Orlando, you are missed. - http://blogs.suntimes.com/bears/2009/04/bears_eyeing_pace_as_left_tack.html
As well as the San Francisco 49ers and Baltimore Ravens, the 2013 Super Bowl participants, have drafted, one key aspect separates them from many other franchises in the NFL - they've drafted their offensive lines prospects to man their offensive lines particularly well and often.
It's not coincidence both teams have been as competitive as they have. Bernie Miklasz gave the top-level view today. Dan Kadar offered a similar take at Mocking the Draft. And Bill Barnwell, over at Grantland, looked at the diamond-studded career Ravens GM Ozzie Newsome has had running his franchise. And yet I feel like there's one specific area that is touched on in all three, but that Rams fans should take specific note of: drafting the offensive line.
Let's start with our own misfortunes, and it's easy to identify the genesis of our offensive line offensiveness: Alex Barron. In the 2005, the Rams selected Barron with the 19th overall pick. Only OU OT Jamaal Brown, taken at 13, preceded him among O-linemen. Subsequently, G Logan Mankins, C David Baas and OT Michael Roos would all be off the board prior to the 3rd round. Undoubtedly, any would've been a better pick than Barron in hindsight.
In the 2006 NFL Draft, the Rams would avoid upgrading the line until the 7th round. With five picks stocked up in the first three rounds, it set up to be a draft of noticeable positive impact for St. Louis. It wasn't. Those five picks netted the Rams CB Tye Hill, TE Joe Klopfenstein, DT Claude Wroten, LB Jon Alston & TE Dominique Byrd. Go ahead and let that draft class sink in. In that year's draft, D'Brickashaw Ferguson was the only OL that the Rams didn't have a shot at without trading up. Nevertheless, they missed out on Nick Mangold, Marcus McNeill and Eric Winston in what turned out to be a pretty bad draft for offensive linemen. But look at what the Rams picked up, and doing worse was impossible.
2007 wasn't much better. Just three picks to use in the first three rounds (and none in the 4th) saw the Rams bring in Adam Carriker, Brian Leonard and Jonathan Wade. This time, the options were plentiful. Joe Staley, who will start at left tackle for the 49ers, was available. Justin Blalock has started for the Falcons for years. Ryan Kalil nearly fell to the 3rd round. Marshal Yanda did; you'll see him among the Ravens' starting five on Sunday.
Things started getting better with Jay Zygmunt's departure. For all of Billy Devaney's misgivings, he left the Rams with a semblance of a core to build around. He certainly couldn't say that of his predecessor, not with those draft classes. And yet despite putting that core together, nothing really came of the moves on the offensive line. Rodger Saffold is certainly the best modification made along the line, but given the questions that linger about his fragility, that tells you how ineffective the other moves were. Jacob Bell, Jason Brown, Jason Smith...that Adam Goldberg played as much meaningful football at the level he did tells you the level of failure the Rams' brass experienced in turning the offensive line from a weakness into a strength.
It took Marc Bulger almost singlehandedly from Pro Bowl status to retirement. It forced Steven Jackson to take matters into his own hands too often (a role he excelled in, to his credit - a credit we Rams fans should never forget). It made the offense unwatchable at times.
The easy juxtaposition then is the two Super Bowl teams we'll be watching this weekend.
Here's a list of offensive linemen both teams have taken since 2005 in the first three rounds:
San Francisco 49ers
G David Bass (2005 - 2nd) - Six seasons with the Niners, started the final two. Last two seasons, started at center for the Giants
OT Adam Snyder (2005 - 3rd) - Seven seasons with the Niners at various positions as utility lineman. Left after 69 starts. Started 14 games at right guard last year, his first season with Arizona.
OT Joe Staley (2007 - 1st) - Now in his sixth year in San Fran. Has started every game when healthy (82 games). Under contract through 2017.
G Chilo Rachal (2008 - 2nd) - After four years with the Niners, spent his first year with Chicago in 2012. Eight starts in nine games.
OT Anthony Davis (2010 - 1st) - Starting RT
G Mike Iupati (2010 - 1st) - Starting LG
OT Adam Terry (2005 - 2nd) - Patch role in four seasons with Baltimore. Part of the 2006 Ravens who only allowed 17 sacks all season...bounced around the league in 2010 and 2011. Currently a free agent.
C Chris Chester (2006 - 2nd) - Five seasons in Baltimore, after working his way into starting lineup. Starting RG for Washington the past two years
G Ben Grubbs (2007 - 1st) - Started 70 of 74 games in five years with Ravens. Now with New Orleans, having started all 16 at LG.
OL Marshal Yanda (2007 - 3rd) - Versatile lineman who's started 72 of 83 games in his six years in Baltimore.
OL Oniel Cousins (2008 - 3rd) - Reserve lineman for three years in Baltimore; 14 appearances for Cleveland in 2012
OT Michael Oher (2009 - 1st) - what, do you sleep under a rock?
OL Jah Reid (2011 - 3rd) - 25 appearances along the line in his two years in Baltimore
G Kelechi Osemele (2012 - 2nd ) - Starting RT as a rookie
Those are pretty impressive records. Both teams have just a pair of starters that they didn't draft in house in the first three rounds.
For the Ravens, Bobbie Williams spent 12 years in the NFL before joining the Ravens this year. He starts at right guard. And Matt Birk, a likely Hall of Famer, could well hang up his cleats after 15 seasons, four with Baltimore.
Now I'm not saying it's a simple as building a strong offensive line and you'll find yourself in the Super Bowl. It's not as easy as snapping your fingers nor are these two teams the only ones with strong O-line play.
But the correlation between good teams having good O-lines and bad teams having bad O-lines bears out more often than not.
And great O-lines? Well we're looking at two of them.
I'm not surprised in the least that they're the two with one game left to play in the 2012 season.