2013 NFL Draft Year Of The Offensive Tackle: Not Always The 'Safe' Bet

Cold, Hard Football Facts for Apr 26, 2013



By Scott Kacsmar
Cold Hard Football Facts’ Comeback King (@CaptainComeback)

The 2013 NFL Draft will go down in history for offensive linemen. A total of nine were taken in the first round, including two guards in the top 10 and a total of six offensive tackles.

For the first time ever the draft started with offensive tackles: Kansas City drafted Central Michigan’s Eric Fisher and Jacksonville followed with Texas A&M’s Luke Joeckel.

Philadelphia made it three of the top four picks with Oklahoma tackle Lane Johnson at No. 4 overall. Soon after the guards went off the board with Jonathan Cooper to Arizona (No. 7) and Chance Warmack to Tennessee (No. 10).

It was a strange opening round, but one common element remained: these highly-drafted tackles are supposed to be “safe” picks.

“Whoever drafts him is going to get a 15-year Pro Bowl player.”Joe Bugel, famed offensive line coach for the Washington Redskins from “The Hogs” era.

“The next Boselli, Ogden, Pace. The kind of guy you throw a uniform on and plug in at left tackle for the next decade or so.”Dennis Dodd, CBS Sports.

Were they talking about Fisher or Joeckel? Try neither.

These quotes were for Robert Gallery, the notorious bust taken No. 2 overall in the 2004 draft by the Oakland Raiders.

We heard the same sentiments about plugging the player in for a decade on TV multiple times on Thursday in regards to Fisher and Joeckel. Drafting a tackle high is supposed to be a safe pick after all. But like a certain character in Marathon Man, you have to ask yourself one question:

Is it safe?

Gallery is not one of a kind. It was just four years ago in the 2009 draft when the Rams wasted the No. 2 pick on Jason Smith. Six picks later Jacksonville chose Eugene Monroe, who if he was everything he was supposed to be, Joeckel would not be in Jacksonville right now.

With the drafting process far from being an exact science, how did first-round offensive tackles get this reputation for being safe picks in the first place? What do the numbers say?

Let’s go through some of the facts.

 

Tackling the Data

Truly just about any offensive linemen gets the “safe” label in the first round, including a guard like Alabama’s Chance Warmack or 2012 pick David DeCastro who went to the Steelers at No. 24.

But we are all about the offensive tackle right now, so that is the focus here. If you want to read about the worthlessness of first-round centers and guards, the Captain already sounded off on that this week.

Using Pro-Football-Reference, we collected our draft data. Only 1967-2012 (the common draft era) was used.

A total of 135 offensive tackles were drafted. This table displays several career averages, which are obviously subject to change with approximately 25 of the players still active. Some of these tackles played guard at one point, but that was not accounted for.

“CarAV” is the Weighted Career Approximate Value (AV) from Pro-Football-Reference. “DrAV” is the weighted AV for the player only on the team who drafted him. “TotAV” is total career AV, which is not weighted.

First Round Offensive Tackles (1967-2012)

Total Players

135

Average Games Played

110.9

Average Games Started

94.2

Average Seasons

8.23

Average Seasons (Drafted Team)

6.57

Average CarAV

43.9

Average DrAV

36.6

Average TotAV

53.4

Pro Bowl Tackles

46 (34.1%)

All-Pro Tackles

24 (17.8%)

Hall of Fame Tackles

4 (2.96%)

These first-round tackles have played an average of nearly 111 games, but we are more interested in starts. Anyone can enter a game on special teams. But even the starts are very good with 94.2 (nearly six 16-game seasons).

Though the average career is 8.23 seasons, the average stay with the drafting team is 6.57 seasons. That does not jive with the “10-year stay” theory from many pundits.

Out of the 135 players, only 31 (23.0 percent) played at least 10 years for the team who drafted them. Some will still have a chance to do so, but it’s not common at all.

The average weighted AV is 43.9, which is better than the average AV for the entire first round for all positions (38.4). Just over a third of the players have been to a Pro Bowl while Jonathan Ogden, Willie Roaf, Anthony Munoz and Ron Yary have made the Hall of Fame. Orlando Pace and Walter Jones will likely bring that total to six in the near future, though no one else is in consideration at this time.

