If you asked most experts which team has the most dominant offensive line in the NFL is, you’d be hard pressed to get an answer other than the Dallas Cowboys.
The Cowboys success last year without the benefit of a single defensive standout has many teams looking to build their team on the same model, but Dallas caught lighting in a bottle when they put their group together and other teams may soon find out the hard way that drafting offensive lineman is no guarantee of success.
The New York Giants were one team who were trying to mimic the Cowboys success. Also playing in the NFC East, the Giants have seen first hand the benefits of a stout line, and used their first-round pick on an offensive linemen. However, the plan hit a bit of a snag when the team’s current starting left tackle, Will Beatty, tore his pectoral muscle lifting weights and will not be expected back until late in the 2015 season. The New York Giants also drafted Ereck Flowers, a left tackle in college, but had hoped he would play on the right side this year, allowing current right tackle Justin Pugh to move inside to guard. The team is now faced with the decision of playing Flowers on the left side before they’d like to, or playing Pugh on the left side for the time being. Any way you slice it, this is not the start the Giants had hoped for when they took Flowers in the draft.
The Dallas Cowboys also started off by drafting a left tackle, sort of. Tyron Smith was a junior who was actually playing the right side in college. Being so young, Dallas figured that he could play the left side with a little coaching, but did want to bring him in slow. They let Doug Free play the left side the year Smith was drafted, and Smith played the right side. The next season the two flipped. Smith benefited in having a year to grow and mature while playing an easier position against slightly easier opponents (teams best pass rushers typically come off the left side). The result is that Smith has made the Pro Bowl the past two years and is widely considered by many to be one of the best left tackles in the game.
The point that I am trying to make here is that it often times takes the best of circumstances to get the best of your players. Sometimes those circumstances are planned and work out as expected, and other times it is the unexpected that brings out the best in people. Having a plan is a wonderful thing, and when it works the pride and sense of accomplishment is unparalleled, but in the NFL world of today it seems to be the teams and players that do the best job of adapting that excel the most.
If you think these sorts of plans (or lack there of) are limited to the offensive line than think again. Aaron Rodgers didn’t start a game until 2008 after being drafted in 2005. He and Alex Smith were both in discussions to be the San Fancisco 49ers first overall pick in the 2005 draft. Smith started from day one, and has rarely looked the part as the No. 1 overall pick. Rogers was drafted to be Brett Favre’s backup, and has won a Super Bowl and a pair of league MVP trophies. Tony Romo wasn’t drafted at all, but joined the Dallas Cowboys in 2003 and didn’t get his true shot until 2006 taking over for and injured and ineffective Drew Bledsoe. In 2003 each team had several opportunities to draft Romo and none of them did (not even the Cowboys). Tom Brady was drafted super late in 2000 and didn’t take a snap for just over a full year, he also took over for ailing Drew Bledsoe. Fun fact, were it not for injuries and ineptitude of Drew Bledsoe we wouldn’t know who Tom Brady and Tony Romo are. Thank you Drew.
Yes, there are the players that come in day one and play well. But for every Peyton and Eli Manning (not that either of them flourished their first season) there are far more instances of players that need time and help from the players and coaches around them in order to be successful. I guess what I’m really trying to say is that it takes a team to build a player, even though it is individual players that make up a team.