On Wednesday, Sports Illustrated published an article saying that NFL teams are overpaying for their left tackles.
After reading and re-reading the article, I can’t say that I fully agree with SI’s stance.
There is a reason the Panthers (and their fans) have been talking about left tackle for two years since Jordan Gross retired.
Byron Bell played the spot last year, and was bad. According to analysts at Pro Football Focus, Bell was astonishingly bad.
The team picked up Michael Oher in the offseason, and the new guy gave up two sacks in the first game Sunday. Oher’s man also got a few other shots on Cam Newton after the release, but most of those were plays where left guard Andrew Norwell gave up penetration first, constricting the pocket.
On the other side, Jacksonville’s left tackle, Sam Young, didn’t fare any better against Charles Johnson. The Panthers’ highest-paid player was credited with one sack, but gift-wrapped another sack for Mario Addison by bull-rushing Young right back into QB Blake Bortles.
This was just one game, but it does seem to show the importance of a good left tackle.
So what is SI’s opinion?
“It has become chic to say that the left tackle is the second-most-important position in football, behind only quarterback. This makes you sound smart. Open-minded. … But you’re also just plain wrong.”
The article says, “A solid left tackle is still valuable, but as a pass protector he’s not much more valuable than any of his fellow O-linemen.”
So from where does this supposed misconception come?
Writer Andy Benoit claims that the position became popular 10 years ago about the time Michael Lewis published his book “The Blind Side.”
I read that book about a year after it came out. Lewis wrote that left tackle had grown in importance because it protects the most valuable player on the field, the QB.
Benoit believes that Lewis explained his faulty theory so well that not only did fans buy into it, but so did the general managers who were handing out contracts. And since then, the position has been overvalued and overpaid.
Benoit argues that Lewis’ theory is wrong because the book was based on things that were happening in the 1980s and 90s. He claims that the game has evolved. More quarterbacks use the shotgun so they aren’t taking a seven-step drop with their backs to the left tackle. The QB doesn’t hold the ball for four seconds anymore; on many pass plays the ball is out in less than three seconds.
As his proof, Benoit points out that over the past 14 Super Bowls, the winning team only had a first-rounder at left tackle four times. Also, since 2007, 15 of the 32 left tackles voted first-team or second-team All-Pros were on clubs with losing records.
Let me start my rebuttal by saying Benoit is the same idiot who ticked off at least half of America in June by saying that women’s sports aren’t worth watching.
Also, Benoit is only 29 years old and doesn’t seem to know his NFL history very well.
He claims that this love affair with left tackles started in 2005. Actually that was during a three-year span where GMs were not putting as high a value on left tackles.
Lewis had it right in his book that left tackles came to prominence in the mid-80s because of the rise of speed rusher Lawrence Taylor.
Taylor came out of UNC in 1981 and immediately became a Pro Bowler.
In the 1985 NFL Draft, four of top 12 spots went to left tackles. In 1986 and 1988, three tackles went high in the draft each year.
In 1989, Tony Mandarich was taken second overall, just ahead of known commodities like Barry Sanders, Derrick Thomas and Deion Sanders. That pick went so badly that in 1990, only one was selected in the first two rounds.
The very next year, teams were back to picking left tackles again, with three in top 11 picks and four in the top 25.
There would be at least three tackles picked in the first round every season for several years. In 1992, there were four tackles in the top 13 picks and five in the first round. In 1995, five went in the first round including Tony Boselli at second overall to Jacksonville and the newly formed Panthers picking Blake Brockermeyer at 29th to go with Kerry Collins, the #5 pick.
In 1997, two future Hall of Famers were picked in the top five in Orlando Pace and Walter Jones.
In the time that Benoit pointed out (2005), only two tackles were picked in the first round, and in 2006 it dropped to one.
There were other tackles out there, but the teams weren’t overvaluing the players and picking them too early.
Compare that to the past three years when the Panthers were looking for a tackle.
Carolina was interested in a tackle with its second-round pick in 2013, but there were six plucked up before the 43rd pick came up. So the team went with Kawann Short and hasn’t been disappointed.
The same thing occurred in 2014 with five tackles taken in the first round, nine by the end of the second round.
NFL franchises are enormous businesses with countless staffers analyzing game footage and advanced metrics. If left tackle was overvalued, then why have the teams been picking so many in just the past three seasons?
Instead, it has been the running back position that has dropped in importance.
As for the shotgun argument, I would say starting a few yards away from the line at the snap doesn’t really eliminate the blind spot.
When the quarterback turns his body to throw, the QB’s back is to the left tackle’s side no matter whether he takes a drop or takes a shotgun snap. Also, has Benoit ever played football? Helmets are constricting, reducing peripheral vision.
As for the quick release, that is a decent point in general. QBs who get rid of the ball quickly like Peyton Manning are seldom sacked.
However, a poor left tackle can still ruin those plans.
Get the ball out in less than three seconds?
Jaguars’ beat writer Ryan O’Halloran went back and watched the game with the Panthers. On the two plays where Johnson created a sack, O’Halloran pulled out a stopwatch.
Johnson overpowered Young in 2.7 seconds for a sack. Then he beat Young again and nearly got to Bortles in only 2.45 seconds, and then Addison finished the play.
The two sacks that Oher gave up were both exactly three seconds. So maybe if Newton used a faster read and delivery, neither of those sacks would have happened.
No, I don’t think left tackles are less important in today’s game. In fact, with the game moving to a higher percentage of pass plays, left tackles are as important as ever.
Reach Jeff at 415-4692 and on Twitter @SportsDudeJeff.