Why Do Teams Draft Offensive Linemen in the Top 10?

Gerald BallCorrespondent IApril 22, 2009

CHARLOTTESVILLE, VA - AUGUST 30:  Eugene Monroe #75 of the Virginia Cavaliers stands on the field during the game against the Southern California Trojans at Scott Stadium on August 30, 2008 in Charlottesville, Virginia.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

Practically every year, I see the frenzy over these "can't miss tackles"—even if more than a few of them like Robert Gallery, Leonard Davis, Mike Williams (the former Texas Longhorn offensive lineman), Levi Jones etc. do in fact miss, even if only by having to move to guard or just being pedestrian—with the media talking about how important these "cornerstones" are, and sure enough teams line up to draft them very high in the first round, with the huge signing bonuses that go with it.

This year in particular, some exceedingly awful teams at the top of the draft, especially Detroit, Saint Louis and Oakland, are rumored to be strongly considering taking a left tackle.

I don't see the logic behind it. I am going to make the most obvious statement of the year: In football, the team that scores the most points win. Offensive linemen do not put points on the board. QBs (however indirectly), RBs, WRs, and TEs do. Offensive linemen do not even stop other teams from putting points on the board.

Defensive players, especially DLs and LBs, do. So if you are drafting in the top 10, it is almost never because your line is horrible. It is because your group of QBs, RBs, and WRs stinks, because you are severely deficient in your defensive front seven, or both.

Now I didn't say that a bad offensive line can't keep a decent team out of the playoffs. Instead, I am only saying that if Joey Harrington, Mike Williams (the former USC WR) and Reggie Bush are your QB/WR/RB on offense and/or if you have the Denver Broncos' defensive front seven, adding a Pro Bowl left tackle MAY get you from two wins to four.

So if you have a top 10 pick, use it to get a ball handler or someone who tackles him. If you have good ball handlers and front seven players, you generally will not draft in the top 10, because you will score points and stop the other guy from doing so.

This is, of course, not to say that a team drafting in the top 10 shouldn't try to improve their offensive lines. But that is what the other rounds of the draft are for. You can get a very good OT in the top half of the second round, and a guard or center good enough to start as a rookie in the top half of the third round.

Maybe you won't find that "franchise tackle" later in the draft. (Then again, maybe you will, as recent Pro Bowl OTs Flozell Adams, Matt Light, Tarik Glenn, Chad Clifton, Marcus McNeill and Michael Roos were second rounders, and Jason Peters was undrafted.)

But if you have five good players on the offensive line, then you don't need that "franchise tackle." If you have five guys that can run block and pass protect, you don't need the next Anthony Munoz. Sure, he'd be nice to have, but you don't NEED him. 

Examples: the New England Patriots, Pittsburgh Steelers, and Indianapolis Colts, only the most successful NFL teams this decade. When was the last one to draft an offensive lineman in the top 10?

Granted, they are rarely in the top half of the draft, but when they are, they draft a Peyton Manning, Ben Roethlisberger, Marvin Harrison, Edgerrin James, Jerod Mayo, etc.

As a matter of fact, when the Steelers missed the playoffs this decade, they drafted Roethlisberger, WR Plaxico Burress, NT Casey Hampton, safety Troy Polamalu, and OLB Lawrence Timmons.

Yet the Steelers consistently have one of the better offensive lines in the NFL, including OTs that regularly make the Pro Bowl.

One of the reasons for this is that the Steelers are one of the rare NFL teams that prioritizes having five quality guys at each position. That makes everyone, including the LT, better. Meanwhile, most teams only care about having superior players at three of the OL spots, and place throw-ins elsewhere.

The truth is, however, that they don't have a choice. Because of the salary cap, teams can only invest so much in one position, and OL is the position that requires the most players (five).

So if you have a top-five pick at LT, his contract is going to preclude your spending very much at the other positions. The money that is going to be spent on Eugene Monroe (pictured above) or Jason Smith alone would buy the three above-average players needed for a very good interior offensive line.

This is why Donovan McNabb has got to be seething in Philadelphia. The Eagles gave up $100 million and a first-round pick for Shawn Andrews and Jason Peters to play RT and LT.

