Offensive lineman are not automatically ‘safe’ picks

September 21st, 2013 | Written by Rob Staton

Justin Houston should've been a higher pick in 2011

Never let anyone say that offensive line picks are ‘safe’. I’ve watched the top three offensive tackles from the 2013 draft closely so far. Luke Joeckel, Eric Fisher and Lane Johnson are all struggling.

Why?

More and more of the superior athletes are playing defense.

The likes of Joeckel, Fisher and Johnson are not on the same level. Just like pretty much every tackle coming into the league.

Here’s a good example. Lane Johnson, considered a big-time athlete for an offensive tackle, was drafted #4 overall by Philadelphia. He ran a 4.72 at the combine with a 10-yard split of 1.68.

Dion Jordan, a defensive end drafted #3 overall by Miami, ran a 4.54 at the combine with a split of 1.61.

The difference between the two isn’t enormous. But it’s big enough. Jordan isn’t anything like the best athlete playing defensive end in the NFL.

The days of a lockdown blindside protector who excels in pass protection may be over until the next Walter Jones appears on the scene. We may be drifting into an era where scheming is king in pass protection. An era where quick throws, mobile quarterbacks and misdirection become the equaliser to elite speed off the edge.

Spending high draft picks on trendy offensive tackles doesn’t automatically improve your line play. We’re seeing that now.

As Pete Carroll said on KIRO this week when discussing Paul McQuistan starting in place of the injured Russell Okung: “They have to work in concert”.

Consistency, knowing the system, familiarity. All of these things are vital. More vital than throwing endless picks at the offensive line.

Yet the unit has a reputation for being ‘safe’ in the draft.

Here are the first round offensive lineman taken in the 2011 class:

Tyron Smith, Nate Solder, Anthony Castonzo, Danny Watkins, James Carpenter, Gabe Carimi, Derek Sherrod.

Smith was a good athlete with a lot of upside and worthy of a top-ten grade. The rest? For the most part decidedly unspectacular. Watkins and Carimi are no longer with the teams that drafted them.

On the other hand a guy like Justin Houston (another 2011 prospect who sank due to minor concerns that he took plays off) currently leads the NFL with 7.5 sacks in three games.

He was a third round pick. He looked like a first or second rounder at Georgia. He’s a great athlete playing defense. The offensive tackles in the NFL struggle to match-up to him.

I guess he wasn’t safe enough.

34 Responses to “Offensive lineman are not automatically ‘safe’ picks”

  1. Kyle says:

    I think what we do with the o-line next year in the draft is one of the more interesting story lines. Also while you may be right about the futility of taking top o-lineman early, I don’t think the rest of the league sees it that way yet. Which means we could be looking at the same scenario as last year with so many good o-line going early that we are forced to just pass on the upper class or over draft somebody. In terms of the seahawk story line, lots of questions emerge about that unit:

    1. Are we going to resign breno giacomini and Paul mcquisten? Our cap situation says no, but that could be a big drop off in talent if we chose not too

    2. Can we call our left side injury prone? Okung has only started the majority of games one season. Carpenter never. Without mcquisten and giacomini next year predictable injuries could have a line that reads: Baily, jean Pierre, unger, Sweezy and Bowie…sorry but that looks like a recipe for losing games

    3. Our o-line this year even with all the talent and continuity looks suspect: unger forgot how to snap, run blocking has been suspect across the board at times, penalties specifically from this group has killed any offensive momentum we have been trying to build

    I love the Tom cable story, but I think we also put way to much stock in his abilities to turn suspect talent into great stories. At some point you still need that top tier talent somewhere on your line and the way this season is starting to play out we may overdraft someone in the first 3 rounds next year

    • Colin says:

      I think your analysis is a tad knee-jerk to be honest. We need to allow them the benefit to clean up their mistakes and give them credit for the fact that they were an incredible run blocking team last season and did a very un-appreciated job of pass pro. Name some pass rushers last year that just abused the Seahawks. Outside of the two Ram games and the opener in AZ, Seattle did a good job in pass protection.

