Is Branden Albert Really an NFL Left Tackle?

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Is Branden Albert Really an NFL Left Tackle?
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Branden Albert didn't have the best technique in 2012.

There has been a lot of speculation about Branden Albert moving to guard or right tackle since he was given the franchise tag. Since the Kansas City Chiefs have their choice of left tackles in the 2013 NFL draft, it would make some sense to move Albert to another position.

There are problems with moving Albert—namely his resistance to any move—that may foil the Chiefs’ plans. Albert either knows he’s a good left tackle or he knows that his earning power will be significantly reduced if he changes positions—especially if the Chiefs don’t offer him a long-term contract.

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What the Chiefs end up doing with the No. 1 overall pick, Albert, and the rest offensive line boils down to one question: Is Branden Albert really an NFL left tackle?

What we are really asking here is if he’s a good NFL left tackle. If Albert is a good left tackle, the Chiefs would have no reason to draft one. If Albert isn’t a good left tackle, the Chiefs' plans to draft one wouldn’t be hindered, although they probably shouldn’t have put the franchise tag on him.

The Chiefs have already made a determination about Albert; they just aren’t going to reveal it before the draft. There is no doubt that the decision was made after looking at his game tape, which is really the only way to truly evaluate players. Advanced stats are a good supplement to confirm what the game tape shows.

There are likely a two things we need to know about Albert: Is he a good pass-protector and does he push the pile in the run game? There are some schematic things that the Chiefs may prefer as well.

 

Pass Protection

The thing you want to know about Albert is how he performed against the best pass-rushers in the league. The measure of a good left tackle is really how well he performs against elite pass-rushers and not below-average edge defenders. A quick glance at the schedule and you realize that Albert didn’t face many elite pass-rushers in 2012.

The best ones Albert faced were Cincinnati’s Michael Johnson in Week 11 and Atlanta’s John Abraham in Week 1.  Those are the games to watch to get an idea how good or bad Albert is in pass protection. Once you do, it becomes apparent that Albert’s progression in pass protection may have just been a mirage due to rarely facing pass-rushers who could threaten the edge.

A very manageable 3rd-and-4 shouldn’t be a tough in pass protection, but it was for Albert against Johnson.

Albert doesn’t have quick enough feet to get in front of Johnson, so he lunges and loses his balance. Johnson dips to get around the edge. If Albert doesn’t lose his balance, he still has a chance to push Johnson past Matt Cassel to give him time to find an open receiver.

Johnson gets to Cassel immediately, and the pass falls incomplete mostly due to the pressure. The Chiefs are forced to punt.

Albert was much better against the slower Wallace Gilberry, but he was hardly perfect.

Gilberry uses his power to get Albert off balance. Since Gilberry doesn’t have great outside speed, he’s going to try to go inside to get to Cassel.

Albert is forced to use his feet to recover, which he was able to do since Gilberry doesn’t have the same speed as Johnson. Cassel has enough time to find a wide open Tony Moeaki for the completion, with Gilberry in his face.

Rewind to Week 1 against Abraham. Albert again doesn’t have the foot quickness to stay in front of Abraham either. The only reason Abraham doesn’t sack Cassel is because of the play-action pass.

Abraham pulls up thinking that Cassel had handed the ball to Jamaal Charles, but he didn’t.

Albert is able to recover and get in front of Abraham, giving Cassel a great pocket and plenty of time to throw and complete the pass.

Later in the game, Abraham sacks Cassel and he fumbles (of course). Once again, Albert doesn’t have the foot quickness to stay in front of Abraham. The worst part of this is that Albert knows he has Charles to help inside and that Abraham is going to go for the edge on a 3rd-and-15.

Abraham is just too fast and strong for Albert to push him past Cassel. Albert has to reach to just get a piece of Abraham.

Cassel fails to feel the pressure and doesn’t step up in the pocket away from the rush. Abraham hits Cassel from behind and knocks the ball into the air. On the next play the Falcons score another touchdown to put the game away by three scores.

