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Does the blind side still exist? Investigating big plays against the left and right tackle

Jan 16, 2021; Orchard Park, New York, USA; Baltimore Ravens offensive tackle Orlando Brown (78) jogs on the field prior to an AFC Divisional Round game against the Buffalo Bills at Bills Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

Back in 2019, the Las Vegas Raiders signed Trent Brown to a four-year $66M contract with an APY of $16.5 million. At the time, it was the highest APY ever given to an offensive lineman, and many fans and analysts were left bemused when the Raiders decided to play him at right tackle and not at the hallowed ground at the left side of the line.

Just half a year later, the Philadelphia Eagles extended Lane Johnson for an APY of $18M, once again making a right tackle the highest-paid offensive lineman in the league. And for the first time, it looked as though the difference between right and left tackle would vanish on the free-agency market.

A lot has happened to contradict that idea since then. Brown has since been traded to the New England Patriots and had to negotiate his contract to a one-year deal, costing the Patriots only $7.5 million against the cap in 2021. No other right tackle has been signed to similar money since 2019, as Jack Conklin‘s $14 million APY is now the second-highest figure in the NFL. In the meantime, five left tackles have exceeded Johnson’s APY, as Trent Williams, David Bakhtiari, Laremy Tunsil, Ronnie Stanley and Kolton Miller all signed contracts with an APY in excess of $18 million.

In 2021, protectors of the “blind side” are still paid more and considered to be more important.

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The next left tackle who will follow this group is most likely Orlando Brown Jr., who recently asked the Baltimore Ravens to trade him because he wanted to play left tackle at all costs, even though he had cemented his standing as a successful right tackle in the Ravens’ offensive scheme.

Brown was ultimately granted his wish and got traded to the Kansas City Chiefs. And with such a high-profile player wanting to part with the team that drafted and successfully developed him, it’s clear that right tackles still don’t feel properly honored, not only from a financial standpoint but also in terms of recognition.

We at PFF did our best, as we didn’t stop praising Mitchell Schwartz for his contributions to the Chiefs' Super Bowl run one year ago. The highest-graded player in this year’s Super Bowl? That would be Tristan Wirfs, the right tackle for the Super Bowl 55 champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

With the continued discrepancy in recognition between left and right tackles, it’s time to once again dive into the data to find whether left tackles are more important to team success. PFF's Steve Palazzolo first investigated this back in 2013 and found no reason to view right tackle as the inferior position, so we will reduce our research to what has happened in the years since. Furthermore, we will consider only true pass sets, as introduced by my colleague, Eric Eager.

Pressure from the left side isn’t more fatal to an offense

Last year, we found that right tackles tend to play the more difficult schedule of opposing pass-rushers, and this finding held true in 2020.

This obviously results in more pass-rush wins on the right edge, as this happens on 13.0% of all true pass sets while rushers win 12.1% of the time on the left edge.

But what happens once the tackles are beaten? Well, pass-rushers who win their reps against the left tackle produce pressure 70.7% of the time. Maybe surprisingly, the rate from the right side is slightly higher at 71.2%.

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