Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

30 Apr 2013

ESPN: Kansas City Will Regret Fisher Pick

Not because he's a bad player, of course. He looks like a great player. But with the way today's offenses are built on disguise and deception, teams don't need great left tackles to win. They just need "good enough" left tackles, and a look at the last ten conference champions paints a clear picture.

Posted by: Andy Benoit on 30 Apr 2013

47 comments, Last at 15 Aug 2013, 12:46pm by hrefer

Comments

1
by theslothook :: Tue, 04/30/2013 - 5:42pm

I agree with the gist of this article overall. I would caution to say that one might take this view to another extreme and say offensive lines themselves are overrated. I think I'm beginning to believe its better to have a full set of solid o linemen or maybe 4 solid one poor o linemen, then to have 2 superstars and 3 bad players. The o line is still very important in totality imo, just not one single position. And given that, I wouldn't draft a tackle that high either. Thought the chiefs made a mistake as did the Jags btw.

44
by Jack Sprat (not verified) :: Tue, 05/07/2013 - 6:32am

Sensible enough, unless you have to face Jared Allen, Julius Peppers, and Clay Matthews twice every season. Matthew Stafford would beg to differ with you, I'm sure, even if he's too polite to say so in public.

45
by LionInAZ :: Tue, 05/07/2013 - 8:36pm

Detroit's problems have been in the middle of the OL more than at the tackles. Still, Aaron Rodgers and Jay Cutler have had much bigger problems with pass pro than Stafford.

Nevertheless, I don't see how drafting a top-10 OL can hurt a team.

2
by Just Another Falcons Fan (not verified) :: Tue, 04/30/2013 - 6:27pm

The question is, for this draft, if not a LT, then who? The LTs were the best and safest players in this draft. There wasn't a skill position player that stood out as an obvious #1 pick, and there wasn't anyone willing to trade up to allow KC to add depth to their draft.

3
by Karl Cuba :: Tue, 04/30/2013 - 6:46pm

Especially for the Chiefs because they already have two pass rushers.

10
by theslothook :: Tue, 04/30/2013 - 11:11pm

what was wrong with Shariff Floyd?

18
by Karl Cuba :: Wed, 05/01/2013 - 10:24am

I really like Floyd but he fell to the Vikings, which is probably an indication that he wasn't regarded as being worthy of the first overall pick by most of the NFL.

Even if you accept the article's premise it still doesn't suggest an alternative course of action for the Chiefs. Pass rusher wasn't a need, the top corners had substantial medical issues, there was no receiver candidate and the quarterbacks in this draft failed to impress anyone other than Buddy Nix. Maybe another DT but Richardson and Lotulelie both fell to 13 and 14.

The evidence against tackles in the article is rather weak, I think that it would make more sense to say that if a franchise passer isn't there then you should try to make sure that you get a really good player. If you need lots of them to win without a stellar qb then start collecting them.

20
by Bright Blue Shorts :: Wed, 05/01/2013 - 11:00am

I agree that if there is no better player available there is no harm in taking an elite LT to anchor your line. With the rookie cap in place you're not going to overpay the guy initially and then when his contract comes up for renewal you have to hope the market has either started to pay LTs appropriately or let him go. Under those circumstances I see no issue with the pick.

Edit: other option is to trade the pick if you can.

35
by theslothook :: Wed, 05/01/2013 - 10:33pm

They also had brandon albert at lt so it wasn't even like LT was a major need there either. That said, I guess without knowing what the big deal about floyd was, the best option was to go best available and that meant the LT.

31
by bravehoptoad :: Wed, 05/01/2013 - 5:25pm

Yeah, I feel that this article neglects an obvious point: #1 overall picks are no longer a significant investment. This isn't 2010.

edit: woops, Bright Blue Shorts beat me to it.

4
by stevo :: Tue, 04/30/2013 - 6:49pm

I didn't read this entire article but I've read other articles where Andy makes this argument. I agree for two reasons: 1. Successful offenses spread defenses out and have QB's that get the ball out quickly, minimizing the impact of one edge rusher. 2. Successful defenses can no longer rely on one or two edge rushers to get to the QB and have to rely on complicated schemes and blitzes. JAFF has a good point though that in this draft, who else was clearly talented enough for the #1 pick?

9
by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Tue, 04/30/2013 - 10:55pm

"1. Successful offenses spread defenses out and have QB's that get the ball out quickly, minimizing the impact of one edge rusher. 2. Successful defenses can no longer rely on one or two edge rushers to get to the QB and have to rely on complicated schemes and blitzes."