Here is a list of all 135 offensive tackles drafted in the first round from 1967-2012.

Active players in bold. The “Team” is the team who drafted them. “AP1” is first-team All-Pro selections. “PB” is Pro Bowl selections. “GP” and “GS” are games played and games started. AV stats are explained above. “Yrs” is how many seasons the player’s NFL career lasted. “DrYrs” is how many seasons the player played for the team who drafted him.

Players are sorted by descending year with ascending pick number in the first round.

Year

Pick

Player

Team

AP1

PB

CarAV 

DrAV

TotAV

GP

GS

Yrs

DrYrs

2012

4

Matt Kalil

MIN

0

0

7

7

7

16

16

1

1

2012

23

Riley Reiff

DET

0

0

3

3

3

15

7

1

1

2011

9

Tyron Smith

DAL

0

0

16

16

16

31

31

2

2

2010

4

Trent Williams

WAS

0

0

18

18

19

40

39

3

3

2010

6

Russell Okung

SEA

0

0

16

16

17

37

37

3

3

2010

11

Anthony Davis

SF

0

0

19

19

20

48

48

3

3

2010

23

Bryan Bulaga

GB

0

0

19

19

20

37

33

3

3

2009

2

Jason Smith

RAM

0

0

7

7

7

31

26

4

3

2009

6

Andre Smith

CIN

0

0

15

15

16

43

35

4

4

2009

8

Eugene Monroe

JAX

0

0

22

22

24

61

58

4

4

2009

23

Michael Oher

BAL

0

0

27

27

29

64

64

4

4

2008

1

Jake Long

MIA

1

4

44

44

48

74

74

5

5

2008

12

Ryan Clady

DEN

1

1

50

50

54

80

80

5

5

2008

14

Chris Williams

CHI

0

0

15

15

16

53

38

5

5

2008

17

Gosder Cherilus

DET

0

0

30

30

33

75

70

5

5

2008

19

Jeff Otah

CAR

0

0

13

13

14

29

29

4

4

2008

21

Sam Baker

ATL

0

0

27

27

29

65

56

5

5

2008

26

Duane Brown

HOU

0

0

41

41

45

75

75

5

5

2007

3

Joe Thomas

CLE

3

5

50

50

57

96

96

6

6

2007

5

Levi Brown

CRD

0

0

29

29

32

77

75

6

6

2007

28

Joe Staley

SF

0

1

39

39

43

82

82

6

6

2006

4

D'Brickashaw Ferguson

NYJ

0

3

47

47

54

112

112

7

7

2005

13

Jammal Brown

NO

1

2

46

37

51

85

84

7

4

2005

19

Alex Barron

RAM

0

0

26

26

29

87

75

6

5

2004

2

Robert Gallery

OAK

0

0

34

31

39

104

103

8

7

2004

19

Vernon Carey

MIA

0

0

42

42

48

121

107

8

8

2003

8

Jordan Gross

CAR

1

2

62

62

76

151

151

10

10

2003

20

George Foster

DEN

0

0

30

25

32

68

57

6

4

2003

26

Kwame Harris

SF

0

0

20

16

22

86

55

6

5

2002

4

Mike D. Williams

BUF

0

0

22

20

24

59

55

5

4

2002

7

Bryant McKinnie

MIN

0

1

61

55

75

164

147

11

9

2002

10

Levi Jones

CIN

0

0

39

36

45

103

97

8

7

2002

29

Marc Colombo

CHI

0

0

40

2

45

111

95

10

4

2001

2

Leonard Davis

CRD

0

3

63

27

78

171

155

12

6

2001

14

Kenyatta Walker

TB

0

0

29

29

32

75

73

6

6

2001

18

Jeff Backus

DET

0

0

60

60

80

190

190

12

12

2000

3

Chris Samuels

WAS

0

6

57

57

69

141

141

10

10

2000

20

Stockar McDougle

DET

0

0

21

19

23

80

56

7

5

2000

22

Chris McIntosh

SEA

0

0

7

7

7

24

13

2

2

1999

14

John Tait

KC

0

0

49

30

59

148

139

10

5

1999

19

Luke Petitgout

NYG

0

0

43

42

51

118

110

9

8

1999

21

L.J. Shelton

CRD

0

0

41

23

50

146

127

10

6

1999

27

Aaron Gibson

DET

0

0

12

5

13

38

34

5

2

1998

7

Kyle Turley

NO

1

0

49

38

56

109

107

8

5

1998

11

Tra Thomas

PHI

0

3

67

66

85

174

168

12

11

1998

27

Victor Riley

KC

0

0

39

22

45

111

93

8

4

1997

1

Orlando Pace

RAM

3

7

98

96

120

170

165

13

12

1997

6

Walter Jones

SEA

4

9

94

94

122

180

180

12

12

1997

19

Tarik Glenn

IND

0

3

82

82

101

154

154

10

10

1997

30

Ross Verba

GB

0

0

43

23

50

113

107

9

4

1996

4

Jonathan Ogden (HOF)

BAL

4

11

89

89

115

177

176

12

12

1996

10

Willie Anderson

CIN

3

4

88

85

111

195

184

13

12

1996

27

John Michels

GB

0

0

9

9

9

24

14

2

2

1996

29

Jamain Stephens

PIT

0

0

7

5

7

39

15

5

2

1996

30

Andre T. Johnson

WAS

0

0

0

0

0

3

0

2

2

1995

2

Tony Boselli

JAX

3

5

63

63

70

91

90

7

7

1995

24

Korey Stringer

MIN

0

1

44

44

49

93

91

6

6

1995

25

Billy Milner

MIA

0

0

6

5

6

30

9

2

2

1995

29

Blake Brockermeyer

CAR

0

0

38

19

45

136

103

9

4

1995

31

Trezelle Jenkins

KC

0

0

1

1

1

9

1

3

3

1994

14

Bernard Williams

PHI

0

0

7

7

7

16

16

1

1

1994

15

Wayne Gandy

RAM

0

0

67

18

93

219

205

15

5

1994

19

Todd Steussie

MIN

0

2

75

55

96

212

185

14

7

1993

8

Willie Roaf (HOF)

