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Updated June 17, 2010
Quarterbacks are the most important position in football - I established this numerous times when I analyzed Tier 1 of the Positional Value Pyramid
. However, there are four more positions that I feel like are extremely valuable in the NFL, and we will examine those now in Tier 2.
If you haven't read Tier 1, then you must go back and do that now. Assuming you have, you know that football completely revolves around the quarterback, and the reason I chose these next four positions is because I feel like they can make a huge impact into the either their team passing attack (left tackle) or their opponents' passing attack (defensive Tier 2 positions).
Our first position at the top of Tier 2 is left offensive tackle. Let's break it down:
Left Tackle Positional Analysis
: I don't suggest you go see the movie because I thought it was extremely overrated, but the book The Blind Side
by the incredible Michael Lewis helps explain why left tackle is the second-most valuable position in the NFL.
The left tackle protects the quarterbacks blind side, assuming he is right-handed. If a quarterback is genuinely confident his left tackle will protect his blind side (or the side he can't see because when he steps back with his shoulders parallel to the sidelines he obviously has no eyes in the back of his head), then it makes the quarterback infinitely better because he probably won't be stressed in the pocket.
Left tackles also go up against the right defensive end or right outside linebacker (3-4 scheme), which is generally the defenses' most skilled and athletic defensive end. This also makes the left tackle far more valuable than the guards, center and right tackle.
When you select a left tackle high in the first round, he needs to be drafted because of how polished his pass protection is and be certain he has the skill set to succeed in the NFL. You don't draft left tackles high because they are big, strong and can run block. Run blocking is important, but it isn't nearly as important as pass protection.
If a left tackle is having problems protecting the quarterback, then the defense simply has a massive advantage.
Now, let's grade out the attributes:
Scarcity - 2
: I could sit here and say that left tackles are hard to come by, but it really seems like the talent level coming out of college is getting better and better (though 2011 looks like a horrible year for left tackles). There are around 20 solid left tackles in the NFL. It's a tough position to find and yes they generally go high in the NFL Draft, but they also seem to fall to the point where a team can get a bargain in the middle or later part of the first round. Left tackles aren't a dime a dozen, but they aren't ridiculously difficult to acquire either. Plus, we have seen recently how talented left tackles such as Jamaal Brown and Jared Gaither have been put on the trading block. One last note, it is impossible to find great left tackles via free agency. It just doesn't happen, and that exemplifies why left tackle is the most valuable position behind quarterback.
Effectiveness - 3
We already went over this in the positional analysis, but an elite left tackle simply allows the passing game to develop and be more explosive because when the quarterback has more time in the pocket, the receivers have more time to get open. If you can stop the defense's best pass rusher in the process, it makes the left tackle extremely effective.
Money - 3
: Behind quarterbacks, left tackles are the most highly paid position in the game. They don't get a lot of publicity, but general managers don't care about that. These guys get paid well because they protect the face of the franchise - the quarterback. An elite left tackle is simply the highest premium insurance policy you can buy for the quarterback.
Durability - 2
: Orlando Pace's career really seemed to have fallen off for durability reasons and effectiveness in his early 30s. The last time Walter Jones made the All-Pro team was at age of 33. It is very rare that you see an elite left tackle continue to produce at a high level into his mid to late 30s, and therefore the position has average durability. I think the reason is because the position just requires a lot of explosive athleticism, quick feet and fluid hips.
: Once you have a franchise quarterback, it's smart to pull the trigger on a left tackle in the NFL Draft if you can. This makes the Detroit Lions passing up on Russell Okung a move that can be rationally criticized, but we will see what happens.
Let's go onto the next most valuable position in Tier 2, the right defensive end (4-3 scheme).