And yet SF and Baltimore were neither of these things.

17
by Karl Cuba :: Wed, 05/01/2013 - 10:12am

That was exactly what I thought. You can add Atlanta to that list too.

5
by bernie (not verified) :: Tue, 04/30/2013 - 6:50pm

I think this idea needs a very big asterisk beside it. You probably don't need to have a premier left tackle to be successful - provided your QB is Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees. However, if you've got a mediocre QB at best, an all-pro LT is certainly a huge benefit to you.

6
by cisforcookie (not verified) :: Tue, 04/30/2013 - 7:11pm

even those guys need protection. only rodgers gets by without above average blocking, and he's extremely mobile and still gets sacked a ton. i can think of no other elite quarterback in the last 10 years to consistently succeeds in spite of poor blocking (peyton manning did it briefly with the colts, but most of his time there he had tarik glenn and jeff saturday playing well, and it was obvious that the poor line was getting to him, and it probably contributed to his neck injury. also the fact that he's peyton manning makes it hard to generalize from him. it's also hard to generalize from barry bonds and michael jordan)

7
by Intropy :: Tue, 04/30/2013 - 9:13pm

Ben Roethlisberger as long as you allow consistent success to include a constant stream of injuries along with the stats.

11
by theslothook :: Tue, 04/30/2013 - 11:13pm

Aaron's o line is mediocre, but he also exacerbates the problem because he always gets sacked a ton.

Again, I think the bigger point is - no you can't get around bad blocking, but can you live with a great left tackle and 4 poor players or should you go for 5 mediocre to average starters and be fine? in that sense, an lt doesn't guarantee you a good o line whatsoever.

30
by bravehoptoad :: Wed, 05/01/2013 - 2:15pm

...but can you live with a great left tackle and 4 poor players or should you go for 5 mediocre to average starters and be fine?

1) Doesn't mediocre mean average?

2) Why would you always have this choice?

36
by Bip (not verified) :: Wed, 05/01/2013 - 11:35pm

Glenn retired after 06. So Manning only had him for half of his career. I wouldn't call a little over 50 percent most. Mannings been known most of his career as saving his lines life by being quick about knowing where he is going with the ball, or getting rid of it in the face of the rush. Not counting his year in Denver when I say all of this.

8
by DoubleB4 (not verified) :: Tue, 04/30/2013 - 9:52pm

I disagree with the premise. A truly transcendant OL player can allow good offensive coaches the opportunity to do different things. Assuming Fisher is that player (and I have no idea if he is or not), picture him getting out to LBs and DBs in Andy Reid's screen game and not looking like a fish out of water but actually getting guys to the ground. The article discussed OTs getting help on play action passes, but what if Fisher doesn't need that help and can get TEs and RBs into the play more quickly. Imagine Fisher in the option game being able to get to LBs and safeties or truly double teaming 3 Techs into oblivion as opposed to the standard covering him up that is so prevalent in the NFL (not because of effort, but due to DLs being so much more athletic than OLs).

Like everyone I'd pick the transcendant QB (and most skill positions) over the transcendant OT, but that player doesn't seem to exist in this draft. If Fisher is as good as the Chiefs think, they'll be a lot better offense next year.

24
by Andy Benoit :: Wed, 05/01/2013 - 12:12pm

Your point about a left tackle allowing you to get more receivers into play-action concepts make sense. However, most offenses eschew that because in order for the play-action to be believable, it must look like a run play. Defenders do not react to the fake handoff so much as they react to the run-blocking looks and movements of the linemen and TEs/FBs. On deep shot play-actions, often only one or two defenders need to bite. It makes more sense for an offense to keep extra blockers in, even if those extra blockers were to have no significant impact on the action, because that's the only way to entice a safety to bite. The safety is reading the TE, so if he sees him go out in a pattern, he'll defend that pattern first, regardless of whether there's a fake handoff or not.

27
by DoubleB4 (not verified) :: Wed, 05/01/2013 - 1:34pm

The TE doesn't have to go into the route immediately. The stone cage in boot is the classic example, but he can also delay his route in other ways before running a short check down type route. Maybe you want to keep that guy in to actually help with the protection, but a great OT would at least give you the option to potentially get him into a route.

