Rookie Impact: Offensive Tackles
On our last day of examining how rookies perform, we move on to the position of offensive tackle. It is a position often considered a safe pick where if you are drafted early, you are expected to become a starter right away.
Even last year there were five rookie offensive linemen with over 1000 snaps including a fourth and fifth round pick. That is a trend that will likely continue. Here is what will likely happen.
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Staking Your Claim
Offensive tackle is one of the positions where in the majority of cases, a player either takes every snap in a game, or none at all and if you are drafted in the first or second round, the expectation is to start right away. The only first-round offensive tackle who didn’t play 100 or more snaps as a rookie was Andre Smith of the Bengals, partially due to his holdout. Over 60% of first-round tackles have played at least 800 snaps as a rookie. Similarly, only two second-round offensive tackles failed to achieve 100 snaps, and over half played at least 800 snaps.
As you get to later rounds, it becomes much less likely that rookies see significant playing time. Former Raider Jared Veldheer was the only third-round offensive tackle to receive over 800 snaps, and two-thirds of third-round rookie tackles saw 20 snaps or fewer as a rookie.
The fourth and fifth rounds brought the NFL rookie starters in Bobby Massie in 2012, as well as David Bakhtiari and Jordan Mills last year. When you get to the last two rounds of the draft, 80% fail to play a single offensive snap as a rookie, and not a single player topped 800 snaps in their first season. Typically, when any of these players picked after the second round see playing time, it is more out of a lack of team depth than the player being ready for that kind of playing time.
Making Your Mark
Starting an offensive tackle that was drafted past the second round has not produced pretty results. The only player to have a rookie grade higher than +1.2 was Michael Bowie with the Seahawks last year. He made most of his mark as a run blocker in his limited playing time, but was a little more miss than hit as a pass blocker. Every tackle with at least 600 snaps as a rookie drafted in Rounds 3 through 7 posted an overall grade lower than -10.0.
The prospects for second-round picks have been a bit better. There have been as many players with a great rookie season as those with a terrible one, with most players playing close to average. When it comes to first-round tackles not drafted in the Top 10, the results are similar to second round tackles. The median was close to zero, but the mean grade was -1.9.
How well those first rounders played didn’t seem to be a great indication of future success. Jeff Otah and Michael Oher were the two most successful rookies drafted in the last half of the first round, but neither made much of an NFL career. On the other hand, Duane Brown and Anthony Davis had two of the three worst inaugural seasons, but have made much better careers for themselves since their rookie years.
The top-10 picks have been a bit more successful. As rookies they averaged a grade of +2.4. Three of the four worst rookie seasons by top-10 tackles came from Eric Fisher, Luke Joeckel and Lane Johnson; coincidently, three of the first four picks in the 2013 NFL Draft. The fourth man in that group of ‘worst rookie Top-10 pick tackle seasons’ was Trent Williams from Washington, and he was able to turn his career around which gives some hope to the other three.
The Dream Scenario
The best-case scenario is to find the next Joe Thomas or Jake Long. As a rookie, Thomas played all but one snap and didn’t allow a single sack. Similarly, there was only one game where Long missed any playing time, and allowed just 26 total pressures. Both were above average in run blocking as well. It doesn’t get much better than one of these two players — great as they stepped onto an NFL field.
If you didn’t draft a tackle in the Top 5 like the Rams or Falcons did, then the best case is to get someone like Sebastian Vollmer. He didn’t start from Day 1, but he took over for Matt Light at left tackle and did an excellent job, and then moved to right tackle. He ended up as a Top-5 tackle in Pass Blocking Efficiency at 97.2, a Top-10 run blocker, and proved himself just as good at left tackle as he was on the right. Considering he was the 58th overall selection, that gives some hope that any first- or second-round tackle can find some success.
If your favorite team picked a tackle in Rounds 3 through 7, then the dream scenario is they have two veteran tackles who are healthy the entire season so the rookie can sit and learn.
Follow Nathan on Twitter: @PFF_NateJahnke