the first round in each of those two back-to-back draft classes.

It’s not like NFL teams suddenly decided that the offensive line isn’t important, it’s more that the value pendulum is shifting away from left tackle. If Nelson goes as high as he’s expected to, he’ll be the third guard picked in the top 10 in the last six seasons (the fourth if you count Washington’s Brandon Scherff, who was drafted as a tackle but has since become a Pro Bowl guard). Before Chance Warmack and Jonathan Cooper went in the top 10 in 2013, no guard had been picked that high in a dozen years.

But it’s not just draft capital that teams are investing in a previously neglected position.

This spring, All-Pro guard Andrew Norwell signed a five-year, $66.5 million unrestricted free-agency deal that briefly made him the NFL’s highest-paid offensive lineman. Though former New England Patriots left tackle Nate Solder’s four-year, $62 million contract with the New York Giants topped Norwell’s $13.3 million average annual value, Norwell remains No. 2.

In 2016, the five biggest free-agency deals given to offensive linemen went to left tackles. In 2017, half of the eight offensive-line contracts worth at least $10 million per year went to left tackles — but the other half went to three guards and a center. In 2018, Solder’s was the only one of the top six offensive-line deals that did not go to a guard or center.

So why the sudden change? For starters, the evolution of the left tackle was a response to a defensive revolution that’s been over for a long time; Taylor’s 10-season Pro Bowl streak ended 27 years ago. From **** LeBeau’s zone blitzes to Jim Johnson’s and Jim Schwartz’s aggressive 4-3s, Wade Phillips’s one-gap 3-4 schemes to Bill Belichick and Matt Patricia’s hybrid/multiple fronts attack, defensive coordinators have as many different ways to send pass rushers at quarterbacks as there are gaps between offensive linemen.

According to ESPN Stats & Information Group, 36 percent of the 1,082.5 sacks by front-seven players in 2017 were registered by a player lined up at right defensive end or right outside linebacker. That means even a Hall of Fame left tackle can’t possibly help with at least two-thirds of the pressure that defenses are generating.

Then there’s the fact that quarterbacks don’t really have a “blind side” anymore. The heavy use of shotgun formation in today’s NFL allows quarterbacks to keep the whole defense in front of them. According to ESPN Stats & Info, just 13,319 of 32,436 offensive plays (41 percent) were run from under center in 2017– and of those, a quarterback dropped back to pass on just 4,201 plays (13 percent of all offensive plays).

The average left tackle, then, will only be called upon to keep his quarterback clean during a traditional dropback about 1/8th of the time he’s on the field.

But don’t tell Nelson, Wynn, Hernandez or any of the other guards set to be drafted this weekend that the value of offensive linemen has crashed. They’re about to prove that the NFL has finally figured out that anyone who can get keep a pass-rusher from getting to a quarterback is worth an awful lot — regardless of where he’s positioned on the line.

As the bolded points out, there is no true "blindside" any more. Some of the best RTs in the league played LT coming out of college. Ramcyzk and Schwartz were LTs in college. Lane Johnson was also a LT in college. On the other hand, Ryan Schraeder, who we saw fall plain off a cliff this year, is a RT only from what I gathered about his time in college. I think this is part of why he tanked the last two years, being a classic RT versus a former LT who is used to facing top tier pass rushers on an island. As some have alluded to Toilolo helping Schraeder, I think there is some truth to that potentially. 

Regardless, I think the team has to move on from Schraeder and treat the RT spot like they did when we were looking at Matthews at #6. The NFL has changed drastically since 2016 and we need to revamp the OL to match that. Especially with the various OCs we have building this offense. I also think that's why Sambrailo looked fairly decent all things considered. One, he's had time to settle in, get healthy, and actually develop. But secondly, he's a former LT. 

All things considered though, don't be opposed to taking a stud OT at #14 or a large contract in FA. This draft is very deep with DL, but not so with guys who can play 1000+ snaps at RT. 

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5 minutes ago, osiruz said:

Agreed which is why I don't mind reaching and trading up for Jonah Williams.

I'd be for taking Jonah because he's like Jake, take him and plug him and forget about him for years. Either RT or OG, he'll be a mainstay guy. 

2 minutes ago, Falcanuck said:

Andre Dillard in the 2nd round to play RT please. 

I don't think Dillard is going to make it that far. I think the Senior Bowl is going to sky rocket his stock. I'd love him though. If they do go DL in the first, hoping for Dillard at #45 would be likely. 

Dutty Ole Bird likes this

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4 minutes ago, vel said:

I'd be for taking Jonah because he's like Jake, take him and plug him and forget about him for years. Either RT or OG, he'll be a mainstay guy. 

I don't think Dillard is going to make it that far. I think the Senior Bowl is going to sky rocket his stock. I'd love him though. If they do go DL in the first, hoping for Dillard at #45 would be likely. 

I hope he slides due to had lack of run blocking experience and lack of schematic fit with a lot of other teams. I would be okay with moving 10-12 spots for him, too, though.

