Study shows some reasons to view left and right tackles as equal

Charles LeClaire-US PRESSWIRE

Jacksonville employed their own data to support the idea of drafting a tackle who will likely play on the right side this year. Some of the reason for that decision came from a Pro Football Focus study that suggests the right tackle position may be as valuable as the famed left tackle spot.

A recent study conducted by Pro Football Focus writer Steve Palazzolo suggests right tackles have as much value as left tackles do in terms of pass protection.

According to Palazzolo, conventional thought is right-handed quarterbacks, of which there are far more in the NFL, will throw to the right side more often. Because of that, protecting the quarterback's left side is more important because he cannot see pressure to that side.

In reality, quarterbacks are throwing pretty much equally to their left and right, and are still throwing to the middle of the field far more often than either side.

%Attempts aDOT* Yds/Att Comp % Acc % YAC/Rec
Right 24.80% 11.1 7.1 59.20% 65.00% 4.5
Middle 52.40% 7.7 7.8 68.00% 75.70% 5.6
Left 22.90% 10.8 6.9 58.60% 64.70% 4.8
Total 100.00% 9.3 7.4 63.70% 70.50% 5.2

* ADOT = Average Depth of Throw

Data taken from Pro Football Focus

Palazzolo suggests which tackle is ultimately "more" important is a chicken vs. the egg argument. Palazzolo should be advised the Steelers are going to engage in a rare training camp determination between two tackles without a clear idea of which will play left tackle and which will play right.

With Kansas City, a team currently embroiled in a contract battle with veteran Branden Albert, their decision to announce Albert will be on the left side and first overall pick Eric Fisher will be on the right has some merit.

But what about the Steelers? It's not as if the experience Marcus Gilbert has gained over two years clearly outweighs that of second-year tackle Mike Adams - certainly not compared to the gap between Albert and Fisher.

A few comments in the post fairly point out the possibility of this being a cause-and-effect relationship. Not every team has a "franchise" left tackle, and there isn't supporting evidence in the study addressing questions about which edge rushers are being placed where. Baltimore's Terrell Suggs won a Defensive Player of the Year award in 2011 after he rushed from all over the formation, and teams like San Francisco and Cincinnati are utilizing front seven alignments outside of their base defense more often than their base.

Also, left and right tackles don't switch sides, the way defensive ends/outside linebackers might in specific defenses and situations.

The argument can be made the numbers Pro Football Focus is using do not address defenses simply exploiting match-up advantages a defense may feel it has with an edge rusher over a right tackle. It also doesn't show anything in regards to rushing up the middle.

At the same time, to their credit, the first two picks, and three of the first four picks, were offensive tackles (first time in the modern era of the draft that's happened), and the top two - Fisher and Jacksonville's Luke Joeckel - will play right tackle this season.

In fact, the Jaguars used this strategy based on data compiled by Tony Khan (son of owner Shad Khan), even citing PFF's study in their research.

In the end, the study shows what is obvious to most - having two good tackles is better than having one.

While the reasons behind why the Steelers will place either Gilbert or Adams on the left side, with the other going to the right side, may ultimately come down to preference, the ability of both of them to develop into outstanding players is going to be one of the major reasons behind where the Steelers end up in two or three years.

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