Trend Towards Interior Linemen May Characterize Draft

I’ve long held that offensive guard is becoming a more important position in the National Football League than in years past.  Bear fans need only look at their own division for one of the best examples of why this is.  The Minnesota Vikings spent what was at the time a fortune for a guard on Steve Hutchinson in 2006.  Ever since we have watched Hutchinson serve as the key piece of what was up to last year an excellent to good offensive line.

Dan Pompei writing for the National Football Post, explains why interior offensive linemen and defensive tackles have recently become almost as important as offensive tackles and defensive ends in the NFL game:

“What’s changed? Offenses.

“Because protecting the quarterback is more difficult than ever, and arguably more important with the way teams are emphasizing the pass, we’re seeing fewer and fewer deep drops. It’s all short drops and quick throws. That minimizes edge rushers. And it also makes the offensive tackles less important.

“Defensive tackles like Nick Fairley could end up being rewarded on draft day.

“However, interior pass rushers have become more important. If a defensive tackle can penetrate, either through power or quickness, he can force a quarterback to adjust even on a well executed short drop that’s intended to yield a quick pass.”

“And the best way to stop a defensive tackle like [Ndamukong] Suh or Sedrick Ellis is with a premier interior blocker like Logan Mankins or Jahri Evans.”

I think Pompei has a great point and I wonder how many draft “experts” have picked up on the trend.  I look at Todd McShay‘s mock draft at ESPN and I see a huge run on linemen in the first round from 8 to 32 and almost all of the players taken are offensive tackles and defensive ends.  Certainly those positions are still important but will all of those teams, many of whom need an upgrade inside, take a second rate prospect at those outside positions over a first rate interior lineman?  I have my doubts.

Certainly the Bears have always placed a premium on the defensive tackle position in part because of the scheme they run.  But most mock drafts continue to predict that they and other teams like them in the second half of the first round will go with a risky offensive tackle “project” with “potential” figuring they can pick up a guard and/or center later.  I don’t think this is a good way of approaching the draft anymore.

Admittedly offensive coordinator Mike Martz bucks the offensive trend that Pompei describes in that his ideal scheme includes more deep routes and plenty of seven step drops.  Martz absolutely has to have good tackles for that.  But I’m not so sure the Bears are going to find an upgrade at left tackle late in round one.  On the other hand, as Pompei implies here, Danny Watkins at guard might make the line decidedly better in another important way.

I wouldn’t be surprised if other teams aren’t thinking the same way and you start to wonder if those who “reach” for interior offensive linemen will actually be reaching at all.

In any case just how much the game has changed and in what way will be indicated by the choices teams make in the second half of round one and early in round two.  Don’t be surprised if the trend is different from what people expect.

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