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The philosophy of guards

One of the best listeners the Doug & Wolf Show has e-mailed me a few questions leading up to the draft. Brother Murph knows his stuff and always brings passion to the table.

His question:

Why is it considered a ‘reach’ taking an offensive guard in the top-10 picks of the 1st round, particularly if the player is as talented as Chance Warmack seems to be (and NO, I DON’T want the Cards to pick him if one of the top three left tackles are still available…and I think the Cards should try to move up somehow, even to #2 or #3 to ensure they get one).

Drafting a guard in the top 10 is like drafting a running back in the top 10. Guards and running backs are closely tied to running the football and running the football in the NFL is currently not en vogue. The emphasis is on throwing the ball and when you throw the ball, you better have tackles that can hold up on the edges.

The premium is on tackles and so shall it be. In many pass protections used, one of the tackles will be turned loose and placed on an island with no help, while guards often times receive help inside or have the presence of help to either side between the tackle and center. Slide and Base protection (most of the time) are examples of these types of protections.

I know teams that refuse to draft college guards. There are many general managers in the league that draft tackles and convert them to guards because on average, they have better feet, better frames and are largely better athletes. That’s why their college teams put them out there in the first place — to hold up against the speedier, more athletic edge rushers.

So, knowing tackles have a premium placed on them for the reasons mentioned above, how does that manifest itself at the tactical level?

If you take a guard high in the draft and receive All-Pro play from that guard, you’re set, right? You’ve improved your offensive line!

Not really.

Great, your interior pass pro is awesome — that high-dollar, highly-touted guard of yours is holding up well and your QB is sacked because a tackle broke down on the edge. You’re running the ball well — your guard is an excellent run-blocker — but, like all teams, you get yourself into a 3rd & Obvious pass situation. Again, the guard is protecting his gap, holding up well, keeping his eye on his responsibility on the second-level, and your Q is sacked because your tackle got beat on a spin move.

In the end, the reason why guards don’t get drafted in the top 10 unless they’re the Walter Payton of their position is because they don’t IMPACT a game — positively or negatively — to the degree that a tackle does.

Just as running backs have been marginalized and their value reduced in today’s NFL, so have offensive guards. It doesn’t mean they don’t have value — they do. It only means they don’t have as much value as tackles.