To avoid making future draft mistakes we must first learn from the past. Although every draft is different, there have been some trends that have played out over the years. Based on draft results from 2000-2009, here are some of the facts we've encountered about the offensive tackle position.
If quarterback is the most important position in sports, then offensive tackle could be the second most important position. Any team that has a legitimate quarterback will need to protect his blind side, and that has made offensive tackles invaluable over the last decade.
Most believe that you have to get your big guys early and our research mostly supports that. Offensive tackles selected in the first round have a 50 percent (16 of 32) hit rate (became a solid starter). The first round is littered with recent Pro Bowlers, as Jake Long, Joe Thomas, Ryan Clady and D'Brickashaw Ferguson have been ultra-worthy of their high selections. Another advantage of taking an offensive tackle early in the draft is what we call "bust insurance". Bust insurance is defined (by us) as the ability to move what appears to be a bust at one position to a position which may be less taxing. The Oakland Raiders cashed in their "bust insurance policy" by moving former second-overall pick (2004 draft) Robert Gallery from tackle where he was abysmal to guard where he's now a solid starter.
How successful have teams been selecting offensive tackles in Round Two?
Offensive tackles selected in the second round are hit-and-miss, mostly miss. Our research shows that teams pulling the trigger on tackles in Round Two have a hit rate of just 26.9 percent (7 of 26). The San Diego Chargers hit on one of those with Marcus McNeill, as did the Tennessee Titans with Michael Roos, and Darren Colledge helped the Green Bay Packers win a Super Bowl just last month. But our numbers don't lie and for every McNeill or Roos, there are nearly three Adam Terry's or Marcus Johnson's.
What did we encounter in Round Three?
At every other position, both on offense and defense, the further you go down the draft board the lower the chances are of finding a serviceable starter. Offensive tackle serves as an anomaly as we saw the percentage go up from 26.9 percent to 30 percent (6 of 20) as we moved from the second round to the third round. Although there haven't been any Pro Bowlers selected in Round Three, you can find very good starting right tackles in Houston's Eric Winston and Denver's Ryan Harris and even a left tackle with Pittsburgh's Max Starks.
How do the late-round project guys turn out?
A lot of teams like to select their big guys later on and hope that they can develop into solid backups or possibly even starters. There were 132 offensive tackles selected in Rounds 4-7 and 13 of which have been solid picks (9.8%). Among them are Green Bay's Josh Sitton (bust insurance move to guard), Dallas' Doug Free, New Orleans Jahri Evans (bust insurance move to guard where he became a two-time Pro Bowler), Tennessee's David Stewart, Philadelphia's Todd Herremans (bust insurance move to guard) and Colts turned Titans tackle turned guard Jake Scott, among others.
Whereas most teams opt to take elite level talent early at the tackle position, that's not the only way to skin the proverbial cat. Unlike quarterbacks, teams have found success without drafting tackles in the first round as Pittsburgh, Arizona and New Orleans have made it to the Super Bowl without top of the line talent. Still, when drafting offensive tackles it appears to be in club's best interests to select early and often. Overall, 20 percent of all tackles drafted in any round have worked out to be solid players, one of the highest percentages of any position. First round picks can turn into Pro Bowlers, and lately (2006-2009) they have hit at a 73.3 percent rate (11 of 15). According to our research, the only round where it appears best to shy away from selecting a tackle is Round Two, where the 26.9 percent hit rate hasn't really lived up to the value of the selections. Now that you have the facts, draft accordingly.
Charlie Bernstein is the host of “The Conundrum” on the Aquarius 7 Broadcasting Network (national), and Editor-in-Chief of Sports Media Interactive, covering multiple teams in the National Football League, NCAA, and National Basketball Association. Charlie covers the Jacksonville Jaguars for FoxSports and has been featured on the NFL Network and Sirius NFL Radio. Charlie is also a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. You can follow Charlie on Twitter @nflcharlie
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