I spent ample time analyzing offensive line play during the downtime of the NFL, perusing various links to articles, videos, game tape and contacting individuals that I thought could help. There were various individuals who graciously assisted, namely Chad Reuter of NFL.com and The Sideline View’s Lance Zierlein, but there were also transcripts that I read of coaches and general managers and their draft philosophies. One of the philosophies that still rings in my head today when I study offensive linemen is Bill Belichick’s.
The brash coach is generally quiet, saying little to the media but piecing together his transcripts reveals important information. What I gathered cited Belichick saying that he believed the focus of draft selections should be in the middle of the field, where the majority of games are won. He also, perhaps in contradiction, stated that offensive linemen have lower value than other positions and hinted that they are not as valuable as many believe. Belichick’s ethos have been validated by his history draft selections and got me thinking; what is the true value of offensive linemen, particularly that of a blindside blocker?
Those that follow me on Twitter have read my claims that the most important position along an offensive line is the center, not the left tackle. The center simply has more to deal with and with the NFL’s shift to predominantly zone blocking schemes, most left tackles are not as important (unless you’re Duane Brown) as they once were.
Despite that belief, it’s hard not to look at University of Tennessee left tackle/guard Dallas Thomas and not see a player worthy of a high selection. In a league of mostly traditionalist thinkers that are set in their ways, Thomas is likely to go high in the draft because of his skillset.
The Volunteer is roughly 6’5” and 310 pounds and possesses three important traits of successful blocking: 1. Strength; 2. Flexibility; 3. Agility. These traits are not all vital to an offensive linemen, as some can get by with weaknesses in the latter two, but they come as close as it gets to being just that.
In my discussions with the aforementioned Lance Zierlein, he noted that the most important aspect of tackle play was not the popular footwork, but the ability to anchor. Anchoring is the ability to sit in your stance upon executing a kick slide with a wide base of about shoulder-width and firmly block the defender, forcefully engaging with him and simply not being driven back into the pocket. This is something that I confirmed with my study of NFL game tapes and it’s also something that Thomas excels at. Thomas is able to do this because he has very strong hands that usually stonewall rushers upon engagement.
Another reason for Thomas’ anchoring ability is his flexibility. He shows good flexibility that is illustrated by his knee bend, which noticeably makes him look as if he’s seated in a chair. Flexibility at the knees is something that not all tackles do however, as some are limited to bending at the waist. This is problematic because it causes them to reach for the rusher, consequently sometimes resulting in lunges that see the blocker’s hands meet only the ground. There have been tackles that have gotten by with this in the NFL, which stands out when one takes a deep look at the Giants’ and Steelers’ offensive lines, but if they are not technicians or possess brute strength, it can be troublesome.
Moreover, agility is a characteristic that stands out with Thomas. He moves well on the run for his size – disclaimer: he’s probably heavier than listed – as he is able to slide laterally to mirror pass rushers. Although he should not be confused with a dancing bear like Duane Brown of the Houston Texans, he does move well enough to mirror rushers and pull or trap from the guard position when called upon.
Another trait that I like in Thomas’ game, despite it not being essential, is that he works hard and attempts to bury the defenders. On one particular play against North Carolina State, he was impressive in gaining leverage and sinking the defensive tackle into the ground, leading to a gaping hole for the ball-carrier to run through and pick up a significant chunk of yardage.
Going forward, the big questions with Tennessee’s Dallas Thomas will be whether he should be a guard or tackle in the NFL and where he should be drafted.
The former question is one of interest because there will be questions with Thomas’ ability to play tackle. I don’t believe that are significant concerns there, but nitpicky evaluators may because he doesn’t always appear to have the quickest of feet off of the line of scrimmage, thus sometimes running into issues with speed rushers.
It’s an area where he can improve in once he gets to the NFL and receives more coaching. However, would he be more useful at guard? One could make an argument that he is because it’s a position that is also becoming more valuable as defenses look to attack the interior gaps of the pocket as it is the quickest and most efficient way of getting to the quarterback.
Further, it’s hard to not like the thought of Dallas Thomas lead blocking Chris Kemoeatu-style in a “Power” or “Counter” concept for a ball-carrier. Either way, he could be a top-50 selection, if not higher, in the 2013 NFL Draft because he simply gets the job done.
All snapshots taken are courtesy of Draftbreakdown.com videos.