2011 NFL Draft: Tyron Smith and the Value of a First-Round Offensive Tackle

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2011 NFL Draft: Tyron Smith and the Value of a First-Round Offensive Tackle
Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images
Even in this photo, Smith is arguably holding while Matt Barkley makes a pass that no one knows whether or not is completed.

Every year, fans latch on to an offensive tackle prospect based on a few clips they've seen where the tackle is circled in red (otherwise you wouldn't notice him) and the lineman stands his ground for a few seconds and the quarterback throws the ball.

The fan watching the video thinks, "Wow, after seeing that one block he made for three seconds and hearing his name a few times, he's certainly a first-rounder."

If someone said, "Raise your hand if you're a victim of this come draft time," I'd be raising my hand.

It's not simply enough to hear a few nice reviews of the offensive tackle and place him in the round according to such reviews.

Is Trent Williams much better than Tyron Smith, and as such, Williams was picked fourth and Smith is projected to go ninth?

I'm sure the Cowboys don't want to sign up for a player lesser than Trent Williams, but the fact is that Williams and Smith are not a clear-cut comparison.

Drafting offensive tackles in the first round is a much more complex science.

When a team sends in the card for an offensive tackle in the first round, the team is passing up on their defensive needs and their skill-position needs to bring in a bookend along the line.

After the Tony Romo injury debacle of 2010, the Cowboys have certainly felt the sting of losing their franchise quarterback.

What is the most important component to drafting a left tackle in the first round?

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Let's assume the Cowboys take Tyron Smith with the ninth pick.

Smith couldn't have gone above nine because in this draft, as opposed to the 2010 draft, no team above Dallas has a franchise quarterback that needs protection.

In Carolina, Denver, Cincinnati (to enough of a degree), Cleveland and Tennessee, a franchise left tackle is already in the building to protect the man under center.

In Buffalo (no, stop listening to Chan Gailey, Ryan Fitzpatrick is not the franchise quarterback), Arizona and San Francisco, there is no franchise quarterback to protect.

The latter three teams don't want to fall into the Jake Long-Miami Dolphins trap and get their left tackle before their franchise quarterback (the Dolphins passed on the Falcons' Matt Ryan-Sam Baker combo for Jake Long-Chad Henne).

It seems as though picking a tackle can not be confined to best player available or need, but rather picking a tackle is a different animal than picking any other position.

Last year, the Redskins felt they had a quarterback to protect in Donovan McNabb, and drafted a left tackle to do just that.

Pete Carroll drafted Russell Okung to protect his franchise quarterback, Charlie Whitehurst (Carroll firmly believes that Whitehurst is the guy for Seattle).

Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images
Pete Carroll saw, in Russell Okung, a franchise left tackle to protect Charlie Whitehurst's blind side.

The presence of a franchise quarterback dictates a left tackle pick, and such a pick is as much about need as it hinges on other positions.

If no franchise quarterback is in place, teams have a tough time justifying the pick of a tackle.

As such, the Cowboys, with Tony Romo entrenched as the starter (you can't honestly believe Jon Kitna will get more than a glance in training camp) can use a franchise left tackle.

Doug Free may be somewhat effective, but Jerry Jones can't pass up the potential of Tyron Smith, and the pick makes the most sense because the Cowboys are truly the first team that matches both requirements to draft a left tackle; a franchise quarterback is in place and a franchise left tackle isn't.

To call left tackle a position picked for need is only partially right.

The horse can't be put before the carriage.

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