The Redskins drafted outside linebacker Preston Smith in the second round of the 2015 draft and are looking to have him and 2014 second round selection Trent Murphy provide pressure on opposing quarterbacks. They’ll have to do that if they’re going to improve a lackluster defense that often allowed opposing quarterback’s enough time to check their Instagram feed while in the pocket last season. To get to Manning, Romo, and whoever the Eagles decide to trot out, Smith and Murphy are going to have to go through some of the best linemen in the NFL.
Offensive linemen are the foundation of good teams. But like trench warfare, the battle of the NFL trenches is hard to quantify. There aren’t many stats that adequately display how dominant a premier left tackle is. Advanced analytics such as ProFootballFocus give a good indicator and place both the Eagles’ Jason Peters (1) and the Cowboy’s Tyron Smith (6) in the top ten but the best way to break down offensive linemen is to go to the tape. Luckily, two of the NFC’s opposing tackles (and the Redskins’ own Trent Williams) ranked in the NFL’s Top 100. They provide an excellent breakdown of what makes these linemen so good.
Dallas Cowboys Left Tackle- Tyron Smith
Tyron Smith is one of the premier tackles in the NFL. He is the anchor of the Cowboys’ offensive line that paved the way for DeMarco Murray to break the team’s single season rushing record in 2014. Smith comes in at number thirty-six in the NFL’s Top 100 list and garners high praise from players around the league. His footwork is practically flawless. His brute force can overpower opponents. At times he looks like a man among boys.
A couple Washington Redskins have weighed in on Tyron Smith’s ability as well. Left tackle Trent Williams said "I don’t wanna use the term robot but, I mean his, he, he is so fundamentally sound that once he grabs you, it’s a wrap, you know, it’s over." He later added "I know people hate going against him because he’s so strong and he has such good feed that he stays in front of almost anybody."
Ryan Kerrigan, who knows this from personal experience by facing Smith twice a year added "You might as well just go back to the huddle if he gets his hands on you." The video then shows Clay Matthews falling to the ground while trying to rush past Smith. Kerrigan reiterated, "Like I said, might as well go back to the huddle.
The Cowboys went all in on Smith recently, signing him to a ten year $100 million contract, making him the highest paid NFL offensive linemen ever. Preston Smith will have eleven regular season games to prepare for Tyron Smith when the Skins and Cowboys face off for the first time in week thirteen.
Philadelphia Eagles Left Tackle- Jason Peters
Jason Peters is a Panzer tank with the mobility of a Humvee. He played tight end at Arkansas and his surprising speed shows on film. He ran a 4.8 second 40 yard dash at the Combine before entering the league and mixes that with outstanding pass blocking. As one of the best offensive tackles over the last decade he has been to seven Pro Bowls. His combination of athleticism and size make him a versatile weapon who can protect the pocket and get down the field in the running game.
He ranks at number 40 on the NFL’s Top 100 list. In their video they show play after play of Peters pulling out and clearing a path for various Eagles players. There’s something beautiful about a 320 lb freight train of a man who can get in the open field. In addition to his downfield presence, he also has the technique and power to stand defenders up while forming a pocket.
Not impressed yet? Before Peters earned his way to seven Pro Bowls he went undrafted. Also, he was so good at baseball as a nine year old that his mom had to go home and get his birth certificate to prove his age. In his official Eagles bio he tells the story "I struck out 9 batters in the first three innings. My mother had to go home and get my birth certificate before I was allowed back in the game. After I did, I hit a home run."
New York Giants Left Tackle- Ereck Flowers
The New York Giants selected Flowers with the ninth overall pick in the 2015 draft but they didn't expect him to have to be starting so quickly. Giants starting left tackle Will Beatty tore his pectoral and will be out for five to six months. As a result, a 21 year old raw talent in Flowers gets thrust into the limelight.
Flowers is a large man. He is 6'6" and 329 pounds. His raw power and size allow him to overpower opponents but his technique leaves a lot to be desired. He's very much viewed as a high ceiling player who fits the Giants strategy of drafting large athletic players with the hopes that they can coach them up in the future.
Unfortunately for the Giants, Flowers appears to struggle in the being coached up department. According to Greg Bedard covering for Peter King's Monday Morning Quarterback (via Big Blue View), various veteran NFL offensive line coaches have weighed in on Flowers. One said that he has "Some of the worst technique I've ever seen in a player drafted that high." Another added "He played for one of the best coaches, Art Kehoe, and his technique was terrible." One also told Bedard "That tells me he doesn't take coaching well. That's a big problem because all of the recent tackles have struggled making the transition."
The Giants may have taken a boom or bust pick here. Flowers doesn't have the luxury of developing over time and that may unfairly place him in a position to succeed right away. Left tackle is one of the most important positions in the NFL and Flowers will be lining up against some of the best talents in the league. A full breakdown of Flowers can be found at our friends at Big Blue View.
How these players line up against the Redskins
Left tackles are at a premium in the NFL. Teams spend high draft picks and roll out the mint to keep them around when they meet or exceed their potential. The Redskins drafted Preston Smith in the hopes of being able to go toe to toe with the left tackles of the NFC East as well as other teams. Smith is going to have a baptism by fire facing two of the best tackles in the league and even though Flowers has a lot of work to do, he won't be a turnstile for Smith to practice tackling Eli Manning.
In lining up against these tackles, Preston Smith will have to prove that he is worth the high draft grade that he received before joining the Skins.