4-3 Right Defensive End Positional Analysis
: I am repeating myself here from above when I talked about the left tackle. The right defensive end can disrupt the game immensely because he can put pressure on the quarterback. The quarterback has an instinct and can sense stress in the pocket, which can lead to bad decisions and inaccuracy. Also, the right defensive end is attacking the quarterback's blind side. The quarterback can see pressure coming from the left defensive end and up the middle most of the time, but because the quarterback can't see the right defensive end it gives the position greater value because it has the potential to be very effective in a football game.
Scarcity - 3
: I think finding very talented quarterbacks in the NFL Draft is really difficult, but finding an elite 4-3 right defensive end is even tougher. Left tackles are bigger, more athletic and smarter, and play with better technique than ever before, which makes it really tough on the right defensive ends in the NFL. Finding the next Jared Allen, Dwight Freeney, Mario Williams and Julius Peppers is next to impossible. It's a lot easier to find the 3-4 outside linebacker because there are far more undersized pass rushers with explosion in college. Finding someone who can fire out of the 3-point stance and bend past the left tackle seems to now be the most rare commodity in the NFL Draft. When outstanding college prospects like the late Gaines Adams and Chris Long bust (or don't even come close to living up to their potential), then you know it's simply a difficult position to play. Both prospects had just about everything you look for on and off the field. The right defensive end seems to be a position that requires the most idealistic skill set to succeed at the next level.
Effectiveness - 3
: Again, I already covered this in the positional analysis, but a right defensive end can put tremendous pressure under a quarterback. If the quarterback loses a lot of confidence because he is going up against Freeney or Allen, then it's going to be very difficult to get some momentum going in the passing game, which seems to be imperative to teams winning in the NFL now.
Money - 1
: Because the position is so scarce, the money is very big. Peppers recently got $84 million from the Bears. Freeney received $72 million from the Colts three years ago. Allen pocketed $73 million from the Vikings two years ago. It's a "show me the money" position that an agent loves to have on his client list.
Durability - 2
: Defensive ends go to war in the trenches, and they once they lose their first step they lose their pass rush. It's a position with average durability.
: The media criticized Charley Casserly for taking Mario Williams over Reggie Bush and a VERY raw Vince Young because when it comes to the NFL Draft they don't have a freaking clue. The Texans are now competitive because they selected Williams over Bush, which just shows how valuable having an elite right defensive end is.
Our third position in Tier 2 is cornerback, and remember when I evaluate value I do it by analyzing what an elite player at each position can bring to the table:
Cornerback positional analysis
: Darrelle Revis. Nnamdi Asomugha. Deion Sanders. Champ Bailey. Ronnie Lott. Darrell Green. I could just stop the positional analysis right here, but I won't.
An elite cornerback simply takes half the field away. Once an elite corner can shut down the opponent's best receiver, you take away more than just one player on offense - you take away quarterback's best option to throw the football. Without Revis, there is simply no way the Jets make the playoffs and go to the AFC Championship game last season.
Corners play a vital role in run support not necessarily in terms of stopping teams to 2- and 3-yard gains, but by taking away the explosive chunks of yardage against the run whether it is shedding block or making an open-field tackle.
If you can find an elite corner, then quarterbacks simply stop throwing the ball at what usually is his best receiver, and this forces the offense to execute a passing game in a limited range of space as opposed of using the field sideline-to-sideline.
Scarcity - 3
: It is really difficult to find No. 1 corners in the NFL Draft, and that's why the Browns selected Joe Haden at No. 7 overall this year. Corners are rarely drafted in the top 10 not because it isn't a valuable position teams value, but because it is very rare in which we see a corner with the skill set that evaluators feel is a definite No. 1 at the next level.
Effectiveness - 3
: An elite corner infinitely improves his team's pass defense, and because of this, it limits the opposing offense's ability to put up points. Quarterbacks hate playing teams with great corners. It's just that simple.
Money - 1
: Elite corners get paid a lot of money. Darrell Revis is looking for a massive contract extension this offseason. Nnamdi Asomugha got $15 million per year when his contract was signed in 2009. In 2004, Champ Bailey signed a deal worth on average $9 million per year. I am going to start calling "show me the money" positions a "Rod Tidwell" position. It just sounds cooler. Unfortunately, this is the last Level 1 in the money category in the Pyramid so I can't use it any more. Damn.
