With two weeks of NFL action in the books, a mix of great, good, mediocre and bad quarterbacks has dominated the headlines. With guys like Jacoby Brissett, Brian Hoyer, Mike Glennon and Case Keenum starting games this past week, it’s clear there is a shortage of quality quarterbacks in the NFL. But perhaps more than any other position this year, quality offensive linemen are what the NFL seems to lack.
Teams attesting to this shortage include the Seattle Seahawks, New York Giants and Houston Texans. Built to contend for Super Bowls, all three teams have rosters with top-tier defenses and talent on offense. However, the lack of skilled offensive lines continues to hold back these teams. And these aren’t the only teams struggling with this issue, either. The league is constantly in search of big bodies to protect its gun-slinging pocket passers.
The problem, it appears, stems from college football.
High-octane spread offenses have produced loads of entertainment for college fans from coast to coast; this style is notorious for high-scoring games and tremendous stats. The one thing it does not do is prepare offensive linemen for the NFL.
NFL offensive linemen need a unique combination of athleticism and skill. On every play, they must block defensive linemen, who are 280-pound freak athletes, for five seconds at a time. Offensive line positions are not easy to fill, and college programs are not doing those players any favors.
College offensive linemen (aside from those at Georgia Tech, Alabama, Stanford, etc.) rarely have to block for more than two or three seconds because quarterbacks often do not hold onto the ball. The read-option offense under-prepares offensive linemen by limiting their duties. Read-option linemen rarely have to push defensive linemen back to open passing lanes. A quick passing game also does not expose offensive tackles to the variety of pass rush moves defensive players employ at the professional level.
Without seeing the talent on game film, NFL scouts and general managers are forced to project which players can make a difference at the professional level. A total of 21 offensive linemen have been selected in the first round of the NFL draft since 2014. The problem lies in quality, not quantity.
The Minnesota Vikings brought in five new starters this year after scrapping their entire offensive line from the 2016 season. Seattle has continuously tried to convert defensive linemen and former basketball players into serviceable offensive players. Perhaps to validate his top-10 draft selection, the New York Giants continue to play Ereck Flowers at left tackle, despite his continuing struggles.
The league consensus seems to favor underpaying offensive linemen and greater resource allocation to other positions. Outside of the Oakland Raiders and Dallas Cowboys, teams refuse to dish out cash for talented line players. This has led to players like Donald Penn and Duane Brown entering contract holdouts following salary negotiation disputes. The Raiders recognized Penn’s importance and paid him, capturing a talented game-changer. The Houston Texans have not paid Brown and are now facing the repercussions of that decision. Maybe conceding 10 sacks in a single game will open their pocket books.
The average football fan does not pay attention to the offensive line while watching a game. Understandable. An offensive lineman cannot complete a last-minute, game-winning touchdown pass. But a quarterback will not make that throw without a line to protect him.
Franchise quarterbacks make a team good. Solid defenses make a team great. But sturdy offensive lines can make a team elite.