NFL Draft: Building a Great Team Starts in the Trenches
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Due to losing players via free agency, trades and good ol' Father Time, contenders eventually reach the point where they have to rebuild. Other teams may have had an awful year; therefore, overhauling the roster might be the next logical step. For other teams, players have been injury-prone and it's time to find a decent (and hopefully durable) replacement.
Some of these are easily fixable if a team explores free agency and the trading block. Some teams may feel they are one crucial piece away from getting deep into the Playoffs. That's OK. However, being too dependent on quick fixes will cause problems in the long-term.
Just ask the Vikings, Redskins and Broncos.
Unlike the MLB and now the NBA, football teams cannot simply gather a bunch of stars through trades and free agency and expect to reach the Super Bowl; there are too many players to account for.
Of course, there are other factors besides having talented players that contribute to a team's success, such as: stability in the organization, team chemistry, players fitting the system, mutual respect between the coaching staff and the players, avoiding injury, etc.
This is usually the case among playoff teams.
Each team has different philosophies and holes they need to address, which will affect who they go after. If (a big IF) the Rams didn't select Bradford, then the Lions, Bucs, Redskins and Chiefs would've also passed because they each already had their franchise quarterback. Bradford may have then fallen to the sixth pick, Seattle.
What Should Carolina Do With the First Pick?
Everyone agrees that great teams are mainly built through the draft. Most players in the NFL entered through the draft. But for rebuilding teams, where should they start?
Even the NFL's worst team in 2010, the Panthers, have several pieces they feel good about, like Jon Beason and Jonathan Stewart. But, as a team, that is practically starting from scratch; they serve as the best example of a team that has to figure out where to start rebuilding.
Building a great team starts with offensive and defensive linemen. Whether a team chooses to address offense or defense first doesn't matter, as long as they stick to whatever their plan is.
The importance of linemen cannot be overlooked.
That is why Mario Williams was drafted over Reggie Bush.
It's why Mike Tannenbaum spent several years drafting guys like Nick Mangold before finally taking a guy like Mark Sanchez.
It's why Jim Schwartz felt the Lions needed to address the defensive line first.
It's why the lack of a pass rush cost the Patriots an appearance in the AFC Championship.
It's why Maurkice Pouncey's absence hurt the Steelers in the Super Bowl.
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It's why many teams should draft a guy like Nick Fairley or Da'Quan Bowers over Cam Newton if given the chance.
Not to say that teams should reach for a lineman in the draft just because they are important. If a team feels none of the linemen available are talented enough to be worth their current pick, they shouldn't reach.
Many of the past top picks have been quarterbacks. This is a combination of a team being desperate for one and the quarterback being too talented to pass on. But without a decent offensive line, there isn't much any QB can do—no matter how talented they are.
Marc Bulger and David Carr aren't starting quarterbacks anymore because their offensive lines were terrible. They both took beatings. Others, like Alex Smith, have underachieved despite decent protection. Top QBs like Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Phil Rivers and Drew Brees all reap the benefits of good protection each year. Other QBs like Mark Sanchez aren't elite, but they definitely can't complain about protection.
An offensive line's performance is not affected by a quarterback, whereas a quarterback's performance almost completely depends on how well the protection holds up. The quarterback is widely regarded as the most important position in the sport, but it should be second after the offensive line.
Which is more important on offense?
In that last draft, five of the top seven picks were linemen on both sides of the ball.
On defense, it is best to start with the front.
Teams have shown that they have no problem drafting defensive linemen even if they don't really need one. Jason Pierre-Paul's acquisition in last year's draft by the Giants is a good example. Despite boasting one of the best defensive lines in 2010, the Lions have not ruled out taking a defensive lineman with their first-round pick despite holes at linebacker and corner.
The depth allows for a defensive rotation which helps keep the line fresh. As a result, they can consistently play at a high level.
Dominant defensive lines can take over games for the whole defense.
Great offensive lines keep their quarterback upright, give receivers time to get open and create holes for their running backs.
The guys in the trenches are the least talked about but have the greatest impact on the game and getting those guys starts in the 2011 NFL Draft.
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