NO

3

11

101

56

133

189

189

13

9

1993

9

Lincoln Kennedy

ATL

1

3

71

8

86

169

142

11

3

1993

13

Brad Hopkins

HOU

0

2

70

70

95

194

188

13

13

1993

18

Ernest Dye

CRD

0

0

10

10

11

50

24

5

4

1992

8

Bob Whitfield

ATL

0

1

70

67

93

220

176

15

12

1992

10

Ray Roberts

SEA

0

0

42

14

50

127

116

9

4

1992

11

Leon Searcy

PIT

0

1

51

16

59

126

111

8

4

1992

27

John Fina

BUF

0

0

49

49

60

155

131

11

10

1991

7

Charles McRae

TB

0

0

18

17

19

83

39

6

5

1991

8

Antone Davis

PHI

0

0

36

31

41

97

87

7

5

1991

11

Pat Harlow

NE

0

0

34

22

39

105

94

8

5

1991

22

Stan Thomas

CHI

0

0

7

5

7

56

7

4

2

1990

9

Richmond Webb

MIA

2

7

98

95

125

184

183

13

11

1989

2

Tony Mandarich

GB

0

0

27

13

30

86

63

6

3

1989

15

Andy Heck

SEA

0

0

58

19

74

185

164

12

5

1989

17

Joe Wolf

CRD

0

0

23

23

26

94

59

9

9

1989

23

David W. Williams

HOU

0

0

46

38

54

128

106

9

7

1988

4

Paul Gruber

TB

0

0

60

60

79

183

183

12

12

1987

15

John Clay

RAI

0

0

5

5

5

12

10

2

1

1987

22

Harris Barton

SF

2

1

80

80

96

138

134

10

10

1987

23

Bruce Armstrong

NE

0

6

80

80

109

212

212

14

14

1986

13

James FitzPatrick

SD

0

0

9

6

10

65

19

6

4

1986

20

Will Wolford

BUF

0

3

73

43

98

191

191

13

7

1985

6

Lomas Brown

DET

1

7

93

71

138

263

251

18

11

1985

7

Ken Ruettgers

GB

0

0

53

53

66

156

140

12

12

1985

9

Kevin Allen

PHI

0

0

2

2

2

16

4

1

1

1985

12

Jim Lachey

SD

3

3

74

18

87

131

129

11

3

1984

2

Dean Steinkuhler

HOU

0

0

37

37

42

100

77

9

9

1984

21

John Alt

KC

0

2

68

68

84

179

149

13

13

1984

28

Brian Blados

CIN

0

0

33

32

37

107

63

9

8

1983

4

Chris Hinton

DEN

1

7

79

TRD

102

177

172

13

-

1983

6

Jimbo Covert

CHI

2

2

59

59

67

111

110

8

8

1982

16

Luis Sharpe

CRD

0

3

72

72

96

189

189

13

13

1981

11

Keith Van Horne

CHI

0

0

63

63

84

186

169

13

13

1981

19

Brian Holloway

NE

0

3

47

44

53

102

85

8

6

1981

27

Leonard Mitchell

PHI

0

0

20

16

22

89

55

7

6

1980

3

Anthony Munoz (HOF)

CIN

9

11

135

135

177

185

183

