We have all started to see scouting reports and mock drafts cloud out twitter feeds and television sets, and the draft it still a long way off. But it has got us all thinking about who Tennessee will pick when the day finally rolls around. I have been delving into some research regarding offensive tackles, as I think the need on this Titans' roster cannot be ignored going into 2014.
Left Tackles and Right Tackles have a lot of differences between them at the NFL level. Left Tackles are typically more prototypical in size, ranging in the 6'5"-6'7" range and somewhere in the region of 315lbs. Right Tackles, in retrospect, are shorter, with less lengthy arms, and they are usually slower too. Long story short, for decades in the NFL, Right Tackles have simply been Left Tackle rejects. The result has been a league full of average to poor RTs and an increased sack volume for pass rushers.
Mobility and arm length are increasingly scrutinized traits NFL scouts use when evaluating offensive tackles. Arm length is a constant factor it seems, but we have seen guys get by without it. Joe Thomas, for instance, long considered one of, if not the, best offensive tackle in the league, has shorter than ideal arms. That said, Thomas gets by that with impeccable technique and strength. In short, ideal length makes the job easier for tackles. Likewise, mobility is becoming ever more important to evaluators. The right tackles of the past have typically been maulers, slower than their left sided counterparts. Mobile tackles can change the design of a concept since they are able to serve as a lead blocker when pulling, giving offense more options. This in turn, forces defenses to prepare for more. We are seeing an increased focus on the mobility of tackles for this very reason, and that includes the men manning the right side.
The Patriots have had a lot of success with German international Sebastian Vollmer, whom they employ at RT. Vollmer has ideal strength and footwork, and has shown a great ability in using his hands to neutralize outside pass rushers. At this point, he is probably the gold standard for Right Tackles in the NFL, and that is pretty surprising for a guy who wasn't even raised in the Unites States.
Left Tackles make around $4.5 million on average, almost twice that of NFL Right Tackles. That devaluing of the position has been noticed. Since there are fewer "purpose built" Right Tackles in the league, defensive coordinators have been taking advantage. When delving into the statistics from the awesome guys over at Pro Football Focus, we can uncover some interesting trends. In 2011, 60% of the top 25 pass rushers in the league operated against the Right Tackle primarily. This jumped to 64% in 2012, and the number for 2013 is even higher still. And it makes sense, right? If you were a defensive coach, wouldn't you send your best defensive end at your opponent's weakest? We know the NFL is all about match-ups, and we are talking about guys who barely sleep trying to figure out better ways to rush the passer and plug the run. They have taken notice.
With pass rushers becoming ever more dynamic in their abilities, teams are starting to evaluate RT's more closely, and that gap in importance, and the salary disparity that comes with it, is becoming a thing of the past. Beyond this, I have always believed the offensive line is the foundation of any good football team. If they are solid, everything else becomes that much easier; throwing, running, and as a result, putting up points.
How does this affect the Titans?
The generally accepted tackles in the first round of the 2014 draft are, in order, Jake Matthews (Texas A%M), Greg Robinson (Auburn), Taylor Lewan (Michigan), Cyrus Kouandijo (Alabama), and Zach Martin (Notre Dame). Are any of these guys the best target at 11 for the Titans? I would jump at the chance to take Robinson or Matthews, however unlikely they fall that far. While I would throw out Lewan for off the field concerns, I would think trading back a few spots to nap Martin or Kouandijo might be a wise move too.
I have taken a look at the roster over and over, and there are needs throughout, but none so glaring as LB and RT. How to decide between them? Obviously I am glad Ruston Webster, and not myself, will be making that determination. But say that decision were up to me? I think a compelling case could be made for a top notch tackle to man the right side.
With David Stewart's unlikely status on the Titans' roster, and a lack of credible guys to step into the spot outside rarely-used backup Byron Stingily, the need there is a big one. That could be the difference between the Titans being able to run the ball at a high level and them struggling as they did in 2013. Can the Titans find that talent in the later rounds of the draft? Likely not, if we are looking at plug and play guys.
I want a sexy pass rusher as much as the next guy, but how far will that impact get us if our QB is eating the turn ever other down? It is a debate that will likely become a lot clearer as we near the draft, which is still months away. But at this point, you have to at least believe that the Titans will definitely be considering a right tackle in the first round, and to be honest, that doesn't upset me in the slightest.