Friday, March 01, 2013

Learning the Draft, Part 4: Tackles

As we continue to power through the options for the draft, I want to make sure we spend time on the appropriate portions of this draft as it applies to the Cowboys biggest needs.

For me, this is clearly still the offensive line.  I say, "for me", because sometimes I wonder about the Cowboys self evaluation.

2012 was a very poor season for the offensive line.  We have gone over this a number of times and if you want to read some older material that spells out exactly why the offensive line was again sub-standard, please read this piece and this piece that detail it all.

But, then, when their owner and general manager speak on the record with Cowboys reporters, I generally come away wondering if he agrees - even a little bit.

When it comes to running the ball, the Cowboys can only look down their noses at the putrid Arizona Cardinals when it comes to rushing attempts (355 to 352), and yards per carry (3.6 to 3.4).  They rank 31st in both categories and 31st in total yards - also to Arizona (of course) by a margin of 1265 to 1204.

So, in a 2-team league, beating Arizona in each category is useful.  But in a 32-team league, that is flat-out sad.

Passing the ball is tougher to quantify, because raw sack totals are about as misleading a number as you can find to evaluate pass blocking.  We have talked about this plenty over the years, but to recap, if you tell me the object of the game is to avoid sacks, we can do that all night.  But, that has never been the object of the game.  The sole mission is to score points and to push the ball down the field.  Raw sacks leaves no space for nuance at all.  Yes, the Cowboys conceded just 36 sacks.  Way fewer than Arizona (58) or even Green Bay (51) who has a QB in Aaron Rodgers who always holds the ball to try to make a play.  Way more than the two Manning brothers as New York (20) and Denver (21) always get rid of the football when trouble is around and attempt to fight another play.

But, none of those numbers compensate for how many blockers I keep in (and thus, how many receivers I sacrifice) or how deep I design the routes.  If we switch to 3 and 5-step pass routes (routes that sync timing-wise with the 3 and 5 step drops, that is) then we will never give up sacks, but we will also never challenge vertically and engage the safeties down the field.

Anyway, as we consider fixing what I think is the Cowboys biggest weakness, we must also consider what Jerry Jones said to the media over the weekend in Indianapolis - this is all from Clarence Hill's report in the Fort Worth Star Telegram:

Jones said the Cowboys must improve the offensive line and could target an interior guard or center in free agency and the draft.
But Jones does not want to secure the issue with bigger contracts because he said Romo’s mobility allows the Cowboys to get by with lesser talent on the line.
Jones called Romo one of the best quarterbacks in the league at improvising when the play breaks down.
And if it has to choose, Jones will invest more resources in other places. 
“If you’re going to have a guy operate behind an offensive line that can handle a porous offensive line, it’s Tony,” Jones said. “Tony has some of the best percentages operating behind pressure situations of anyone in the NFL. If there were a place theoretically that you had to have a weakness with Tony Romo at quarterback, that might be a place to have it. You just can’t have it all.” 
It’s not exactly Romo-friendly, but it is reality for the Cowboys. 
But Jones believes the Cowboys will be better on the offensive line because of the expected improvement from within. 
He cited the return to health of center Phil Costa, a healthy off-season and hopefully better play from guards Nate Livings and Mackenzy Bernadeau, who had disappointing years after signing free-agent contracts in 2012. And he said the Cowboys will make a bigger commitment to the run game.
He said that offensive line coach Bill Callahan’s added influence on play-calling, whether or not he is the play-caller, should help.  

Read more here:

I took the liberty to bold the parts of the piece that seemed extra staggering and troubling to a guy like me that believes teams like San Francisco are able to win because they value the line and understand that your QB and skill position players are dependent on the line - not the other way around.

In his direct quote, he actually says with a straight face, "If there were a place theoretically that you had to have a weakness with Tony Romo at quarterback, that might be a place to have it. You just can’t have it all.”

Oh, goodness.  After 3 horrendous seasons of offensive line play, those are not the words of a man who seems determined to fix it.