      And I don’t think you can give Tom Cable enough credit. Does anyone remember the game at home against the 49ers where a line consisting of Paul McQuistan, Robert Gallery, Max Unger, Mike Gibson and Breno Giacomini was the first to have a back go over 100 yards and score a TD? That game validated the Seahawks run game. Saying ‘we put too much stock in his abilities’ is the same argument some Hawk fans made about how Gus Bradley was a detriment to our defense because of the softer styles of defense he liked to run. It’s illogical, silly, and derived from people who are looking at issues to bitch about.

      • Kyle says:

        Are you contesting that giacomini and mcquisten will be resigned next year? Or that okung and carp are not injury prone? I will give you that this years results need much more time to develop given its only week 3. Cable is great and underrated as far as the league goes, but hawks fans have a tendency to take a great story like that and lose any grounding of reality. I believe that Sweezy starting in week 1 last year cost us that first game. As it turns out we were a half game from winning the division so…these things matter.

        Did you really just bring up Gus Bradley to make your point here? So far Dan Quinn’s more aggressive approach is a positive contrast to Bradley in a way that potentially legitimizes “some hawks fans”

        I will admit I tend to look more skeptically at my favorite team then some people and do a bit of worrying, but it is also silly to ignore valid concerns as well. I think there are too many people that think we are going to win it all no matter which player we lose.

        • Colin says:

          I can’t answer you about McQ and Giacomini- I would lean to the “no” side of it though, but I can see why they would resign them.

          The idea that Sweezy cost us that first game…. are you really blaming the struggles of an offense on ONE guy? Really?

          And keep in mind, Sweezy did not drop the game winning touchdown. Twice.

          I never said Dan Quinn wasn’t a positive impact here- I said “some hawks fans” nitpicked Gus Bradley’s lack of creative blitzes and softer coverages on third down as a form of discrediting him, while convieniently forgetting he was a major reason why the defense was so good. As though Gus was some form of hinderance and needed to be replaced- I HATE that sentiment, but it’s only in a select few fans.

          The one thing I majorly disagree with you about is the “recipe for losing games part”. Any team that suffers massive injuries at a specific position can have “a recipe for losing games”. This team is so invested in running the football, I don’t think they’ll ever let the offensive line get thin depth wise. I wouldn’t be against them spending a 1-3 round draft choice on a guy but I wouldn’t count on it. You don’t need the best offensive line in football to win it all.

          You are right, it is silly to ignore valid concerns, but I think there’s a fine line between valid concerns and nitpicking. Losing Okung for 8 weeks doesn’t make this team any less capable of winning the Super Bowl. Losing Okung and Unger and maybe a Sweezy? Now that’s a concern.

          • Kyle says:

            Yeah in regards to the general idea of injuries being a “recipe for losing games” you make a great point. I guess I am picking on the o-line a bit because our left side seems to be injury prone.

            While typically I would argue having great talent in the trenches is the formula for winning championship, the seahawks scheme around that to a degree with zone blocking schemes on offense and rotational, situational packages on defense.

            Still, I could see a situation where we pick up a tackle in the draft next year in the early rounds. Not because its a safe pick but because the differnce and comparison of the draft board to the roster going into the draft will be too compelling for cable to not advocate for taking someone.

            I could be completely wrong but let’s see how Bowie and Baily do as I’m sure they will get some playing time tomorrow in the 2nd half

    • Jon says:

      Slow down and take in what Rob just offered you. Several of the O-line prospects, that we supposedly absolutely needed and were ‘safe picks’ in 2011 are not even on there drafted team, and were drafted ahead of Justin Houston. Would you rather take a first round flyer on the O-line based on that info. Mind you, that the Hawks were seemingly a need based offender that year with Carpenter and Moffit. Or would you rather see the Seahawks take the best player available regardless of need as they seem to have done generally to this point. I personally hope that this team stays away from the ‘draft scared’ philosophy that it seems many teams have fallen into.

      • Kyle says:

        I agree, but I think one of the points rob is making is that the gap between a great d-line pick and a top o-line pick is big. That going top tier o-line talent is far from safe theses days. I think that is an interesting opinion, but if anything it highlights that we may have to make a tough call next year in the draft that we didn’t pull the trigger on this year. Are you suggesting that we can get away with replacing giacomini and mcquisten with some more 7th round/UDFA picks?

