Monday, March 23, 2015

A quick clarification

Just as an add on to the post about the offensive tackles I want to clarify my argument against drafting any of them. I used the phrase "so bad" which perhaps wasn't the right phrase and that's my fault. Some of them were actually pretty good and almost all of them were very strong in the run game. The problem is that none of them clearly demonstrated the ability to stop a decent outside pass rusher, one on one, when the pass rusher was going all out to get to the quarterback. Most of them spent a big chunk of the year facing two gap rushers, that is defenders who deliberately attacked them head on and tried to drive them back but who were playing conservatively and keeping an eye on the quarterback to avoid letting him rush down field.

This is a consequence of the evolution of college football. Running quarterbacks and run heavy offenses are immensely common now and so defenses have had to react to this by playing with a more cautious pass rush that is designed to contain the quarterback and force him to throw as opposed to leaving open lanes for him to run up through. This is something that is not a huge concern in the NFL. Nobody is worried about Tom Brady or Peyton Manning gashing them up the middle with his feet. Even teams with very capable running quarterbacks like the Seahawks with Russell Wilson are unlikely anytime soon to lean too heavily on his feet, as investing tens of millions of dollars in a player who would expose himself regularly to big hits down the field is not a viable long term strategy. 

In the NFL the biggest problems that offensive tackles will face are pure, out and out, single gap pass rushers like Justin Houston and Jason Pierre-Paul. These are the sort of players that an NFL level tackle has to be able to stop on a consistent basis. And none of the tackles that I looked at from this draft class had any real experience at stopping such a defender. On the few snaps that any of them did, they generally performed very poorly. As an example, I've just started looking at the list of guards. The first guy on the list is Brandon Scherff from Iowa, who actually played as a left tackle for the 2014 season and is likely to be drafted to play tackle. For the entire game home game against Nebraska he was barely challenged on the outside with a true pass rush. Then on the final play of regulation he finally faced a legitimate, all out, one-gap pass rush like he would in the NFL. Annnnnd he got beaten like a drum. It wasn't even close. It looked like it came as a complete surprise to him and he had no clue how to deal with it. 

This is the problem I have with this years tackle crop. None of them has a proven track record of facing this kind of pass rush and stopping it. Imagine drafting a wide receiver who had only ever run blocked and caught screen passes. No down field passes, just screens. You wouldn't. Why? Because there is no proof, no track record that this receiver can do the things you'll ask of him in the NFL. It's the same with the tackles. You can't use a draft pick on any of these players because you have no idea how they will cope in the NFL. Some of them faced a few pure pass rushes and performed poorly. The others that didn't, you might as well flip a coin. That's just as likely to predict their performance. And no, watching them do a kick slide at a pro day is not enough.

That's the crux of the issue that I have with these tackles. The idea of drafting someone to come and do something in the NFL which they've been unable to prove they can do in college. For me that's a crazy risk to take.

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