John Smallwood: It's a snooze, but Birds can't lose with offensive lineman pick

Oklahoma State's Russell Okung (right) is among top offensive linemen.
Oklahoma State's Russell Okung (right) is among top offensive linemen.
Posted: April 22, 2010

AS A GENERAL RULE, I'm not a fan of watching offensive linemen being selected in the first round of the NFL draft.

It's not because it isn't the right thing to do or because good offensive linemen often can be snapped up as sleeper picks in later rounds.

It just isn't any fun to watch.

For an NFL team, the draft is the lifeline to the future. It's serious business that requires a lot of research and thought.

For a viewer like me, it is also entertainment.

If I'm going to invest 4 hours watching coverage of the draft tonight, I'd like to have a little fun, and let's face it, there is nothing fun about offensive linemen.

When a quarterback is drafted, you get to see highlights of laser throws; a running back comes with spectacular cuts and bursts of speed; linebackers and defensive ends deliver sacks and vicious hits.

What highlight do you see when an offensive lineman has his name called? A guy finishing a block downfield? A pancake, if you're lucky?

Offensive linemen don't even have real statistics you can read in a media guide.

Offensive linemen are boring. You know they are crucial to a team's success, but it's not much fun to watch them.

All that being said, it would be best for the Eagles if they - sigh - select an offensive lineman.

It just makes the most sense.

Whether the Eagles' front office wants to admit it or not, this franchise is rebuilding.

When you trade an 11-year franchise quarterback in Donovan McNabb, let go of a Pro Bowl running back in Brian Westbrook and make as many changes as the Eagles already have, you are moving in a new direction.

Handing the reins to fourth-year quarterback Kevin Kolb is enough evidence.

Now that the choice has been made, it's imperative that the Eagles do as much as possible to help Kolb succeed.

In this draft, that means the top priority is addressing the holes on the offensive line.

At the start of last season, the success of the Eagles was linked to their revamped offensive line that included left tackle Jason Peters, who was acquired from the Buffalo Bills for a first-round pick; big-ticket free agent Stacy Andrews; and incumbents Shawn Andrews, Todd Herremans and Jamaal Jackson.

That didn't work out so well, and with Jackson recovering from a knee injury, former first-round pick Shawn Andrews released and Stacy Andrews likely to be a deep reserve, an area of supposed strength is now an area of known weakness.

The way the Dallas Cowboys pushed the Eagles around in last season's final two losses showed the vulnerability of the Birds' offensive line.

Those pathetic displays of offense were with McNabb behind center, and now it's going to be Kolb, who has made two starts and thrown 130 passes in his 3-year career.

I have no idea what kind of quarterback Kolb will be, but I do know his development curve will be severely affected if he's constantly pressured game after a game by pass rushers blowing through the offensive line.

The big debate seems to about the depth of the line, but I don't see the projected starters as enough of a security blanket for Kolb and second-year running back LeSean McCoy.

It's a good draft for impact linemen, and it would be difficult for the Eagles to move up from the 24th pick to grab one of the top-rated prospects, like Oklahoma State's Russell Okung, Iowa's Bryan Bulaga and Oklahoma's Trent Williams, who are projected as Top 10 picks.

But highly rated linemen like Idaho guard Mike Iupati, Florida center Maurkice Pouncey and Rutgers tackle Anthony Davis should be within the Eagles' reach.

The Eagles have a lot of needs, particularly in the secondary, but it would cost a fortune for them to move up to get one of the top-rated players in the secondary.

Besides, if you consider their importance, offensive linemen are generally the best values.

If you have a bad offensive line, it counteracts everything good you have.

Conversely, a good offensive line can cover other deficiencies while anchoring a team for a decade.

As a former BYU offensive lineman, Andy Reid knows the importance of getting the line of scrimmage right.

There is a reason why the Eagles have drafted 20 offensive linemen (around a quarter of their total picks) in Reid's tenure.

The problem? The Birds generally have tried to outsmart everybody else by grabbing diamonds in the rough.

Shawn Andrews, whom the Birds traded up to acquire in 2004, is the only offensive lineman Reid has drafted in the first round, and only three others, Justice (second in 2006,) Bobbie Williams (second in 2000) and Doug Brzezinski (third in 1999), have been selected higher than the fourth round.

Some of those guys have worked out fine, considering where they were drafted. Still, it's a roll-of-the-dice way to build a line.

With the Eagles starting a new era with Kolb, now is not the time to go bargain shopping on the guys who will be protecting him.

So take an offensive lineman in the first round. It will be boring, but I'll understand.

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