The conclusion is that Albert doesn’t possess the foot quickness to stay with the best pass-rushers in the NFL. Albert loses balance by lunging because his body is not in position. When defenders do not have the speed to threaten the edge, Albert is a much better player. Albert’s feet are good enough to recover to the inside and to get in front of slower pass-rushers.

On Cassel’s long touchdown to Kevin Boss, Albert was able to stay in front of Abraham. The result was great pass protection, and Cassel was able to throw a seed to Boss down the field.

Pro Football Focus gave Albert a pass-block grade consistent with the best offensive tackles in the league last year. Pro Football Focus’ signature pass-blocking efficiency rating was even more favorable to Albert, ranking him as the seventh-best in the league.

Upon closer examination, the primary source of Albert’s production was against Matt Shaughnessy, Shaun Phillips, Daniel Te’o-Nesheim and Will Smith.  None of these players are speed rushers, and all of them were poor at getting to the quarterback last year.

Andy Reid’s offense in Philadelphia has been in the top half of the league in passing attempts since 2004. It’s safe to say the Chiefs are going to be passing a lot more and that the weaknesses Albert has in pass protection are going to become more glaring.

Moving Albert to right tackle to face Von Miller twice per season is not going to fix the issue, but at least Alex Smith would be able to see the pressure coming. Albert fits much better at guard where his lack of foot speed will not hurt the team.

 

Run Blocking

The Chiefs still have one of the best running backs in the entire league, so pass blocking is only part of Albert’s job. Since Charles is a speed back, the tackles sealing the edge are of vital importance.

The Bengals have a good defensive line, which provides an excellent measuring stick for Albert in the run gun. It’s worth noting that Charles had huge games, but also a few duds. The biggest dud with Albert at left tackle was Week 8 against the Raiders, and Pro Football Focus gave Albert his best run-block grade of the season in that game.

Albert gets good push against Gilberry, sealing the edge for Charles to get outside in a huge open area.

However, Albert isn’t able to stay engaged with Gilberry. Luckily for Albert, Charles is so fast that he still gets to the edge.

Against the faster Johnson, Albert whiffs on his initial punch as Johnson drags down the line in pursuit of Charles. The net result is a short gain with Johnson taking down Charles from behind.

Cut blocking is another skill offensive linemen need to have. Some linemen even specialize in this skill. Albert is not the most effective cut-blocker.

Albert is trying to cut block 335-pound defensive tackle Pat Sims, but he is unsuccessful. Usually cutting the really big guys is the easiest because they aren’t agile enough to get out of the way.

Sims ends up right where the play was designed to go, forcing Charles to cut back. The play acts like a misdirection play and works because the Bengals were flowing so hard to the point of attack. Charles has loop around Albert lying on the ground and also the back-side block by his tight end.

The net result of the play was a nice gain, but only because Charles is amazing and the Bengals over pursued. Albert’s contribution was a net negative on the play.

Albert was asked to block Geno Atkins at one point during the game on a Peyton Hillis power play to the left side. Albert fails to get his hands inside Atkins and would have been called for holding if he had tried to sustain his block. Albert has already lost the battle.

Atkins pushes off of Albert and eyes Hillis, who is holding the football like a loaf of bread. Atkins glides over and pops the ball out of Hillis’ hands. The Bengals recover the fumble, which was just one of many turnovers the Chiefs had in 2012.

 

Conclusion

I went into this review thinking that Albert was a good left tackle and that moving him to guard or right tackle wouldn’t make sense. It didn’t take long for me to change my mind while I was watching his games against the Bengals and Falcons.

Albert is an average left tackle capable of dominating defenders that can’t threaten the edge and would be a better fit inside at guard. Albert doesn’t make a lot of sense at right tackle because of all the good speed rushers in the AFC that rush from that side, but at least Smith would be able to see the pressure.

The rumors of Albert’s switch to guard are no accident. The Chiefs likely want Albert to move inside where he could be a great player. If Albert isn’t accepting of the switch, the Chiefs can attempt to trade him or simply rescind his franchise tag and make him a free agent.

It’s tough to know if the Chiefs will draft a left tackle until we get through free agency, but the presence of Albert shouldn’t be an obstacle. It could also make sense to sign Albert to a long-term deal with the plan to make a switch at a later date. 

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