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Are Left Guards Overrated?

Apr 5, 2008 – 3:27 PM
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JJ Cooper

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Ross Tucker knows more about offensive line play than me, you and 10 other fans put together. He played every position along the line during a seven-year NFL career that included 23 starts. So when he writes about offensive line play, it's worth paying attention. Add in the fact that he doesn't regurgitate conventional wisdom and his new stuff at SI.com becomes a must read.

To Tucker, all these megadeals that left guards have been getting, including Alan Faneca's recent $40 million deals make no sense, because as he sees it, left guard is the second easiest position on the line to play. He ranks left tackle as the toughest, followed by right tackle. But he sees right guard as the position that is underappreciated. The reason is that he believes most team's better interior pass rusher is lined up against the right guard. And on most teams, the left guard gets help from the center as they slide the protection to the left, while the right guard is left on an island in pass blocking.

Left guard is an easier position as he sees it, tougher only than center. Because of that, he thinks that the Browns signing of Rex Hadnot, a right guard, for two years, $7 million, makes a lot more sense than signing Faneca for $40 million over five years. As he sees it, the NFL's system of grading offensive linemen by pluses and minuses doesn't account for the differences in difficulty between the different positions. If a left guard handles a mediocre defensive tackle with help from a center, the grading system for most teams would credit that the same way as a right guard stuffing an elite defensive tackle all by himself.
Tucker's point makes some sense, but I do have a piece of good news for Jets fans. In Faneca's case, the Steelers put more responsibility on him than the average guard. While Faneca did get some double-team help occasionally when he was asked to block a linebacker downfield, during the past two years of grading Steelers offensive line play, the majority of the time the Steelers have put Faneca on an island (if they aren't asking him to pull out to lead sweeps). With struggles at center and right guard (Sean Mahan and Kendall Simmons), there's been a good reason to leave Faneca alone--the right side of the line needed plenty of help.

So most left guards might be overrated, but in Faneca's case, he has been asked to do a lot with the Steelers. That doesn't mean he's been as good as most NFL TV announcers believe, but Faneca has been able to handle guys one-on-one.
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