How Important is the Left Tackle Position in the NFL?

Kirby Lee-US PRESSWIRE

A hot topic of debate on thephinsider in recent times has been the importance of the left tackle position. With the NFL moving towards the passing game, does it still make sense to invest in an elite left tackle? Let’s take a quick look.

Conventional wisdom in the NFL suggests that teams need an elite left tackle in order to protect the quarterback's blindside from those super-charged pass rushers. Conventional wisdom suggests that teams shouldn't invest in the right tackle position as much as the left tackle position, for that position is designated to the mauling run-blocker. But is this really the case in the modern game?

In examining this issue, draft position is a good starting point. Let me make this perfectly clear. The left tackle position is one of the most crucial positions in the NFL, and how teams get their hands on their left tackles goes a long way to explain how teams play the position successfully.

Of the thirty-two teams, twenty are set to start former first round picks at left tackle. Seven more were drafted in the second round, and are expected to start at left tackle. These numbers don't even take into account this year's past draft. NFL teams in 2013 used five first round picks on tackles.

The remaining five starters who weren't first or second round picks include Jared Veldheer, (third round), Jermon Bushrod (fourth round), King Dunlap (seventh round) and Jason Peters and Donald Penn (both undrafted). Interestingly, none of the above are still with the team that originally drafted them. What does this tell us? One way to explain could be that it takes time to groom a left tackle. Size, athletic ability and skill matter, and there's a good chance teams are going to find that in the first and second rounds, rather than in the third round and beyond.

That's not to suggest that a first round tackle will be successful in the NFL, with Jason Smith being one example. But it helps - quick feet, strength, size and skill are hugely important in the NFL.

Still with me?

I've made the point that NFL teams still generally spend high picks on left tackles, but should teams do this to the detriment of the right tackle position, and are they?

I believe it's outdated in today's pass-happy NFL to have an elite left tackle, and a mauling run-blocker on the right side. That's not to say that it doesn't still happen. Some teams still spend heavily on the left side, and almost totally neglect the right side. Jacksonville, Carolina and Seattle are some teams that are guilty of this.

However I scent that the tide is turning. Teams are starting to invest in both positions. The top two draft picks this year were Eric Fisher and Luke Joeckel. Both players are expected to start their careers at the right tackle position. Look at our very own Miami Dolphins. Jeff Ireland decided to recruit Tyson Clabo, a player who ranked fourteenth among eighty tackles in 2012, and fifth best at the right tackle position.

Of course, this is just a starting point. But early indications point to the fact that teams are starting to recognize that they need two good tackles, rather than an elite left tackle, and mediocre right tackle.

What do you think? Do you agree? Have the Dolphins got it right this year at the tackle position? Lets hear your thoughts.

More Dolphins Coverage:

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