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Left and right

Posted by Doug on November 19, 2007

Moneyball author Michael Lewis's recent book, The Blind Side, was about, among many other things, the rise in status and importance of the left tackle position in NFL football. I haven't read The Blind Side yet, so what I'm going to say here might have been covered in detail in the book. If so, please let me know about it in the comments.

I was browsing the new p-f-r player pages last week and landed on Jackie Slater's, which informed me that Slater, one of the best tackles in NFL history, was a right tackle for his entire career. Here's the timeline:

Slater's rookie year was 1976, at which time the incumbent left tackle was Doug France, a good young prospect himself who would be named all-pro in 1977, 1978, and 1980. Slater was a backup for his first three years, then took over as the starting right tackle in his fourth season, 1979. So it makes sense that he wouldn't play the left side at this point. France was older, more experienced, and more decorated. In 1981, France lost his starting job (probably due to injury, I'm not sure) and the LT slot was shared by Slater and second-year man Irv Pankey. The next season it was Pankey, not Slater, who would stay on the left side. Surely in today's NFL, Slater would have moved to left tackle and Pankey would have played the right side.

This got me thinking about how recent a phenomenon the left/right tackle split is. So I looked at all Pro Bowl tackles during each decade, and noted which side they played on. Here is the summary:

Pro Bowl Tackles

         Left       Right
=========================
2000s     45         10
1990s     57         10
1980s     42         21
1970s     23         42
1960s     56         49
1950s     35         20

Something else I was unaware of is that there is a left/right distinction at guard too, though not as pronounced as at tackle:

Pro Bowl Guards

         Left       Right
=========================
2000s     28         17
1990s     51         16
1980s     39         24
1970s     30         31
1960s     57         46
1950s     23         18

Finally, here are all players who have made at least three Pro Bowls in seasons where they started primarily at right tackle:

+-------------------+-------+------+----------+
| name              | first | last | how_many |
+-------------------+-------+------+----------+
| Forrest Gregg     |  1959 | 1968 |        9 |
| George Kunz       |  1969 | 1977 |        8 |
| Jackie Slater     |  1983 | 1990 |        7 |
| Ron Mix           |  1961 | 1968 |        7 |
| Ron Yary          |  1971 | 1977 |        7 |
| Dan Dierdorf      |  1974 | 1980 |        6 |
| Rayfield Wright   |  1971 | 1976 |        6 |
| Mike McCormack    |  1951 | 1962 |        6 |
| Bob Brown         |  1965 | 1971 |        6 |
| Marvin Powell     |  1979 | 1983 |        5 |
| Russ Washington   |  1974 | 1979 |        5 |
| Frank Varrichione |  1955 | 1962 |        5 |
| Bob St. Clair     |  1956 | 1961 |        5 |
| Willie Anderson   |  2003 | 2006 |        4 |
| Erik Williams     |  1993 | 1999 |        4 |
| Ernie McMillan    |  1965 | 1970 |        4 |
| Lincoln Kennedy   |  2000 | 2002 |        3 |
| Harry Schuh       |  1967 | 1970 |        3 |
| Lee Artoe         |  1940 | 1942 |        3 |
| Winston Hill      |  1971 | 1973 |        3 |
+-------------------+-------+------+----------+

Bengal fans: why does Willie Anderson play the right side?

This entry was posted on Monday, November 19th, 2007 at 5:31 am and is filed under General, History. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.