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I actually think the trend is away from protecting the edge and more towards protecting the interior. Nothing kills an offense more than pressure up the middle. Everyone is now looking for the next Aaron Donald and guards are being paid like tackles.

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5 minutes ago, Smiler11 said:

I actually think the trend is away from protecting the edge and more towards protecting the interior. Nothing kills an offense more than pressure up the middle. Everyone is now looking for the next Aaron Donald and guards are being paid like tackles.

This is a great point. Which is why I would love a guy like Saffold in FA and to draft an Oliver, Simmons, Wilkins, etc

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37 minutes ago, Smiler11 said:

I actually think the trend is away from protecting the edge and more towards protecting the interior. Nothing kills an offense more than pressure up the middle. Everyone is now looking for the next Aaron Donald and guards are being paid like tackles.

Agreed, pressure up the middle is lethal.  QBs have grown used to stepping up in the pocket, when the middle of the pocket collapses things get a lot tougher for a pocket QB.

Ergo Proxy likes this

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I think most people understand what is going on with offensive lines and pass protection but I for one disagree that the reason for Schaeder's decline is because he may have been a college RT. He most likely is declining due to age or injury. He didn't suddenly become lousy just because he was a college RT. The Patriots' starting LT was a college RT and played RT in the NFL before coming over to the Patriots and he seems to be doing fine. 

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5 hours ago, vel said:

I'd be for taking Jonah because he's like Jake, take him and plug him and forget about him for years. Either RT or OG, he'll be a mainstay guy. 

I don't think Dillard is going to make it that far. I think the Senior Bowl is going to sky rocket his stock. I'd love him though. If they do go DL in the first, hoping for Dillard at #45 would be likely. 

I think you would see.a trade up scenario if he were to make it to 35+, and I'd be all for it if we nailed our first on DT/DE

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5 hours ago, vel said:

I know a number of people here are all in on the DL train in the draft and cringe at the thought of drafting a RT in the first round because you don't draft non-left tackle offensive linemen in the first round. I'm here, with the help of FiveThirtyEight, to provide some insight as to why that's a foolish way of think in today's NFL. 

As the bolded points out, there is no true "blindside" any more. Some of the best RTs in the league played LT coming out of college. Ramcyzk and Schwartz were LTs in college. Lane Johnson was also a LT in college. On the other hand, Ryan Schraeder, who we saw fall plain off a cliff this year, is a RT only from what I gathered about his time in college. I think this is part of why he tanked the last two years, being a classic RT versus a former LT who is used to facing top tier pass rushers on an island. As some have alluded to Toilolo helping Schraeder, I think there is some truth to that potentially. 

Regardless, I think the team has to move on from Schraeder and treat the RT spot like they did when we were looking at Matthews at #6. The NFL has changed drastically since 2016 and we need to revamp the OL to match that. Especially with the various OCs we have building this offense. I also think that's why Sambrailo looked fairly decent all things considered. One, he's had time to settle in, get healthy, and actually develop. But secondly, he's a former LT. 

All things considered though, don't be opposed to taking a stud OT at #14 or a large contract in FA. This draft is very deep with DL, but not so with guys who can play 1000+ snaps at RT. 

Nice read....very interesting.

Still don't want to draft an offensive lineman in the first though

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Yeah, so many draft busts that postional stuff is so overrated. I’ve always been BPA at position of need (I think ignoring holes is stupid).

1st round pick should be best OT, G, DT, or DE.

That’s it for me. 4 positions of need. Give me the best player.

And we’ve ignored the OL so long, I wouldn’t mind an entire draft of lineman if we can sign a FA DT. 

citsalp likes this

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I want the best player available for one of the lines at 14. If that's a DT or an OG, I'm good. AN OG that could move to center would be ideal for me.

I want a game changer, An OG that keeps the interior of the pocket clean and opens holes for the run game would be fine. A DT that consistently collapses the pocket and makes plays behind the LOS is fine too.

Want to see a couple of mid level FAs- one for each line-so that they have the flexibility to take whoever is at 14.

I know that OL isn't the "sexy" pick, but winning games all year long by a 30 to 15 score because you can sustain drives, keep your defense fresh, make the other team one dimensional,  run the ball on 3rd & 4th and 1 and run out the clock to end the game IS sexy.

papachaz and NeonDeion like this

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8 hours ago, Smiler11 said:

I actually think the trend is away from protecting the edge and more towards protecting the interior. Nothing kills an offense more than pressure up the middle. Everyone is now looking for the next Aaron Donald and guards are being paid like tackles.

I've only been saying this on this message board since 2004 when I started posting here. The quickest path is a straight line.

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This was not the Cowboys game from last season. It was the Cowboys game from 2017 where Clayborn got 6 sacks.

Schraeder has been on a downward spiral

 

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1 hour ago, Cole World said:

This was not the Cowboys game from last season. It was the Cowboys game from 2017 where Clayborn got 6 sacks.

Schraeder has been on a downward spiral

 

Jeez that's ugly; I like Shraeder but gosh dang.

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