Why the Offensive line matters: How to build the foundation
Despite being right smack in the information age, with 24 hour sports coverage in every medium imaginable it amazes me at times how much people get stuck into traditional ways of thinking and fail to look deeper into a question. That is why when you ask a typical NFL fan about the most important positions, you will usually get a response involving the ‘big three’ Quarterback-Running back-Wide Receiver.
While those positions no doubt serve an importance, this isn’t the Arena League where those are the only players that matter. The NFL is a team game, and victories and Super Bowl successes aren’t dictated by a single player. While we focus on the skill guys, it is worth noting that many of the elite quarterbacks, running backs, and receivers to play this game, don’t have a single Super Bowl Ring to their name. Now are their exceptions to this rule, of course. The Cowboys and 49ers each won multiple Super Bowls, whilst having numerous Hall of Fame talent at their skill positions. What is forgotten of course is the fact that in addition to the Aikmen’s, Rice’s and Smith’s on those teams, they had exceptional talent at other positions as well. Now I’m not trying to discount what Aikmen, Montana, Rice, Irvin, Smith meant to these teams, just to say that they alone would have not been enough for Dallas and San Francisco to win as many Super Bowls as they did.
Of all the key positions that get overlooked the offensive line is probably the worst one. Now I realize that left tackles the aka blind side protectors have gained notoriety in recent years and are now one of the NFL’s highest paid positions on average. While the recent acknowledgement of the importance of the LT is good, it’s only a partial measure. Now too often, teams and fans only focus on the left tackle position and regulate the rest of the line to a 2nd tier status. Having the league’s best LT, but below average talent at the other 4 positions, will only end in disaster for an offense. Now that is not to say you need 5 All-Pros manning the line to be effective. If you look at the league’s most successful offensive lines (and you can pretty much read that as offenses), they usually have 2 elite talents, 2 good players, and 1 average-above average player. That is how a line should be built, yet teams seem to just blatantly ignore the line.
What’s probably the most frustrating is that given how much teams overlook the line, it is very easy to ‘beat the system’ and build a quality offensive line without breaking the bank. While left tackles are usually drafted in the top 50 picks (and usually the best ones are gone in the top 25), many right tackles and interior linemen can be found in the 2nd-5th rounds. Guys who can either start right away, or within a year, and become quality NFL players. Yet despite the ease and availability of good offensive linemen, teams ignore them constantly to instead add a 4th receiver, a backup tight end, or a third-down back in the mid rounds. And yet people are still shocked when a highly drafted quarterback or running back fail to produce because they don’t have the blocking, or a highly touted receiver can’t get any balls thrown his way because a quarterback is on the run for his life. Without a quality offensive line it is nearly impossible for the skill players to succeed, yet the NFL’s ignorance doesn’t seem to be waning. So next time, you want your last place team to draft a new quarterback, running back and receiver with their top 3 picks, remember that while that looks good on paper, on the field it’s not going to make a difference until the foundation is built.