The Value Of Left Tackles

Is he worth as much as most think he is?

When Jason Peters got injured, the Eagles sky started to fall in the eyes of fans. So much so that some started proposing they trade up for Matt Kalil or Riley Reiff. Obviously the Eagles have since added Demetress Bell but the theory that you need a stud at LT still persists. I don’t think that this theory has much of a foundation to stand on.

I think I should clarify: A stud like Jason Peters or Joe Thomas does not hurt your team but they’re also not something that you absolutely need.

Greg Cossell of NFL Films talked about something similar recently.

Think about this: the past four Super Bowl-winning left tackles were David Diehl (a former fifth-round pick at guard), Chad Clifton (second round), Jermon Bushrod (fourth round) and Max Starks (third round). The quarterbacks on those championship teams were Eli Manning, Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees and Ben Roethlisberger, each likely on anyone’s short list of the top quarterbacks in the NFL.

Interesting, isn’t it?

The New England Patriots have gotten by with Matt Light, a second round pick. The Steelers have gotten by Max Starks. The Giants have gotten by with David Diehl. The Saints have gotten by with Jermon Bushrod. The Colts have started Tony Ugoh and Charlie Johnson at the LT spot from 2007-’11 and in that time they won 49 games. And yet teams with highly drafted, great tackles like Jake Long, Joe Thomas, DBrickshaw Ferguson, Duane Brown and Jason Peters (who we traded a #1 pick for) haven’t amounted to much. It would appear that we’re placing value on the wrong spot.

Essentially, the drop-off in talent, performance and impact from the elite guys to the mid-level guys isn’t so great that it will immensely affect your team. To use a baseball idea, a left tackles’ WAR (Wins Above Replacement) is less than other positions like QB, WR, DE and CB.

The Eagles are 3-2 over the past two seasons in games that Jason Peters missed but they’re 3-7 in games where Michael Vick couldn’t finish despite the fact that Peters is a better OT than Michael Vick is a QB. The Eagles are 0-2 without DeSean Jackson (not counting the week 17 Dallas game in 2010).

And the best real life example I can think of is the Miami Dolphins. In 2008 the Dolphins took Jake Long over Matt Ryan and Joe Flacco in the first round. Jake Long is undoubtedly a better LT than Matt Ryan or Joe Flacco are a QB but Ryan and Flacco undoubtedly have more of an impact on the win column. If the Dolphins took Matt Ryan in round one and the best available OL in round two, how different would their current situation be?

Similarly…

In 2006 the New York Jets took D’Brickshaw Ferguson and Kellen Clemens in the first two rounds. Do you think they would rather have drafted Jay Cutler in round 1 and Marcus McNeil in round 2? Ferguson is clearly better than McNeil but the talent gap between Cutler and Clemens is far greater.

In 2007 the Arizona Cardinals took Levi Brown in the top 5 because of need. They passed on Adrian Peterson, Patrick Willis, and Darrelle Revis for him. They could’ve had a stud at another spot and gotten a decent player like Tony Ugoh, Ryan Harris, Doug Free or Jermon Bushrod later. Bad value.

To add to the argument, pretend your the GM of the Minnesota Vikings this year. You’re sitting at pick #3 with your choice of Matt Kalil, Justin Blackmon and Morris Claiborne. Who do you take? A couple things to take into account:

  • -ProFootballFocus grades the offensive tackles of each team in the NFL. The left tackles on playoff teams were rated 6th (Duane Brown), 12th (Andrew Whitworth), 15th (Jermon Bushrod), 16th (Matt Light), 32nd (Joe Staley), 33rd (Jeff Backus), 51st (Chad Clifton), 52nd (Bryant McKinnie), 56th (Sam Baker), 60th (Jonathan Scott) and 64th (David Diehl). This would suggest that bad left tackle play doesn’t necessarily correlate with losses.
  • -An effective and efficient passing game strongly correlates with winning. The website Cold Hard Football Facts broke it down. The team that had the higher passer rating won the game nearly 79% of the time. The team that had the higher yards per attempt mark won the game more than 71% of the time. Who helps your passing game more, Blackmon or Kalil? Looking at the playoff teams of last year would suggest that strong receiver play helps the passing game more. See: Hakeem Nicks, Victor Cruz, Mario Manningham, Wes Welker, Rob Gronkowski, Calvin Johnson, Vernon Davis, Andre Johnson, DeMaryius Thomas, Marques Colston, Jimmy Graham, Greg Jennings, Jordy Nelson, Roddy White, Julio Jones, AJ Green and Mike Wallace. It appears that having an impact pass catcher makes a big difference in the win column.
  • -On the other side of the coin, if passing the ball is so important then stopping the pass must be equally important. How do you stop those impact pass catchers that I mentioned? You stop them with impact coverage players. And with each interception that your secondary gets, the oppositions chances of winning drop by 20% according to Cold Hard Football Facts. So logic would suggest that if you get a player who can take away a passing option and disrupt the passing game while also getting interceptions, he’ll have an impact on the win column. And 8 of the 12 playoff teams last year were in the top half of the league in pass defense.

Call me crazy but I’m taking Justin Blackmon or Morris Claiborne and I’m not hesitating much.

There is value in an elite offensive tackle, just not as much as we think. So I guess my point is two-fold:
A. The Eagles will be fine without Jason Peters.
B. If I’m running a team I’m not putting a premium on the offensive tackle spot because there is value available later. I’d rather spend high picks on a quarterback, pass catchers, pass rushers and corners simply because those spots have more of an effect on wins and losses than offensive tackles.

 

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