        • Jon says:

          I really don’t think an elite D-line pick is better than an elite O-line pick. I doubt Rob would say that either, but the issue is that people have been saying things such that we need to pick an O-line early next year. Rob, if you read all of his articles has historically backed the play of Giacomini. I believe I have even read in his work that the Hawks should do their best to resign our penalty riddled RT to keep him in the future. I absolutely believe that Giacomini should be our starting RT come next year unless we have someone already on the roster that is worthy of replacing him prior to him leaving for another team. Lets all just hope that one of the following things happen.
          1) Giacomini signs a team friendly deal for the next few years at the end of the season.
          2) Bowie or Baily grow into the role this year (not a hopefully but a positively certain type of growth)
          3) A quality Tackle makes it to one of our picks were value is deemed coherent with draft position by our FO.

          • Kyle says:

            Hey I like the big unibrow RT as much as anyone, just sayin next year is the beginning of the phase where you start having to really choose who you pay. This year is unique in how loaded we are with cheap talent. Early on in the process we could get away with doling out all kinds of gaudy FA deals while we rebuilt. Now we have to replace established key pieces with new cheap talent. It’s hard to rebuild and turnaround a team to make a run, it’s even harder to stay competitive every year.

            All I’m saying in my original post and again in response to your post is that your #1-3 are fairly unlikely and I thnk the article is especially relevant to our situation next year because #3 specifically may not be possible similar to this year.

            • Jon says:

              So if the Best OT available is a 5th rounder on the board when it comes to our 2nd round selection I take that player 0 out of 10 times. It is not worth taking a 5th round talent in the 1st 2nd or 3rd round. Simply drafting someone in round 1-3 does not make them a top talent.

              We have 2 undrafted free agent WR on our roster, but have Drafted a couple others in the 4th round that hardly were able to step foot onto the field for the Hawks.

              Bowie and Bailey beat out our 3rd rounder from 2011 in John Moffit.
              McQuistan and Giacomini were nothing before suiting up for this team.

              It is not that I think our situation is perfect, but your worry seems a bit unfounded to essentially suggest that this FO would freak out at any area of need.

              We all know what has happened with RW, but before he was drafted we all went crazy because we needed a QB. The Hawks FO said to us then and forever that they will not draft in fear. QB was absolutely a priority, but they were not going to pick one simply because they could call them a first round QB. You think Ponder, Sanchez, Locker, etc. have anything because they boast a 1st round draft selection.

              I will stick with what I said before. I want our FO to draft to their board because they are good at what they do. Until they don’t have a player to start next season for a position I am not going to worry. And even at that, the weakness that could be the Oline next year is still so much better than others teams have it.

              • Kyle says:

                I think you may be misunderstanding my point. We are also not afraid to pull the trigger on a guy that others rank at a lower grade in an early round. Our board is constructed of not just a draft prospects grading but also grade relative to our roster. How many times has John and Pete hammered that home? It’s possible that we interpret BPA when it may have been simply that they see different needs then we do.

                We think CM in round 2 was all about BPA, but do you know where he graded relative to turbo? And how that relative grade compared to the rest of the board at that time? So it is not just BPA it’s also needs driven. Same reason I got a good laugh out of everyone freaking out that we didn’t draft an OLB this year. Yet it was clear that nobody on the board graded high relative to our current guys based on what we look for from that position. We had several chances to just go BPA on that and we passed

            • Rob Staton says:

              “next year is the beginning of the phase where you start having to really choose who you pay”

              Very true.

              • Belgaron says:

                I see many posts from Seahawks fans who don’t understand this. For some reason, people make the assumption that “always compete” means compete to make the team or compete to see who becomes the starter, along with compete to win the games. But it also means complete against your current cap number, and compete for your share of the cap number next year.

                The nice thing is that the ‘Hawks have done so much to make players want to play here, that they really do want to play here. And even unrestricted free agents next year ( like Tate & Bennett) who are making a strong case to be back with a raise, they also really like it here and even if they test the free agent waters, they may only use it as leverage to maximize their deal to stay.

  2. PatrickH says:

    I think it’s dependent on what a team has in the QB position. If a team has Matt Schaub or Alex Smith as the QB, it’s probably better to get talent in the offensive line in order to have a functional offense. On the other hand, if a team has Aaron Rodgers, then they can get away with less OL talent (as Green Bay has shown).

