Note: This is part of an ongoing series; check out the rest of the entries if you dig!
After my review of the centers took a whack at a perennial fan piñata, Dominic Raiola, I’ve been both anticipating and dreading doing this one. Fortunately, I was pleasantly surprised:
The top-PFF-graded NFL left tackle is Andrew Whitworth, who is not that defensive end from the Cardinals from back in the day. A 2006 second-round pick, the 6’-7,” 335-pounder turned in the NFL’s second-best pass block grade, ninth-best run block grade, and best screen block grade. He did take seven penalties, but even that wasn’t enough to drag him off the top of the heap. At the bottom is Levi Brown,
the man he replaced in Cincinnati [Ed. note: that was Levi Jones; thanks to Anonymous Commenter]. Levi turned in an appalling –34.1 pass block grade, while allowing the Cardinals’ sad menagerie of quarterbacks to get flattened.
Of course, the man of the hour is Jeff Backus, and unsurprisingly he’s the Lions’ best offensive tackle. His overall +1.4 grade puts him 21st out of 78 offensive tackles; 13th out of left tackles. His pass block grade slots him 27th, 14th amongst qualifying left tackles. His run block grade is 33rd, 16th amongst left tackles. His four penalties called (one declined/offset) gave him the 8th-best penalty grade in the NFL (5th-best amongst left tackles. You’ll notice that his blue line is solidly above the thick black AVERAGE; that’s correct. Jeff Backus performed like an above-average tackle in 2010.
Backus was 13th amongst left tackles in snaps-per-sack-or-qb-hit-allowed, with 87.2 (NFL avg. 83). He was 21st amongst left tackles in snaps-per-pressure-allowed, with 34.3 (NFL avg. 41). That’s the only dimension of Jeff Backus’ game where he wasn’t above both the mean and median for either all offensive tackles, or left tackles only: he has a below-average-but-not-awful pressures-allowed rate. Whew.
Digging into the individual-game grades a little bit, Backus (predictably) was graded either weakly or strongly positive in all but five games. His five negative grades, were: –1.0, –1.5, –1.5, –2.1, –2.6, and a nasty –5.4 against Buffalo, of all teams. From Week 4 (@GBP) through Week 10 (@BUF), Backus turned in a positive pass block grade of +1.0 or better for all but one game. (+0.1, v. WAS). That’s right, even in only truly bad game, Backus was strongly positive in pass protection. He (along with the rest of the line) was awful at run blocking that data, though (-5.1), and he was assessed two penalties. Other than that, though, Backus was mostly positive or neutral across the board.
Bottom Line: Jeff Backus, for the second-straight year, has turned in a solidly-above-average performance at left tackle. His ten-year consecutive games streak is an amazing accomplishment, and he’s playing the best football of his life. The Lions will be fine with him for 2011—but how much tread is left on those tires?
As the offense’s answer to Cliff “It Would Be So Sweet if This Guy Stepped Up” Avril, Gosder Cherilus answered the bell, if not with the same aplomb his defensive counterpart did. Cherilus was PFF’s 27th-best-graded offensive tackle in 2010, 13th-best if you’re counting only right tackles. HIs +0.5 pass block grade slotted him 26th-best (12th-best amongst RTs)—very slightly better than Backus! Gosder’s –2.7 run-block grade was only 42nd-best out of 78 OTs, though, and 18th-best of right-siders. PFF only has him credited with five penalties (one declined/offset), though, so his penalty rating was right about average—great news for those of us with random bald spots from pulling our hair out.
Statistically, Gosder has a nice feather for his cap: he averaged 120.9 snaps per QB sack or hit allowed! This is the 13th-best mark overall, and 9th-best amongst right tackles. Like Backus, though, he allows a lot of pressures; one every 31.3 snaps, on the average. That’s 48th-best amongst all tackles, 20th-best amongst primary RTs.
Gosder's individual-game grades are fascinating. For the first three games, he turned in horrific grades of –4.6, –3.0, and –4.9. After that, he was a stud. He turned eight straight games without a negative pass block, run block, or overall grade. He was strongly positive overall for six of those eight games. In the ninth game, against Chicago, Gosder had a tough time run blocking (-1.1), which brought down his overall grade for that week to –1.0. I thought Rob Sims’ grades had a noticeable “slump” in them, but this is incredibly dramatic; like night and day. I have no idea what happened after Week 3, but Gosder’s performance went from practice-squad material to top ten RT stuff.
Bottom Line: Gosder took a huge step forward in 2010—specifically, in Week 4 of 2010. I can’t explain what turned the lightswitch on, but if he recovers from his knee injury and picks up where he left off, Cherlius will be a top ten RT in 2011 and beyond. That’s a big “If,” though.
One of the biggest surprises of the year was backup RT Corey Hilliard, who came in cold in relief of Cherilus on Thanksgiving and turned in an impressive +1.7 grade on just 33 reps. I remember him playing a pretty good game the following week against Green Bay, too, but the PFF graders handed him a –1.8, due to a –2.0 pass block mark. He was given an overall negative grade for every game thereafter, too. His only positive grade of any sort after that New England game was his +1.9 run block grade against Tampa—negated in the overall grade by five pressures allowed, and two penalties assessed.
Bottom Line: by only allowing one sack in 271 snaps, Corey Hilliard flashed performance we had no idea was there. He played only better than you’d expect from a 2007 sixth-rounder with very, very few snaps of live action—but you wouldn’t expect much at all, and Hillard was far short of revelatory. I expect him to be in the mix as a backup for 2011, but Hilliard does not appear to be a long-term answer. He is, however, only 25.
Rookie fourth-round draft pick Jason Fox only saw the field for 26 snaps, in Week 17. A natural left tackle, Fox played out of position at RT. He didn’t surrender any QB sacks or hits, and only one pressure—but his run blocking was abysmal, graded out at a horrendous –4.0 by PFF. All the talk about him needing to develop his body, build strength in the weight room, and all that sure rings true.
Bottom Line: Fox was a project pick, and we knew that at the time. He will definitely be in the mix as a swing backup, but you cannot “pencil him in” as either the left, or right, tackle of the future just yet.
SHOPPING LIST: The Lions need a long-term heir apparent to Jeff Backus at left tackle, one who can fill in for Gosder Cherilus if his rehab falls behind schedule.