There is a lot of talk surrounding the Jacksonville Jaguars now drafting Central Michigan offensive tackle Eric Fisher with the second overall pick. Despite the fact that I personally will believe it when I see his name called on Thursday, the fact that there is so much public discussion about it and some things that David Caldwell said at his pre-draft luncheon mean it's worth considering.
Caldwell stated explicitly that if the Jaguars were going to draft an offensive tackle with the second overall pick that the rookie would play the right tackle position with Eugene Monroe playing on the left side. Caldwell also seemed to hint that the team has an idea about Monroe's future, which some reporters suggested meaning that the team plans to re-sign him.
So, with all that being said let's look at why it would and wouldn't make sense, including some discussion about the future of the right tackle position specifically.
Why it doesn't make a lot of sense:
A lot of this is going to be re-hashed from what I've stated on Twitter and in past articles, but the right tackle position isn't one that is valued in the NFL. If you historically look at the position, it's often not paid a lot and not drafted in the Top 15. There are occasions where a team will draft a player in the Top 15 with the intent on playing the player on the right side, but even those are too few and far between to hold any weight historically.
For instance, the Cincinnati Bengals drafted Andre Smith with the sixth overall pick intending to play him on the right side. Smith struggled with injuries early in his career, but for the past two seasons was one of the better right tackles in the NFL. For the 2012 season, Smith graded out as the best right tackle in football according to ProFootballReference.com. Andre Smith, 26, is still a free agent however, and there hasn't been much interest in him on the open market because he reportedly wants a big contract. You also have perfectly capable starters, and I'm talking at an above-average level, in Eric Winston and Tyson Clabo still available on the market.
The free agent market, coupled with the history of the NFL draft shows that the league does not value the position as much as people would think they do. The reality of the position is you can get-by with an average player on the right side and having an "elite" player there is more of a luxury. Spending the second overall pick on a position that's not valued would seem like a luxury pick for a team who can't afford to take a luxury pick. The 49ers did it with Anthony Davis, but the 49ers also picked him outside of the Top 5 (11th overall) and had a big core of players already on their roster so they could afford to make a luxury pick like that.
The right tackle position is indeed a need for the Jaguars, but that's because the players playing on the right side the past three seasons have been abysmal. The Jaguars can plug in a player who's simply better than awful and still upgrade the position. As mentioned, there are three players who graded out in the Top 10 for all the right tackles last season still on the free agent market, two of which are sub-30 years old.
The No. 2 overall pick is likely going to sign a deal that averages in the $6 million per year range, and it's highly likely you'd be able to sign one of the three remaining free agents for less than that, possibly all three. So, if right tackle is that much of a dire need, do you really need to invest the second overall pick into it?
Then you factor in the investment you'd be making at the position if you indeed re-sign Monroe, who graded out as a Top 10 left tackle in 2012. If he plays to the same level again, you're looking at anywhere from $6-8 million per year for Monroe, putting you have nearly $14 million per season at just two positions on the offensive line. There has to be at some point diminishing returns on the offensive line, as a whole. Even though pressure comes from the right side as well, there's a reason the majority of NFL franchises don't value the right tackle position as much as the left.
The Jaguars gave up a lot of pressure in the middle of their offensive line as well, but no one seems to want the team to draft an interior offensive lineman earlier, because it's also not a valued position.
Why it does make sense:
Quite simply, the Jaguars offensive line has been awful the past three seasons. Since 2009, when Eben Britton was a rookie and didn't play like an absolute disaster, the right tackle position has been a black hole for the Jaguars. The offensive line as a whole has been poor, but the right tackle position especially has been awful. The Jaguars need an upgrade at the position and adding a potential elite talent like Fisher would drastically upgrade the line, which should in turn have a positive impact on both the passing game and the running game. It should theoretically improve the play of the quarterback as well.
For the past five years pressure on the quarterback has come from a variety of different spots, as you can see in the chart by Steve Palazzolo below. The general school of thought is that the left tackle, typically the blind side protector, is the most important position on the offensive line. The quarterback can't see the pressure coming, so you want a player who's going to be the best at stopping pass rushers on that side. But, does that really hold true?
Pressure Surrendered by Position Five-year (2008-2012) via ProFootballTalk.com:
|Position||Drop Backs||Run||Att||Comp||Comp%||Acc%||Yards||YPA||TD||INT||TD/INT||QB Rating|
As expected, quarterbacks are at their worst when pressured up the middle of the offensive line. This usually happens because to pocket itself collapses and the quarterback is forced to change his launch point, throwing on the move. You can see in the data above from PFF that as the pressure goes from the inside out, the quarterback performs better. The interesting thing in the data however is how similar the pressure from the right and the left side are, which might lend to the right tackle position being just as important as the left tackle position in the ever evolving NFL.
I talked to Steve Palazzolo about this, because I had some questions about the data. First and foremost, could we be seeing so much pressure on the right side of the offensive line because teams are simply avoiding a team's left tackle and picking the better matchup? Is it just because the right tackle play in the NFL simply isn't all that good?
"At the very least, I think LTs should be de-valued a bit and RTs should see their value increase," Palazzolo told me via e-mail. "Of course in a team building sense, is it better to go Elite/Poor or Elite/Average with your LT/RT or should resources be distributed evenly so it's Good/Good. I'm not sure it makes a ton of sense to go Elite/Elite, because as the study shows, pressure affects the QB from all angles so that's a lot of allocated resources in two players. I know that's part of your hesitance with Joeckel/Fisher."
To Palazzolo's overall point here, I tend to agree. I don't value the left or right tackle position as one I would take in the Top 5 of a draft, unless I already have an upper echelon pass rusher and quarterback. If I have both of those things already, then I would think about upgrading the left tackle position. I tend to agree with Palazzolo however in that a team can be just fine if they simply have "good" offensive tackles.
There's also the question of if teams are just moving their pass rushers around and it's possible that is a case-by-case situation, depending on the division you play in.
"When looking at the top pass rushers in recent years, there has been an increase of top guys on the left side," Palazzolo wrote. "I think division/conference opponents should be considered as well. Using the AFC South, we know the RT will see plenty of [J.J.] Watt (in base), [Derrick] Morgan, perhaps [Whitney] Mercilus, and perhaps Robert Mathis."
"I think the gray area definitely lies in figuring out if the rushers are better or of the RTs are worse," Palazzolo continued. "We do know that the best pass blockers in the league generally line up at LT and we've studied guys who rush from both sides and it's a bit easier when going against RTs."
So, with all that being said and with all the data, does it make sense for a team like Jacksonville to draft someone like Eric Fisher second overall?
Yes and no.
"With regard to the Jags, I wouldn't necessarily treat RT with the same value as LT (in the way the NFL is distributing resources at the moment)," Palazzolo wrote. "But, I certainly wouldn't neglect it as an inferior position because they already have Monroe.
"On the other hand, having two top notch OTs is a big time luxury."
Personally for me, I have a hard time seeing them pull the trigger on a right tackle with the second overall pick. I have a theory what their plan could be and what this all means, but that's for later in the week.