13

13

1980

12

Stan Brock

NO

0

0

75

57

111

234

223

16

13

1979

10

Keith Dorney

DET

0

1

47

47

55

112

110

9

9

1979

22

Kelvin Clark

DEN

0

0

15

5

16

88

25

7

3

1979

24

Jon Giesler

MIA

0

0

53

53

64

126

105

10

10

1978

4

Chris Ward

NYJ

0

0

45

43

52

100

95

7

6

1978

10

Gordon King

NYG

0

0

27

23

30

97

60

9

7

1978

13

Mike Kenn

ATL

2

5

99

99

144

251

251

17

17

1978

18

Bob Cryder

NE

0

0

28

18

31

107

60

9

6

1977

4

Marvin Powell

NYJ

3

5

80

78

96

133

130

11

9

1977

6

Warren Bryant

ATL

0

0

38

38

44

104

92

8

8

1977

11

Morris Towns

HOU

0

0

30

30

33

92

66

8

7

1977

14

Steve August

SEA

0

0

48

47

55

102

91

8

8

1977

15

Ted Albrecht

CHI

0

0

29

29

32

77

75

5

5

1976

8

Dennis Lick

CHI

0

0

32

32

35

79

74

6

6

1976

23

Mark Koncar

GB

0

0

21

21

23

58

51

7

6

1975

20

Doug France

RAM

0

2

50

45

56

110

87

8

7

1975

23

Darryl Carlton

MIA

0

0

17

8

18

71

36

5

2

1974

19

Henry Lawrence

OAK

0

2

67

67

85

187

148

13

13

1974

25

Steve Riley

MIN

0

0

52

52

63

138

121

11

11

1973

3

Jerry Sisemore

PHI

0

2

68

68

87

156

155

12

12

1972

3

Lionel Antoine

CHI

0

0

14

14

15

68

9

6

6

1972

6

Greg Sampson

HOU

0

0

30

30

33

93

28

7

7

1972

22

Tom Drougas

BAL

0

0

10

7

10

65

0

5

2

1971

12

Marv Montgomery

DEN

0

0

31

21

34

81

53

8

6

1971

15

Vern Holland

CIN

0

0

49

48

59

131

5

10

9

1970

21

Bob McKay

CLE

0

0

32

20

37

105

24

9

6

1969

2

George Kunz

ATL

1

8

95

46

113

129

126

11

6

1969

14

Rufus Mayes

CHI

0

0

50

4

61

139

12

11

1

1969

26

Dave Foley

NYJ

0

1

45

7

51

110

68

9

3

1968

1

Ron Yary (HOF)

MIN

6

7

118

118

153

207

180

15

14

1968

4

Russ Washington

SD

0

5

99

99

136

200

196

15

15

1968

10

Mike Taylor

PIT

0

0

7

5

7

46

0

4

2

1968

23

John Williams

BAL

0

0

61

14

75

166

87

12

4

1968

27

Doug Crusan

MIA

0

0

34

34

37

82

60

7

7

1967

11

Cas Banaszek

SF

0

0

54

54

66

120

100

10

10

Note: Chris Hinton (1983 Broncos’ pick) is the only player who was traded and never played for his drafting team.

