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.
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.