2009 NFL Draft: Cornerstone Left Tackles
Total Pro Sports – Arguably the most revered player in an NFL draft is the cornerstone left tackle. Fresh off a one win season and with a whole franchise to rebuild Miami made Michigan’s Jake Long their number one selection, a year previous the Browns passed on Adrian Peterson and a franchise quarterback in favor of Joe Thomas at number 3 and you can expect 4-7 tackles taken inside the top 32 picks this year. All these first rounders will be expected to start their career on the left of the offensive line, so what makes a left tackle prospect so much more vaunted and desirable than a right tackle?
Primarily, it’s the cyclical battle between offensive and defensive coordinator; your left tackle is your strongest, so they put their best defensive end on the right to apply effective pressure. More pressure needs better tackles, better tackles mean more pressure is required – you can see the circle that has been created. So how does this process start? Well, working under the assumption that you’re running a conventional offense with a right handed QB, you’re going to have a huge vulnerability. Peyton Manning took just 14 sacks all year but it wasn’t because of an incredible line or outstanding athletic ability, it’s just the product of the league’s smartest player’s incredible internal clock and ability to get rid of the ball whilst making his check downs. However, no matter how clever Manning is he doesn’t have eyes in the back of his head, obviously making his blindside the logical point of attack from your defensive end or rush linebacker – hits to the back have a higher probability of forcing a fumble and provide the rusher with access to the quarterback’s throwing arm.
Whilst superior pass protection is mandatory, head coaches also have to consider the run. The right tackle and tight end make the offside the common direction of most run plays – most but not all. As the most dominant back of the last 5 years LaDainian Tomlinson has shown, much success can come from the counter play in which he feigns to the right before kicking the play back to the left. This requires your left tackle to possess an athletic build and light footwork to change direction and seal the edge for the runner, two of the key defining attributes when evaluating right and left tackle prospects. Compare a prototypical left tackle in Baylor’s Jason Smith, to the man who will be a career right tackle at the next level Phil Loadholt. Loadholt lacks Smith’s athleticism, his combine 40 was .4 seconds slower, meaning he would struggle with speed rush at the next level, but his 30lb weight advantage is perfect for opening running lanes.
The Lions, Bears and Eagles head the list of teams needing a dominant left tackle, whilst St Louis and Minnesota require sizeable right tackles to aid their run first offenses. Focus on footwork and athleticism when determining left from right and remember: in 2008 Jay Cutler was sacked 16 times less than 2007, the only addition to the Bronco line? Ryan Clady at left tackle.