12
by DA (not verified) :: Wed, 05/01/2013 - 2:21am

I've been saying for a while that I would never take an OL with a Top 10 pick. I just think they are not transformative players for a team. I think it was Ditka that said to be good, an O Line needs at least 3 good players on it. Elite OTs were not exactly transformative for Clev and MIA. The only possible exception I can think is if you have an immobile QB like Warner and even then would be skeptical if an elite LT is needed.

Having an elite LT is like having a high end security system. Nice if you have something valuable to protect but if you are the Clev/Mia of the last 5 years it almost goes to waste which ironically is what typically happens since having a high enough pick to get a stud LT usually goes along with poor QB play.

13
by MZ3692 :: Wed, 05/01/2013 - 6:04am

Great article. Well thought out and the evidence backs up the claim that left tackles are simply at best a good cog in the system.

14
by Weeb Ewbank (not verified) :: Wed, 05/01/2013 - 9:45am

One of the opening comments was "After Michael Lewis published "The Blind Side" in 2006, NFL analysts and fans started describing left tackle as the game's second-most important position, behind quarterback"...LOL, really? It wasn't until a human interest book was published in 2006 that people started to see the importance of the LT position? Did Sandra Bullock's movie then seal the deal a few years later?

The evolutionary timeline referred to in the article multiple times is about literally 30 years off. Don Coryell had his teams throwing deep off play action and run formations in the mid-70's, Joe Gibbs borrowed from Coryell and came up the base two TE formation in 1981 to deal with Lawrence Taylor. Giving help to the LT and using play action to throw deep isn't some recent phenomena. The article makes you think that until now, teams had no problem having 5 guys in pass protection and throwing deep every play.

The "analysis" which looks at 1st team All-Pros (one player per year) and then ties that player in to the team's W-L record is beyond rational thought. It would be like seeing who won the Cy Young in baseball, and if that guy's team didn't win the World Series you would conclude "pitching isn't important".

KC Joyner did some actual research a few years ago about the LT spot, and the conclusion was that LTs are extremely important because they usually go up against the opponent's best pass-rusher...but having a good LT is only part of the picture. If you are weak in other areas of your O-line, the defense will get their sacks other ways. You can't just say "Well...we got our LT...job done". It takes a unit to succeed. Maybe not groundbreaking stuff, but it makes sense more so than an article which concludes "good players have no effect".

Also, Eric Fisher was a better prospect than Joe Thomas...got it.

41
by JonFrum :: Fri, 05/03/2013 - 2:04pm

^^^ What he said.

15
by dcaslin :: Wed, 05/01/2013 - 9:48am

As a Raven's fan who spent quite a while watching future HOFer Jon Ogden at LT, and too many other mediocre players at QB/OL/WR, my gut agrees with this article.

16
by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Wed, 05/01/2013 - 10:09am

Want to know what 5 mediocre linemen gets you? It gets you the 2010-2012 Lions. Good pass blocking, completely unable to run.

31
by JimZipCode :: Wed, 05/01/2013 - 5:25pm

But it's not like we could have traded JO for, say, Peyton Manning.

Life certainly got a lot more difficult when Ogden started getting the injuries circa 2004. If you have the other mediocre players, you'd certainly rather have Ogden than not.

19
by A_man (not verified) :: Wed, 05/01/2013 - 10:50am

So the Ravens offense improved immensely after a fresh Bryant McKinnie was installed at LT at the end of the season. It's true that he played extremely well, but the main consequence of that was that it allowed everyone else to slide where they were best - Oher to RT and Osemele to guard.

I think good blocking is pretty essential to good QB play, but I'd rather have 4 decent guys and a mediocre LT than vice-versa.

21
by Karl Cuba :: Wed, 05/01/2013 - 11:09am

I don't think there's a 'draft four decent guys' option with the top pick, especially when nobody wants to trade up.

29
by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Wed, 05/01/2013 - 1:39pm

What's being missed here is that even a decent LT can let four other guys slide into more optimal positions. In effect, one good lineman can make a bad line decent just by his presence.

That *is* a very valuable thing.

22
by Anonymous1232 (not verified) :: Wed, 05/01/2013 - 11:28am

Basing value of an LT on team wins, reeks of evaluating pitchers by W/L.

37
by Bowl Game Anomaly :: Thu, 05/02/2013 - 12:26am

To further your point, what's the value of a QB measured in team wins? Before last season Matt Schaub was under .500 for his career. Was he worthless to his team? Trent Green was under .500 over his career. Kerry Collins, ditto. Vinny Testaverde's career record is 90-123-1. I guess their teams would have been better off with a RB or WR because QBs obviously don't win games, even if they are Pro Bowlers.

