Why Don’t OffensiveTackles Go First Overall Anymore?

NASHVILLE, TN - OCTOBER 23: Quarterback Marcus Mariota
NASHVILLE, TN - OCTOBER 23: Quarterback Marcus Mariota /

Offensive Tackles have only been drafted first overall seven times in the NFL draft. Which raises the question, why aren’t tackles being drafted first overall?

When building an offense, from the ground up, every owner and general manager would pick a quarterback first. The only problem is there are only about 10 franchise quarterbacks in the NFL. Here are some potential answers:


NFL offenses are not like college offenses, in more than one way. NFL verbiage makes college plays should as simple as 2+2, that gives rookies a little bit of a learning curve. The same can be said for pass protections for offensive lineman coming into the NFL.

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In the spread schemes that offenses run in college, tackles are not asked to take a traditional NFL pass set. They are more frequently asked to hop one or two steps to the side or back to cut off edge rushers. That is not a knock on college coaches, they aren’t paid to make NFL players. Colleges coaches are paid to win football games. In the NFL, tackles have to be able to get depth quickly in order to prevent losing the edge to players like Khalil Mack and Von Miller.

Since a tradition pass set isn’t preached day in and day out, like it was 15 years ago, tackles don’t really have a refined pass set coming out of college now. Tackles that have a poor pass set need at least one or two years to refine their technique. The problem with that is that NFL is a draft and play league.  While teams should be letting players grow into their athleticism.

In college some players have a back pedal instead of a pass set, which creates some problems. First of which being that during a back pedal it is nearly impossible to handle a bull rush. That means if a tackle starts to back pedal guys like Brandon Graham and Robert Kerrigan would be dominant.

Another problem for tackles in the transition to the NFL is the RPO. You might have seen Jon Gruden complaining about the RPO for quarterbacks. NFL offensive line coaches have the same complaint, more than likely. In the run-pass option offense the quarterback reads the defense and makes a decision based on what the defense does. That frequently means that the offensive line is run blocking and the quarterback can either hand the ball off or throw it over the linebackers as they come up to the line. The RPO works, but tackles need all the reps of pass sets they can get.


NFL teams crave a franchise quarterback. Ask the Cleveland Browns, Jacksonville Jaguars and New York Jets what it feels like to not have a guy you know is going to be your guy for the next 5-10 years. None of the teams in the top five of the 2017 NFL draft had a proven franchise quarterback. Sadly the popular idea in the NFL right now is to get a quarterback a lot of weapons, so he never has to do it alone. However, not many people put a lot of stock into getting tackles to keep the quarterback they do have upright.

Teams that follow the latter of the two strategies, such as the Tennessee Titans, seem to be on the rise. The Titans invested heavily in tackle recently, drafting players such as Jack Conklin and Taylor Lewan. The Titans quarterback, Marcus Mariota, was only sacked 23 times last season. That was good for ninth fewest in the NFL, and common sense says an upright quarterback is much better than one on the ground.

If teams would take the time to build an offensive line around mid-level quarterbacks, then I think they would be pleasantly surprised with how their quarterbacks play. Good NFL defensive lineman don’t grow on tree’s but Taylor Lewan went 11th overall, Terron Armstead went 75th overall and David Bakhtiari went 109th.

In the 2014 NFL draft the Cleveland Browns could have drafted Taylor Lewan, Joel Bitonio and Morgan Moses in the first two rounds. Instead they used one of those picks on Johnny Manziel, a quarterback who didn’t workout. Taylor Lewan and Morgan Moses are frequently touted as top up and coming tackles. The love affair for quarterbacks causes teams to miss out on a situation that could make any NFL level quarterback look good.

Pass Rushers

The NFL is a pass oriented league, so what is the best way to stop an offense? Is it to get a cornerback that can shadow a wide receiver? Well the rules are set so that corners can’t be physical with receivers, so they are at a serious disadvantage.

How about safeties roaming the middle of the field knocking the ball loose? Receivers know exactly how to fall to get a targeting call, a free 15 yards and a possible ejection. Safeties have to wait for a completion to make a tackle most of the time.

Pass rushers are not hindered by safety rules nearly as much however. Pass rushers are allowed to do anything in their power to get after the quarterback. Why not draft guys who aren’t hindered by rules to get after the passer.

In the 2014 NFL draft alone there were four pass rushers who made the pro bowl, in the first round alone. There are nine guys in that draft that were good value picks as pass rushers. Danielle Hunter was picked 88th overall in the 2015 NFL draft, and had 12.5 sacks last season. While the only tackle in that draft to make the pro bowl, Brandon Scherff, went top five.

Tackles are not valued like they should be, they are seen as something to put around a franchise quarterback. Instead teams need to start valuing tackles like something that not only makes any quarterback better, and keeps a good quarterback healthy.