Joining this group will be Fisher, Joeckel, Johnson, possibly D.J. Fluker (No. 11, San Diego) and definitely Justin Pugh (No. 19, NY Giants).

With one quarterback – E.J. Manuel of all people – going in the first round, a top-3 prospect like Sharrif Floyd falling to 23, no first-round running backs for the first time since 1963, it was one of the most unusual first rounds ever.

In a crazy draft, this could mean some of these linemen picks were reaches that would have never went as high in a normal draft. The bust percentage increases with more of them being taken.

What also makes some of these 2013 picks strange is the fact the tackles are going to teams that already have a left tackle, so it is possible Fisher, Joeckel and Johnson could open the season at right tackle, which has often been considered the lesser tackle position.

But times are changing, and the so-called “blindside” of a quarterback requiring a better player at the left tackle position is starting to falter under the weight of proof. Teams are more interested in finding a quality tackle, no matter if it is for the left or right.

 

Continued Failure to Analyze Offensive Linemen

Big expectations are coming for these rookie tackles, but meeting them will be tough when we still are often confused on how to judge an offensive linemen. Individually they are not even that valuable, as you need the five-man unit playing well together to have success. Notice how well the line-mates for Fisher and Joeckel blocked when they show their highlight tapes.

In terms of data we are limited to games played/started, the number of Pro Bowls and All-Pro selections, and maybe for recent players we could get penalties and sacks allowed.

Pro Football Focus grades players for every single play, but that still did not stop center Jeff Saturday from making last year’s Pro Bowl after the Packers benched him.

Historically, linemen drafted high get an inflated amount of credit due to this problem with evaluating them properly. People figure they were a high pick, they are starting, so they must be pretty good. This can lead to a steady flow of Pro Bowls despite the actual level of play not warranting it.

This is also why it’s easier for a tackle to not be considered a bust.

However, Chase Stuart of Football Perspective looked at all first-round picks from 1990-2009. Offensive tackles are one of the most popular positions with 70 choices, but they come in fairly underwhelming with the fifth-highest bust rate and seventh-highest “great” find of a player.

It’s interesting to note that this is really the timeframe in which tackles earned that “safe” status. If you are drafting a player in the first round, you want someone who can at least be good. So if the chances of getting a good player are less than 50 percent, then there is no way one should talk about an offensive tackle as a safe pick or sure thing.

But it continues to happen.

 

The Timeline For Tackles Becoming Safe

We will stay focused on the common draft era, which is basically the Super Bowl era, which means we can ignore the days a center would play defense and intercept eight passes. Yeah, we want to ignore that.

Yary is the first to go No. 1

Ron Yary was the first great tackle taken in this time, becoming the first ever taken with a No. 1 overall pick. He gave the Vikings 14 seasons in a Hall of Fame career. He also played one season with the Rams, who made Orlando Pace the second tackle taken No. 1 overall in 1997. The Rams also have Jake Long, 2008’s No. 1 pick, now on their roster, so there’s a nice nugget.

San Diego picked Russ Washington three picks after Yary went first, and he had a very nice career too, even if it included time at defensive tackle.

A year later in 1969, Atlanta made George Kunz the No. 2 pick in the draft. He played right tackle and made eight Pro Bowls.

Enter Anthony Munoz

But the first-round tackles did sour a bit in the 1970s. It was not until 1980 when Anthony Munoz went No. 3 overall to Cincinnati that a bona-fide stud was taken. Munoz is in consideration for being the greatest left tackle ever, making 11 Pro Bowls and nine first-team All-Pro selections.

