Oct. 09, 2011; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Indianapolis Colts defensive end Dwight Freeney (93) tries to get around Kansas City Chiefs offensive tackle Branden Albert (76) at Lucas Oil Stadium. Mandatory credit: Michael Hickey-USA TODAY Sports

The Deflating Importance of a Left Tackle

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A story was published last weekend on ESPN about the decreasing importance in the left tackle position in the NFL. It starts with the offseason move of Jake Long, once the first overall pick, and makes the case for how the left tackle position, “once considered an essential building block for every franchise, has seen its importance erode in the era of read-option spread offenses.”

Below is an excerpt from the story:

“Times have changed dramatically since 2006, when the Ravens’ Michael Oher was the inspiration for The Blind Side. That best-selling book and eventual blockbuster movie helped mythologize the left tackle’s role in protecting the quarterback’s back. But in ’06, the ideal QB still stood in the pocket and worked through his progressions before delivering the ball downfield. Today, QB drops are shorter, the ball comes out quicker, the passers are far more elusive and the pressure is coming from all over, not just the right defensive end. As a result, Oher doesn’t even protect the blind side anymore. In Super Bowl XLVII, he started at right tackle.”

The story is full of good nuggets of information and interviews, such as “When coaches talk about position hierarchy, left tackle isn’t among the top few anymore,” an AFC team exec says. “Now it’s QB, pass rusher, cornerback, wide receiver. A guy like Joe Thomas shows that a great left tackle isn’t nearly sufficient.” And this quote by Phil Savage, former GM of the Browns and current executive director of the Senior Bowl: “Now, because of defenses, you’d better be solid across the entire line. Instead of the super-elite left tackle, it’s about five men who block well in a system.”

If you haven’t seen this article already, I highly recommend it. But now to the point of this post: how important is the left tackle position to the Kansas City Chiefs?

Alex Smith is not a spread option guy, nor is he a Michael Vick type player that heavily relies on his feet to make plays and can make an offensive line look better because of his mobility. Alex Smith is the prototypical pocket passer. But in Andy Reid’s offense, the ball will come out quicker and will operate more like a spread than Chiefs fans have ever seen before out of the team. With these quick and intermediate throws, the line isn’t asked to hold their blocks as long as they would have to on a five or seven step drop back. And as the ESPN article pointed out, good quarterbacks in the league have gotten away with average left tackles – Eli Manning has 5th round pick David Diehl, Aaron Rodgers has 5th round pick Marshall Newhouse.

Now, is it a bad thing that the Chiefs have such a good left tackle in Branden Albert? No. You always want the best player at any position. What the article is saying, however, is that a team doesn’t need a guy like Branden Albert to be successful on offense, and could get by with a lesser caliber alternative. If Albert is willing to agree to a deal, though, I would much rather have him than not.

But when I read this article, the importance of Branden Albert to the Chiefs was only a secondary thought that crossed my mind. What came first and foremost was the logic of taking a tackle with the first overall pick this year. If the left tackle position has become devalued, then shouldn’t that pick be used on a position of higher value? Like a pass rusher? Or a quarterback? Even the right tackle and guard positions have found their value increase; could the pick be better used on those positions?

Obviously there are many ways that the Chiefs can use the first pick, but you don’t want to be on the wrong side of a league-wide NFL trend. Bill Parcells told ESPN.com in April, 2011 that he didn’t regret taking Jake Long over Matt Ryan, but that “you always wonder if you should have taken a quarterback.” And as another NFL team exec put it, “A guy like Joe Thomas shows that a great left tackle isn’t nearly sufficient.” The Chiefs have a great left tackle already on the roster. Should they use the first overall pick this year on another one?

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