When East Meets West: A Detailed Look at the Offensive Tackle Positions

via www3.pictures.zimbio.com

Oh, East is East, and West is West, and never the twain shall meet,

Till Earth and Sky stand presently at God's great Judgment Seat;

But there is neither East nor West, Border, nor Breed, nor Birth,

When two strong men stand face to face,

tho' they come from the ends of the earth!


Over the past couple of weeks there has been some debate amongst various factions here at Niners Nation regarding the skill sets and body types that NFL coaches look to when they're picking out a left tackle vs a right tackle. There's one camp that says a right tackle is mostly a left tackle that couldn't hack it (kind of like the old band joke that says a viola player is a violin player who wasn't good enough). There's another group that says that the right tackle requires a completely different set of skills than does the left tackle, and even requires a different body type. There's no guarantee that a left tackle can slide on over to right tackle and play well there. 

 

It's probably pretty easy to guess which side of the fence I landed on, however I didn't have the numbers at hand. I knew that generally speaking, right tackles are bigger and bulkier than are left tackles, and that left tackles are much quicker than right tackles. Wanting to get some hard data on this I undertook a little research project over the past week or so. I went to NFL.com, pulled up the depth charts for all 32 NFL teams, and looked at the starting right tackles and the starting left tackles. I then created a spreadsheet to track this info. In the spreadsheet I included weight, height, years in the league, and what position they played in college. Join me after the jump as we dive into the nitty gritty of the material.

The accepted wisdom in the NFL is that the left tackle needs to be quicker on his feet and faster to react than a right tackle (unless that right tackle is protecting a lefty QB). The obvious corollary to the need for speed is that the guys on the left side need to be smaller, to help them move faster. Now there will be exceptions (there always is), but that's the norm. On the right side you want the big mauler guys.

 

Does that standard wisdom hold up to cold, hard facts? Well yes and no. Your average left tackle weighs in at 316 lbs and is 6'5" tall. (This is from a small of 295 lbs to the largest left tackle at a whopping 345 lbs). Your average right tackle weighs in at 319 lbs and is also 6'5" tall. (Smallest at 300 lbs, largest at 343). The really interesting part is where the distribution lies. 

I created a graph, using every 5lbs as a reference point (i.e. track the number of tackles at 295-299, 300-304, 305-309, etc.). Check out the distribution.

 

Left Tackle

 

Position # 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
Weight grouping 295-299 300-304 305-309 310-314 315-319 320-324 325-329 330-334 335-339 340+
Nmbr of players 1 2 7 3 10 2 1 0 3 3

 

  Lefttackle_medium

 


 

 

There are two main clusters of weight for left tackles. The first occurs at spot 3 which is 305-309 lbs. That's seven left tackles, 21% of all starting left tackles. The next cluster happens at spot 5 which is the 315-319 lb marker where we have 10 left tackles, or 31% of the league. Of the 32 left tackles in the league, a full 23 of them weigh less than 320 lbs. 

 

 

 Right Tackle

Position # 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
Weight Grouping 295-299 300-304 305-309 310-314 315-319 320-324 325-329 330-334 335-339 340+
Nmbr of players 0 2 1 3 11 6 2 4 1 2

 

Righttackle_medium 

 

 

With the right tackles we have an almost perfect Bell curve. The largest spike happens at spot 5 which is the 315-319lb range, and there we have 11 of the starting right tackles. Of the 32 starting right tackles in the NFL, 15 of them weigh 320 lbs or more. 

Both groups have a strong cluster at the 315-319 mark which I found very interesting. 

 

The other question that was brought up was regarding the necessary skill sets to play left tackle. One contention was that if a player doesn't succeed at left tackle he can just be slid over to right tackle without a problem, and that a large portion of NFL right tackles were college left tackles. I didn't think this was true as there's a completely different skill set involved, so I wanted to take a look at college position and current NFL position. 

In listing the college position I used the one that they played the most games at. As an example Duane Brown (left tackle for the Houstons) started his college career at tight end. He was then moved to right tackle for two years and finished up his college career with one season at left tackle. For tracking purposes I listed him as a college right tackle. If a player spent the same amount of time at different positions I listed him as the position he played last. 

 

Left Tackles

College Position Guard Left Tackle Right Tackle Tight End Center
Number of left tackles 7 20 2 3 0

 

 

Right Tackles

College Position Guard Left Tackle Right Tackle Tight End Center
Number of Right tackles 5 10 16 0 1

 

I think it's pretty obvious from the numbers that the skill set doesn't translate, otherwise NFL teams would be loaded with right tackles that had played left tackle in college. We do see a signficant chunk of let tackles playing right tackle, but the majority of NFL right tackles played either right tackle in college or alogn the interior, where the difference in skill set isn't so noticeable.

The really interesting thing to me is the number of college tight ends who transition to NFL left tackles. Three starting left tackles spent more time at Tight End in college than at left tackle. Another four have spent at least one season at Tight End in college.

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