Fine, but who is going to run and catch the ball? You can give Hank Baskett all the time to get open in the world, and he still won't be a 1,000-yard 8 TD WR, and more to the point Brian Westbrook (even when he's healthy) still won't be able to move the pile and get tough yards.

The Eagles spent 10 years proving this with Tra Thomas and Jon Runyan blocking for the likes of Todd Pinkston and Freddie Mitchell, and it looks like they are about to spend 10 more years trying the same thing expecting different results.

The Eagles could have signed 1,000 yard rusher Dedric Ward PLUS Pro Bowl WR T.J. Houshmandzadeh AND gotten WR James Washington from the Steelers for good measure and paid them less money combined than Jason Peters' $60 million, AND kept their No. 1 pick!

So, they are going to spend yet another season watching teams with lesser OTs but much better RBs, WRs, and TEs run right pass them in the playoffs.

So the Lions shouldn't even consider drafting Jason Smith or Eugene Monroe. They draft No. 20 in the first round and No. 1 in the second round, OK?

If they need an OT that badly, package those and move up to get whoever drops of Jason Smith or Michael Oher, just like the Falcons moved up to get OT Sam Baker after taking Matt Ryan at No. 3 overall, or better yet stay where they are and take the two best OLs on the board at No. 20 and No. 33.

If the Lions should be debating on who to take No. 1, the debate should be between Stafford, Mark Sanchez, and Knowshon Moreno, not an OT.

The same goes for the Rams. Say they take Smith or Monroe. Fine. Still think they are ever going to get anywhere with Marc Bulger throwing the football? But hey, if he doesn't work out don't worry, KYLE BOLLER is backing him up!

In fairness Bulger and Boller could be Peyton Manning and it wouldn't matter, because they have Donnie Avery, Keenan Burton (?), and Derek Stanley (??) catching the ball, and actually thought they were helping themselves by trading for Atlanta Falcons draft bust Laurent Robinson (???).

Yes, the Rams OL is terrible, which gives Steven Jackson something else to complain about other than his contract, but like it matters. The Rams are far more likely to find an OL that can really help their team as a rookie in round two than they are a WR.

I haven't talked about defensive players, but that is really more of the same. Chiefs? Take either B.J. Raji at NT or OLB Aaron Curry. Keep the other team below 30 points a game, something that every Jay Cutler apologist will repeat ad nausem.

(Or if you don't think that Raji or Curry are 3-4 players, then pairing Michael Crabtree with Dwayne Bowe would help Matt Cassel a lot more than giving him a little more time to throw the ball.)

The best example (after the Eagles of course) is probably, is the Jets. In 2006, they received all these raves for drafting D'Brickashaw Ferguson at No. 4 and Nick Mangold later in the first. As a result, they probably have the best offensive line in the AFC East. Fine, how many playoff games have they been to? Exactly.

The Jets don't consistently rush the passer/stop the run, or score points. Excellent Baltimore NT Haloti Ngata would have helped the former, Super Bowl MVP WR Santonio Holmes or QB JAY CUTLER would have helped the latter.

The Jets thought they were being so clever by passing up the QBs in the first in order to take Kellen Clemens in the second. As the Jets wound up trading for Brett Favre only to see that blow up in their faces and are now considering trading up to get either Mark Sanchez or Josh Freeman, how'd that work out for them?

The best part: The Jets could have taken Cutler at No. 4 and still gotten Marcus McNeill, who, despite going in the second round (taken at No. 50, where the Jets took Clemens at No. 49!), is a better OT than Ferguson, whom they got at No. 4, anyway!

Of course, people will point out that Miami went from 1-15 to a playoff team last season after drafting Jake Long. Well, just because it works doesn't mean that it's a good idea!

Also, Miami's improvement had a lot more to do with a coaching change, acquiring a Pro Bowl caliber QB in Chad Pennington, and tailback Ronnie Brown's recovering from his gruesome knee injury (plus getting Ricky Williams back) than it did Long.

Further, the Cleveland Browns did not maintain the benefits of drafting Joe Thomas No. 3 overall in 2007. They won 10 games in 2008, sure, but went right back where they were in 2009 because of terrible QB play, RBs that are average at best, and a sieve defense.

So top 10 teams, stay away from offensive linemen, and get guys that help you win games.


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