The Blindside Protector…
For a long time in the NFL, it was thought to be a huge advantage to bring your best pass rusher from the right side of the defense as that was considered the Blindside for most quarterbacks, and most passers couldn’t see the rush coming as quickly/easily from a traditional under-center drop-back. Left tackles were tasked to protect the quarterback’s blindside, and in turn, this became a premium position in the league. In the past 10 years, shotgun and 11 personnel have taken over the league, making a quarterback’s blindside a little less pronounced. It’s still a thing, mind you, but not nearly as much as it once was.
The NFL has seen a drastic shift to where they line up their best pass rushers. Many of the elite EDGE defenders in the NFL are now lining up on both sides throughout games. Some teams are even putting their best pass rusher as a fixture on the left side in an effort to create more of a mismatch.
The 2021 and 2022 NFL Defensive Players of the Year, T.J. Watt and Nick Bosa, are prime examples of this.
An advantage of rushing off the left side is that most quarterbacks are right handed so the ball is right there, making it easier to swipe. In an interview with The Athletic in 2021, Bosa had this to say about rushing from the left side:
Just like the NFL always does, teams have now begun putting a greater emphasis on finding good right tackles to counter pass rushers from the left side.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Philadelphia Eagles are two teams who have their best lineman on the right side. Both Tristan Wirfs and Lane Johnson are two of the best athletes at offensive tackle in the league. Both played right and left tackle in college (although Wirfs saw the majority of his snaps at Iowa on the right side), and both have become right tackles, and two of the very best, in the NFL.
Penei Sewell was the seventh overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft by the Lions. He plays right tackle in Detroit and had an outstanding 2022 season there.
Among the top 10 highest paid offensive tackles in the league, four play on the right side - Lane Johnson, Ryan Ramczyk, Brian O’Neil and Taylor Moton. Jawaan Johnson, who was a right tackle in Jacksonville, recently signed as a free agent with the Chiefs for an AAY of $20M, but he will play on the left side in Kansas City.
In March, Pro Football Network put out their list of the top offensive tackles heading into the 2023 season. Four right tackles made it into the top 10:
- Lane Johnson (#2)
- Tristan Wirfs (#3)
- Ryan Ramczyk (#6)
- Penei Sewell (#10)
*Taylor Moton, Terence Steele and Brian O’Neil were in the top 20 (Washington did not have a player inside the top 24).
How does this trend impact Washington?
The Commanders currently have Charles Leno, who will turn 32 in October, locked in as their blindside protector (although he’s better known for getting his quarterback BLINDSIDED). The right side of the line is still a question mark, however Chiefs right tackle/guard Andrew Wylie was signed this winter to play right tackle. The problem is, he’s best suited to play inside at guard.
The 2023 NFL Draft boasts some impressive prospects in the trenches. Offensive tackles Paris Johnson Jr, Broderick Jones and Peter Skoronski are the top three prospects at their respective positions, and all three can play on either the right or left side. There is a good chance, however, that all three will be gone before Washington is on the clock at pick 16.
One of the fastest rising players in this class is Tennessee right tackle Darnell Wright. The 6’5” 333-pound former 5-star recruit out of Huntington, WV finally put it all together as a senior in Knoxville and looks to be a first round draft pick who will come in and man the right side of the line. In the past, number 16 would be a bit high for a team to take a right tackle, but not in today’s NFL where right tackles are now a premium position.
In studying film on Wright, the first game I went back to was Alabama, where he was matched up against potential top five pick Will Anderson Jr. In that contest, Wright completely neutralized one of the nation’s best pass rushers and he did so with ease. Looking at his profile, it’s easy to see why.
Wright, at his massive size, ran a 5.01 40 yard dash, jumped 29” in the vertical and 9’6” in the broad. He is known as a bulldozer in the run game and a dancing bear in pass protection boasting heavy hands and an impressive anchor. He’s come a long way as a technician, and really prides himself in film-study.
UPDATE: Tennessee star offensive tackle Darnell Wright has had top-30 Visits with the Tennessee #Titans, Washington #Commanders, Buffalo #Bills, New Orleans #Saints, Las Vegas #Raiders, Arizona #Cardinals, Tampa Bay #Buccaneers, Dallas #Cowboys, Green Bay #Packers, Detroit… pic.twitter.com/4KK9VocxiM— MLFootball (@_MLFootball) April 11, 2023
Wright has had many interviews with Washington, including a top 30 visit to Ashburn. I don’t put as much emphasis on top 30 visits as some, but it’s clear the staff is doing their homework on him.
In this day and age where much more emphasis in being put on the right tackle position, is Darnell Wright someone who should be considered at pick 16? Considering Washington, over the past seven years, has spent just ONE top 60 draft pick on an offensive lineman (which is quite embarrassing actually), Wright may be a very good fit in D.C.
Given the heightened importance of the right tackle position in the league, Ron Rivera and staff shouldn’t over-think things when it comes to protecting their young quarterback by selecting a player at a premium position of need.
Should Washington draft a right tackle at pick 16?
This poll is closed
Yes - RT is a premium position of need for the Commanders
No - 16 is too high for a RT
Only in a trade-back