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Guest Post: Centers and the Hall of Fame

Today’s guest post comes from one of the longest followers of this blog (and its predecessor), Richie Wohlers. Richie is 44-year-old accountant from Southern California who is a Dolphins fan despite never being to Florida. As always, we thank our guest posters for contributing.

Last time, I took a look at linebackers in the NFL Hall of Fame. Today, I am going to investigate centers and the Hall of Fame.

As before, I am just taking a look at post-merger players by using some objective factors to try to get a picture of what a typical HOFer looks like. Those factors are All-Pros, Pro Bowls, Weighted AV, Total AV, Super Bowl Appearances and Super Bowl wins). I am going to classify all players into a single position for simplicity. [click to continue…]


This week at the Washington Post, a look at the offensive line struggles that have tanked the Colts and Eagles offenses to date

The Eagles experienced unprecedented offensive turnover this offseason for a team that ranked third in points scored just one year ago. And while much was made of the departures of running back LeSean McCoy and wide receiver Jeremy Maclin, and the arrivals of quarterback Sam Bradford and McCoy replacement DeMarco Murray, Philadelphia also decided to release both of the team’s starting guards, Todd Herremans and Evan Mathis (a first-team All-Pro in 2013).

The Eagles did retain the rest of the starting offensive line, but that hasn’t stopped that unit from struggling mightily through two weeks. According to Pro Football Focus, Eagles halfbacks averaged an NFL-high 2.43 yards per carry before contact in 2013. Last year, Philadelphia halfbacks averaged 2.29 yards before contact, good enough for a third-place ranking. Eagles running backs were the beneficiaries of lots of space before getting hit over the past two seasons, which helped the team rank second in rushing yards, second in yards per rush and first in touchdowns during that time.

You can read the full article here.


2014 Offensive Lineman and NFL Draft Value

You probably don’t think of the St. Louis Rams as a team that’s built along the offensive line. And for good reason: according to Pro Football Focus, St. Louis ranked 30th in pass blocking and 29th in run blocking in 2014. Football Outsiders also ranked the Rams offensive line in the bottom five in both power rushing and stuffed rates. But the Rams struggles on the offensive line are not for a lack of acquiring highly-drafted linemen.

Let’s put aside the selection of Jason Smith with the second overall pick of 2009, who would presumably be in the prime of his career right now had he not been a bust. Because even without him, no offensive line had as strong a pedigree in 2014 as the Rams.

  • At left tackle, Jake Long started 7 games; Long was the first overall pick in the ’08 Draft, albeit by the Dolphins. The other nine games were started by Greg Robinson, taken by St. Louis with the second overall pick in the 2014 Draft.
  • The left guard spot generally belonged to Rodger Saffold (who started 16 games), taken by St. Louis with the 33rd overall pick in 2010.
  • Center was manned by Scott Wells, the 251st pick by the Packers way back in 2004.
  • At right guard was Davin Joseph for 13 games, the 23rd pick in 2006 by the Bucs. The other three games were started by Saffold, and during those games, Robinson moved into the left guard spot during (with Long sticking at left tackle).
  • At right tackle was Joe Barksdale for all 16 games. Barksdale was the 92nd pick in the draft in 2011 by the Raiders.

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Michael Oher describes the size of McKinnie's lunch

Michael Oher describes the size of McKinnie's lunch.

This week, the Steelers and Ravens both made trades in an attempt to shore up their team’s blind spot. In Baltimore, Bryant McKinnie has taken every snap at left tackle this season — with mixed results. According to Pro Football Focus, McKinnie has been average as a pass blocker (although he’s allowed 11 quarterback hurries) and poor as a run blocker. After making a huge investment in Joe Flacco, Baltimore now must focus on protecting their franchise quarterback. Obviously the Ravens weren’t happy with McKinnie, but is Monroe the answer?

PFF gives Monroe slightly better grades, but Mike Tanier wrote a pretty scathing review after studying film on the the former Jaguars’ left tackle. On the other hand, PFF loved Monroe last season, ranking him as their 10th best left tackle. So was this a good deal for Baltimore? For Jacksonville?

The Jaguars end seems easier to analyze. Monroe is a free agent after the season, and the team didn’t view him as an elite left tackle (after all, the Jaguars drafted Luke Joeckel with the expectation that he would take over after Monroe left). That left them with three options: trade him now, let him play out the season and then walk, or franchise him and try to trade him for more in the spring. The latter would be the riskiest option, given that (1) they would be overpaying him, since he isn’t worth franchise tackle money, and (2) Kansas City was unable to unload Branden Albert last season (and for all we know, the Jaguars unsuccessfully tried to deal Monroe last year, too). So for Jacksonville, the benefit to keeping him would be getting 12 more games out of Monroe in a lost season and a 2015 compensatory pick (probably a 4th or 5th rounder).