They might actually draft another skill position guy after all.

Bravely, let's pretend they are going to try to "fix" the lines with investment and look now at the tackles who are in play in the first 3 rounds.

We always start this process by looking at the best in the business who are already in the league and made the All-Pro teams this past year to see measurable numbers that will be used to compare:

2012 All-Pro Team Tackles

D Brown - Va Tech6'432034.255.07
R Clady - Boise State6'6315365.18
J Thomas - Wisconsin6'631232.54.92
J Staley - Central Mich6'531534.754.79

As you can see, the numbers are different from guards.  Taller, leaner, and longer arms are the things you look for in a tackle.  A guard is more stout and able to get low in run blocking.  We also don't need real long arms inside.  But on the outside, as we saw with Tyron Smith, with 36 3/8 arms, if you have long arms it is very difficult for people to get around you.  This can either make up for slower feet or combined with quick feet it can make you impossible to beat.

With those numbers in mind, let's see what the Combine has shown us at the tackle.  

Joeckel - Texas AM6'630634.255.30
Fisher - Central Michigan6'730634.55.05
Johnson - Oklahoma6'630335.254.72
Fluker - Alabama6'533936.755.31
Watson - Florida St6'5310345.29
Pugh - Syracuse6'4307325.14
Armstead - Ark Pine Bluff6'5306344.71
Wagner - Wisconsin6'6308345.17

There is a great divide in this group of tackles that you should know about.  That is, there are 4 1st round tackles and then there seems to be a pretty steep drop-off until we get to #5.  And whoever is 5th on that list is certainly a discussion where there will be plenty of disagreements.

But, as it stands, Luke Joeckel and Eric Fisher appear to be clear top 10 picks, with Joeckel possibly as the #1 pick in this draft altogether.

Fisher is from a mid-major, which makes him a bit more difficult to fully rate, but if you scroll up and see that Joe Staley seems to have figured that out ok, then maybe you can get past that issue.

After that, we have Lane Johnson, who is one of many tight ends who has been moved to tackle over the years - making him extremely athletic, but a guy who you do have to wonder about until he proves to have flawless technique for a new position.  He really impressed in the Cotton Bowl against Damontre Moore in the pass protection department.

Also we have DJ Fluker, who many say is a right tackle run dominating bull-dozer from that amazing Alabama line that also is giving us Chance Warmack and Barrett Jones in this draft.  His arms are very long and his weight is very high as he cut weight to get to 339.  Yikes.

After that, I have included some other names, but the drop off from Fluker to the next appears substantial.

Below, let's look at some video of these 8 guys, because the combine is interesting, but largely just frosting.  The cake is in the game tape.  I don't want to say much more about each guy and cloud your vision with info that might bias your thoughts.  Let's just look at each guy and ask if he is amazing, solid, or not worth the selection.

Then, if you wish, share your observations below and we will chat about our findings soon.

Luke Joeckel - Texas AM - #76 - More Videos

Eric Fisher - Central Michigan - #79 - More Videos

Lane Johnson  - Oklahoma - #69 -  More Videos 

DJ Fluker - Alabama - #76  More Videos

Menelik Watson  - Florida State - #71 -  More Videos

Justin Pugh - Syracuse  - #67 -  More Videos 

Terron Armstead  - Arizona Pine Bluff - #78 -  More Videos

Ricky Wagner - Wisconsin  - #58 -  More Videos  (Wagner is the Left Tackle)

There.  Check em out and rate them.  We are now done with the offensive and defensive line overviews.  Next, we will check out safeties and then dive a bit deeper into each player coming soon.

1 comment:

Jay Beerley said...

Seriously, how did Jones make all that money? He sure doesn't ever like to show that he might be wrong on something.

Just from a pure numbers standpoint, how many "skill" position players (RB & WR) seemingly come out of nowhere to be good to very good vs. line players? Seems that quality linemen are much more important and harder to find. But as long as the results don't affect his pocketbook, it won't ever matter.