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Old 04-18-2010, 08:11 PM   #1
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Default Secret to NFL success found in linemen

Secret to NFL success found in linemen
By: Drew Kochanny

The game of football is said to be a game of inches. Inches can mean the difference between in bounds and out of bounds, a first down and a turnover, and scoring a winning touchdown or missing it by a hair. It should be no secret then that possibly the two most important positions in the NFL also come down to that little unit of measurement.

Offensive and defensive linemen are literally separated by just a couple of inches and are the largest people on the field. So often though, they go unnoticed and unappreciated. With the NFL draft just one week away, crunch time to finalize scouting perspectives for NFL owners, coaches and general managers has most likely set in. One position they all should take a close look at is between the trenches along the offensive and defensive lines.

Drafting an offensive lineman is not the glamorous pick, actually far from it. Defensive linemen bring a bit of excitement to a fan come draft day. Even still, compared to the touchdown scoring picks like the running backs and wide receivers, defensive linemen are just linemen. It seems, however, fans should reverse their attitudes about drafting the high profile wideout as opposed to the little-known offensive lineman.

A combined 2009 record of 14-66 rests on their shoulders. of St. Louis, Detroit, Tampa Bay, Washington, and Kansas City, the first five teams to draft in the April 22-24 NFL Draft. The number of linemen, both defensive and offensive, on the teams 2009 roster that made a Pro Bowl since the 2006 season combined totaled just four players, none of whom made the 2009 Pro Bowl. Of the last five teams drafting in the first round, San Diego, New York (Jets), Minnesota, Indianapolis, and New Orleans, 20 total linemen made a Pro Bowl, including 15 in 2009. The teams combined for a record of 61-19 last season. Still rooting for your team to draft that flashy wide receiver?

NFL teams are beginning to catch on to the trend. Offensive tackles are predicted to be the one of the most selected positions this year. Since 2004 the number of linemen selected in the first round has increased or matched the previous year’s total every draft, starting with eight in 2004 to 14 last year. In 2008, the draft saw a record seven offensive tackles taken in the first round. As many as 18 offensive and defensive linemen could end up with their names being called in the first round this year, with a staggering seven linemen who could go in the top 10. Nebraska’s Ndamukong Suh and Oklahoma’s Gerald McCoy, both defensive tackles, are predicted to be the second and third overall picks.

Teams need to take no other lesson than from the 2007 and 2008 drafts. In 2007, six wide receivers were taken in the first round. Of the six players, none besides the Lions Calvin Johnson caught more than 47 passes during the 2009 season. Two brought in fewer than 10 catches.

It is really no wonder that a year later in the 2008 draft, an NFL record eight offensive tackles were selected in the first round and no wide receivers were selected in the first round, also a draft record. Of the eight linemen selected, all started every game they played in 2009, with the fewest being 13 games. Three played a 16 complete game season. Two, Miami’s Jake Long and Denver’s Ryan Clady, have made Pro Bowl appearances in each of their first two seasons.

For teams looking for their next breakout running back or wide receiver, the second or third round may be where they should look. The later rounds of the NFL Draft have been gold mines for teams drafting skill positions. In 2005 San Diego found wideout Vincent Jackson in the second round, and the San Francisco 49ers found running back Frank Gore in the third. The second round was also friendly in 2006, providing Pro Bowl running back Maurice Jones-Drew. Newly acquired Baltimore wide receiver Anquan Boldin was plucked from the second round by the Arizona Cardinals in 2003 and last season’s breakout wide receiver for the New York Giants, Steve Smith, was also a round two selection in 2007.

Skill position players just have to be found. Sometimes the best players aren’t the ones who break out in the weight room or at the NFL Combine, but on the field. Imagine that.

For this year’s 2010 NFL Draft, no other players have dominated the draft guru talk, most notably ESPN analysts Todd McShay and Mel Kiper, as much as defensive lineman Suh and McCoy. Oklahoma State’s Russell Okung and Iowa’s Byran Bulaga along with Oklahoma’s Trent Williams have dominated talks along the offensive line and are almost undoubtedly all surefire top 10 selections.

Owners looking to find wins in the NFL, not make their fans joyful come draft day, should be considering filling their line. Maybe if the Detroit Lions would have selected offensive or defensive linemen between 2003 and 2005, when the team chose a wide receiver three straight years, they wouldn’t be drafting second overall.

Some teams have more glaring needs than offensive or defensive line, that is at times clear, but teams who may be leaning on the fence should skip the gamble and pick a big ugly. Just remember to be happy if your team does select a lineman. Clearly, a solid group of players within the inches of the trenches brings wins in itself.
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Old 04-18-2010, 08:15 PM   #2
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And a counter:

RB vs. OL? Pretty much cut-and-dried

Short-haul and long-haul, grabbing a tailback is going to be better for you

Early in this year's draft process, pick No. 4 in the 2010 NFL draft presented Mike Shanahan, Bruce Allen and the Washington Redskins with a tough decision: how best to fix a running game that produced just 94.3 yards per game in 2009, sixth-lowest in the NFL?

