2012 NFL Draft: Evaluating Levi Brown and the Arizona Cardinals Offensive Line

Cedric HopkinsContributor IJanuary 19, 2012

GLENDALE, AZ - DECEMBER 18:  Offensive tackle Brandon Keith #72 (C) of the Arizona Cardinals leads teammates off the field following warm ups to the NFL game against the Cleveland Browns at the University of Phoenix Stadium on December 18, 2011 in Glendale, Arizona.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Take a look at any 2012 NFL mock draft and without fail the Arizona Cardinals are selecting either Jonathan Martin or Riley Reiff at pick No. 13. In fact, my latest mock draft for the Cardinals has them pegged for an offensive lineman (OSU's Mike Adams). 

But then Bleacher Report commentator Lamar Slaughter got me thinking. He opined that the Cardinals would be better served taking linebacker Vontaze Burfict.

Initially I thought, "No way. The Cards' offensive line is terrible and needs all the help it can get." 

But I don't go on my thoughts and feelings—research drives my words.

Anyone who followed the Cardinals this season—and presumably Slaughter did just that—knows the passing game needs improvement. A mix of Kevin Kolb and John Skelton—with a dash of Richard Bartel—led Arizona to rank 24th in the league in scoring.

Running back Beanie Wells was only able to get the Cardinals to 24th in the league in rushing. 

The offense's production starts with the big guys up front. And Profootballfocus.com ranked Arizona's offensive line 30th in the league—above only the Bears (31st) and Giants (32nd).  

Even Sandra Bullock knows that the left tackle position is the most important position along the offensive line. And that belongs to draft bust Levi Brown.



But when Brown was drafted (2007), his charge was to protect a left-handed quarterback, Matt Leinart. Hence, he was never to provide blind side protection. 

Nevertheless, Brown finds himself on the blind side and with that he finds himself on the wrong side of consistent criticism. I've even slapped him and his fellow linemen with a deserving nickname: The Matadors. 

Of the 31 sacks The Matadors surrendered in 2011, Brown accounted for 11 of them—third most in the NFL. He also gave up 40 QB pressures, or the fourth most in the league.

But let's take a closer look. Remember, Slaughter has the Cards stuck with Brown by taking a linebacker in the first round. We need to know more.

Of Brown's 11 sacks given up, 10 of them came in the first 10 weeks of the season. From Week 12 to Week 17, Brown surrendered only a single sack. In that same period, Brown allowed only eight QB pressures.

Those numbers spread over the entire season would have Brown ranked one of the top offensive linemen in the league. So maybe the light went on for Brown. 

Perhaps Brown is finally earning his paycheck. Perhaps the Cardinals would be free to add even more fire to a blazing hot defense. Or, perhaps Brown just gave a bit extra to secure a pay raise and then will slip into another four-year hibernation. 

What ever the case may be, Slaughter may not be too far off in suggesting that Arizona would be well-served in drafting a linebacker first, instead of an offensive lineman.

The Other Side



Right tackle Brandon Keith fared a bit better than Brown this season. He surrendered five sacks and 24 quarterback pressures.

Keith started the season rusty, similar to Brown. During the first four weeks, Keith allowed three of his five sacks and over half (14) of his 24 quarterback pressures. 

Similar to Brown, Keith improved as the season wore on. Possibly it was the lack of a full offseason. Maybe it was partly due to poor quarterback play. Either way, it's promising that the offensive line showed improvement down the stretch of the season.

If Brown and Keith can pick up where they left off, then Cardinals brass would have more freedom to improve their team and not be strapped down to selecting an offensive linemen with their first pick.