One of the most hotly debated issues amongst Jaguars' fans over the past week has centered around the left tackle position. How should the Jaguars attempt to protect their upcoming number one pick, Trevor Lawrence?
The Jaguars' starting left tackle over the last several years has been Cam Robinson, who the team drafted in the second round of the 2017 NFL Draft. Robinson suffered a torn ACL during his second year as a pro, which has made it difficult for him to reach his ceiling early on. Robinson is coming off his best year, which isn't saying a whole lot, but he's set to hit free agency. With Robinson's lack of significant improvement, it's unclear if the Jaguars would want to bring him back as a long term left tackle.
And it appears that there are better options to pursue. After all, we're talking about protecting the number one asset the franchise has ever had.
Two hot names have emerged from the veteran pool of NFL talent.
Trent Williams, who is 32-years-old, has been one of the most dominant left tackles in the NFL for the last decade. The 49ers acquired him via trade prior to the 2020 season, and despite attempting to sign him to a long-term deal, San Francisco hasn't offered Williams a deal to his liking. With a no franchise tag clause in his current contract, the 49ers appear to be stuck in between a rock and a hard place, as Trent Williams is set to hit the free-agent market next month.
Orlando Brown Jr. is 24-years-old, and despite falling to the third round in the 2018 draft after one of the most disappointing NFL Combines in recent history, Brown has made a name for himself in Baltimore. After a Ronnie Stanley injury, Brown played well for the Ravens at left tackle in 2020. He's informed the Ravens that he wants to play left tackle permanently and that he'd like to be traded to a team that would allow him to do so.
So, which one of these talented tackles should the Jaguars pursue?
If I were Urban Meyer, I'd be doing my due diligence on both situations. How much cash will Trent Williams demand in free agency? How much are the Ravens looking to get back in a potential Orlando Brown Jr. trade?
But the most critical factor in this equation is simple: which player is better?
On the surface, both had dominant seasons in 2020. Williams allowed just 19 total pressures last season, while Brown surrendered only 28.
But to figure out who's playing at a higher level, some film study was required. Luckily for you, I watched several games of each player to determine who's better.
When it comes to pass protection, it's hard to even compare these two because the schemes they're coming from are so radically different. In Baltimore, Orlando Brown Jr. rarely had to take on edge rushers one-on-one. However, when he did, he performed fairly well. Brown is a giant of a man, and his size makes it difficult for edge rushers to get around him. There were occasions where his lack of athleticism hurt him in pass pro, but his size usually got the better of his opponents. More often than not, the Ravens were helping Brown out with a tight end or full back, or getting the ball out quickly, so he wasn't asked to just stone a pass rusher without help all that much. Still, what he put on tape in this department was encouraging, especially for a 24-year-old.
On the other hand, Trent Williams was asked to take on pass rushers by himself with regularity. He did not disappoint in his first year with the 49ers. He looked as athletic and smooth as ever. Point blank, Williams is a better pass protector than Brown. He can handle speed and power, and he can do it on his own. His combination of athleticism, strong hands, and power makes like difficult for edge rushers. Sure, Brown's numbers look good on paper, but after watching the film, these two don't really compare in pass pro.
I figured with Brown's size and the Ravens' rush-heavy offense, he'd be a better run blocker than pass protector. Wrong. Brown is actually fairly average in the run blocking department, and he plays a bit passive. Again, his size gives him an advantage from the snap, but Brown looks uncoordinated, and when asked to get out in space, forget about it. His lack of athleticism is glaring. I was also shocked to see his inability to finish run blocks. With Brown's size, I assumed he'd be launching edge rushers, linebackers, and safeties to the moon. But he rarely finished blocks in the games I watched. He made good initial contact, but his lack of coordination and, again, athleticism, made it hard for him to drive defenders and finish his blocks. He's more of a roadblock than anything.