    Pete Carroll has emphasized making things easier for the QB. It will be interesting to see if that means more weapons for RW or upgrading the OL next year.

    • Alex says:

      Well, the Steelers in their Super Bowl years (as in the Big Ben years) operated mostly on a subpar O-line. Aaron Rodgers did too, but then again, Big Ben is Big Ben (physically). Rodgers on the other hand has just taken a beating.

  3. SES says:

    I think that all of us as “True Blue” Hawk fans feel a sense of frustration w/ the current O-line. I remember thinking how fortunate we were to replace a first ballot HoF LT*, w/ what I considered was one of the best next generation tackles to come around in awhile. But as good as Okung is, he has not proven that he can stay on the field. Add to that the disappointments that Moffit was and Carp still might be, the growing pains of Sweezy (“the whiff” against Atlanta) and Bruno… All the while, we realize that continuity is key to O-lines, but we have yet to realize that elusive

    Whatever the philosophy of this regime is on building the O-line is, it doesn’t seem to be working. (Obviously injuries are unforeseen) I would argue that this unit, along w/ the turn stile that is our TEs, are the weakest units on this supremely talented squad. And these short comings just might land our franchise QB on the IR, and a lot of life-long hopes & dreams might be dashed.

    *As a former small college & semi-pro O-lineman, I felt from day one that Big Walt was arguably the best EVER LT I have ever seen! Of the three HoF lineman this franchise has had, only one, Jones, will go into the Hall as a Seahawk. That in itself speaks volumes about the rep this organization has concerning this unit.

    • Colin says:

      “Whatever the philosophy of this regime is on building the O-line is, it doesn’t seem to be working”

      The Seahawks have rushed for more yards than any team in the NFL since week 8 of 2011. So yes I’d say that qualifies as “working”.

      “Of the three HoF lineman this franchise has had, only one, Jones, will go into the Hall as a Seahawk. That in itself speaks volumes about the rep this organization has concerning this unit.”

      That’s just silly. Finding a HOF player is as much luck as it is skill. What was one of the first high draft picks the Erickson regime used? On a LT. Holmgren took Hutchinson in his 3rd year and Chris McIntosh in his second. Pete and John used 3 of their highest picks in their first two seasons on the OL. Your blanket statements about the organization not valuing the OL are misguided.

    • Rob Staton says:

      All I know is the Seahawks have one of the best run games in the NFL and a bevy of elite pass rushers didn’t get anywhere near Russell Wilson last year. The teams that did blitzed like crazy and Wilson will start to turn that into an advantage (see: touchdown to Marshawn Lynch vs San Fran)

      • SES says:

        No where did I say “not valuing”, and its pretty tough to say anything more than “blanket statements” in a blog. That’s the nature of a blog. *
        May elaborate slightly… Because of my background, my favorite unit on a football team is the offensive line. As a life-long Seahawk fan it is frustrating to see this unit continue to struggle, (players that don’t pan out, chronic injury issues, HoF players leaving via FA). Going back last year to week 16 (StL), and continuing into the first two weeks of this season, I see our franchise QB taking a pounding that I hadn’t seen during most of his rookie year. I attribute much of that to the on going struggles of this unit.

        No one associated w/ the organization, including we the fans, are satisfied w/ the way the offense is playing right now. Yes, I am fully aware that we played two top notch defenses. And yes I am aware that the powers that be, who I have full confidence in, know what they are doing, and that they are working on solutions. In the limited space of a blog format, I am expressing my frustrations. Take it for what it is worth.

        *Concerning HoF… Wouldn’t it be nice for this organization to have THREE HoF O-lineman instead of just Big Walt. That’s all I’m saying… Take it for what it is worth… Enjoy the game today…

        • Rob Staton says:

          You’re making sweeping statements on behalf of the entire organisation, including the fans. Personally I am more than satisfied with the play of the offensive line. Carolina’s front four is one of the best we’ll see this year (and is having a riot against the NYG line today). Against San Fran we had to deal without Okung and still ran all over a team that it’s notoriously difficult to run on. I expect many people share that opinion.

