Left versus Right Tackle: Does it really matter?

"Luke Joeckel"

Phil Sears – USA TODAY Sports

The number 1 and 2 picks in the draft were spent on right tackles? Huh? Wasn’t it not that long ago that right tackles held as much value as a long snapper?

This outdated theory that left tackles are superior pass protectors and right tackles are mauling, run blockers holds very little to no water with NFL decision-makers. Gone are the days of lining up the top pass rusher exclusively at RDE.

One of these days the evaluation world will catch up with the trends of the NFL. If you are someone that relies on the ‘internet draftnik’ as a means of scouting collegiate players for the NFL Draft – it’s important to remember that some still subscribe to outdated evaluation principles as they peg someone as ‘right tackle-only’ or doesn’t have ‘left tackle feet’. I suggest you turn the page at this point.

The Blindside: Who’s blind?

The right-handed quarterback is blind to his left side. I’ve never understood this principle – as a player or coach. Sure if I focus my eyes to the right side of the field, I won’t see what’s coming from the left. Since when did read progressions only focus on the right side of the field? Last time I checked we read both sides of the field, making both sides potentially ‘blind’.

"Johnny Manziel"

Manziel’s blindside is to his right as he’s reading the left side of the field

The metrics believers can point to the percentages and make an argument that the left side being predominantly the ‘blindside’ of the quarterback and I wouldn’t argue the point. That said, the point is that it is becoming increasingly important to man the left and right tackle spots with solid pass protectors.

J.J. Watt20.5LDE
Cameron Wake15LDE
Charles Johnson12.5RDE
Jared Allen12RDE
Chris Clemons11.5RDE
Julius Peppers11.5RDE
Chris Long11.5LDE
Michael Johnson11.5RDE
Greg Hardy11LDE
Elvis Dumervil11RDE
Mario Williams10.5LDE
Robert Quinn10.5RDE
John Abraham10RDE
Cliff Avril9.5LDE
Michael Bennett9LDE

The two top pass rushers in the league last year, by the numbers, were lining up against your heavy-footed right tackles. So for those screaming that you don’t draft a right tackle in the top ten – let alone the top two – here’s some data that would suggest otherwise. With the tempo of the game increasing, teams, especially defenses, are looking to exploit matchups that allow for an advantage.

Let’s dig a little deeper into this evolution

In 2012, 7 of the top 15 sack totals from the defensive end position came from left defensive ends.

It’s inevitable: once one side of the ball gains an advantage – the other will counteract. Last year’s trend towards the zone-read in the NFL has defensive coordinators spending the offseason researching and toying with new strategies.

Likewise, the early 2000’s were spent loading up on quality pass protectors to man the left side to counteract the RDE rushers. Big money and high draft picks were spent securing the left tackle position. It became an ‘elite’ position of need for teams, behind only quarterback and probably equal to that of the pass rusher.

The league has trended towards almost a 60-40 pass to run ratio. When we talk of a ‘passing league’ it’s not just talk but truly a picture of what the NFL has become. Over the course of the last three years we’ve seen steady increases in pressures/sacks from LDE’s – climaxing in 2012 with 7 of the top 15 coming from the left side.

Many of my Jacksonville contingent nearly imploded with the selection of a right tackle at No. 2. With Eugene Monroe in tow, Joeckel will be lining up on the right side for the foreseeable future – barring Monroe is re-signed in the offseason. We’ll call this the J.J. Watt factor. Watt had 2.5 sacks, knocked down three passes, and added six quarterback pressures in two games against Jacksonville. Watt is noted for moving around the defense – even inside when the Texans move to a four-man front – but it was his abuse of right tackle Cam Bradfield that is most concerning. The AFC South is going to run through Houston and Indianapolis for quite a while, so combating Houston’s most dangerous weapon on defense is just solid strategy.

The days of lining up a heavy-footed, run blocker at right tackle are through as defenses begin to command both sides with top-notch pass rushers. In the coming years, we could start to see a better blend of the tackles as the pendulum swings towards RDE pass rushers.

Let’s summarize

It’s quite simple – no longer can we view right tackles the way we did in the early 2000’s. Doing so would be neglectful of the evolution of the game. The constant battle between offensive and defensive football is what makes football the greatest game – by a longshot. We don’t see these types of strategy revolutions occur in any other sport.

From an evaluation standpoint, it would be neglectful to say one is a right tackle-only at this point. If a player doesn’t have the feet to play left tackle – he may not be a fit on either side at this point and should be headed for a move inside.

I don’t expect teams to adopt the Jaguars or Chiefs strategy of securing two ‘elite’ bookends. At the same time, teams will move away from loading up the left tackle spot and neglecting the right – ask Jacksonville how the Monroe/Bradfield tandem worked out.

Author: Brad

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  • bosco

    the author of this article is an idiot

    • bradc11


      Thanks for that constructive feedback on this one.

  • Bex_R1986

    Some good points here. I’m certainly guilty of using the perceived left or right tackle skill set to influence evaluations in the past. I’ll allow myself a little excuse that I’ve only watched college football/tried to evaluate players for two years! I’ll rethink how much weight to put on this.

    Couldn’t agree more on the evolution of the game being a huge part of what makes the sport so great. For me it’s all about the intricate nature of the play designs to exploit matchups and weaknesses, the attention to detail and creativity. I try to explain this to many of my friends here in the UK who do not understand why I love the game so much!