The only other tackle drafted in the top three after Munoz was Dean Steinkuhler in 1984. He was Warren Moon’s initial right tackle in Houston, but did not quite carve out a name for himself in NFL history as a No. 2 pick.

Munoz would retire after the 1992 season, leaving a bit of a void for the league’s best tackle. By that time there should have been a four-year pro all over that, but instead we have an epic bust.

The Original Sports Illustrated Cover Curse: Tony Mandarich

A product of hype and steroids, Michigan State’s Tony Mandarich is one of the greatest busts in NFL history. In 1989 Sports Illustrated deemed Mandarich “the best offensive line prospect ever” on their cover.

From the Sports Illustrated article: "No one's ever seen a guy who's six-six, 320, who can move, who can abuse people," says Mandarich. "People everywhere would love for me to be on steroids.”

Mandarich did finally admit to steroid use in 2008.

But that was long after he was picked No. 2 by the Packers in a 1989 draft that featured four Hall of Fame players in the top five (Troy Aikman, Barry Sanders, Derrick Thomas and Deion Sanders).

Mandarich was a holdout, not starting any games in 1989, which would become a magical season for Don Majkowski and the Packers. When Mandarich finally started in 1990, he was a major disappointment at right tackle.

Green Bay cut Mandarich in 1992, prompting another SI cover, but this time it was “The NFL’s Incredible Bust.” He actually finished his career as a right guard for a rookie Peyton Manning on the 1998 Colts, but his failure as a tackle in Green Bay is what people remember best.

Some good tackles were picked in the years after Mandarich, such as Richmond Webb and Willie Roaf. But teams stayed away from using anything higher than the No. 7 pick following the Mandarich disaster. Only a handful of teams used a single-digit pick.

But an influx of talented tackles would change everything.

When Tackles Became a Sure Bet

Heading into the 1995 draft USC’s Tony Boselli received a lot of attention as the best tackle prospect since Mandarich. You can see Paul Zimmernan joke about the fact in his Sports Illustrated draft preview, first comparing Boselli to Munoz before mentioning Mandarich.

It was hard for writers in 1995 to glow about Boselli without working in a dig, or perhaps a warning of impending doom, on Mandarich.

But the expansion Jacksonville Jaguars did make Boselli the No. 2 pick in the 1995 draft, and he was the real deal. It helped that the team, under head coach Tom Coughlin, quickly acquired good talent and hidden gems in Mark Brunell, Jimmy Smith and Keenan McCardell while drafting Fred Taylor in 1998. It did not take long for Jacksonville to be a major competitor in the AFC, with Boselli making five straight Pro Bowls.

The highly-touted tackle prospect delivered this time.

A year later the massive Jonathan Ogden was being compared favorably to Boselli. Ogden went No. 4 overall as the first draft pick in Baltimore Ravens’ history. He quickly became an elite player (All-Pro in 1997), won a Super Bowl in the 2000 season and is going into the Hall of Fame. Willie Anderson was also a solid top-10 tackle taken in the same draft by Cincinnati; a franchise with countless draft failures in the top 10.

Come 1997, the floodgates opened. Ohio State’s Orlando Pace did not allow a sack in his final two college seasons. He was now the one being compared to Boselli and Ogden. Pace became just the second tackle to go No. 1 overall when the Rams made him the top pick. They would not regret it either as Pace very arguably had a Hall of Fame career. He was a member of The Greatest Show on Turf offense.

But five picks later Seattle would snatch Walter Jones, who also had a Hall of Fame-caliber career. Then even with the 19th pick the Colts drafted Tarik Glenn. He would be the best left tackle Peyton Manning ever had in Indianapolis and played 10 years with the team; retiring after the Super Bowl win in 2006.

All of a sudden top-rated tackles were proving to be worth the pick.

Kyle Turley (No. 7) and Tra Thomas (No. 11) were not considered on the same level as these other tackles, but they did not disappoint in the 1998 draft.

Two years later Chris Samuels went No. 3 to the Redskins. He may not have given them 15 years, but he gave them 10 before retiring due to injury. So far the only first-round tackles this century to do so are Samuels, Jeff Backus (12 years in Detroit) and Jordan Gross (10 years and counting in Carolina).

