NFL 2021: Burly, Bold Bookends of the East

NFL AFC East Tackles
Nfl Afc East Tackles
Nfl Afc East Tackles

AFC East Tackles –

NFL Front Offices and team building aficionados have a priority mantra for positional importance: Quarterback, Tackle, Edge Rusher. Most schools of thought now add a “lock-down” Corner. 

It has been de rigueur since the days of Lawrence Taylor (the ’80s) to prioritise the Left Tackle when considering this piece of your team. This was excellently profiled in the Movie “The Blindside”. As Quarterbacks – reflecting the general population – are predominantly right-handed, the Left Tackle protects his key blind-spot. 

The QB position has morphed again over the last 5 years with teams clamouring for fluid, high calibre athletes who are pocket deniers. Athletes like Jackson (BAL), Mahomes (KC) and Murray (ARZ) have destroyed the “Parcellian” doctrines on QB metrics and play.

These open parameters mean QB’s are either omnipotent in the backfield, not long for their jobs or Tom Brady. Tackles are now more often than not regarded with equal importance regardless of side. As we’ve highlighted in other position groups, modern NFL players need highly diverse skill sets to earn big pay days.

Having said that, 5 Left Tackles take the 5 top earning Tackle spots before the first Right Tackle enters the list. Trent Williams being the highest paid Left Tackle (49ers) at $23 million Annual Average and Lane Johnson the highest paid Right Tackle (Eagles) at $18 million Annual Average. When you look at the top 10 earners though it’s easy to argue they are undoubtedly the best players as opposed to benefiting from a position premium.

Moving money and philosophy aside, Superbowl LV was a 60 minute public information announcement entitled “No Tackles, no Lombardi”. Kansas had relatively cruised through their regular season schedule. Pundits often bragging that Kansas players were bored (I’m sure no Reid team would be that complacent). By the time Superbowl Sunday rolled around KC were missing starting Tackles Fisher, Schwartz AND swing Tackle Remmers.

Casual fans could be forgiven for assuming Mahomes and his suite of elite play-makers would be too good for Tampa. As it turned out, those injured Tackles cost KC the game. Here we will look at the AFC East Tackle rooms: depth, Cap hits, Rookie Potential scale.

  • () = cap hit US$ rounded
  • A/AVG – Annual Average Cap hit as per OTC
  • R = Rookie 2021 draftee
  • RPS = Rookie Potential Scale 1-5 (5 being explosive)
Dion Dawkins
Dion Dawkins

Buffalo Bills:

Dion Dawkins (11.4), Daryl Williams (6.2), Tommy Doyle R (0.7), Spencer Brown R (0.7), Bobby Hart (1), Syrus Tuitele R (0.7)

Position Group Total = 6

Position Group Cap Total = 20.7

RPS = 3

Buffalo has a clear and logical team building process. As we discovered at the Edge position for the Bills, they have two (expensive) Vets who are now pushed by two Rookies. Statistically only 1 out of every 3 Draft picks succeed (that’s a highly generalised statement but with accuracy), so taking 2 per position is just good sense.

Buffalo has Dawkins solidified at Left Tackle. He’s the 10th highest paid Left Tackle in the league (11th overall among Tackles, A/AVG) and Buffalo’s highest paid player. At just 27 years old this all makes sense and when Allen (QB) gets his new contract, all will be balanced from a Cap allocation point of view.

Dawkins is Mr Consistent. Rarely missing snaps and grading 76 or higher in PFF pass protection rankings since entering the league. If PFF grades don’t sit well with you, refer to the Bills winning the AFC East, going to the AFC Championship game and Allen throwing 4500 yards with a 70% completion rate and only 26 Sacks. That’s all the evidence we need to prove Tackle efficacy.

The other half of that credit goes to Daryl Williams. Shaking off his injury woes at Carolina, this 28 year old mountain of a man graded as 4th best Right Tackle in the league playing in all of Buffalo’s 19 games. 

