A closer look at Mike Shanahan and drafting of Offensive Linemen

| December 27, 2012 | 5 Comments

One of the common misconceptions with Mike Shanahan and in general with Zone Blocking teams is that you need high draft picks in order to be successful. After studying and looking at previous OL’s that Shanahan and other zone teams have used, it paints a completely different picture than what is portrayed.

Lets take a look first off at the Denver OL’s from 2000 to 2008 and the draft positions of their offensive linemen. In 2000 Denver had an offensive line consisting of Tony Jones, Mark Schlereth, Tom Nalen, Dan Neil, and Matt Lepsis. Of those 5 guys, Schlereth was drafted in the 10th round. Nalen the 7th round and Neil the 3rd round. Tony Jones went undrafted and Lepsis was also an undrafted free agent.

Moving into 2001 the C, RG and RT positions were all the same and moving into the LT position was Trey Teague a 7th rounder and then Lennie Friedman a 2nd round pick.  Throughout 2002-2004 the OL stayed the same except for the drafting of George Foster at RT a 1st round pick. In 2008 though Mike Shanahan made a huge change and drafted Ryan Clady at LT with the 12th overall pick. Up until then his LT’s were consisting of late round picks and helped lead a potent rushing and passing attack for the Broncos.

In case the Denver OL wasn’t enough to help convince you, lets take another look at one of the top ZBS teams in the NFL, The Houston Texans. Starting in 2007 with the hiring of Gary Kubiak, the ZBS scheme was implemented and the Texans offense began to finally take shape. Starting in 2007, the OL for Houston consisted of Ephraim Salaam, Chester Pitts, Mike Flanagan, Fred E. Weary and Eric Winston.

Now what you’ll notice is outside of Salaam, the other four offensive linemen were drafted in the first 3 rounds. One thing to realize though is Flanagan was signed as a FA and Weary and Pitts were both drafted under Dom Capers and the former staff and not under Gary Kubiak. Heading into the 2008, Kubiak finally got his OL just how he wanted to have it.

At LT he had his first round guy in Duane Brown, at LG he had Pitts again. At Center he found Chris Meyers a 6th round pick he got in a trade from Denver. At RG he has Mike Brisiel an undrafted free agent and Eric Winston still at RT. Overall throughout Kubiak’s time as the HC, Houston traditionally has drafted OL in the middle to late rounds with the exception of Duane Brown (who has turn into one of the premier OT’s in the NFL)

So what do these numbers mean for the Redskins? Well it’s pretty simple; Mike doesn’t look at OL the way many other teams tend to, just like he is the same way about RB’s. The zone-blocking scheme is a different animal than other scheme because it’s all about athleticism and working in tandem with 4 other teammates. So what can we expect from Mike Shanahan in the 2013 draft?

Look for Mike to target the RT position if he doesn’t feel comfortable in either Maurice Hurt or Tom Compton. If Mike does that, then expect him to look to target the RT with his 3rd or 4th round pick. In Denver, Shanahan made a gutsy pick and took Ryan Harris in the 3rd round to become his starting RT. Harris worked out and helped anchor the line although he did have injury issues throughout his career. Another thing that is asked a lot to me on twitter is why not RT in round 2?

Well as you can see throughout this and also other zone teams draft histories, they just don’t take RT’s in the top 2 rounds traditionally. Now there certainly are exceptions to that and teams will deviate from the norm, but usually with ZBS teams you see them draft a RT in the mid to late rounds and they become anchors on the line.

Finally lets look at the interior OL? Can we expect any draft picks this year? Well after tweeting back and forth with both Russ Lande and Josh Liskiewitz they both agree that Adam Gettis and Josh LeRibeus both have fits to be starters in the zone-blocking scheme.  So with that in mind, I don’t see us addressing the interior OL, unless it is late for a center to groom under Will Montgomery.

So with all of that in mind, I hope that this clears up some of the common misconceptions about the OL in the ZBS scheme and just how they are valued and drafted.

Questions? Comments? Hit me up @JTPartlow21

Also give a follow to Russ Lande @RUSSLANDE and Josh Liskiewitz @JoshLiskiewitz

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5 comments
Justin
Justin

Steve I dont have where they compare exactly to other teams but from 2000 to 2008 the Broncos OL's averaged a total of 28.4 sacks per year with a high of 42 in 2001 and a low of 12 in 2008. As for YPR it averaged at 4.57 with the high being 5.0 in 2002 and the low being 3.9 in 2001. Hope those help a little

podcast fan
podcast fan

Great write up, just wish more fans would read stuff like this and learn something. instead they allow a man in a suit on tv to tell them whats going on. keep it up!

Steve
Steve

Very, very nice analysis here. Could you tell us where the Denver O-lines stood in terms of yards per rush and sacking/QB hit totals compared to the rest of the league? I'm just wondering where the ZBS lines fall, particularly with respect to pass protection. FWIW, Football outsiders has Houston's line ranked 11th in run blocking and 9th in pass pro: http://www.footballoutsiders.com/stats/ol

Justin
Justin

I think when next year begins you'll see LeRibeus and Gettis both challenge for playing time. Compton is a wild card and I'm not entirely sure yet what will happen with him. The focus early on this year needs to be secondary

Amani
Amani

Nice article and great analysis. How soon until we know how we feel about Compton and LeRibius (or Gettis). We have three that have "redshirted" this year which could put us in great shape. Thoughts? If we can pick a Center and another Tackle in the late rounds, we can focus on Safety, MLB, OLB, CB and DT ... or WR, 3rd down RB

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