But all good runs come to an end.

The Dark Period (2001-05)

Leonard Davis was a big prospect in the 2001 draft, but he was not overly hyped. Still, the Cardinals made him the No. 2 pick. The Cardinals tried to move him inside to guard, to both tackle positions, but it never worked out in Arizona.

Davis was considered a bust prior to joining Dallas in 2007. It was there on a 13-3 team loaded with Pro Bowl selections that he was moved inside to right guard where he could let his size take over without having to deal with elite, outside pass-rushers. Davis made three straight Pro Bowls which saved his career from being a real waste.

In 2002, Mike D. Williams (there are only about 9-10 Mike Williamses in NFL history) was the No. 4 pick by Buffalo. He would become another NFL failure from Texas under Mack Brown.

He played some right tackle in Drew Bledsoe’s first year with the team, which was a good one for the offense. But the offense regressed the next two years and Williams struggled no matter which side of the line he played or when they tried to move him to guard. He was soon out of football after a real bust of a career.

Some experts preferred Bryant McKinnie, who went No. 7 to Minnesota. He has been solid, but not spectacular. Levi Jones went No. 10 to Cincinnati. He went on to start 97 games, but did have his issues with the team. The 2002 draft just was not a very strong one, which fans of certain teams better hope is not the case with 2013.

Jordan Gross was a very good pick (No. 8) by Carolina in 2003. But he received nowhere near the hype as the next great tackle a year later.

ESPN’s Mel Kiper called Robert Gallery a “can’t-miss tackle prospect” and gave Oakland a B- for its draft. CBS Sports’ Pete Prisco was also in on the “can’t-miss guy” label for Gallery. Sports Illustrated’s Dr. Z went a step further and called Gallery “the consensus choice for best player in the draft.”

The Raiders did not have the choice at No. 1, which is where Eli Manning went. Manning may end up in the Hall of Fame one day, but he has never been the best quarterback in the 2004 draft class.

Oakland’s biggest regret is passing on Philip Rivers (No. 4) and Ben Roethlisberger (No. 11). Roethlisberger immediately became a star with the Steelers in 2004 while Rivers was great for San Diego when he became the starter before hitting a rough patch in recent years.

But either player is still a huge upgrade over what the Raiders have had since. Gallery was also drafted ahead of Larry Fitzgerald (No. 3, Arizona), who will likely be a first ballot Hall of Fame selection one day.

Gallery retired last August after a disappointing eight-season career. Oh, he still started 103 games, which not many players do. But that speaks to his draft status keeping him in the league longer than he deserved, on a team bad and stubborn enough to continue putting him on the field. The Raiders tried to salvage him with the move to guard, but the return on investment just never came through.

After such a miss with Gallery, no tackles went in 2005 until Jamaal Brown at No. 13 by New Orleans. He was good prior to injury. Alex Barron at No. 19 to the Rams was a wreck.

If this five-year period of mostly failure, especially in the top 10, was not enough to cool down the “can’t-miss prospect” talk, then what is?

Getting Back on Track

The Jets made D’Brickashaw Ferguson No. 4 in 2006, but while he has been good, he has never been considered in that elite company that you would hope to achieve with such a high pick.

Now a player like Wisconsin’s Joe Thomas has been as good as advertised, if not better, since the Browns made him the No. 3 pick in 2007. Thomas has already made six Pro Bowls and three first-team All-Pro selections.

Arizona took Levi Brown with the No. 5 pick that year, but that puts us 50/50 for 2007. Joe Staley was a nice find by the 49ers at No. 28.

Thanks to the instant success of Thomas as a rookie, there was considerable hype for Michigan’s Jake Long.

Long, rather than quarterback Matt Ryan, became the third No. 1 pick at offensive tackle in NFL history in 2008. He has usually been very good, but any NFL fan would tell you the Falcons going for Ryan and tackle Sam Baker beats getting Long and Chad Henne (second round) any day. The results speak for themselves.

