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Backing Up My Offensive Tackle Rankings | The DC Times

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Backing Up My Offensive Tackle Rankings

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Jonathan Bales

A few days ago, I published my list of the NFL’s top 20 NFL tackles, and I knew there would be some backlash.  The best of it (or worst of it?) has come from ESPN, who posted a link to my article here.  Check it out to glimpse some of the fine reader comments, which include:

“this guy isnt qualified enough that we acknowledge his list”

“2 questions…1) who is this Jonathan Bales fellow and 2) Can I have his job, because he is obviously under-qualified to be voicing his opinions on these matters”

“That list was crap”

“Who is Jonathan Bales to rank any position in the NFL anywaz??”

“Bales doesn’t seem to have a clue……..”

“Jordan Gross is more like top 10, does Jonathan Bale needs to get his facts straight.”

“And this is why no one has ever heard of Jonathan Bales or the DC Times.”

And my personal favorite:

“I guess Jonathan Bales from the DC Times needs to learn about football before writing a $@%!$@% peice like this.”

It is this kind of support that keeps me writing each day.


On the left tackle/right tackle distinction

Aside from the fact that my list was a total peice of $@%!$@%, I wanted to explain in greater detail why I formulated the rankings I did.

I think the distinction between left tackle and right tackle is highly overrated.  Yes, there are differences.  Left tackle is a slightly harder position to play because the defense’s best rusher is often lined up on that side.

But the idea that left tackle is monumentally more challenging than the right side is absurd.  The alignment of most defenses depends on the offense’s strength, and no team is calling “right-handed” formations 80% of the time.  The left tackle will see the opponent’s most dominant pass-rusher perhaps 60% of snaps.

It’s kind of like saying right tackle is tremendously more important than left tackle in the running game (which is still a prevailing thought), but teams simply don’t run to one side of the field dramatically more than the other because it would be detrimental to their production.  Playing left tackle is more difficult than right tackle, but only slightly.

Let’s do some math.  The top offensive tackle in the league in terms of pressure rate was Tennessee right tackle David Stewart, who allowed pressure on only 0.86% of snaps.  Even if we assume 80% of the pressures Stewart yields are from the 40% of snaps he faces the opponent’s top pass-rusher (which is likely a severe overestimation), his pressure rate would rise only to 1.15% if he played left tackle.  That still would be the best rate in the NFL.  Note that I’m disregarding Stewart’s skill set or ability to actually play there, but simply making the mathematical comparison in order to see the jump in pressure rate.

So why do NFL teams pay left tackles the big bucks? I think the primary reason is that left tackles (usually) protect the quarterback’s blind side.  If you have $50 million invested in a quarterback, you better protect his butt.  But there is a difference in the importance of a position and the difficulty in playing it.  Left tackle is more important than right tackle because the position is responsible for keeping the quarterback from getting blind-sided.  But it is not unbelievably more challenging to play than the right side.


On the absence of Jordan Gross and Donald Penn

Since my article was posted in ESPN’s NFC South blog, a lot of the readers wondered how in the hell I could leave Carolina’s Jordan Gross and Tampa’s Donald Penn off of my list.

First, the rankings were for 2011 play alone.  Gross in particular is a heck of a player who I would love to have in Dallas, but he didn’t play as effectively in 2011 as he did in prior seasons.  Gross’ pressure rate hopped from 1.47% in 2010 (stellar) to 3.02% this past year.  That puts him in Marc Colombo territory.

Nonetheless, Gross is a great player who would certainly make my list of the NFL’s top 20 offensive tackles–if the rankings were not for last season alone.  Actually, he’d be near the top five.

Penn probably wouldn’t make any list of mine, however.  I don’t put much weight into sacks allowed, but the nine Penn yielded in 2011 was pretty bad.  His pressure rate correlated nicely with this total at 2.68%.  In 2010 it was 3.57%.  In 2009 it was 3.14%.  Those numbers put him in the bottom half of the league of offensive linemen, year in and year out.  Penn has been very overrated in pass protection for awhile.  He’s stout in the running game and he’s good enough to start, but he’s not a top 20 NFL tackle.

