NFL teams do not win championships by selecting offensive linemen with top-10 picks.
That’s not an opinion; it’s a fact.
Since 2003, 12 different offensive lineman have been taken with picks in that range. Of those 12, six have appeared in at least one playoff game. Of those six, just two have appeared in a Super Bowl: Jordan Gross in 2003 with the Panthers and Levi Brown in 2008 with the Cardinals.
As important as a solid offensive line is, the best teams do not spend early picks on any of the five positions.
To wit: Of the ten offensive linemen to start in last year’s Super Bowl, five were first-round picks. The others? Fifth round, undrafted, second round, sixth round and third round.
And just one of the players — Bryant McKinnie, of the Ravens — was selected with a top-10 pick.
The previous Super Bowl, which pitted the Giants against the Patriots, featured more undrafted free agents (2) than first-round picks (1) along the respective offensive lines.
The moral of the story is not that a team does not need quality play along the offensive line to be successful; in fact, last year’s Cardinals would have disproved any such thoughts just last season.
However, what it proves is that a team does not need to spend early first-round picks on an offensive lineman. They build their lines through other means, with the common theme being quality coaching and, even more than that, a quarterback who knows how to get rid of the ball.
Remember, the Cardinals’ line wasn’t so bad when Kurt Warner was under center.
So apologies to Lane Johnson, Chance Warmack and Eric Fisher, but if you’re around when the Cardinals are on the clock, I’m hoping they pass.
It’s not you; it’s me.
Former Cardinals general manager Bob Ferguson had a theory in the draft, and it’s a good one. He believed teams should target “impact” players when picking in the early stages. It led the team to drafting Simeon Rice over Jonathan Ogden with the third overall pick in 1996.
It was the right call.
Sure, Ogden would eventually be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, but Baltimore had win totals of four, six, six and eight in his first four seasons. It was not Ogden’s fault — the guy made his first of 11 straight Pro Bowl appearances in 1997 — but his greatness was not enough to elevate the franchise.
It was not until the Ravens had spent first-round picks on playmakers Ray Lewis, Peter Boulware, Chris McAlister and Jamal Lewis that they became a Super Bowl champion.
Rice, on the other hand, helped the Cardinals improve from four wins in 1995 to seven in 1996, and in 1998 he helped lead the team to the playoffs. He had sack totals of 12.5, 5.0 and 10.0 in his first three seasons.
Now that’s an impact.
Bruce Arians’ Cardinals may not be a favorite to win the NFC West, but they most certainly want to compete. While improvement along the offensive line is a must, the coach himself said, “I’m not a believer that we need offensive linemen desperately like everybody else thinks.”
Arians, at least publicly, has expressed confidence in the group he has, believing the addition of Levi Brown to a group that gained plenty of experience last season could be enough to get the unit back on track.
That’s good news, because a selection of a lineman at No. 7 would be a bad thing. Then again, it may not even come to that.
Some draft experts believe one of the top-three tackles will not even be around at seven, meaning the Cardinals would have to reach for a lower-ranked player if the goal is to grab a lineman.
Should that be the case, given that Arians and general manager Steve Keim have said the team has no plans to reach for need, they’ll have to address a different position, probably on the defensive side of the ball. Perhaps they would look to Oregon’s Dion Jordan, Utah’s Star Lotulelei or LSU’s Barkevious Mingo. Or, maybe, they’d prefer a cornerback or safety.
Regardless, the team would not be wasting its first-round pick on an offensive lineman, and that’s a good thing.