Long is no longer even in Miami, signing as a free agent with the Rams. If you truly believe a guy is an elite franchise player, don’t you think you would negotiate that second contract, especially with a young quarterback (Ryan Tannehill) to develop?

Denver’s Ryan Clady (No. 12) was another strong pick in 2008, as was Duane Brown (No. 26) by Houston.

Wait, Is It Still Safe?

Starting in 2009, things started to go south again.

The Rams blew it royally with Jason Smith as the No. 2 pick. This is even worse than Gallery given the financial commitment to players this high in the draft at the time. Smith's contract was for $33 million guaranteed. Smith was traded to the Jets last year after a rash of injuries and just 26 disappointing starts.

ESPN hyped up Smith a good deal, instilling some of that “can’t-miss” crap into the minds of some. Meanwhile Andre Smith was expected to be the top tackle at one point, but media somewhat did him in with this “memorable” video.

Smith eventually went No. 6 to Cincinnati and has not exactly inspired much confidence in the team. Jacksonville’s Eugene Monroe (No. 8) is likely wondering about his team’s confidence in him now that Joeckel fell to them last night.

Michael Oher’s story has made for a better movie than playing career, though he only went No. 23 to Baltimore.

In 2010, both Trent Williams (No. 4 to Washington) and Russell Okung (No. 6 to Seattle) went high in the draft. Both have missed several games each season due to injury, which has slowed their progress. Playing with Russell Wilson and Robert Griffin III (or Kirk Cousins), there is some potential here, but durability matters.

Tyron Smith went No. 9 to Dallas in 2011 and has had his share of good games so far. Last year Matt Kalil went No. 4 to Minnesota. So far, so good.

Not everyone can be an Ogden or Pace, but a Gallery or Jason Smith is not out of the realm of possibility for any of the 2013 prospects.

 

Conclusion: Safer Than Other Positions, But Complacence Is Dangerous

It is undeniable first-round offensive tackles usually have longer careers compared to other starting positions. Exactly how much better they play is up for debate as they cannot be defined by traditional statistics.

But there is a reasonable “safe” element to taking one, but only relative to other positions. You still are more likely to find a disappointment than a real success.

Any team can pull the safe card and draft an offensive tackle high in the first round. They can sleep easy at night thinking they have a guy to protect the quarterback’s blindside for the next decade.

But these tackles are not going to lead Kansas City, Jacksonville and Philadelphia to greatness. That is going to have to be on the new coaches, finding better quarterback play and continuing to build a good team.

We have painstakingly gone through Kansas City’s inability to find a quarterback over the decades, but maybe West Virginia’s Geno Smith was never intended to be the guy with his stunning slide out of the first round.

But we know quarterbacks taken high in the second round can be great, such as Brett Favre and Drew Brees (Colin Kaepernick seemingly as well). Without the Alex Smith trade it is possible the Chiefs could have got both their tackle and their quarterback of the future in this bizarre draft.

We saw what happened when the Raiders passed on a quarterback for a left tackle in 2004. Then when they did it again a year later by choosing cornerback Fabian Washington one pick ahead of a determined Aaron Rodgers.

That’s how you end up with JaMarcus (last name not required) and a decade of not winning.

A great quarterback does not need a franchise left tackle to succeed, but a great tackle needs a franchise quarterback to make his performance count for something.

It just so happens that 2012 was the year of the quarterback, while 2013 is the year of the offensive lineman. Yeah, timing is never a sure thing either.   

 

Scott Kacsmar is a football writer/researcher who has contributed large quantities of data to Pro-Football-Reference.com, including the only standardized database of fourth quarter comebacks and game-winning drives. You can visit his blog for a complete writing archive. Please send any questions or comments to Scott at smk_42@yahoo.com, or you can follow him on Twitter at @CaptainComeback.


From our partners




Team Pages
AFC East NFC
South
North
West

Connect With Us
Sign up for our newsletter to recieve all the latest news and updates...
Privacy guaranteed. We'll never share your info.




The Football Nation Network

© Copyright 2014 Football Nation LLC. Privacy Policy & Terms of Use
Some images property of Getty Images or Icon/SMI