MMDA: The Right Tackle "Solution"

Joe Thomas is great, but what about the other bookend tackle? With right tackles increasing in importance, Monday Morning Draft Analyst Sobo looks at what history tells us about how to find the "right" player...

Over the past few seasons, the Cleveland Browns have had the luxury of possessing THE best left tackle in football in Joe Thomas.

A problem arises that old cliches and demands by the fans continue to arise as the team continually addresses the offensive line.

"The game is won in the trenches."   This became the battle cry for so long that even after the likes of Joe Thomas and Alex Mack were acquired in the first round, Steinbach signed a big contract a few offseasons ago, 'Porkchop' Womack played adequately at the end of last season, AND Tony Pashos was recently signed; some still see the right tackle position as a glaring weakness.   One that could be addressed very early.   It all depends on a person's definition of early.

Here are the the current starting right tackles in the league and where they were drafted:

Baltimore - Michael Oher...1st round
Cincinnati - Anthony Collins...4th round
Pittsburgh - Willie Colon...4th round

Houston - Eric Winston...3rd round
Indianapolis - Ryan Diem...4th round
Jacksonville - Eben Britton...2nd round
Tennessee - David Stewart...4th round

Buffalo - Brad Butler...5th round (has decided to retire)
Miami - Vernon Carey...1st round
New England - Nick Kaczur...3rd round
NY Jets - Damien Woody...1st round

Denver - Ryan Harris...3rd round
Kansas City - Ryan O'Callaghan...5th round
Oakland - Cornell Green...UDFA (has since left in FA)
San Diego - Bob Dombrowski...UDFA

Chicago - Kevin Shaffer...7th round
Detroit - Gosder Cherilus...1st round
Green Bay - Mark Tauscher...7th round
Minnesota - Phil Loadholt...2nd round

Atlanta - Tyson Clabo...UDFA (signed by the Browns originally)
Carolina - Jeff Otah...1st round
New Orleans - Jon Stinchcomb...2nd round
Tampa Bay - Jeremy Trueblood...2nd round

Dallas - Marc Columbo...1st round
NY Giants - Kareem McKenzie...3rd round
Philadelphia - Winston Justice...2nd round
Washington - Mike Williams...1st round

Arizona - Levi Brown...1st round
San Francisco - Adam Snyder...3rd round
Seattle - Sean Locklear...3rd round
St. Louis - Jason Smith...1st round

What do we find?

- Average draft position:  3rd round.
- 23 of the 31 listed are still with their original drafted teams
- 6 teams in the league have two former first rounders manning the tackle positions
- Of those 6 teams, only one made the playoffs this past year.   3 of them will currently be picking in the top 4 of this year's draft class.

Now let's take a look at each of the offensive tackles selected in the first round over the past ten years and each individual situation:

1999
John Tait, 14th overall - Playing both right and left tackle for the Chiefs before receiving a rather large payday to play left tackle for the Bears.
Matt Stinchcomb, 18th overall - Played some left tackle initially before finally settling in at guard for the Raiders.
Luke Petitgout, 19th overall - Became a rock at left tackle for the Giants for quite a few seasons.
L.J. Shelton, 21st overall - Bounced around the league starting at left tackle at multiple stops.
Aaron Gibson, 27 overall - Ate himself out of the league.  Played predominantly on the right side, but also some a few starts at left tackle.

2000
Chris Samuels, 3rd overall - One of the best offensive left tackles in the league for nearly a decade.
Stockar McDougle, 20th overall - Predominantly a right tackle in the league who struggled athletically.
Chris McIntosh, 22nd overall - Started 10 games as a rookie opposite Walter Jones before injuries derailed his career.

2001
Leonard Davis, 2nd overall - A Pro Bowl level guard who the Cardinals forced outside to left tackle because of his contract and draft status.
Kenyatta Walker, 14th overall - Bounced back and forth from left and right tackle, never finding a spot in the league.
Jeff Backus, 18th overall - Still starting at left tackle for the Lions.

2002
Mike Williams, 4th overall - Pushed to left tackle because of draft status.  Finished his career in Buffalo at right tackle.  Recently made a comeback, starting at right tackle for the Redskins.
Bryant McKinnie, 7th overall - Still starting at left tackle for the Vikings.
Levi Jones, 10th overall - Started most of his career at left tackle for the Bengals before injury issues and eventually landed in Washington starting at left tackle for the 'Skins this past year.
Marc Columbo, 29th overall - Destined to be the Bears left tackle but was never healthy.  Left as a free agent and became a staple along Dallas' O-line at right tackle.

