Matt McGuire's NFL Draftology 234:
Positional Value Pyramid Tier 3
Defensive Tackles, No. 1 Wide Receivers
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Updated June 18, 2010
Tiers 1 (quarterbacks) and 2 (left tackles, 4-3 right ends, cornerbacks, rush linebackers) are in the books. If you have an elite player at one of those two tiers, then it simply takes your football team to a different level. Now that we are in Tiers 3-6, the value simply isn't there for one of these positions to make a team much better without a lot of help around it.
Let's get started in Tier 3 with the analysis of the 4-3 defensive tackle.
4-3 Defensive Tackle Positional Analysis: Outside of offensive linemen, defensive tackles are probably the most underappreciated players in the league - at least the really good ones. These players disrupt, get off blocks, stuff the run, hold double teams, rush the quarterback, etc.
If you don't have any pass rush up the middle, then it makes it really hard on your defensive ends to collapse the pocket and it also gives the quarterback room to step up to get a throw off. Defensive tackles can also rack up hurries and pressures, which force the quarterback to get rid of the football early than he might want to and it might cause turnovers as well as inaccurate throws.
Having defensive tackles that can makes plays against the run is vital in the 4-3 defense. In the 3-4, the defensive linemen are simply asked to just absorb blocks from the offensive linemen and tight ends, and the linebackers are assumed to be free to shoot gaps and make plays. However, in the 4-3 there are obviously only three linebackers, so defensive tackles need to be able to be athletic enough to get off blocks and support the run game every once in a while. They also have to be able to hold their own so that the linebackers behind them can make plays.
I think another important aspect of having very physical defensive tackles is it simply sets the tone for the rest of a football game. If the defensive tackles are more physical than the interior offensive line and pushing them around, then it is likely that the defense will have an amazing game.
Scarcity - 3: It's very hard to find 4-3 defensive tackles with very good skill sets; most players at this position in the league are average. This is why Detroit and Tampa Bay didn't pass up on Ndamukong Suh and Gerald McCoy, respectively, in the 2010 NFL Draft. They knew they would never find these guys again in free agency or in a future draft.
Effectiveness - 3: The 4-3 defensive tackles do so much and have a big influence in a football game. Very good defensive tackles take the play of the ends and linebackers to another level.
Money - 2: This position gets paid solidly, but it isn't going to kill a team's cap. Tommie Harris got $40 million two years ago and Kevin Williams received $33 million in 2006. Albert Haynesworth took a monster deal. I think you can make the argument that the money should be a "3" here, but I just don't feel these players as a whole get paid the same as left tackles, right defensive ends, and quarterbacks. I would consider this attribute a "high 2."
Durability - 1: Defensive tackles have a very tough and physical job to do, and their careers simply don't last very long. Warren Sapp was a shell of his former self in Oakland at the age of 32. The last first-team All-Pro John Randle made was when he was 31 years old, but he made the Pro Bowl three years later. This position has low durability, and I would consider it a "high 1" in the attribute grading.
Summary: 4-3 defensive tackles can do a wide range of things for a defense, and that's why they are so valuable in the league. These positions are considered gems - once you have them you don't let them go, unless you are really smart like the Tennessee Titans who have an amazing coaching staff.
Our second and last position in Tier 3 is the No. 1 wide receiver.
No. 1 Wide Receiver Positional Analysis: This is now a passing league where you have to move the chains in the air to put up points and win games. It's just that simple. Outside of the quarterback, there is no greater weapon in the passing game than an elite No. 1 receiver. These players bring so much to the table offensively.
I think the most important thing a No. 1 receiver does is he completely changes the defensive play calling. You will see a lot of bracket and double coverages, which leaves open other receivers on the field and enables the potential for a quarterback to shred a defense.
Secondly, a No. 1 receiver simply makes big-time plays. Whether it is getting huge chunks of yardage after the catch, going up and getting a "jump ball," making clutch grabs or scoring touchdowns, there is no doubt that this position is one of the most coveted in the NFL today.
Scarcity - 3: There are a lot of very good receivers in the league, but I don't think a "very good" receiver is necessarily an elite No. 1 receiver. Here are the nine receivers I would define as the most elite No. 1 options in the game: Brandon Marshall, Randy Moss, Andre Johnson, DeSean Jackson, Calvin Johnson, Roddy White, Steve Smith, Larry Fitzgerald and Michael Crabtree.
Don't argue my list because then you are completely missing the point of this article, which is just to analyze the position - not debate the top receivers in the league. Add one or two receivers, take away one you disagree with, and you still have around 9 to 10 elite No. 1 receivers in the NFL.
It's a very difficult find in the NFL Draft. Receivers are a tough position to scout (mainly because the NFL puts way too much of an emphasis on size and athleticism, and not enough on route running and hands - which is why DeSean Jackson lasted so long in the second round), but when you can get an elite receiver you should seriously consider doing it.
I was very quick to criticize Seattle for taking a 4-3 strongside linebacker at No. 4 overall (Aaron Curry) in the 2009 NFL Draft over a bona fide No. 1 receiver at the next level in Michael Crabtree. They passed up on a big opportunity to get a true playmaker on their offense, and I think while Curry will be a good player, they will live to regret it.
Effectiveness - 2: A No. 1 receiver simply finds a way to make plays, period. However, the receiver is dependent on the quarterback to get him the ball and intelligent defensive coordinators with talented backfields can find ways to take a No. 1 option out of the game. Plus, we have always seen how teams have fared in the league with No. 1 receivers and still remained mediocre. The position is simply too dependent on too many factors to be given a "3" attribute grade.
Money - 2: No. 1 receivers get paid well, but again they are affordable and provide good values. No. 1 receivers are now getting paid around $8 and $10 million per year on their contracts. Expensive, but not ridiculously expensive.
Durability - 2: Average durability. No. 1 receivers don't break down in their very early 30s, but they can't last into their late 30s at a high level.
Summary: One other thing that has to be mentioned is No. 1 receivers make highlight reels, they sell jerseys and they sell tickets. Fans want to see an exciting, explosive offense; not a boring team lead by their running game and a defense (though most importantly fans want to win). This position can simply make a team's quarterback and passing game so much better than it is without that presence, and in the current NFL I would consider that enough value to be giving the position a Tier 3 grade.
Introduction to the Positional Value Pyramid
NFL Positional Value Pyramid: Tier 1 - Quarterbacks
NFL Positional Value Pyramid: Tier 2 - Left Tackles, Right Defensive Ends, Cornerbacks, Rush Linebackers
NFL Positional Value Pyramid: Tier 3 - Defensive Tackles, No. 1 Wide Receivers
NFL Positional Value Pyramid: Tier 4 Part 1 - Safeties, Nose Tackles, Left Ends, 4-3 Inside Linebackers
NFL Positional Value Pyramid: Tier 4 Part 2 - Running Backs, Right Tackles
NFL Positional Value Pyramid: Tier 5 Part 1 - No. 2 Wide Receivers, 3-4 Ends, Weakside Linebackers
Positional Value Pyramid: Tier 5 Part 2 - 3-4 Inside Linebacker, Interior Offensive Linemen, Tight End, No. 3 Wide Receivers
Positional Value Pyramid: Tier 6 - Strongside Linebackers, Kickers, Punters
Positional Value Pyramid Spreadsheets
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