Tom Cable may be doing a better job with the Seahawks offensive line than you think

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Part 1: Evaluating the offensive line from multiple perspectives, including player development, production and what fans should expect going forward.

With the loss of George Fant for the season and the debate about who will step in and take over at left tackle for the Seattle Seahawks raging since last Friday, there has once again been an abundance of hand wringing and complaining from fans about Tom Cable and Seattle’s inability to develop offensive linemen into quality blockers. Whether here on Field Gulls or on Twitter, there is a large portion of the fanbase that is dissatisfied with the progress the Hawks have made developing an offensive line to protect Russell Wilson. Most fans are aware that the Seahawks have spent more draft picks (not necessarily draft capital) on offensive linemen than any other team in the league since Cable was added to the staff in January of 2011, and the lack of a formidable front wall to drive the offense is driving some fans batty.

Thus, the purpose here is to take a rudimentary look at the draft picks the team has spent on offensive linemen since Cable joined the team in order to determine whether he is doing a good job getting production out of the linemen the team is drafting, or if the team is simply throwing stuff at the wall and hoping some of it sticks.

Obviously, the first thing to look at is the list of offensive linemen the team has drafted since Cable joined the Hawks, and that list is as follows. (Author’s note: this list includes the draft picks spent on defensive linemen who were drafted with the intention of being converted to offensive linemen, while excluding any linemen who were drafted by the Hawks in 2010 or prior, most notably Max Unger and Russell Okung.)

The next step is to figure out what kind of results should be expected of players taken in these particular draft slots, and luckily Chase Stuart did a phenomenal analysis nearly five years ago looking at the expected AV based on draft picks for the first five years of a player’s career. Adding these expected AVs, along with the career AVs to the table for the linemen the Hawks have selected makes the table look like this:

You’ll immediately notice the column titled “Adjusted Career AV-2 (per season)” and this column is part of the evaluation Stuart does in terms of valuing draft picks who contribute only a little. Most linemen, even if they don’t play a ton, will accumulate a point or two of AV over the course of a season. This is seen in players like Joey Hunt and Rees Odhiambo, who played relatively little last year, yet ended the season with an AV of 1. However, the contributions Hunt and Odhiambo made were not marginally different than what would be expected from a UDFA who happened to slide into one of the last slots on the roster. Thus, Stuart deducts two points of AV from each season for players in order to only evaluate what they contribute above and beyond the fringe roster guy who will accumulate a point or two of AV by contributing a few snaps here or there and playing on special teams since draft picks are assets and the return on the use of those assets should exceed the return the team could generate by signing a bunch of UDFAs. I like that, so I’ve included a column where I do the same thing in evaluating Seattle’s draft picks. (Author’s note: you’ll notice despite deducting two points of AV per season, only three points are deducted from Mark Glowinski’s career AV. This is because in Glowinski’s two seasons his AVs are 1 and 7, so his first season ends up at zero after only deducting one point, thus only three points are deducted.)

This is some good stuff, and you’ll immediately notice that both the career AV (“CAV”) and adjusted career AV (“ACAV”) exceed the expected career AV for the group of draft picks, which, contrary to the belief of many fans, is an indication that Tom Cable is doing a solid job molding the draft picks the team has made into players who are able to contribute in the NFL.

While the data shows Cable is doing an acceptable job developing the linemen the team is drafting for him, one thing the above table does not take into account is the fact that while he has exceeded the expected CAV for this group of players, many of these players have not been with the Hawks for a full five years. In contrast, the expectations against which their performance is being weighed takes into account a full five years of contributions. For example, in his three seasons with the Seahawks, Justin Britt has accumulated CAV of 24 and ACAV of 18, both of which far exceed the expectation of 8.1 based on his draft position, but he still has two full seasons to increase the gap between his expected and actual performance over the first five years of his career.

Thus, the next thing I did was to adjust the expected AV for these linemen based on the number of years they have been with the Hawks. This adjustment is only made for linemen still with the Hawks, as the players who are no longer with the team, such as J.R. Sweezy, James Carpenter, Terry Poole, et al, won’t be contributing any further, so I simply used the five year expected AV since that is what the team should have expected as return based on draft position. That table looks like this:

That table puts Cable’s performance into even better perspective, as the expected return on the draft capital invested is either 170% higher than the expected AV or 77% higher than the adjusted AV.

That tends to indicate to me that Cable is doing a good job. A very good job, in fact.

Lastly, I wanted to get a ballpark on what it would look like if we used a simple straight line projection for the production of these offensive linemen going forward. Thus, I put together this last table which simply projects out a five year AV number for those linemen still with the Seahawks based on their historical AVs with the team. Is that an oversimplified way to evaluate it? Absolutely, but I’m looking for a ballpark, not a specific seat within that ballpark. In any case, looking at that simplified five year projection, the results look like this:

All of these tables show the same thing: the Seahawks offensive line is getting more production out of the draft picks it spends on linemen than should be expected. It’s entirely possible that this is flawed because AV for linemen seems to be based on snap counts more than anything else, and obviously it has been easier for subpar linemen to earn playing time on the Hawks offensive line than it would have been for them to earn playing time on other offensive lines.

However, what truly jumps out to me about these tables is that in looking at the contributions from various linemen, nearly every single lineman who has stuck around for more than a season has met or exceeded the expected contributions. The lone exception to that is John Moffitt, whose career was derailed by drug addiction following the knee injury he suffered late in the 2013 season.

Likewise, while it also shows that the evaluation and drafting of talent is obviously far from perfect, the Hawks are quick to move on from those players who they recognize will not be a fit. Just as the majority of players who are kept around meet their expected contributions, the only player who did not meet their expectations who was with the team for more than a single season was Moffitt. The team did not hesitate to quickly move on from flops like Poole or Kristjan Sokoli (Seymour was poached off the practice squad by the Niners), and the ability to move on from mistakes is a vital skill for any organization.

So, in short, while the team has indeed spent a ton of draft picks on the offensive line in the time Cable has been with the team, the production from these draft picks has far exceeded what would be expected. This tends to indicate that Mr. Cable is not just doing a good job, it could even be said that he’s doing a great job relative to the other offensive line coaches in the NFL.

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