Instead, Jacksonville received the Ravens 4th and 5th rounders next season. That’s hardly a good return on the 8th overall pick the team invested in him, but that’s a sunk cost at this point (and goes on the ledger of prior management). Trading him was the right move, although we don’t know if they could have gotten more from another team.

As for Baltimore? The team is now without its 4th, 5th, and 7th rounders last season, and may not have much to show for it in 2014 (the 7th was a conditional pick for A.Q. Shipley, currently backing up Gino Gradkowski at center). Baltimore does not have much cap room, which (1) will make it more difficult to resign Monroe (although he already has stated that he wants to stay in Baltimore), and (2) makes it even more important for the team to hit on its draft picks. The outlook isn’t much better for 2014: perhaps the Ravens can restructure the contract of Terrell Suggs, but Baltimore already has $115M allocated to just 40 players next year (and Haloti Ngata ($16M), Flacco ($14.8M), and Lardarius Webb ($10.5M) all have huge cap numbers).
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D’Brickashaw Ferguson and how tackles age

A few weeks ago, I discussed why I selected D’Brickashaw Ferguson as my left tackle in the RSP Writer’s Project. In the comments to that post, mrh argued that tackles generally don’t age that well, a proposition I never really considered before. I have previously discussed quarterback age curves and examined running back aging patterns last summer, so I’ve decided to take a closer look at offensive tackles.

First, I grouped together all tackles who entered the league since 1970 and recorded at least four seasons with an Approximate Value of at least 8 points (Ferguson has three seasons with an AV of 8 and two more with an AV of 9). That gave me a group of 78 tackles who were above-average players in their prime. As it turns out, they didn’t age very well as a group, and the results probably underestimate the true effects of age.

As I’ve discussed before, there are two ways to measure group production over a number of a seasons. In the graph below, the red line shows the aging patterns of top tackles when you divide their total AV accumulated by tackles at that age by 78; the blue line shows the age curves when you divide the total AV accumulated only by those tackles active in the NFL at that age.
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Like everything else, the rules disappear when Ogden is involved.

The game is won in the trenches, I know.

As we hit the halfway mark of the season, some teams are already thinking about next year, and in particular, the 2013 draft. If I was in charge of a bad team, and specifically, a bad passing team, I would try to avoid spending a lot of money or a high first round pick on a left tackle. This philosophy is more guideline than rule — if there is a can’t miss prospect there and/or you are underwhelmed with the other top prospects, then draft the tackle — but spending a high pick on an offensive lineman would be my move of last resort.

Let’s pretend for a few minutes that a top-five pick on a left tackle is going to give you Jake Long or Joe Thomas or Jonathan Ogden, and not Jason Smith or Levi Brown or Robert Gallery or Mike Williams. Now, why is having a star left tackle so valuable? The traditional theory goes that since the left tackle is response for protecting the quarterback’s blind side, he’s the most important member of your offensive line. The other corollary is that most star pass rushers play on the defense’s right side (and the offense’s left), amplifying the value of the left tackle.

When it comes to the running game, the left tackle is no more valuable than the right tackle, or (in some systems) any other members of the offensive line, for that matter. To make this a more straightforward analysis, let’s just stick to the passing game, even though obviously most elite left tackles are also very good at run blocking, which of course adds value.

On most passing plays, offensive linemen are basically the equivalent of fences, designed to prevent the opposition from getting to the quarterback. How useful is a fence that’s totally impenetrable on the left side but has a human-sized hole on the right? This isn’t just a snarky comment; an offensive line is often only as valuable as its weakest link. Which defense will get to the quarterback first: one facing five average linemen or one facing three average linemen, an All-Pro left tackle and the worst starting right tackle in the league? If you were a defensive coordinator, which group would you rather scheme against? To me, it’s a pretty simple question: you want to attack your opponent’s weakness, and an offensive line, like a fence or a chain, is only as strong as its weakest link.

Let’s put it another way. In what circumstances does an All-Pro left tackle add value over say, the 25th best starting left tackle in the league? I think those circumstances are basically limited to those plays where:

The All-Pro left tackle does his job, and the other four, five or six blockers do their job, and the quarterback makes the right read and an accurate throw, and the receiver makes the catch, and on this particularly play, the player(s) that was (were) blocked by the All-Pro left tackle would have gotten to the quarterback in time to prevent him from throwing and completing said pass had he (they) been blocked by a replacement-level tackle.