Trent Williams, however, is a dominant run blocker. Once he gets his mitts on defenders, it's over. He has such powerful hands and uses them to drive his opponents into the dirt. Williams' athleticism is such an asset in the run game too. He can pull and get to the second level with ease to erase secondary defenders. Urban Meyer wants to establish balance on offense, so run blocking ability will be valuable in his eyes.
There's a massive gap in ability between these two players. It's not close. I fear that when Brown finds his way to another club, and they don't use tight ends and full backs to assist him, he'll fall back down to earth. And it should be noted that with the Ravens often being in a positive game script, Brown's stats were more impressive. Were he on a team like Jacksonville in 2020, his play would have suffered. But Trent Williams is scheme versatile. He's one of the most talented left tackles in history and should be a sure-fire Hall of Famer.
While Trent Williams can dominate for any offense, Brown is scheme specific. To be most effective, Brown needs to play for a power rushing offense with a gap blocking scheme, and unfortunately for him, there aren't too many of those left.
I fear that if the Jaguars' traded for Brown, he'd play much closer to Cam Robinson's level than Trent Williams.
So, what would I do?
I wouldn't be keen on giving up a second-round pick or higher for Brown. Sure, we've seen him do it at the NFL level, but as I mentioned before, he's going to need to land in the right spot. I doubt Urban Meyer's offense will be well suited to Brown's physical ability. There are more versatile and athletic tackles in the draft this year, and while draft picks are risky, it's pretty clear that adding Brown to a zone rushing offense would also be a massive gamble. And if the Jaguars want to employ vertical spread looks, Brown will be exposed. So, unless the Ravens were willing to give Brown up for pick 65 and some change, I'd be out. The other issue I have with him is that he's unwilling to play right tackle. I want to get the best five guys out there on the offensive line, and I'd like to be able to plug Brown in at right tackle if I saw fit.
If I were Urban Meyer, I would plan to get in Trent Williams' ear quickly. Sure, he's 32, but Williams still has more athleticism and ability than 95% of the young tackles out there. And you don't have to give up any draft picks for him. Before being traded to San Francisco, Williams mentioned that he wanted a three-year extension worth $20 million per season. I'd be willing to go a bit higher for him if that meant keeping him away from Indy, who has plenty of cap space and a need at left tackle. It's not a long-term cap risk. With Shad Khan's penchant for giving massive signing bonuses, you'd be able to get out of the deal after two years with minimal long term impact on the cap. Sure Williams might eventually hit the wall, but the way he's playing right now, I wouldn't be surprised to see him play until he's 40.
I know Williams has an injury-prone label, but outside of his health scare and holdout in 2019, Williams has actually been fairly sturdy. He's played at least 13 games seven times and never played less than ten games in a season (outside of 2019 when he decided not to play for the Redskins — can you blame him?)
My fall back plan would be to sign either Russell Okung or Cam Robinson, who both played well enough not to be a major liability in 2021. Okung has a long injury history, but he's playing at a high level when healthy.
Either way, with the talent and depth in this years' offensive tackle class, I'd be drafting an OT at 25, 33, or 46. That way, you get a young guy in the system to develop. And I wouldn't be shocked if a Christian Darrisaw, Sam Cosmi, Alijah Vera-Tucker, Teven Jenkins, or Dillon Radunz could dethrone Cam Robinson in year one.
If Orlando Brown appeared to be a more complete, scheme-versatile player, I'd be all-in on trading for him. But the red flags that came up at the combine are evident in his 2020 tape. The Ravens did a lot to protect him, and I worry he'd be a "bust" as a free agent acquisition for the Jaguars. And the opportunity cost is so much higher on him than Trent Williams, Russell Okung, or Cam Robinson. Of course, if Urban Meyer wants to run a power rushing gap principal offense, I'd be okay with trading for Brown, but we all know that's not Meyer's style.
Go all-in for Trent Williams, and if you can't land him, settle for Okung or Robinson while adding talent early in the draft.
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