Russell Okung and Other Early Draft Picks

The subject of bias sometimes comes up, and I think "how can I not be biased?" I am one man, writing a Seahawks blog. I never hide my preferences or beliefs, both rational and irrational. So I want to make it perfectly clear: I am totally in the in bag for Russell Okung. I was thrilled that Seattle drafted him. I was thrilled when I watched tape of Okung. I thought that the most talented tackle in a very talented tackle class falling to Seattle at six was and probably still is the best thing to happen to Seattle in 2010.

Every year, multiple offensive tackles are taken in the first round of the NFL draft. The position is in demand, and rightfully so given the league's emphasis on passing, deep passing, the relative safeness of an offensive tackle compared to other positions (insomuch that a failed left tackle can become a right tackle and a failed right tackle can become a guard) and the longevity of offensive linemen compared to running backs, tight ends, cornerbacks, safeties, and to some extent, defensive ends.

Though every year multiple offensive tackles are taken in the first round of the NFL draft, draft classes vary wildly in talent. Quite a few Seahawks fans clamored for Seattle to take a tackle in 2009, but I was of the opinion that 2009 was a particularly weak class. In fact, as sort of a quick and dirty estimation of my opinion of each, I would rank all the top ten picks from the past three drafts like this:

Joe Thomas

Russell Okung

Jake Long

Trent Williams

...

...

...

Jason Smith

Eugene Monroe

Levi Brown

Andre Smith

Find an opportunity to watch Joe Thomas. He looks like a Hall of Fame talent in his prime.

My point is, despite all the lip service given to drafting talent over need, most teams still draft for need. And when a team needs an offensive tackle and the class consists of Jason Smith, Eugene Monroe, Andre Smith and Michael Oher, teams are stuck deciding between a right tackle, a left tackle with bad knees, a high-risk left tackle/right tackle tweener with a weight problem, and another (potential) right tackle. Around draft time, the hype machine cranks up and every pick seems like a potential All-Pro, but with a little distance and perspective, it's obvious not every class is created equal.

My opinion wasn't just that Seattle drafted a good talent, the best talent of his respective class, but that Seattle drafted the best offensive tackle in a very good offensive tackle class. Consider Rodger Saffold. Saffold was taken in the second round by the St. Louis Rams and the rookie now starts at left tackle while Smith starts at right.

On a macro level, we can determine just how valuable a tackle taken first in his respective class or in the top five or the first round is on average, but in reality, sometimes you draft Walter Jones and sometimes you draft Andre Smith, and with those decisions go a franchise.

1-10-SEA 6 (4:31) 8-M.Hasselbeck pass short right to 26-M.Robinson to SEA 6 for no gain (50-J.Anderson)

The word analysts like to use is "engulfs" but "envelops" is more accurate. Russell Okung does not submerge Everette Brown. He shadows him wide, stays square, shoulders parallel to the defender, places his arms on Brown's shoulders and then envelops the smaller end and stops him. The final, frenetic motion of Brown looks like a hysterical woman struggling to free herself from a protective older brother.

You don't care about the pass. I don't care about the pass. It sucks. Everything about it.

2-10-SEA 6 (4:00) 8-M.Hasselbeck pass incomplete short left to 15-B.Stokley (31-R.Marshall).

Panthers run stunts on the left. Brown moves in. Okung puts his right arm out and pushes him but stays in position. Mike Gibson and Chris Spencer block Brown. Ed Johnson loops around and attacks Okung's inside shoulder. Matt Hasselbeck passes to Brandon Stokley, and Johnson reaches up a hand but it does not look like he tips the pass. It flies wide-left of Stokley, incomplete.

Pretty easy stuff, but a bit harder for a rookie.

3-10-SEA 6 (3:54) (Shotgun) 8-M.Hasselbeck pass incomplete deep middle to 11-D.Butler [95-C.Johnson].

Third and ten and Seattle is deep in their own territory. This is when pass protection matters most.

Carolina rushes three down linemen but create pressure and rather quickly. Okung matches against Brown. Brown is able to influence Okung back, but Okung keeps his hands inside Brown's shoulders and sticks with him, never losing control of the matchup.

Sean Locklear isn't so successful against Charles Johnson. Johnson moves slowly towards Locklear, gets Sean backpedaling and then bursts forward and works around Locklear's outside shoulder and behind the right tackle. Johnson hits Hasselbeck just after he passes and the ball overshoots Deon Butler incomplete.

That's some crap, crap, crap pass blocking against a three man rush.

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