With the selection of guard Danny Watkins out of Baylor with the 23rd overall pick in the 2011 NFL draft, there has been much speculation as to what the Eagles’ offensive line will look like next year. This was fueled further by Andy Reid’s comments that Watkins could play either left or right guard. Many took this as an indication that incumbent LG Todd Herremans might move to right tackle (he played on the outside in college.)
We’ll take a look here at what the best scenario might be for the Eagles’ offense.
This one’s easy. As Nathan Janke eloquently put it in our First Thoughts draft recap, “the Eagles are set there with Jason Peters who had a +13.8 rating in 2010.” The former Bill has been everything the Eagles traded a first round pick for. He also showed the improvement you’d expect of a guy in his second year in the system.
This is the position Todd Herremans has manned at a high level for the past few years. In 2008, he ranked as our ninth best guard, finishing with a +20.4 rating. He was also our third ranked guard in pass protection allowing just 16 combined pressures (one sack) in 662 drop backs. He regressed in that department a year later, partly due to a preseason injury that caused him to miss the first five games of the season. Having said that, however, his run blocking improved to where he ranked eighth among NFL guards. The regression in pass protection continued to the extent where, in the same number of snaps in 08, Herremans gave up 33 combined pressures (three sacks). Perhaps this is to be expected of a guy who is getting up there in age but it doesn’t bode well for one who might be moved to tackle.
Jamaal Jackson was the man in 2008 and 2009. He was slightly below average in pass protection three years ago but then improved to giving up just 10 combined pressures in 563 snaps (+2.4 rating.) An unfortunate leg injury ended his year but a rapid rehabilitation process saw him starting in Week 1 of 2010. After just 20 snaps, he was back on IR with an unrelated arm injury.
Taking over for him was 2008 fourth round pick Mike McGlynn. While he may have played the most snaps of all Eagle linemen last year, he was by no means the best. His pass protection proved to be at an unacceptable level for a team that has Andy Reid and Marty Mornhinweg calling plays. Among 34 qualifying centres, he ranked 31st in pass protection, giving up two sacks, six hits and 21 pressures in 735 drop backs.
It is widely believed that Jackson will reclaim his starting position in 2011 when he returns from the injury.
With Jackson’s return to the lineup, many have been projecting McGlynn to kick over to right guard. Considering his struggles in pass protection at center, this would not be a smart move. Right guards find themselves isolated in one-on-one matchups much more often than centers and McGlynn proved last year he still has a lot of growing to do.
The Eagles declined to tender Nick Cole, possibly a restricted free agent, as he really struggled last year with injuries, looking like a shadow of his ‘09 self. Max Jean-Gilles got the gig in his place but was below average (-4.9.) The position Watkins can most likely upgrade immediately is right guard where there is no established player. The organization will surely be expecting as much, considering his age.
This is the position that possesses the most intrigue and where the most alternatives arise. We have already discussed Herremans’ struggles in pass protection and his performances at tackle also suggest he’s unsuitable. In two starts at left tackle, he has a -2.7 rating, -1.9 of which was due to his pass protection. He gave up one sack, one hit and five pressures in games against San Diego and Atlanta in 2009.
2010 starter, Winston Justice, is coming off a down year but his struggles have been exaggerated due to his benching in the Wild Card game against Green Bay. Justice, +0.4 in pass pro, gave up 40 combined pressures in 613 drop backs, which is right around average. He gave up too many penalties (10) and continued to struggle in the run game (-5.0) but the team must have been aware of the latter when they signed him to an extension in 2009. The potential is certainly there also, as Justice’s +10.0 pass blocking rating two seasons ago had him ranked eighth overall.
Perhaps the most interesting option is King Dunlap. A seventh round pick when he came into the league, Dunlap has shown improvement. Although his overall numbers from last year aren’t especially impressive (just +0.4 overall,) a couple of performances stand out. Twice Dunlap shut out skilled pass rushers. In week six, John Abraham generated no pressure at all, and Dunlap was perfect again in week 17 against Dallas. He’s also shown more in the run game (+2.3) than Justice ever has. He remains inconsistent but there’s nothing to suggest he can’t have an open battle with Justice in training camp.
With the regression of Todd Herremans in pass protection over the past few years, and the evidence of his past starts at left tackle, it would be unwise to move him from his current position. Winston Justice’s struggles have been exaggerated (he was also battling injury in 2010) and an open competition between him and King Dunlap should see the winner playing at a high level. The organization is also apparently high on undrafted free agent Austin Howard but if his first NFL start is anything to go by (-4.9) then he still has a long way to go (it comes with the disclaimer that he was up against Demarcus Ware).
Danny Watkins should be perfect to fill the current hole at right guard.