Durability - 3
: We get some really talented corners like Charles Woodson and Darrell Green who have long careers, but because this position requires so much speed and explosion, corners can't maintain that speed into their mid to late 30s in all practicality. However, on the other hand, corners stay very healthy because they don't make a lot of contact on the field and their bodies don't get banged up like safeties.
: In a Draftology I wrote two years ago, which I recently revised, I wrote corners would get more and more valuable in the league because of the rarity of the position and the league has to evolve - corners seemed like a logical position to go with on the basis of a higher potential value. Darrell Revis is as well publicized as the top receivers in the NFL, and he deserves every bit of it. An elite corner can take away half the field and can make an average defense great.
Our fourth and final position in Tier 2 is the 3-4 outside linebacker, also known as "rush linebacker" because he rushes the quarterback.
3-4 Outside Linebacker positional analysis
: I don't have to continue preaching the merits of the pass rush. Outside linebackers in the 3-4 stand in the two-point stance (or upright on two feet as opposed to two feet and a hand in the ground which is a three-point stance) and are supposed to be extremely effective at rushing the quarterback off the edge and on various stunts. Quarterbacks and linemen have a more difficult time accounting for the pass protection against the 3-4 because there are more blitz possibilities from the defense, which helps linebackers - especially outside linebackers - become more effective. Outside linebackers are also responsible for dropping back in coverage and displaying a little range, so having fluid hips and movement is vital to the position.
Scarcity - 2
: It really isn't that hard to find outside linebackers in the NFL Draft. There are a LOT of undersized pass rushers now in the college game, which is largely predicated on speed and range due to spread offenses. I think you can make the case that it is easier to find personnel for the 3-4 defense than the 4-3 because it is easier to find highly effective pass rushers.
Effectiveness - 2
: Outside linebackers can play major roles in a game, but I don't think their effectiveness is as effective as a 4-3 right defensive end. Right defensive ends in the "40" front have more responsibilities against the run. Also, 4-3 right ends have an edge over 3-4 rush linebackers in terms of playmaking because there are two rush linebackers and only one right end - it isn't fair to compare two players to one.
Money - 2
: Rush linebackers get paid good salaries, but not close to what the big-time 4-3 right ends make in the league.
Durability - 2
: Outside linebackers can be productive into their early 30s, and if they find a way to maintain some explosion it isn't outside the realm of possibility if we start seeing slightly longer careers out of the best in the game than in past years.
: The 3-4 rush linebacker is in Tier 2 because how effective they can get to a quarterback, racking up the sacks, hurries and pressures. If a team has a talented, young quarterback already established, I simply can't fault them for taking a rush linebacker at No. 1 overall in the NFL Draft if the value, skill set, tape and intangibles are there.
Introduction to the Positional Value Pyramid
NFL Positional Value Pyramid: Tier 1 - Quarterbacks
NFL Positional Value Pyramid: Tier 2 - Left Tackles, Right Defensive Ends, Cornerbacks, Rush Linebackers
NFL Positional Value Pyramid: Tier 3 - Defensive Tackles, No. 1 Wide Receivers
NFL Positional Value Pyramid: Tier 4 Part 1 - Safeties, Nose Tackles, Left Ends, 4-3 Inside Linebackers
NFL Positional Value Pyramid: Tier 4 Part 2 - Running Backs, Right Tackles
NFL Positional Value Pyramid: Tier 5 Part 1 - No. 2 Wide Receivers, 3-4 Ends, Weakside Linebackers
Positional Value Pyramid: Tier 5 Part 2 - 3-4 Inside Linebacker, Interior Offensive Linemen, Tight End, No. 3 Wide Receivers
Positional Value Pyramid: Tier 6 - Strongside Linebackers, Kickers, Punters
Positional Value Pyramid Spreadsheets
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