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15 Responses to Backing Up My Offensive Tackle Rankings

  1. Rick says:

    You wouldn’t get any complaints from us. Few people know anything about offensive linemen, anyway.

  2. Jeremiah Thompson says:

    I agree. The problem you have is your delivering content that fights against population notion. Giving well thought out analysis backed by real numbers goes against what people want. Rather they crave to hear the same thing over and over again. Basically they want reinforcement of what they believe in and if they hear otherwise – your a friggin idiot dude!!! Your probably closer to moving into a front office of a NFL team than becoming the next great sports writer but wouldn’t that be cool?

  3. trent says:

    I’m still on you side, buddy.

    i read about 3-4 hours worth of cowboys news everyday, and yours is always the first site I check.

    FYI, the emails you send out still have D@llasCowboysTimes all over them, and the interview with Phillip Thomas is 404d.

  4. Thanks fellas. Totally agree. BTW, I’m still in the process of changing all DCT stuff to The DC Times, but for now I am “legal.” And I actually had to take down the Thomas interview. I got hoodwinked by an impostor!

  5. Evan says:

    You should exclude play-action. Do you know how many more play-action passes a team like ATL ran? That skews your numbers.

  6. an NFC south fan says:

    good explanation and good list. your have a very viable argument and i apologize for my…”brethren”? but you have to remember your arguing with people whos teams are 6-10 and 4-12 so naturally theyre irritable and have nothing else to hang their hats on.

  7. Jeff says:

    Why exclude play-action? That’s pretty arbitrary.

    It might be nice though, to additionally compare the numbers while looking only at “obvious passing downs” like 3rd and long…

  8. Tim Truemper says:

    Glad to see the responses in support of DC Times. The articles are well written and the data gathered and used are applied logically and presented sensibly.

    Whenver people are presented information contrary to a strongly held belief, cognitive dissonance erupts with generally intense emotions. One social psychologist has speculated that the level of the emotional tone of a criticism in the face of contrary information is correlated with the level of dissonance they are experiencing. Something akin to: “your logical and evidence based argument is making me crazy–I reject it and will insult you to show you are wrong.”
    Anyway, keep up the good work and glad you have the NY Times Gig.

  9. Josh says:

    still disagree with you on Donald Penn. Granted he had a bad year, but all the buccaneers struggled.

    just kidding.

    have a great day!

  10. Evan says:


    Because (if the play-action is effective) the pass rushers are on their heels, and usually just end up playing patty-cake at the line of scrimmage.

    I’d like to give you a more intelligent, scientific answer, but that’s what I got.

  11. Jeff says:

    Okay Jonathan, fair enough. Yet, if LOT is much more important/valuable, and not significantly harder, wouldn’t the market self-correct? By that I mean that most ROTs would cross-train themselves so that they could compete in the LOT market, where the real money is made. And once enough tackles were able to play both positions, the difference in average salary between LOTs and ROTs should diminish until it reflects (roughly) the difference in difficulty/talent required to play it.

    So to sum up, I guess I’m saying that my argument is that the very fact that LOTs command a premium implies that the position is more difficult to play.

    I have an open mind though – convince me. By the way, do you have any playing/scouting/coaching background, or are you an analytical fan like me?

  12. Jeff says:

    @Evan yeah I guess that makes sense. I guess there are a lot of ways you could slice up these numbers, to get more insight.

  13. NFC South fan–I understand that comes with the territory.

    Tim–Stated perfectly. Thanks for the props.

  14. Jeff–I’d say the market hasn’t yet caught up with the stats, in much the same way RBs were overpaid for years and are just now seeing a dip in draft stock and contracts. I coached HS football and played in college. DIII. The only reason I didn’t go to a major DI school was because they didn’t want me.

  15. Tyrone Jenkins says:

    NY is rough…

    You DO know what you’re talking about!

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