This year, much has been made about an "offensive line crisis" across the NFL. Taking a collective look at the lines in the NFL, it is easy to see that they bereft of talent, on the whole. There are a few very good lines like Dallas, Cleveland, Cincinnati and Green Bay, but the fall off after those four teams is stark. Why is that? Where, there are a ton of reasons and my belief is that it goes all the way down to youth football.
At a younger age, athletes are likely to be more inclined to play on the defensive side of the ball than the offensive side. Why not? There is more prestige at all levels of football if you're an athletic big man on defense than on offense. That is reflected in how the league pays and rewards elite defensive line play. JJ Watt, Ndmukong Suh, Aaron Donald and Sheldon Richardson have already been decorated to various levels in their career as defensive players of the year or defensive rookies of the year where an offensive linemen has seldom brought home either award. On top of prestige earned through awards, there is also pretty noticeable contrast between the pay elite defensive linemen and elite offensive linemen will get, especially on the interior. Ndmukong Suh, Gerald McCoy and Marcel Dareus all have recently been paid contracts that will pay well over 12 million dollars per year, with Suh making almost 20 million APY. Look across the line at the men tasked with blocking these hundred million dollar freak athletes, and the pay looks a lot different. The highest paid guards and centers in the league do not even crack eight million dollars. On the edges of offense, the highest paid tackles still are making less than Marcel Dareus, Justin Houston, Clay Matthews or JJ Watt would make in a year...
So clearly there is a huge disparity in how these players are being viewed both in the media and how they are paid by teams. After all, pride and prestige is a big part of being a professional athlete. So this stigma, I guess you could say, is likely driving away the best athletes at the high school level to play defensive line over the offensive line. The residual impact of that is being felt at the NFL level where defensive lines across the league are absolutely stacked with athletes and they are facing, on the whole, much inferior athletes on the offensive lines across from them. This athletic discrepancy plays a huge part in how bad offensive line play is. Defensive linemen are often some of the best athletes in the world and, for the most part, can dominate on ability alone due to relative athleticism. It is no surprise that the best offensive linemen in the league at any position are elite athletes. Football is a game of athletes and the best players often will be the best athletes.
Of course, the two things are not directly correlated. As the Seahawks are finding out.
The Seahawks love throwing raw, athletic offensive linemen, some who previously played defensive line, on their line to cure the relative athleticism issue. That has worked out horribly for them, thus far, because of the steep learning curve there is for NFL offensive linemen. Offensive line play, with all of the athletic ability it requires, also demands consistent discipline, technique and awareness, which incredibly raw players will often have trouble executing. The position has a ton of nuance to it and thus, savvy players are important, but it is also imperative to look for athletes among the savvy linemen.
In steps Indiana's offensive tackle Jason Spriggs.
When looking for athletes, look no further than the 6-7, 305 pound senior lineman. Ever since high school, Spriggs has been an incredible athlete. Spriggs was recognized as All State as an offensive and defensive linemen for several years in high school. On top of that, Spriggs was an outstanding track athlete, basketball player and lacrosse player. If anything, Spriggs was an athlete.
Luckily for NFL teams, Spriggs is also one hell of football player. Something that is very important for NFL linemen is attitude. Offensive linemen should be playing to punish and maul the defenders across from them on a per snap basis. Set the tone to wear down defensive linemen. It is that type of attitude that Spriggs displays on the regular as he plays with a mean streak, often neutralizing players on contact. His mean streak truly maximizes his athletic ability as nothing can take it out of a defender more than a 300 pound man running fuels top down the field to block on a running play, and Spriggs is as fast as he plays. The former track star has incredibly light feet when moving downhill and when blocking on the perimeter. His movement skills may be the best in the class. Spriggs also possesses long arms with heavy hands and will often completely take defensive linemen out of rhythm with his punch.
Spriggs' issues are matters of technique. While he has an incredible strong punch, his timing and placement can be inconsistent, which will minimize his natural strength and allow defensive linemen to work into his frame. It is very important to for offensive linemen to keep defenders out of their center of mass, but Spriggs' hand technique hurts that part of his game. Also detrimental is that Spriggs tends to play high on occasion. This opens up his core even more so, making him vulnerable. Both of these things are absolutely coachable, and he has shown he can play without these hiccups and at an incredibly high level.
NFL Comparison: Jason Spriggs reminds me of current Eagles offensive linemen, Lane Johnson. He might not be quite the athlete that Johnson is, but his ability to win on the field with his athletic ability is very reminiscent of Johnson coming out of Oklahoma. The two of them both outstandingly quick and strong, but are hurt by their lapses in technique. Of course, Johnson has become an outstanding player in Philly after being taken fourth overall, even showing great ability filling in for Jason Peters at left tackle.
Spriggs would be an outstanding fit in Philadelphia. His size, athletic ability and mauling attitude fits perfectly with the Eagles scheme and philosophy. He could play either tackle spot and give the Eagles a pair of young, hyper athletes on the edges of their line. I would be absolutely comfortable selecting him wherever the Eagles end up picking in the first round.