Many league insiders believe that there’s only one way to find a high-end left tackle — at the top of the draft. With some exceptions (like Jason Peters, a converted tight end who was undrafted), teams that need a quality left tackle have to rely on the first round of the draft, usually the top half of it.
Compounding the reality is the fact that, once a team finds a quality left tackle, the team rarely if ever lets him go.
With the success rate for most other positions a crapshoot in round one, left tackles typically represent safer picks, with guys like Robert Gallery (a bust at left tackle who has become a decent interior offensive lineman for the Raiders) being the exception not the rule.
But something happened in 2009. Three left tackles heard their names called within the first eight picks. Two of them — Jason Smith and Andre Smith — already have been moved to the less critical (and less lucrative) right side. The third, Eugene Monroe, played left tackle in 15 games as a rookie, despite being benched at one point for Tra Thomas.
This year, Monroe is injured, Andre Smith is badly out of shape, and Jason Smith returned from a toe injury to be beaten repeatedly by Vikings second-string defensive end Jayme Mitchell on Saturday night.
Rams coach Steve Spagnuolo doesn’t sound too concerned, yet.
“He’s behind everybody else in that regard and all of a sudden you put him out in a game and the speed of the game is completely different,” Spagnuolo said, in comments distributed by the team. “So I think he’ll smooth that out. I don’t think there’s any concern there. He played well there over on the right side about four or five games in the middle of the season last year so hopefully he can get back in that groove.”
Still, the failure of Jason Smith to become a cornerstone left tackle underscores the challenges faced by a perennially bad team. With the No. 2 pick in two consecutive seasons, neither Smith nor defensive end Chris Long have panned out. And that only makes it harder for the Rams to eventually draft much lower in round one.
It remains to be seen whether Jason or Andre Smith can fulfill their potential, and whether Monroe can become the kind of anchor that Tony Boselli once was on the Jacksonville offensive line. Either way, this trio from 2009 are tending to undermine the notion that great left tackles can be found at the top of the draft — and their teams currently look more than a little foolish for not pouncing on Michael Oher, who fell all the way to the Ravens at No. 23.