Losing the Left Tackle Is Like Losing the Quarterback (Sort of)

Losing the Left Tackle Is Like Losing the Quarterback (Sort of)

When we suggested yesterday that the sorry state of the Eagles' offensive line wasn't on Andy Reid, a handful of folks still felt a few key injuries are no excuse. Had the front office only drafted better, they wouldn't be in this mess, right?

The problem with that theory is unless Reid was planning to use a first-round pick on a backup left tackle, chances are he would have a hard time finding an adequate substitution for the fallen Jason Peters.

I tried merely making the point that quality left tackles don't grow on trees by citing there is always a premium on the position come draft day. Perhaps had I specified where the overwhelming majority of the NFL's left tackles are taken, that would better illustrate the point. Here goes.

Of the 32 players who are their club's regular starter at left tackle, 10 were chosen within the top nine picks overall, while 19 overall -- more than half -- were selected in the first round. Another seven are from rounds two or three, bringing the grand total to 26.

Over 80% of the league's starting left tackles were tagged in rounds one through three. In other words, the chances of a player taken later actually panning out as a left tackle are slim. And when Peters is under contract, in his prime, why would the organization use one of their cherished early picks there rather than at a position of need?

The numbers are actually very similar to another important position: quarterback. 23 of the NFL's 32 starting signal were taken in round one, including a whopping 15 within the top 10 picks. Between rounds one and three, that number grows to 28, just two more than at left tackle.

As we've mentioned in the past, history tells us when a quarterback goes down with a season-ending injury, his team is usually screwed. Since playoff expansion, only Jeff Hostetler, Kurt Warner, and Tom Brady have relieved injured teammates on their way to winning a Super Bowl -- and two of them are headed to the Hall of Fame.

We can't be certain the same is true for any offensive linemen, but we can at least confirm the position is nearly as difficult to fill. Simply put, there isn't a lot of left tackle talent in the NFL outside the first round, therefore if a team has an injury there, they almost inevitably will wind up with a King Dunlap type filling in.

Can the offensive line woes be blamed entirely on the loss of Peters? No, but probably more than you might imagine.

Peters needed little help in pass protection, so the Eagles could send extra blockers to the right side. Not surprisingly, Todd Herremans appeared to take a step back this year when that assistance was shared at the other end. Peters was also by far and away their most athletic and physically imposing blocker in front of LeSean McCoy on runs and screens, making the back's down year easy to predict.

Then the Eagles sustain an injury at center two weeks into the season, and suddenly Reid is trying to fill holes at two highly specialized positions. Only four centers were drafted at all in 2012, and only one after round four, so finding quality depth is not as simple as you might think.

But left tackle in particular is a difficult position to carry depth, because left tackle depth doesn't really exist in the NFL. If a player was going to be an even remotely decent left tackle, he's probably gone by rounds two or three in the draft, typically much earlier. One lineman was projected to start at left tackle immediately in this year's draft, and Matt Kalil went fourth overall to Minnesota.

The fact is, the left tackle position is like the quarterback position in that it's very difficult to replace, and only the top-tier level of talent consistently rises to the top. Obviously first rounders have a higher rate of success in general, but you can find decent contributors at other positions later on with far greater frequency.

Could Flyers have trade partner in Avalanche or Kings?

Could Flyers have trade partner in Avalanche or Kings?

The NHL trade deadline is 3 p.m. next Wednesday.

As usual, the number of scouts at Flyers home games again reached double digits during a 4-l loss to the Washington Capitals on Wednesday night (see game story).

Two clubs that have been in Philadelphia quite a bit this month are the Colorado Avalanche and Los Angeles Kings.

The Avs, who are dead last in the NHL, have been trying to move Gabriel Landeskog and/or Matt Duchene for quite a while. They would love to do a deal with the Flyers, according to an NHL source.

Colorado is looking for a top forward and defensive help. A number of NHL clubs realize the Flyers have a slew of young upcoming defensemen and not all of them are going to be able to play here, certainly at the same time.

The Kings are in search of a left wing who might be a nice fit with Anze Kopitar, but the Flyers don’t have a left wing they can part with and, frankly, would love to have a scoring winger themselves to pair with Claude Giroux.

Some of the 10 clubs here on Wednesday night are in need of a backup goalie for a playoff run. Perhaps even the Kings, if Jonathan Quick doesn’t return soon. L.A. waived Jeff Zatkoff on Wednesday.

Scouts say there is a market for Michal Neuvirth right now if the Flyers want to move him. He’s been playing a lot and he’s been very sharp and healthy, which is always a factor when talking about him.

Neuvirth made his fifth consecutive start in Wednesday’s game against the Capitals and is expected in net Saturday night at Heinz Field for the Stadium Series game against the Pittsburgh Penguins.

The Flyers need a goaltender under contract to expose in this summer’s expansion draft and both Neuvirth and Steve Mason can be unrestricted free agents.

Zatkoff could be that guy if the Flyers claimed him and moved one of their goalies now.

If you’re general manager Ron Hextall, the Flyers' numbers offer a compelling reason to be a seller: 3-6-1 since coming out of the All-Star break and 9-15-4 since the club’s 10-game win streak in mid-December.

Ben Simmons, Robert Covington react to Ersan Ilyasova trade

Ben Simmons, Robert Covington react to Ersan Ilyasova trade

On Wednesday, the Sixers traded Ersan Ilyasova to the Hawks in exchange for Tiago Splitter and a 2017 second-round pick, as well as the option to swap 2017 second-round selections (see story).

"I want to thank Ersan Ilyasova for his positive contributions to this organization both on and off the basketball court," president of basketball operations Bryan Colangelo said in a statement. "Ersan is a true professional whose daily examples of hard work, focus and consistency have helped facilitate the ongoing growth of our program and culture."

The Sixers took to Instagram to express their appreciation for Ilyasova’s leadership. Ilyasova quickly embraced the role of a veteran go-to when he was traded to the Sixers in early November. Both posts below exemplify his team-first mentality.

✊🏼 A true Pro @ersanilyasova7

A post shared by Ben Simmons (@bensimmons) on

Thanks for being a great teammate @ersanilyasova7. Wishing you the best in ATL

A post shared by Rob Covington (@atf_33) on