With two weeks to go until the draft I feel obligated to argue in favor of Joe Thomas, the left tackle out of Wisconsin. Gruden seems to have become absolutely smitten with Calvin Johnson to the point that he likely dreams of the Herculean Golden Jacket running through opposing secondaries in those three hours of sleep Gruden gets between 2:15 am and 5:15 am. But would it be smarter to draft Thomas even if CJ is available?
Left tackle is, by most accounts, the second most important position on the offense behind the quarterback (those who have read the Blind Side will have seen this argument before). In brief, there are very few men who possess the rare combination of size and agility required to protect a right handed quarterback's blindside. The intelligent design of the blind side pass rush (starting with Lawrence Taylor) has led to the increased importance of the left side, most especially the tackle, who is often isolated on an island against the defense's best pass rusher. In fact, the left tackle is, on average, the second highest paid player on the offense.
The Bucs look especially thin at left tackle this season, which would be incredibly risky if Jeff Garcia ends up as the starting quarterback. Dan Buenning will likely still be injured when the season starts which means current left tackle Anthony Davis will be moved to left guard to replace Buenning. Which means recent addition Luke Petitgout would be the starter at left tackle. There is absolutely nobody behind Petitgout on the depth chart worth mentioning, and I shudder to think what would happen in the very likely scenario where Petitgout was too injured to play.
Drafting Thomas would not only give the Bucs depth at the position, it would finally let Gruden unleash Alex Smith on opposing secondaries. Smith is the best tightend nobody has ever heard of because he has to stay on the line to help block far more often than he should. The strength of Gruden's Raiders team was their offensive line which allowed four and even five receiver sets. With Thomas added to a rebuilt offensive line Gruden could finally recreate some of the offensive fireworks he produced in Oakland.
Don't get me wrong, I love CJ and think he will be a great player in the NFL. But fans tend to fall in love with positions players while the contributions of lineman are often overlooked (except by John Madden it should be noted). Truth is that championship teams are built on both sides of the line, offense and defense. You can have the best skill players in the world (i.e. Arizona) but if you don't have a line to match them you might as well be playing with replacement players.
Call me crazy but I'm starting to think the drafting Joe Thomas over Calvin Johnson may be the smart choice....