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The North Wind

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Ryley Wilcox
Ryley Wilcox
News Editor

I found my passion for journalism during my sophomore year of college, writing articles here and there for the North Wind. Since joining the staff this past semester as the news writer, I have been able...

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The North Wind is an independent student publication serving the Northern Michigan University community. It is partially funded by the Student Activity Fee. The North Wind digital paper is published daily during the fall and winter semesters except on university holidays and during exam weeks. The North Wind Board of Directors is composed of representatives of the student body, faculty, administration and area media.

Students protest against Israel-Hamas war with campus encampment
Students protest against Israel-Hamas war with campus encampment
Dallas WiertellaApril 30, 2024

Secret to NFL success found in linemen

The game of football is said to be a game of inches. Inches can mean the difference between in bounds and out of bounds, a first down and a turnover, and scoring a winning touchdown or missing it by a hair. It should be no secret then that possibly the two most important positions in the NFL also come down to that little unit of measurement.

Offensive and defensive linemen are literally separated by just a couple of inches and are the largest people on the field. So often though, they go unnoticed and unappreciated. With the NFL draft just one week away, crunch time to finalize scouting perspectives for NFL owners, coaches and general managers has most likely set in. One position they all should take a close look at is between the trenches along the offensive and defensive lines.

Drafting an offensive lineman is not the glamorous pick, actually far from it. Defensive linemen bring a bit of excitement to a fan come draft day. Even still, compared to the touchdown scoring picks like the running backs and wide receivers, defensive linemen are just linemen. It seems, however, fans should reverse their attitudes about drafting the high profile wideout as opposed to the little-known offensive lineman.

A combined 2009 record of 14-66 rests on the shoulders of St. Louis, Detroit, Tampa Bay, Washington, and Kansas City, the first five teams to draft in the April 22-24 NFL Draft. The number of linemen, both defensive and offensive, on the teams 2009 roster that made a Pro Bowl since the 2006 season combined totaled just four players, none of whom made the 2009 Pro Bowl. Of the last five teams drafting in the first round, San Diego, New York (Jets), Minnesota, Indianapolis, and New Orleans, 20 total linemen made a Pro Bowl, including 15 in 2009. The teams combined for a record of 61-19 last season. Still rooting for your team to draft that flashy wide receiver?

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NFL teams are beginning to catch on to the trend. Offensive tackles are predicted to be the one of the most selected positions this year. Since 2004 the number of linemen selected in the first round has increased or matched the previous year’s total every draft, starting with eight in 2004 to 14 last year. In 2008, the draft saw a record seven offensive tackles taken in the first round. As many as 18 offensive and defensive linemen could end up with their names being called in the first round this year, with a staggering seven linemen who could go in the top 10. Nebraska’s Ndamukong Suh and Oklahoma’s Gerald McCoy, both defensive tackles, are predicted to be the second and third overall picks.

Teams need to take no other lesson than from the 2007 and 2008 drafts. In 2007, six wide receivers were taken in the first round. Of the six players, none besides the Lions Calvin Johnson caught more than 47 passes during the 2009 season. Two brought in fewer than 10 catches.

It is really no wonder that a year later in the 2008 draft, an NFL record eight offensive tackles were selected in the first round and no wide receivers were selected in the first round, also a draft record. Of the eight linemen selected, all started every game they played in 2009, with the fewest being 13 games. Three played a 16 complete game season. Two, Miami’s Jake Long and Denver’s Ryan Clady, have made Pro Bowl appearances in each of their first two seasons.

For teams looking for their next breakout running back or wide receiver, the second or third round may be where they should look. The later rounds of the NFL Draft have been gold mines for teams drafting skill positions. In 2005 San Diego found wideout Vincent Jackson in the second round, and the San Francisco 49ers found running back Frank Gore in the third. The second round was also friendly in 2006, providing Pro Bowl running back Maurice Jones-Drew. Newly acquired Baltimore wide receiver Anquan Boldin was plucked from the second round by the Arizona Cardinals in 2003 and last season’s breakout wide receiver for the New York Giants, Steve Smith, was also a round two selection in 2007.

Skill position players just have to be found. Sometimes the best players aren’t the ones who break out in the weight room or at the NFL Combine, but on the field. Imagine that.

For this year’s 2010 NFL Draft, no other players have dominated the draft guru talk, most notably ESPN analysts Todd McShay and Mel Kiper, as much as defensive lineman Suh and McCoy. Oklahoma State’s Russell Okung and Iowa’s Byran Bulaga along with Oklahoma’s Trent Williams have dominated talks along the offensive line and are almost undoubtedly all surefire top 10 selections.

Owners looking to find wins in the NFL, not make their fans joyful come draft day, should be considering filling their line. Maybe if the Detroit Lions would have selected offensive or defensive linemen between 2003 and 2005, when the team chose a wide receiver three straight years, they wouldn’t be drafting second overall.

Some teams have more glaring needs than offensive or defensive line, that is at times clear, but teams who may be leaning on the fence should skip the gamble and pick a big ugly. Just remember to be happy if your team does select a lineman. Clearly, a solid group of players within the inches of the trenches brings wins in itself.

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