2003
Jordan Gross, 9th overall - Started his career as a very good right tackle, but has gone on to become a franchise left tackle.
George Foster, 20th overall - Started plenty of games at right tackle for the Broncos before (not) working his way out of the league.
Kwame Harris, 26th overall - Tried at both right and left tackle for the Niners before starting one last year at left tackle for the Raiders in '08.

2004
Robert Gallery, 2nd overall - Started at right tackle, then left tackle, before finally settling in and becoming a solid left guard.
Shawn Andrews, 16th overall - Become a dominant right guard before injuries and was supposed to start at right tackle before being derailed again.
Vernon Carey, 19th overall - A guard in college who was supposed to be the left tackle in Miami. Instead, he developed into one of the best right tackles in the game.

2005
Jammal Brown, 13th overall...A collegiate right tackle  who has gone on to develop into a Pro Bowl left tackle.
Alex Barron, 19th overall...Eventually supposed to be the heir apparent to Orlando Pace, which he finally did this year and struggled.  May be a career right tackle.

2006
D'Brickashaw Ferguson, 4th overall...Pro Bowl left tackle.

2007
Joe Thomas, 3rd overall...Best left tackle in football.
Levi Brown, 5th overall....Started only at right tackle to date, but was supposed to be the blindside protector to the left handed Matt Leinart who will finally be getting his chance.
Joe Staley, 28th overall...Highest paid left tackle in the game.

2008
Jake Long, 1st overall...Pro Bowl left tackle.
Ryan Clady, 12th overall...Pro Bowl left tackle.
Braden Albert, 15th overall...Collegiate guard who is developing at left tackle
Gosder Cherilus, 17th overall...Tried at left tackle but will be a career right tackle.
Jeff Otah, 19th overall...A pure right tackle who has excelled as such.
Sam Baker, 21st overall...Started from day one on the blindside for the Falcons.
Duane Brown, 26th overall...Also started from day one at left tackle for the Texans and worked through his struggles.

2009
Jason Smith, 2nd overall...Played right tackle this past season, but expected to take over left tackle duties sooner rather than later.
Andre Smith, 6th overall...Injured most of the year and only saw spot duty.   Supposed to be the team's eventual left tackle, but may end up at right due to Andrew Whitworth's play.
Eugene Monroe, 8th overall...Already starting at left tackle for the Jags.
Michael Oher, 23rd overall...Started the season at right tackle, then finished at left tackle.   Ravens have considered trading Jared Gaither due to Oher's play on the blindside.

And that is every tackle taken in the first round this past decade.

What do we see here?

- 9 of the 38 never saw time at left tackle.  2 of those were drafted this year with the intention of being left tackles eventually. 

- The highest "pure" right tackle selected in that time, with the express purpose of being a strongside blocker was Jeff Otah at 19th overall.   [NOTE: One could argue Shawn Andrews who spent most of his career at guard being selected 16th overall]

- Every single top 15 selection saw significant time as their team's blindside protector at one point of their career or another [Outside of those drafted within the past year]

One further argument can be made that the NFL game is evolving and pass protection is becoming more vital even to those considered inferior on the right side compared to their counterparts.

While this may be true to an extent, NFL defenses are not exhibiting those same tendencies.  

One of the prime reasons a left tackle is so valued is not based purely on protecting the quarterback's blindside, but because that is where most of the premiere pass rushers are stationed to take advantage of the situation.

Of those in the league who finished the 2009 season with 10 or more quarterback sacks, only two of the total 14 pass rushers lined up predominantly at left defensive end or left outside linebacker.

So as the Cleveland Browns contemplate what to do to upgrade their offensive line for another year, and President Mike Holmgren stressed this position as a weakness, they would go against every trend by selecting a potential strongside protector with their top 10 selection.   Recent history dictates the team would be better served waiting until the 2nd to 4th round range to address the bookend tackle.

Naming prospects of potential interest generally ranked in said range:

Vladimir Ducasse, Massachusetts
Rodger Saffold, Indiana
Jason Fox, Miami
Jared Veldheer, Hillsdale
Kyle Calloway, Iowa
John Jerry, Mississippi
Selvish Capers, West Virginia
Ed Wang, Virginia Tech
Ciron Black, LSU

Among that list, one could be looking at the future starting right tackle for the Cleveland Browns.


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