Tuesday, February 14, 2012

2012 Free Agency Top Fives: Offensive Tackle

Over the next month leading up to the free-agent signing period on March 13, I'll be taking a look at the best players slated for free agency this offseason.

In this entry, I'll examine the top offensive tackles expected to hit the open market next month, as well as some other notable names at the position.

1.  Jared Gaither, San Diego Chargers

A supplemental pick out of Maryland in 2007, Gaither had an up-and-down career in Baltimore that was marred by a back injury toward the end. Signed to a one-year deal by the Chiefs in 2011, Gaither was disaster in 10 games in relief before being picked up by the Chargers and starting five games at an extremely high level. He's a bit of a roller coaster when it comes to performance, by Gaither (6-9, 340) has rare size and is entering the market on a high note, so he should be able to land a starting job.

2. Demetrius Bell, Buffalo Bills

A seventh-rounder back in 2008, Bell became a full-time starter in last season after opening eight games in 2009. Bell struggled quite a bit in 2010, allowing 10 sacks in 16 starts while grading out as Pro Football Focus' No. 52 offensive tackle. Much improved in 2011, Bell was limited to seven games but allowed just one sack and graded out positively. Still just 27 with a nice body of experience, the son of NBA Hall of Famer Karl Malone should have some starting opportunities available.


3. Jeff Backus, Detroit Lions

A first-round pick by the Lions in 2001 (and an alum of yours truly's own high school in Norcross, Ga.), Backus has opened 176 straight games since entering the league. However, he's never really been more than average as a blocker and his presence on this list says less about him and more about a week class of free-agent tackles. Backus, 34, might have a few more years of starting left in him, but he's not a great talent and any team with him as a starter should be thinking about upgrading. 

4. Max Starks, Pittsburgh Steelers

Originally a third-round pick out of Florida in 2004, Starks has been an on-and-off starter for much of his career, opening double-digits contests five times and 80 of 107 games played in eight seasons. He hasn't graded out positively since 2009, but he's still a serviceable short-term starter at age 30.

5. Adam Goldberg, St. Louis Rams

Undrafted out of Wyoming in 2003, Goldberg spent three seasons with the Vikings before playing for the Rams for the last six years. He's opened 66 of 112 contests in his nine-year career games, playing both tackle spots as well as guard. He's a below average starter—especially on the blind side—but he's a serviceable fill-in and would be a nice veteran to have off the bench.

Beyond the Top Five
  • Khalif Barnes, Oakland Raiders — A former second-round pick by the Jaguars in 2005, Barnes has 78 starts under his belt but allowed nine sacks from the right side in 2011 while grading out horribly as a run blocker. He's not an ideal starter for anyone.
  • Anthony Collins, Cincinnati Bengals — Collins has started at least two games in all four of his pro seasons, but never more than seven in one year and only 18 of 39 overall. He's still just 26 and he's graded out well when he has played, so there might be hope for him to start yet either outside or eventually at guard.
  • Marc Colombo, Miami Dolphins — Of 133 offensive tackles graded in the NFL this past season, Colombo ranked 126th after allowing nine sacks and 35 pressures on the season. I saw every snap he played this season and I can say without a doubt that the former first-round pick has no business in the NFL anymore.
  • Oniel Cousins, Cleveland Browns — A third-round pick by the Ravens in 2008, Cousins busted in Baltimore and didn't fare much better in Cleveland with only 96 snaps in 2011. He's worked at both guard and tackle and is still only 27, but he need some serious coaching if he's going to turn it around.
  • King Dunlap, Philadelphia Eagles — Undrafted out of Auburn in 2008, Dunlap spent his rookie season on IR and has started seven of 38 contests. He's limited talent-wise and is no more than a backup.
  • Stephon Heyer, Oakland Raiders — Heyer actually started five games for the Redskins as an undrafted free agent in 2007 and has opened 35 of 61 games total in his five pro seasons. He's a natural tackle and can also play guard, but he doesn't have much upside as a starter.
  • Artis Hicks, Cleveland Browns — A long-time NFL veteran, Hicks has started 71 of 118 games played in stints with the Eagles, Vikings, Redskins and Browns. He's a suitable fill-in at guard or tackle, but the 33-year-old is not an ideal starter.
  • Sean Locklear, Washington Redskins — A third-round pick by the Seahawks in 2004, Locklear has opened 82 games in his career, but started fewer than 10 in 2011 for the first time his rookie season. He's a versatile guy that can play tackle or guard, but he's a mediocre starter.
  • Kareem McKenzie, New York Giants — What a difference a year makes. After grading out as the No. 3 tackle in the game in 2010, McKenzie fell off a cliff in 2011 by allowing nearly twice as many pressures (25 to 47) and grading out as one of the worst in the league at his position. He's obviously got talent, but he's coming off a bad year and at 32 it's unclear what kind of player you're going to get.
  • Ryan O'Callaghan, Kansas City Chiefs — A fifth-round pick by the Patriots in 2006, O'Callaghan has started 20 of 51 games played, but missed all of the 2011 season with an undisclosed injury. When healthy, the 28-year-old a pretty sub-par starting tackle but a solid backup.
  • Quinn Ojinnaka, Indianapolis Colts — Taken three picks after Callaghan (above) in 2006, Ojinnaka has bounced around with the Falcons, Patriots, Rams and Colts while starting 15 of 56 career appearances. He lacks ideal bulk and profiles as a versatile backup.
  • Barry Richardson, Kansas City Chiefs — A solid prospect coming out of Clemson four years ago, Richardson has started all 32 games for the Chiefs over the past two seasons with weak results, allowing 13 sacks and 68 pressures in that span. He's a better run blocker than he is pass protector, but I'm not sure how he'd fare inside at 6-foot-7.
  • Dennis Roland, Cincinnati Bengals — Originally undrafted out of Georgia in 2006, Roland eventually started 12 games for the Bengals in the 2009 and 2010 seasons before opening just 3 of 16 contests in 2011. The 6-foot-9 Roland profiles only at right tackle and isn't a very good pass protector, so there's little upside here.
  • Guy Whimper, Jacksonville Jaguars — Whimper spent three seasons with the Giants and another with Jacksonville in 2010 before finally becoming a starter for the Jaguars in 2011, opening 15 games (one at left tackle and 14 at right tackle). He allowed league-worst 14 sacks, and while some of that can be attributed to the deer-in-the-headlights quarterback in Blaine Gabbert, it's not exactly a great endorsement for Whimper's starting abilities.

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