Aside from a random dotting of Pro Days and individual workout sessions the NFL is essentially in it’s first true “dead period” of the offseason. Most fans can keep themselves occupied with MLB spring training or the scent of March Madness. However, those who could care less about another sport will, sadly, be scrapping for relevant, non-subjective news until at least mid-March, when free agency officially begins. Most of that “dead air” will be filled with adjusted “big board,” free agent speculation, and, of course, a plethora of regularly-changing mock drafts.
Obviously, with such a massive free agent pool and the recent $10 million league-wide bump in the salary cap, there will be plenty players and teams moving around. Any one of those moves could, and will, drastically effect the perception of how a team will proceed in the 2014 NFL Draft. As it currently stands, most mockers have adjusted their drafts in the wake of a handful of notable, or not-so notable, Combine performances. For the St. Louis Rams, it appears that a large proportion of reputable draft analysts have moved towards the Rams taking an offensive tackle with the No.2 overall pick in the draft.
While we, at Ramblin’ Fan, have our doubts that the St. Louis Rams would be willing to use a Top 5 pick on any position that wasn’t in immediate need of a starter, or at least an upgrade, we’ll save that argument for another day. Joe Barksdale and Jake Long were both phenomenal last season at their respective positions, and with no sign of setback in Long’s rehab, there is no reason to believe he will not be back by the start of the regular season. However, putting the facts and performances aside, we wanted to know what taking an offensive tackle in the Top 5 truly means in the “new” NFL.
Fans of the St. Louis Rams know all too well the highs and lows of drafting offensive tackles, experiencing nearly a decade of domination behind Orlando Pace, but also a half-decade of misery recovering from the failed selection of Jason Smith. Rodger Saffold, albeit a mere high 2nd-rounder, might be the midday point between the two polar opposites, managing moments of greatness mixed in with a myriad of “season-interfering” injuries.
By taking an offensive tackle with the No.2 overall (or wherever they end up in the Top 10), one would naturally assume that player to be an immediate starter, and an immediate upgrade over the incumbent player at that position. So, how have Top 10 offensive tackles fared over the last half decade?
Since 2009, only two Top 10 offensive tackles have made a noticeable, positive impact on their team in their first season in the league. The rest have been marred by injuries, inconsistent play, or failure to acclimate quickly enough to NFL-level competition.
Aside from the normal issues that often plague rookies in their first year in the league, offensive tackles often have to “adjust” to playing a completely new position on the line. Last year’s class was a solid example of that, with both Eric Fisher and Luke Joeckel being forced to play right tackle, a position that neither had played with any regularity in college. As Rodger Saffold attested to on numerous occasions at the start of last season, switching from left to right side is the equivalent of learning an entirely new position, with variations in stance alignment, footwork, post-snap responsibilities, and so on.
Connecting that to this year’s class, there is only one offensive tackle graded in the Top 10 with any extensive experience at right tackle; Jake Matthews. After the 2014 NFL Scouting Combine, Matthews has dropped to the nearly consensus No.2 offensive tackle in the draft, sandwiches between Greg Robinson, the uber-athletic Auburn road grader, and Taylor Lewan, the Jake Long clone out of Michigan.
If the St. Louis Rams are going to use a Top 10 pick on an offensive tackle, it would have to suggest they believe that rookie would be an upgrade over Joe Barksdale at right tackle. Considering recent rookie’s struggling to acclimate to the unfamiliar non-blindside blocking position, and the vastly improved performance of Joe Barksdale last season, it might be hard to make that case.