If you think there are a lot of ‘ands’ in that sentence, you’re right. If the other lineman don’t do their job, the star left tackle is meaningless. If the quarterback can’t make the right read or is inaccurate, the left tackle that blocks DeMarcus Ware doesn’t help his team (other than an incomplete pass being better than a sack or a rushed throw that turns into an interception). If the receiver drops the ball, the left tackle doesn’t provide any value. And if we’re talking about a player where the left tackle didn’t do anything that a replacement level linemen wouldn’t have done, then our star tackle has added no value, either.
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For years, I was an unabashed Philip Rivers supporter. I had no preexisting affinity for the Chargers or Rivers, but in all the metrics I care about, Rivers was always one of the best. In 2008, 2009, and 2010, Philip Rivers led the league in yards per attempt. He finished first in ANY/A in ’08 and second in ’09 and ’10; he finished second in NY/A in ’08 and then first in NY/A in 2009 and 2010. Simply put, going into the 2011 season, no quarterback had been better over the last three years.

Rank Player Tm Gms Cmp Att Cmp% Yds TD Int Rate Sk Y/A SkYds AY/A ANY/A Y/G
1 Philip Rivers SDG 48 986 1505 65.5% 12973 92 33 103.8 88 8.62 545 8.86 8.02 270.3
2 Tom Brady NWE 33 702 1068 65.7% 8374 64 17 102.9 41 7.84 261 8.32 7.78 253.8
3 Drew Brees NOR 47 1224 1807 67.7% 14077 101 50 98.1 58 7.79 412 7.66 7.20 299.5
4 Aaron Rodgers GNB 47 1003 1552 64.6% 12394 86 31 99.4 115 7.99 730 8.20 7.19 263.7
5 Tony Romo DAL 35 771 1213 63.6% 9536 63 30 94.8 61 7.86 360 7.79 7.13 272.5
6 Matt Schaub HTX 43 1012 1537 65.8% 12183 68 37 94.7 80 7.93 524 7.73 7.02 283.3
7 Peyton Manning CLT 48 1214 1805 67.3% 13202 93 45 95.4 40 7.31 251 7.22 6.93 275.0
8 Kurt Warner CRD 31 740 1111 66.6% 8336 56 28 95.2 50 7.50 354 7.38 6.75 268.9
9 Ben Roethlisberger PIT 43 858 1364 62.9% 10829 60 32 92.5 128 7.94 852 7.76 6.53 251.8
10 Eli Manning NYG 48 945 1527 61.9% 11261 79 49 88.3 73 7.37 507 6.97 6.33 234.6
11 Donovan McNabb TOT 43 887 1486 59.7% 10846 59 36 85.4 95 7.30 684 7.00 6.15 252.2
12 Matt Ryan ATL 46 885 1456 60.8% 10061 66 34 86.9 59 6.91 354 6.77 6.27 218.7
13 Kyle Orton TOT 43 901 1504 59.9% 10427 59 33 84.8 90 6.93 562 6.73 6.00 237.0
14 Joe Flacco RAV 48 878 1416 62.0% 10206 60 34 87.9 108 7.21 788 6.97 5.96 212.6
15 Brett Favre TOT 45 923 1411 65.4% 10183 66 48 88.1 86 7.22 599 6.62 5.84 226.3
16 Jay Cutler TOT 47 981 1603 61.2% 11466 75 60 82.9 98 7.15 625 6.40 5.67 244.0
17 Matt Cassel TOT 45 860 1459 58.9% 9733 64 34 83.9 115 6.67 644 6.50 5.62 211.6
18 David Garrard JAX 46 885 1417 62.5% 9951 53 38 84.7 117 7.02 777 6.56 5.56 216.3
19 Jason Campbell TOT 44 836 1342 62.3% 9250 46 29 85.1 114 6.89 759 6.61 5.57 205.6
20 Carson Palmer CIN 36 719 1181 60.9% 7795 50 37 81.4 63 6.60 481 6.04 5.34 216.5
21 Ryan Fitzpatrick TOT 33 603 1040 58.0% 6327 40 34 74.9 83 6.08 465 5.38 4.57 175.8
22 Matt Hasselbeck SEA 35 668 1141 58.5% 7246 34 44 71.2 80 6.35 503 5.21 4.46 207.0

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Trivia of the Day – Saturday, August 11th

Also a member of the Raiders.

There’s only one team in NFL history that had a full lineup’s worth of Hall of Famers on the offensive line. In 1971, the Oakland Raiders incredibly rostered five offensive lineman who would one day wind up in Canton.

Four were starters; the fifth was a reserve on the team who played one year with the Raiders before retiring. The fifth starter was right guard George Buehler, who probably didn’t get much recognition during his playing days. But hey, his card is here on Football Perspective today!

I’ll switch up the trivia today, with one hint for each of the five starters. How many can you name?

Trivia hint: LT Show

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Trivia hint: LG Show

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Trivia hint: C Show

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Trivia hint: RT Show

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Trivia hint: Backup Show

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