Draft preview: Toe line no more, guards finally getting love

Discussion in 'Draft Zone' started by Big Country, Apr 12, 2007.

  1. Big Country

    Big Country Rolling Thunder

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    By Pete Prisco
    CBS SportsLine.com Senior Writer

    Guards are the grunts of the offensive line, situated next to the glamour boys at tackle and the guys who run the show at center.

    Longhorn Justin Blalock is among the prospects who might cash in on the new emphasis on guards. (Getty Images)
    Longhorn Justin Blalock is among the prospects who might cash in on the new emphasis on guards. (Getty Images)
    For many years, scouts and personnel people considered guards to be way down on the value board when compared to tackles, rarely taking a guard in the first round of the NFL Draft.

    Every year the guards hear the same refrain: You're just not worth it.

    Since 2002, there have been 10 guards drafted in the first two rounds, four in the first round. That includes Shawn Andrews of the Eagles and Darryn Colledge of the Packers, two players who actually came into the league as tackles.

    Compare that to the tackles drafted in the first two rounds since 2002 and it's a significant difference. We've seen 25 tackles drafted in the first two rounds the past five years, including 13 in the first round.

    The last time there were two pure guards taken in the same first round that peanut farmer from Georgia was President. That was 1980 when the Kansas City Chiefs drafted Brad Budde and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers drafted Ray Snell.

    "It just hasn't been a premium position up until now," Auburn guard Ben Grubbs said. "I really never understood that, either. Anyone who protects your most valuable player and helps the running backs run has to have value. For some reason, we just don't get any recognition in the first round."

    That could change in this year's draft. With a new-found premium on guards -- look at the money tossed their way in free-agency -- there's a chance that two could go in the first round. Grubbs is the top-rated guard on most boards, but Justin Blalock of Texas and Tennessee's Aaron Sears, a college tackle who will move inside, also have a chance to go in the first round.

    "That kind of talk makes me feel good," Grubbs said. "It's time we got some attention."

    That's happening. The big reason for it is the importance for an offense of handling the inside people on a team's defense. To run the ball, you have to push around 320-pound tackles and you don't do that without quality guards. Cracks and creases in the middle have to come with movement by the inside people, especially the guards.

    "Look at when you play a team like the Jacksonville Jaguars," one AFC scout said. "If your guards can't handle those two big guys, it's going to be a long day for your offense."

    Those two big guys are 320-pound Marcus Stroud and 330-pound John Henderson. They are just one pair of quality tackles around the league. As that position has grown in both size and stature, the guards have become more valuable.

    It's why guards Kris Dielman (San Diego), Derrick Dockery (Buffalo), Leonard Davis (Dallas) and Eric Steinbach (Cleveland) all received huge contracts in free-agency this year.

    You know how many Pro Bowl appearances the four have? Not a one.

    Yet the teams that signed them were so desperate to improve the interior of their lines that they anted up the big-money deals.

    "That's really great for those guys," Grubbs said. "It also means when I get to my second and third contract, I'll have a chance to get that kind of deal."

    Grubbs is a 6-3, 315-pound player who has nice athleticism, but he's also a player who plays with a mean streak, according to scouts. He won't back down from anybody, which is a must from the guard position if you want to run the football. Easy-going and laid back off the field, Grubbs plays with a nasty style on the field.

    "You have to be aggressive to be a great player," Grubbs said. "When I get between the lines, it just comes out."

    Some personnel people still react with shock when teams draft guards in the first round. When Mike Ditka used the 10th overall pick to draft Chris Naeole when he was the coach of the New Orleans Saints, everybody said he overdrafted him. Truth is, he probably did. Naeole was a so-so starter for the Saints, but has developed into a quality guard for the Jacksonville Jaguars since signing with them as a free agent.

    The only three other guards drafted in the top 10 of the draft since 1980 were Mike Munchak (eighth by the Oilers in 1982), Bruce Matthews (ninth by the Oilers in 1983) and John Rienstra (ninth to the Steelers in 1986). Munchak is in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, while Matthews is going in this year. Rienstra was a good, solid player.

    "As a guard, you just know you're not going to be a top 5 pick," Grubbs said. "But with the way things are going, the value of guards does seem to be going up."

    It's not quite there with those glamour-boy tackles, but it's getting there.

  2. Doomsday101

    Doomsday101 Well-Known Member

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    If Dallas goes Gaurd then Blalock and Grubbs are the 2 of the top big boys in this draft.
  3. CCBoy

    CCBoy Well-Known Member

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    I for one, would be happy with an upgrade to the interior of the Dallas offensive line...I can't remember when Dallas had a legitiimate starting offensive line plus a very close backup, which the addition of either Grubbs or Blalock would move Dallas up to having....very impressive in my book.
  4. jay cee

    jay cee Active Member

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    Pretty cool article.

    I remember back in the '70's (and really the early '80's when Munchak and Matthews were drafted), the guards were usually the best o-linemen.

    Teams ran a lot more sweeps back then, so you needed guards who were athletic enough to pull. Plus most teams did not throw the ball as much, so the emphasis was not placed as much on protecting the qb as it is now.
  5. burmafrd

    burmafrd Benched

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    Also, back then a lot of the best pass rushers were DTs; and most teams ran the 4-3, and the blitzes came on the inside mostly. So the guards had a lot more of the pass block load back then.
    Back in the 60's and 70s it was Deacon Jones, Merlin Olsen,Alan Page, Bob Lilly, randy white, joe Green who were the feared pass rushers.
  6. jay cee

    jay cee Active Member

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    That's true, I started to mention how very few teams ran the 3-4 so the tackles did not face as many speed rushers. That's one of the reasons IMO Harvey Martin was so successful, not many DE's had his speed.
  7. burmafrd

    burmafrd Benched

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    With Harvey it was not so much his speed but his athleticism and quickness- and his strength. He either just beat the tackles around the edge or got them off balance and simply threw them aside.

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