  4. A. Simmons says:

    There was no way to see the injury problems Okung would have. He did not have injury problems in college. His NFL injuries are not chronic. Two high ankles from other players ramming into his ankles. Pec tear from judo flip. And now torn toe ligament out of nowhere. Pretty lame for us and Okung. I know Okung is trying to do his best. He just doesn’t seem to be able to stay healthy in the NFL. It must be hard on him. He tries everything he can to maintain his condition and be ready to go, he keeps getting hit by fluke injuries. Not much the team can do but weather the storm and draft some more offensive line talent to keep replenished.

  5. Kenny Sloth says:

    Seahawks sign Caylin Hauptmann off the Brown’s PS is what I’m hearing.

    6’4, 315. Basic shit.

  6. CC says:

    O-line is always a challenge to find the fit. Let’s just look at the 9ers this year – last year they were probably considered one of the best lines. Last week, they didn’t look very good – no run game, and Iupati was owned by the Seahawks. Cable coaches up these guys and obviously, we’re a run first offense. We do that very well – the pass game, well, they have to play better and of course stop the penalties. O-line, just like every position is a crap shoot – first round or 5th round – WR, RB, DB, Safety -it isn’t about where you’re drafted, it is whether you find the right team, and can figure out how to play.

  7. JW says:

    I don’t think any position group as a whole is a “safe” pick. I’m not sure it’s much of an argument to look at failed picks and try to build a case for the position group as a whole. What we do know is you don’t find a lot of probowl Tackle talent in the mid to late rounds. And we know it’s better to evaluate prospects as individuals rather than as position groups. While the top of the draft tackle talent from last year may be struggling two games in (hello, sample size), we can also see some guards taken earlier (for guards) off to great starts. Long and Warford look terrific. What does that say about drafting O lineman? Not much. Just like failed WRs don’t say a whole lot about drafting WRs early, as a whole.

    • Rob Staton says:

      I think you’ve missed the point I’m making to be fair.

      I believe the OL unit has developed a reputation for being ‘safe’. I’m not sure anyone would disagree with that. And I don’t think the unit is any more or less likely to be safe than any other position.

      I’m not writing off Fisher/Joeckel/Johnson after two games, or even judging them for that matter. Part of the concept of being a safe pick is the idea you’re also a plug in and play guy. Despite being top five picks, they clearly need time. Just like a lot of receivers drafted early — a position that has (unfairly IMO) been awarded a reputation for risk.

      It’s also been suggested many times that an easy solution to offensive line concerns are to just use first round picks and everything will be rosy. In fairness, there are plenty of tackles and guards drafted later that succeed. I’ve not studied the league, but it’s perhaps a greater hit rate than the first round guys. Hey, Seattle have found two promising linemen in UDFA, are starting a converted defensive lineman at guard and also have a couple of no-thrills guys on the line doing a decent job.

      Personally I do not believe any position is ‘safer’ than the other. This post was arguing that point. Because a heck of a lot of people see offensive linemen as easy, safe and often ‘wise’ picks. In reality, you have to judge every case on its merits.

      • JW says:

        I think I’ve understood your point. I would agree with judging each case on its merits. However, just like every position group, the vast majority of elite talent in the league is found near the top of the draft. I read something to that effect regarding NYG’s decision to take a tackle (Pough) in the first round last year- the org looked at how many tackles ‘make it’ taken in mid to late rounds and it was appallingly low. Using history as a guide, expecting to get high rewards off of late round picks isn’t going to work out as often as early investments. First round picks are ‘safer’ by virtue of the talent they display- regardless of position group, and history has demonstrated that to be largely the case- they generally have longer and more impactful careers.

        I’ve never found the “O line picks are safer” to be a good argument. But I do raise an eyebrow when a team that has struggled with Guard play passes on a high quality guard option for another prospect at an existing position of strength to sit behind an all pro.

  8. JW says:

    off topic, but rumor has it Cleveland is shopping Josh Gordon. 6’3″, 225. And Greg Little (6’2″ 220). Gordon looks like a really nice talent, and both look to be lot of what Carroll has been looking for.

  9. JW says:

    One thing that comes to mind is how Johnson’s 40 time compares to someone on the D line that is more his size. Johnson is roughly 60 lbs heavier than Jordan. And while they match up on the field, in a measure of O line/D line athleticism, how does the speed/size/strength match up for equally sized players? You can’t have a 250 lb OT, the demands of the position won’t allow it.