Rick Gosselin explains why NFL teams target four year starters when drafting offensive linemen.
Historically, offensive linemen have taken longer to develop than other positions. Few blockers walked in and played as rookies in the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s. As a rule, they needed to become stronger and polish up their blocking techniques before they could be entrusted with the task of protecting a franchise quarterback.
But all that changed with the advent of the salary cap in 1994. There was no longer enough money in a team’s vault to pay all of its best players. The discretionary dollars were spent on the playmakers: quarterbacks, running backs, wide receivers, pass rushers and cornerbacks.
So NFL teams no longer can exercise patience in the development of young linemen. There has been so much turnover in recent years on blocking fronts that teams have been forced to go with affordable youth.
The young linemen who stand the best chance of survival as rookies are the ones who arrive in the NFL with the most college experience. So the four-year starters like Colledge have become premium commodities. It’s a smaller step for them to take from college to NFL fields. “The more downs you’ve played allow you to come in here and say, ‘This isn’t all new to me. I’ve seen this stuff before. This is football, and I’ve played a lot of football,’ ” Colledge said. “If you’ve done it for four years, you have a belief and a confidence in your own ability to say, ‘I can do this. It’s not going to be great every single down and it’s not going to be perfect, because these guys are the best of the best. But I know I can get in there and be competitive.’ “That gives you an advantage over a guy who may have done it just his junior or senior season. A guy who started four years may have more maturity, more refinement to his game.”
The best part is NFL teams can find quality, experienced blockers in the draft and don’t have to spend a first-round pick on them. New England used a third-round selection on tackle Nick Kaczur in 2005. He started 51 games at Toledo and wound up starting in his rookie season for the AFC East champion Patriots. Tampa Bay used a fourth-round selection that same draft on guard Dan Buenning. He started 49 games at Wisconsin and started every game of his rookie season for the NFC South champion Buccaneers. Indianapolis used a fifth-round selection on guard Jake Scott in 2004. He started 45 games at Idaho and is in his third season as a starter for the Super Bowl champions.
NFL teams are studying one of the deepest, most experienced draft classes of offensive linemen in decades. There are 16 players on the 2007 draft board who started at least 45 games. Four started at least 50 games. Hawaii center Samson Satele broke Colledge’s record for consecutive starts by a college linemen with 53, and Texas tackle Justin Blalock set the school record with 51 consecutive starts. Purdue tackle Mike Otto also set a school record with 50 consecutive starts. West Virginia center and Rimington Award winner Dan Mozes started 50 times in 51 games. His only non-start was on Senior Day of his freshman season. He started the 40 games thereafter. TCU tackle Herb Taylor, Northern Illinois tackle Doug Free and New Mexico guard Robert Turner also set school records with 49 starts, and Steve Vallos of Wake Forest set a school record with 48 starts. Free kept his streak intact despite playing with a stress fracture in his right foot most of the 2006 season.
Here are the four year starters in this draft class:
IN IT FOR THE LONG HAUL
|C||Dan Mozes||West Virginia||50|
|T||Doug Free||Northern Illinois||49|
|G||Robert Turner||New Mexico||49|
|G||Steve Vallos||Wake Forest||48|
|G||Kyle Young||Fresno State||47|
|T||Chris Denman||Fresno State||46|
|T||Levi Brown||Penn State||45|
|T||Ryan Harris||Notre Dame||45|
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