It seems the bookends are set for the next 3 years on Lake Erie. But as all good GMs do, planning for the future and creating opportunities to “get cheaper” are always at the forefront. As the saying goes, “Coaches want to win now, GMs want to still be winning in 3 years”. Tommy Doyle and Spencer Brown are those future talents. 

Doyle, a fifth round pick from Miami (OH) RedHawks is a human boulder! Just shy of 6ft 7 inches and 326 pounds, Doyle was a stalwart at Left Tackle for the ‘Hawks. Only playing 3 games (Covid strangled schedule) and stepping up into the big leagues might mean he takes a year or two to mature, but when you’re tutored by Dawkins it’s no bad thing. 

Spencer Brown was drafted in the 3rd round from small school Northern Iowa. Like Doyle, there is nothing small about Brown who measures in at 6ft 8 inches. Brown is an all round athlete, excelling in Basketball and Track as well as playing Tight End and Edge in football. It seems Buffalo is well set both short and medium term at the Tackle position, on paper at least.

Liam Eichenberg
Liam Eichenberg

Miami Dolphins:

Austin Jackson (3.1), Liam Eichenberg (0.7), Jesse Davis (4.5), DJ Fluker (0.9), Jonathan Hubbard (0.7), Adam Pankey (0.9), Larnel Coleman (0.7)

Position Group Total = 7

Position Group Cap Total = 11.5

RPS = 3

Miami once again sought to bolster an already overhauled Oline group. Flores and Grier showed their belief in 2nd year Left Tackle Austin Jackson. He had a muted Rookie season and was thoroughly owned in a couple of games, notably against Denver. That isn’t a reason to throw a young, dedicated, high character young man under the bus though. If nothing else, being 2 years removed from a bone marrow transplant has to be an advantage – he’s also just 21 years old.

The right side of the line started to look mean in the second half of the year. Kindly at Guard and Hunt at Tackle proved to be a tough duo in the run game. Both entering their second year will bring natural improvements. The chatter and early OTAs suggest Hunt will move into the right Guard slot and Kindly across to left Guard, so we’ll leave them until our interior unit breakdown. 

Flores position switches meant Grier dipped into the Tackle position in the 2nd round of this year’s Draft. He traded up to secure Notre Dame’s Liam Eichenberg at pick 42. Now, I’ll be honest, I’m not a fan of moving players from one side to the other, cue butt wiping analogies. Equally I concede just about everybody knows more about coaching OLine than me. Eichenberg was a very solid 3 year starter at Left Tackle. He’s light at 302 pounds and will match Jackson for that outside athleticism on the right side.

DJ Fluker seems likely to be the Swing Tackle, in fact probably the Swing everything. He’s a wiley, hard nosed baller with plenty of experience and “street” smarts to teach the youngsters. The OLine mantra Coach Jeanpierre promotes is “tough, disciplined, detailed and nasty”. Fluker’s the first and last for sure.

Jesse Davis is a true servant of the Dolphins, but he’s gone from their best Olinemen 2 years ago to now fighting for a roster spot. Much like Fluker, Davis should make the cut through experience and versatility. With Hunt also able to flex to Tackle, Miami’s ceiling is only constrained by injuries and second year development.

Isaiah Wynn
Isaiah Wynn

New England Patriots:

Isaiah Wynn (3.6), Trent Brown (7.6), Justin Herron (0.8), Korey Cunningham (0.9), Yodne Cajuste (0.9), RJ Prince (0.7), Will Sherman R (0.7)

Position Group Total = 7

Position Group Cap Total = 15.2

RPS = 2

As part of Belichick’s no nonsense off-season alchemy, Trent Brown returned to man the the right side. As the 8th highest paid Right Tackle in the league, Brown presents a tonne of upside and great value. He’s a Patriot genetically and will/has immediately bolstered the unit.

Wynn will be the Left Tackle moving forwards as he seems to be past his deleterious injury streak. He played 63% of the snaps last year in 10 games. Grading a tasteful 82.6 PFF with only 2 Sacks. The Patriots picked up his 5th year option so his runway is clear into training camp 21.