With quarterback Sam Bradford and defensive linemen Ndamukong Suh and Gerald McCoy expected to be the first three picks in the draft, the Redskins would have their choice of any blocker or runner available. Who was more likely to make a bigger impact: a star runner like Clemson's C.J. Spiller, or a dominant tackle like Russell Okung out of Oklahoma State?

The Redskins tipped their hand when they acquired veterans Willie Parker and Larry Johnson to team with Clinton Portis in the backfield. It's now almost a lock that Okung will be wearing a burgundy jersey this fall -- and that may be bad news for the Redskins' rushing game.

History shows that teams with top-10 picks fare better on the ground after drafting a running back than they do when drafting tackles.

Between 2000 and 2009, nine teams selected running backs in the first 10 picks of the NFL draft, while 14 teams picked tackles. The RB teams averaged 3.7 rushing yards per carry the year before the draft, a little lower than the 3.9 yards averaged by teams drafting tackles.

Not surprisingly, the influx of talent boosted the running game of both sets of teams -- but the RB teams saw better results.

The rookie tackles led their teams to 4.1 yards per carry, up 0.2 yards from the year before. Those teams that drafted runners, though, ran for 4.2 yards per carry, an increase of 0.5 yards. Prefer to measure things by yards per game? Teams drafting tackles went from 99 to 113 yards per game, while teams drafting backs went from 98 to 121 yards per game.

So in the short term, it looks like drafting a runner is usually the better call. But teams don't make draft picks for a one-year surge, they're looking for long-term benefits. And in the long term, it looks like going with a running back is still the best decision for the running game. (This makes some sense, because top-10 tackles are generally prized for their ability to protect the quarterback's blind side, not their ability to open holes for running backs.)

The two groups of teams were virtually identical two or three years after the draft, regressing in year 2 and rebounding in year 3. In year 4, however, RB teams fared better, averaging 4.2 yards per game, compared to 4.0 for the OT teams.
It's no surprise that the most successful RB team of the last decade was the Minnesota Vikings, who picked Adrian Peterson seventh overall in 2007. The Vikings were no slouches on the ground in 2006, averaging 4.1 rushing yards per carry. But Peterson took them into another stratosphere; they collected 5.3 yards per carry as a team in his rookie season. That figure dipped in the next two seasons, which is typical for most teams on this list that drafted backs. But since Peterson was drafted, the Vikings have averaged 4.63 yards per carry. (Remember that boost running backs gave their teams in their fourth season? Peterson will be playing his fourth campaign in 2010.)

Picking a running back, however, is not guaranteed to improve a team's ground game. The New Orleans Saints racked up 4.0 yards per game on the ground in 2005, then added Reggie Bush with the draft's second pick. Over the next two seasons, the Saints averaged 3.7 yards per carry, significantly worse than before Bush's arrival, before jumping back to 4.0 in year 3 and 4.5 in year 4. An even better example is Cedric Benson. The Chicago Bears collected 3.8 yards per carry the year before they picked the Texas runner in 2005. In Benson's rookie season that jumped to 4.3. Benson carried the ball only 67 times that season, so he deserves little credit for the improvement. In the next three seasons, as Benson got more touches, the Bears' yards per carry went from 3.8 to 3.1 to 3.9.

Of those teams that went with a tackle in the top-10 picks, none has been more successful than the Vikings. They ran for 4.3 yards per game in 2001, then picked Miami's Bryant McKinnie with the fourth overall selection. In the next four seasons -- all before Peterson was drafted -- the Vikings averaged 4.7 yards per carry.

On the other side of the coin, we find the Oakland Raiders. In 2003, Oakland produced 4.3 yards per carry. Iowa's Robert Gallery, taken second overall in 2004, was supposed to turn the team into a juggernaut. Instead, the bottom fell out -- the Raiders managed only 4.0 yards per carry (technically, 3.95) in the first four years of Gallery's career.

The only other team to see its ground game collapse like that was, ironically, the Redskins -- although they deserve an asterisk. In 1999 they tallied 4.4 yards per carry, fourth in the NFL. They then took Alabama's Chris Samuels with the third overall pick. When you start out in the league's top five, however, you're likely to get worse no matter what -- after all, you can't get much better. The Redskins averaged 4.0 yards per game in the four years after they drafted Samuels, much lower than they were able to amass before he arrived, but fairly typical results for a top-10 tackle. Now that they're looking for Samuels' replacement, if the Redskins do select Okung, they can expect to match Samuels' production.

Vince Verhei is a writer for Football Outsiders. Research provided by Alvin Anol of the ESPN Stats & Information Group.
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Old 04-18-2010, 08:24 PM   #3
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if you are taking a RB over an OL in the first 10 picks, chacnes are youre oline ranges from not bad to decent.
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