Skill positions get all the glory. This is a time-tested truism. Your average non-football-watching Joe, if asked, could probably identify—by name AND possibly face—Tony Romo, an above average QB. But could that same guy identify—by name OR face—Jahri Evans, arguably the best OG in the game? How many supermodels does Haloti Ngata have on speed dial? OK, OK… you get the point. Don’t get me wrong, I for one realize the importance of the skill positions, particularly the all-important QB, but real fans of the game know where the games are really won and lost.
We now find ourselves 20 days from the draft that many, including myself, have been anxiously awaiting and prognosticating. What will the team do? Who will be available? Should the team trade up? Down? What is the team’s greatest position of need? The answers are unsurprisingly all over the place. As I read posts/comments, however, it seems that the overwhelming, if not absolute, clamoring is for a WR. I was also witness to the offensive debacle that was basically the team’s play-in game for the playoffs last season (sorry to bring up a sore subject). As such, I too realized—perhaps in that game more than any other—the need for a better WR corps. But I also came away from that game, with earlier games in mind, wishing that Mark Clayton and Donnie Avery were healthy, and thinking, “Would the outcome have been different if Clayton and Avery were healthy?”
I bring this up because I think the answer to the lead-in question is, “Yes. The outcome would have been different. Avery and Clayton would have stretched the field, opening up more under routes for Amendola and freeing Shurmur to actually USE our best player!” A healthy WR corps would have made a difference. Now, moving on from one position of perceived need to some others, and using a similar line of questioning…
“Would the outcome of the week 17 game have been different if the offensive guards were healthy?“ Wait a sec. The offensive guards WERE healthy! OK, OK. “Would the outcome of the week 17 game have been different if the defensive tackles were healthy?” Wait a sec… Again, you get the point. The team currently has guys on the roster at the WR position—and I’m including Clayton—who could have been difference makers, if not for injury. For what other position of perceived need can that same claim be made? With the only exception being that Hoomanawanui was dinged, the answer is a resounding NONE! Bell, Goldberg, Vobora, Chamberlain, Dahl, and Gibson arguably represented our best available players at their respective positions. My not so subtle point is that, except for WR and TE, the “best” guys WERE on the field! That, in the case of those players, is not good enough.
If the season started with the same roster—albeit with everyone healthy—I believe that WR would then NOT represent the greatest area of need. The WRs will already be replaced by better players who were injured at that time, but still on the roster, thereby improving the position without new players. Add to that the fact that McDaniels is now spearheading the offense. This is the guy who directed the 7th rated Broncos passing offense with Kyle Orton at the helm, and coaxed a #1 rated receiving effort from Brandon Lloyd, a #25 rated effort from Jabar Gaffney, and a resurgence from Eddie Royal. In my humble opinion, the WRs, barring injury of course, will be just fine. The aforementioned players who were the team’s BPA options at the end of last season, however, will not be fine and NEED to be replaced by new players. The team needs to add DBs and LBs later in the draft or through free agency—if it ever happens—but to get to an earlier point, the games are won and lost in the trenches, and the focus of the early draft rounds needs to be improving those units.
A solid OG, or two, will immediately make the whole offense better. Sam will have more protection up the middle, S-Jax will have more running lanes, and the WRs will have more time to get open or run downfield. Similarly, better DT play will immediately make the whole defense better. Collapsing the pocket will take pressure off the DBs, playing stout against the run will free up Laurinaitis and the cast of OLB characters to make plays, and commanding more double teams will free up the DEs to get after the opposing QB. In sum, interior O and D Line, while not getting the glory, are absolutely essential in making the team better. To that end, the seemingly safest and most immediately impactful positions of need are OG and DT. Period. The team will be OK with its current corps—again including Clayton—of WRs, but can the same be said if the 2011 team trots out Goldberg and Gibson?