I am a big fan of the NFL Network's Path to the Draft . On last night's episode, Charlie Casserly declared no fewer 25 defensive linemen have a grade high enough to make NFL teams. They are scheduled to be drafted throughout the first four rounds of the 2010 draft.
No NFL scout that Casserly has spoken with can remember a bumper crop like this one. Of course, the two men with the highest grades in this entire draft class are Ndamukong Suh and Gerald McCoy— both defensive tackles.
What does this mean? Oh, I guess this is the year to build your defensive line. With so many defensive linemen in this draft, you could build a young and solid DL quickly. When God gives you lemons, you make lemonade, right?
Well... that's one way of looking at it.
I take the contrarian position. 2010 is the year to build your offensive line, especially if you don't have one now.
There is a massive gang of defensive linemen coming over the hill to get your quarterback. The NFL is about to see one of the most massive influxes of high quality defensive linemen it has ever seen. All those guys are going to be pointed at your quarterback and running backs.
A lot of quarterbacks are going to die. A lot of older QBs will be retiring sooner rather than later. If you thought Favre took a beating in the NFC Championship game...
The quarterback is about to become an endangered species again.
If you don't have an offensive line that can keep your QB upright and nullify some of the pass rush you are about to see, you are going to be in serious trouble. The shark tank is about to get a whole lot worse. I foresee an era in which the team with the healthiest QB makes the big run in the playoffs.
If I am the GM of the Rams, Lions, or Bears, I am going to draft offensive linemen in at least two of my top three slots. These three teams have, arguably, the worst offensive lines in professional football. The Packers could use some OL help as well.
Consider the Rams apparent strategy for 2010.
The Rams have only 2 of their 5 offensive line slots well filled. Only Jason Brown and Jason Smith are solid and talented. Alex Barron and Jacob Bell are well below average at best. Ritchie Incognito was cut last season. That was addition by subtraction. We are not sure who will replace him in the long run.
The Rams seem to be signalling that they will take Sam Bradford, a young QB who is not known for rugged durability. Signing Bradford will probably take something like a $45m contract over 3 years. This is a sizable commitment for an organization in a small market with ownership and cash-flow problems.
Let's see... $45m for a not-so-durable QB... 40% functional offensive line (at best)... a whole posse of talented defensive linemen about to enter the league...
Yeah, sure! It makes sense. I see a vision of a dead and scrambled Sam Bradford laying on the field turf of the Edward Jones Dome. Now they are loading him onto the cart. Now he is being carted off to the hospital.
No, this is not the right strategy given the prevailing conditions. Let me tell you what the optimal solution would be.
2. Use the #4 pick to select Russel Okung, or the #7 pick to select Trent Williams. Of the two, I greatly prefer Trent Williams.
3. Use the #33 pick to select Maurkice Pouncey, presuming he slides to #33 as many draft experts believe he will.
4. Use the #37 or #38 pick to select Tim Tebow, the most rugged and mobile candidate in this years draft.
Why is this a better strategy? I'll tell you why:
1. You add Trent Williams and Maurkice Pouncey to our already solid men, Jason Brown and Jason Smith. At that point our offensive line is 80% solid. We can find one guy to fill the last remaining slot.
2. You get the most mobile veteran QB available in Michael Vick. Good luck to the pass rushers going after him. He will have a nice line in front of him, and you won't catch him anyway.
3. You get the most rugged and the most athletic QB in this year's draft in the form of Tim Tebow, a kid I believe is destined for greatness. He will take a year or two to develop, but he is the kid we aught to be willing to invest in.
4. Both Vick and Tebow are mobile and athletic southpaw QBs who prefer to operate from the shotgun. Both of them have similarities in terms of their offensive preferences. Re-jiggering the offense for Vick is tantamount to re-jiggering the offense for Tebow.
5. Taking this approach will cause us to move away from the pathologically conservative version of the West Coast we have been running, and move in a more modern and aggressive direction. More specifically, it will force us to take up aspects of the spread offense, which is now all over the NFL, although nobody seems willing to admit it.
I think this strategy is the best and most feasible approach to getting our offense going, scoring more than 10.9 points a game, and winning a few games in 2010.