Monday, June 13, 2011
Where NFC West left tackles stack up
By Mike Sando
Walter Jones and Orlando Pace once gave the NFC West two Pro Bowl-caliber left tackles.
The current crop isn't lacking for talent.
All four starters were drafted among the first 33 overall choices. None has done enough to figure prominently in the ESPN.com power rankings for NFL left tackles, which are scheduled to appear Tuesday. But that could change in the near future.
A quick look at each NFC West team's starter at the position:
- Russell Okung, Seattle Seahawks: Injuries limited Okung to 10 games as a rookie. He had been durable previously and will need better luck with his ankles to realize his obvious potential.
Okung has more raw ability than any left tackle in the division. I think he'll challenge for a spot among the five best left tackles in the NFL within the next couple seasons.
- Rodger Saffold, St. Louis Rams: Saffold immediately impressed teammates as a rookie starter. In training camp, before Saffold ever started a regular-season game, left guard Jacob Bell compared Saffold to former 188-game NFL starter Brad Hopkins in terms of footwork. Hopkins was a two-time Pro Bowl choice. A scout I spoke with last week thought Saffold would be good at left tackle and better at guard.
- Joe Staley, San Francisco 49ers: Staley began his career at right tackle and has moved to the left side, where his athleticism is more of an asset. The weight he added in recent seasons did not produce the desired results. Staley has cut weight this offseason. Durability has become a concern, or does Staley simply need better luck? He has missed seven games in each of the past two seasons after missing none over the previous two.
- Levi Brown, Arizona Cardinals: Brown is huge and can push around defenders in the running game. He has not missed a game over the past three seasons. His pass protection has been shaky. Brown isn't consistent enough, although he improved last season, according to his coach. Ken Whisenhunt: "He is a talented football player. The biggest thing he has struggled with is the consistency of his play. But a lot of times you are under the microscope more because you were the fifth pick in the draft."
The NFC is not particularly stacked with young, elite left tackles. Tampa Bay's Donald Penn is one exception. He earned a spot in the Pro Bowl last season and is relatively young at 28.