(Random note while researching this post: Tony Banks was 14-29 over his first 3 years and then 21-14 the rest of the way, playing over .500 every season. Wow, he got much better all of the sudden didn't he! /sarcasm)

23
by dryheat :: Wed, 05/01/2013 - 12:02pm

I eagerly await the Ben Muth counterpoint.

25
by BlueStarDude :: Wed, 05/01/2013 - 12:23pm

Was this just an excuse to beat a drum? Who should the Chiefs have taken?

26
by Scott P. (not verified) :: Wed, 05/01/2013 - 12:47pm

The new rookie wage scale also needs to be taken into account. Jake Long got a 5 year/$58 million contract in 2008 as the #1 pick. Fisher isn't going to get anything close to that. Let's say he gets 4/$22 like Newton and Luck. That puts him in the bottom half of all starting LTs in salary. Not too bad.

28
by Dan in Philly (not verified) :: Wed, 05/01/2013 - 1:35pm

Andy Reid needs great LTs for his offense to work.

33
by Jordan (not verified) :: Wed, 05/01/2013 - 7:53pm

I feel like great offensive tackles can be a lot like great cornerbacks. Rarely is one so good that it changes what you can do on offense or defense, instead you need two (or even three or four) solid or above average defensive backs to compete with offenses today. The offensive line is a five man squad, so the impact of one player overall is not felt as greatly. Given that, you hope an offensive tackle taken first overall is a guy that will rarely, if ever, need help in pass protection or to handle his man on the first and second level in the run game. Same goes with great corners. That allows you to implement more creativity.

I think the best point you make, Andy, is about left tackles being overpaid. We saw the cornerback market essentially shrivel up and die this offseason, and that's because it's simply not worth it to pay 8+ million to a guy that's going to go one on one and not make big plays. The best right tackles in the league are barely paid 6 million, yet sophisticated defenses take advantage of weaker pass blockers on the right side all the time, with or without their best pass rusher. I think we'll see a balancing of the scales in terms of offensive line paydays in the future.

38
by Bright Blue Shorts :: Thu, 05/02/2013 - 1:24pm

When you read The Blind Side and it shows the evolution of left tackles being mostly due to Bill Walsh needing to find a solution to the Lawrence Taylor problem ... I wonder whether if Taylor had played on the other side of the Giants defense whether Right Tackles would have become the highest paid players?

Which I suppose is asking whether it's the fact that it's the blind side or whether it was Taylor's dominance at beating blockers that made left tackle so highly paid.

39
by dryheat :: Thu, 05/02/2013 - 1:57pm

That's actually a good point. It used to be to protect the blind side, and teams with southpaw QBs would use their best pass-protect OT on the right side, at least going back to the Kenny Stabler Raiders. Now, though, the LT is always considered the premium pass-protect guy. Whether the reason is LT-Giants OLB or some other reason is unknown to me.

34
by Jordan (not verified) :: Wed, 05/01/2013 - 7:57pm

I'm actually working on some analysis with a database a friend and I compiled. Salary cap numbers for the last 30 years essentially, and we've got them broken down by position. I'm going to dive into the database soon and break down the significance of percentage of dollars invested at a position, historically, and success.

40
by Bab (not verified) :: Fri, 05/03/2013 - 1:06pm

I think this is a backlash effect to a draft not steeped with eye-grabbing types of talent.

Many of the teams I played with had poor and inefficient offenses until the offensive line gelled, despite having very good skill players. One should *never* discount having a healthy, solid and competent offensive line.

42
by JonFrum :: Fri, 05/03/2013 - 2:12pm

If.... the value of quarterbacks has been inflated by rules changes

and.... the value of pass rushers has been inflated by the inflation of the passing game

then.... the value of pass blocking, and particularly blocking of the best pass rushers, has increased.

A left tackle you can rely on for ten years seems like value to me. As others have said, it's not like there was another guaranteed Megatron or J.J. Watts sitting there waiting to be picked. You can win without an All Pro LT, but then you can win without an All Pro at any position.

43
by Scott C (unable to log in) (not verified) :: Sat, 05/04/2013 - 6:20pm

Furthermore, collectively if your OL is fantastic (See early '00s Chiefs) you can have an incredible offense without quality WRs, and all your RBs and QBs will look a lot better than they would otherwise.

One dominant lineman does not make an OL great, but it goes a long way to making it so.

46
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47
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