2020 6th round pick Herron will benefit hugely from another year and full off-season schedule. The 3 year starter at Wake Forest is Wynn’s likely replacement in case of injury while practicing at Guard. He has the traits and character but lacks the power. Normally something that can be addressed.

Sherman should be an effective depth piece with a lot of versatility. Starting 27 games at Tackle for the University of Colorado combined with sprinkles of Guard play. The Patriots Tackle play is largely going to come down to Wynn and Brown being healthy for 16 plus games. If they’re not, they may have Kansas style meltdowns.

George Fant
George Fant

New York Jets:

Mekhi Becton (4), George Fant (10), Chuma Edoga (1), Cameron Clark (1), Teton Saltes (0.7), Grant Hermanns R (0.7), Parker Ferguson (N/A)

Position Group Total = 7

Position Group Cap Total = 17.4

RPS = 1

The Jets knew 2021 would be the year of the Quarterback. In that scenario Joe Douglas used his 1st round pick in 2020 to ensure his future QBs blindside would be clean. In fact, not only clean but subject to a solar eclipse as Becton is one of the biggest athletes in the NFL. At 364 pounds and 6ft 6inches there aren’t many Edge Rushers that meet him as a physical equal.

That said, reports are abundant that Becton is out of shape and carrying a melange of fitness and weight related injuries. He’s been measured at 400 pounds plus during his college career. Is this just early Summer blues? Is it just the hyper-sensitive New York media Spotlight? Only time will tell, but Becton looms large in the Jets rebuild so a lot is riding on his fitness and development.

George Fant is plugged in at the Right Tackle spot and at near $10 million A/AVG salary the Jets have every right to expect a lot out of him. As the 6th highest paid Right Tackle in the league and the Jets 4th highest paid player he must step up in performance and leadership. At 28 years old and coming off a 14 game 83% snap season, 2021 will show his true ceiling and define Douglas’s OLine plans going into the 2022 off-season. 

With the many other pressing needs, not least grabbing a 1st round Guard, the only other additions at Tackle came by way of UDFAs. New York nabbed two of them. Grant Hermanns is a tall human at 6ft 7inches and was a perennial starter at Left Tackle for Purdue. Injuries in 2017 and 2018 may have slowed his development but 33 college starts is a solid foundation to build off. 

Parker Ferguson is a “one for the future” project. Like good berries, put him in the freezer until next year (metaphorically). Originally a Defensive End, Ferguson was moved to Tackle when recruited by Air Force. Being a triple option offense and making less than 10 passes per game Ferguson has little to no experience in protection. He started at Left Tackle for 20 straight games when Air Force rushed for nearly 300 yards per game and converted 92% of their Red Zone. If he grinds through this year’s camp he may well see some snaps as a goal line 6th man.

 

It’s early days in the Jets rebuild and much will depend on Zach Wilson’s decision making, Becton’s health/development and game scenario i.e not constantly chasing points. The further we get through these breakdowns the more you have to admire what Douglas has achieved in 2 curtailed off-seasons. There is a clear vision being executed. 

Buffalo reign supreme in this room with better than average starters who are fit and consistent. Coupled with a succession plan and winning pedigree they should go from strength to strength. Having the best QB in the division always helps lineman too.

New England’s a lot stronger on the interior than at the Tackle position and I feel expectations about Brown’s impact may be a bit too overstated, with good reason when we only have historical data to go off. Wynn could become top tier, or he could become an inconsistent liability. With not much immediate talent behind them it will be an interesting point to observe.

Miami has made huge investments with Draft capital to re-imagine their Oline. We’re really not going to know until Week 1 whether they’re on the right path. Last year’s Rookies were underwhelming but, with obvious promise. Planning to start another Rookie at Right Tackle again this year is typically bold of Flores regime but it will be as much down as up. With all the Coaching changes on the Offense and trying to blend the best 5 on OLine, Dolphans will be hoping not too many L’s accrue as the experiment unfolds. The Dolphins need a quick start this year. Against New England and Buffalo. No pressure.

Next week is interior linemen on both sides of the ball.

Join me @CJEphgrave on Twitter & Instagram.

 

Nfl Afc East Tackles

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