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.

Shocker: Phillies interested in getting one of baseball's best players

Shocker: Phillies interested in getting one of baseball's best players

We're all looking forward to the free-agent class of 2018.

If Maikel Franco doesn't shape up, the Phillies could make a hard push for Manny Machado. Franco after a two-game benching is back in the lineup for this afternoon's game against the Rockies (see story).

Then, of course, there's Bryce Harper, who earlier this month agreed to a one-year, $21,625,000 deal for next season. 

And guess what? If Harper becomes a free agent after next season, the Phillies would be interested in signing him.

Really?

According to a FanRagSportsNetwork, citing a Phillies source, the Phils would be interested luring Harper to Philly.

Shocker. 

It'd be big news if a Phillies source said the team wasn't interested in signing Harper. 

Anyway, the story also quotes a National League scout.

“Could you imagine what he could do in that ballpark playing 81 games a year in that bandbox?” the scout said.

Chances are every Phillies fan has already imagined it. Harper this season alone is hitting .351/.400/.784 with five homers and 12 RBIs in nine games against the Phils. In three games at the Bank, he's hitting just .250 with a homer and two RBIs.

But in 38 career games at CBP, he's hitting .296/.361/.627 with 12 home runs and 26 RBIs.

In 89 career games against the Phillies, he's hitting .282 with 20 homers and 54 RBIs.

At the risk of stating the obvious, here's one thing to remember: If the Phils sign Harper, then he'd no longer benefit from facing them.

Today's Lineup: Franco batting cleanup as Phillies try to snap skid

Today's Lineup: Franco batting cleanup as Phillies try to snap skid

Well, this hasn't gone well. 

Coming into Thursday afternoon's game against the Rockies, the Phillies have lost five straight. They've lost nine of their last 10. They've lost 20 of their last 24. 

At 15-29, they're not just the worst team in the NL East. They're not just the worst team in the National League. 

Through 44 games, the Phillies are the worst team in baseball. 

Just to make it to a .500 record this season, they would need to go 66-52 (.559) the rest of the way. 

Their four-game series against the Rockies will mercifully come to a close on Thursday afternoon at Citizens Bank Park. In the first three games of the series -- all losses -- the Phils have been outscored 23-5. 

Maikel Franco returns to the four-hole as the Phillies try to snap out of their funk.

The Phillies on Thursday also activated right-handed pitcher Jeanmar Gomez from the disabled list. Gomez takes Adam Morgan's spot on the roster. Morgan was reassigned to Triple A Lehigh Valley after throwing three scoreless innings during the Phillies' 7-2 loss to the Rockies.

Gomez hasn't pitched since May 4 because of an elbow injury. He began the season as the Phillies' closer but was demoted after blowing two saves and allowing seven runs in his first five innings. In 11 1/3 innings this season, Gomez has a 7.94 ERA.

Here's the full lineup: 

1. Cesar Hernandez, 2B
2. Aaron Altherr, LF
3. Odubel Herrera, CF
4. Maikel Franco, 3B
5. Tommy Joseph, 1B
6. Michael Saunders, RF
7. Cameron Rupp, C
8. Freddy Galvis, SS
9. Vince Velasquez, P