Back in early January last year, signs were beginning to point towards Tyron Smith as the favorite for the Cowboys' first round draft pick.
This prompted us at BTB to take a look at how hard it is for first- and second round rookie linemen to hit the ground running in the NFL (see Can A High Draft Pick Be An Immediate Upgrade For Cowboys O-line?). Today, we're revisiting that post for two reasons. First, we want to see how Tyron Smith did in his first year in the NFL compared to other rookie linemen over the last four years, and second, the early favorite for the Cowboys first round pick this year is another lineman, offensive guard David DeCastro.
Over the last four years, 45 offensive linemen have been picked in the first two rounds of the NFL draft. After the break, we look at how Tyron Smith compares against these other linemen and what level of performance you can reasonably expect from rookie lineman.
We're going to dive right into the thick of things by looking at the full overview of all 45 linemen, the number of games they started each year, and how they were graded by Profootballfocus.com (PFF) in the tables below. Some observations and conclusions follow after the tables.
|2011||2||55||Rodney Hudson||G||KC||1||- -|
|2010||2||61||Vladimir Ducasse||T||NYJ||0||1||- -||- -|
|2010||2||64||Charles Brown||T||NOR||0||6||- -||-7.0|
|2009||1||6||Andre Smith*||T||CIN||1||4||14||- -||-18.0||0.2|
|2009||2||39||Eben Britton||T||JAX||15||7||1||-5.9||-2.2||- -|
|2009||2||49||Max Unger||C/G||SEA||16||1||15||0.3||- -||3.3|
|2009||2||60||Will Beatty*||T||NYG||4||2||10||- -||- -||-1.2|
|2008||1||19||Jeff Otah||T||CAR||12||13||0||4||7.3||0.3||- -
Based on these numbers, here are a couple of thoughts:
When you draft a lineman in the first two rounds, you are drafting an immediate starter.
Of the 45 linemen in this analysis, 33 (73%) started the majority of games for their teams in their rookie season. Eight other players (denoted with a *) suffered either serious or season ending injuries in their first year. That leaves only four players who did not start the majority of games in their rookie season. In other words, barring injury, 90% of offensive linemen taken in the first two rounds are starters in their first year. That's pretty encouraging for any team contemplating drafting an offensive lineman.
Rookie linemen have a steep learning curve.
Despite their high draft pick status, only eight of 45 (18%) linemen delivered an above average performance (marked in green in the table above) in their rookie season as graded by PFF. Keep in mind that a positive PFF grade means that a given player played better than the NFL average player at his specific position. A below average grade doesn't mean that a rookie necessarily played badly. In fact, an argument could be made that some of these guys actually played quite well, for a rookie.
Most rookie linemen arrive in the NFL still needing to improve their technique, work on their strength & conditioning, learn new playbooks and much more while facing wily veterans who will prey on their inexperience. This takes time.
Popular opinion holds that you can expect monumental improvement from rookies in their second year in the NFL. That may be true for many positions, but does not seem to be true for linemen. The sum of the second-year PFF grades for players picked between 2008 and 2010 is identical to their first year grades. Sure, some improved, and some regressed. A look at the tables above shows no significant improvement in the grades for all players between year one and year two. And a look at this year's Pro Bowl lineman presents a similar picture. The average Pro Bowl lineman is 28 years old and is in his sixth NFL season.
|NFC Pro Bowlers 2012
||AFC Pro Bowlers 2012
|POS||Player||Team||Age||NFL Seasons||Player||Team||Age||NFL Seasons|
|Tackle||Jason Peters||PHI||29||8||Joe Thomas||CLE||27||5|
|Joe Staley||SF||27||5||Jake Long||MIA||26||4|
|Jermon Bushrod||NO||27||5||D'Brickashaw Ferguson||NYJ||28||6|
|Guard||Jahri Evans||NO||28||6||Logan Mankins||NE||29||7|
|Carl Nicks||NO||26||4||Brian Waters||NE||34||12|
|Davin Joseph||TB||28||6||Marshal Yanda||BAL||27||5|
|Center||Ryan Kalil||CAR||26||5||Maurkice Pouncey||PIT||22||2|
|Scott Wells||GB||30||8||Nick Mangold||NYJ||27||6|
Offensive linemen are not plug-and-play solutions to your O-line troubles. And for most of them, their learning curve needs to be measured in years, not months.
Tyron Smith Rocks.
Tyron Smith graded out with a +13.7, the fourth best value of any tackle in the NFL in 2011. It is also the fourth best rookie season value of the last four years, exceeded only by Jake Long, Alex Mack and Sebastian Vollmer. All three players have not had a single negatively graded season in their NFL careers so far and Mack and Long have both already made the Pro Bowl. Hopefully, that is a good sign for Tyron Smith's future, which, according to the recently retired Hudson Houck, looks very bright:
"He can certainly be a very, very good left tackle," Houck said during a Saturday appearance on ESPN Dallas 103.3 FM’s The Football Show. "This is an extremely talented guy. When you take a look at him being 20 years old to start with and not being able to have a minicamp, not being able to have OTAs and come in cold turkey and just be able to start on a team in the National Football League against very, very good players, this guy has done incredible things up to this point. …
"He is a tremendous worker and a very good person. He’s going to be an outstanding player in this league."
Guards & Centers
Here are the guards and centers picked in the first round over the last four years:
|Year||Round||Pick||Player||POS||Team||Games Started||PFF Grade|
|2011||1||15||Mike Pouncey||C||MIA||- -||- -||16||- -||- -||-1.7|
|2011||1||23||Danny Watkins||G||PHI||- -||- -||12||- -||- -||-8.4|
|2010||1||17||Mike Iupati||G||SFO||- -||16||11||- -||9.6||9.6|
|2010||1||18||Maurkice Pouncey||C||PIT||- -||16||13||- -||-4.2||1.8|
Overall, that is not a bad haul of interior offensive linemen. Mack has already been to a Pro Bowl and Iupati should have been. Maurkice Pouncey got his first All Pro nod this year, and his brother looked promising in Miami. Danny Watkins and Eric Wood had trouble adjusting to the NFL in their first seasons.
However, none of these players were picked as high as the 14th pick. If the Cowboys do end up picking David DeCastro with their 14th pick, they had better be sure he'll have a Tyron Smith-type impact on the game.