Jeff Otah: Today's Greatest Run Blocking Lineman?

With the 14th overall pick in the 2008 draft, the Chicago Bears select... Chris Williams. Offensive tackle from Vanderbilt.

With the 19th overall pick in the 2008 draft, the Carolina Panthers select... Jeff Otah. Offensive tackle from Pittsburgh.
I have to throw my own team under the bus for being so freaking bad at drafting. Now "experts" like Mel Kiper Jr. tend to wrong a lot of times. And teams make the same mistakes as well because not every first round draft pick is successful (see Lions, Detroit). But still, it was universally considered that Jeff Otah would be a GREAT offensive lineman and would be much better than Chris Williams. And three years later, I think that's pretty much been proven correct.

It's hard to quantify run blocking and lineman blocking in general. Football Outsiders does a pretty darn good job of that- but they quantify line play by the success of the "skill" players like the quarterback and running back. Hell, I can do that. So here we go.

In 2006, the Carolina Panthers drafted DeAngelo Williams. In 2010, Jeff Otah has not played a game due to injury. These two factors mainly will help us determine how good Jeff Otah really is. (Stewart was drafted six picks ahead of Otah the mere fact that he's on the team is not really a factor we have to take into account).

Now the first factor- DeAngelo Williams being on the the team two years before Otah- is surprisingly not the greatest set of data one could generate. In 2008 (Otah's rookie year), Williams got more carries than his first two years combined. In 2006, Williams only started two game and none is 2007. He only got 121 and 144 carries respectively. Then, in Williams MVP season, he jumped up to 273 then to 216 in 2009 (He only played in 13 games). So certainly Jeff Otah could have helped, but carries also plays a significant factor as well.

However, Williams two best years was in 2008 and 2009. I was actually surprised to learn this- but DeAngelo Williams was a pretty good player before his breakout season. He had a 4.1 YPC his rookie year and a 5.0 YPC the year later. The only reason Williams wasn't more productive was because one of the greatest running backs ever to play the game- DeShaun Foster- was stealing carries from him. (At least be honest, he probably should have).

Yet despite those damn good YPC numbers, he had even better numbers in '08 and '09. In 2008, he led the league (min 200 carries) and had a career high 5.5 YPC. The next year he had a 5.2 YPC. And after he's clearly established himself as an elite running back, he only has a 4.1 YPC in 2010.

Williams also jumped from 5 rushing touchdowns in his first two years to 18 in 2008 and 7 in 2009. This year he only has one in six games. Williams was 13th in WAR for running backs in 2006, 35th in 2007, 7th in 2008 (Actually, I think I just gave up on WAR, how was D-Wills not #1?), 8th in 2009, and way too far down the list to count so far in 2010. WAR is also a useful stat because, like YPC, it takes the emphasis off of carries.

Williams YPC, WAR, and TDs all coincide with Jeff Otah's presence blocking for Williams.

However, this data on its own is not that conclusive for me. A first round draft pick finally gets significant playing time and becomes a star? Big deal. That doesn't prove anything. Well my cynical made up friend, you're in luck because the Panthers are one of the few teams that actually have two elite running backs who have gotten significant playing and has played with and without Otah. Can you guess who the other back is my apparition?

Jonathan's Stewart Career Numbers:
(Remember Otah was healthy in 2008 and 2009 and hasn't played yet in 2010)

2008: 4.5
2009: 5.1
2010: 3.0

Rushing TDs/game
2008: .625
2009: .625
2010: .167

2008: .63 (10th)
2009: .88 (6th)
2010: -.23 (33rd)

It should be no surprise, like DeAngelo Williams, The Daily Show's YPC, TDs, and WAR are better with Jeff Otah than without Jeff Otah.

Now don't read too much into my title, Otah may not be THE greatest lineman playing. But he's really damn good. His injury this year is affecting the Carolina Panthers greatly. This team depends on Smash and Dash to run their offense and pass second. The Panthers aren't built around passing but if they can't run as well, then they may be in the Andrew Luck sweepstakes by the end of this year. Of course the fantasy impact is obvious- no Otah (and right now no Williams) means you can barely play these guys because they are getting no success whatsoever. But if Otah comes back, then look out America!

And FU Chicago for not drafting Otah and instead decided to stockpile players from the worst team in the SEC.