I saw an interesting tweet yesterday. This one, in fact:
This could be the week Chargers get LT King Dunlap (neck) back. He is practicing today.— Michael Gehlken (@UTgehlken) December 4, 2013
See, now things get interesting.
King Dunlap recovering from a neck injury that was thought to possibly be his third concussion of this season, has been an excellent starting left tackle when healthy. Unfortunately, his health and an unlucky break for second-year player Mike Harris have forced rookie right tackle D.J. Fluker into the role of starting left tackle.
The strangest part of the entire story might be that Fluker isn't half bad at left tackle. In his four games at left tackle, is he performing as well as he did in his seven games at right tackle? No, but left tackle is a more difficult position and it's one that Fluker hasn't played in a very long time. We knew there'd be a transitional period.
I want to compare Pro Football Focus rankings for a second here, because when it comes to offensive linemen there is no easier way to compare them:
- D.J. Fluker: -7.0 overall
- Eric Fisher: -19.8 overall
- Luke Joeckel: -6.1 overall
- Lane Johnson: -3.1 overall
It's probably important to note that those are not grades at left tackle, but overall for the season. Fluker has played both right and left. Fisher has played at right tackle only. Lane Johnson has played right tackle only. Joeckel has played mostly at right tackle, but got 12 snaps at left tackle before breaking his ankle and going on injured-reserve. Hilariously, Fluker has more time at left tackle this season that the "left tackles" drafted before him in this year's draft.
Fluker was taken because the San Diego Chargers desperately needed an offensive tackle, but it was seen as a bit of a loss because what they really needed was a left tackle. The three obvious choices (above) were off the board, so Fluker was the pick.
Many times, offensive tackles are picked high in the first round but struggle in their first year. The jump in performance from an OT's rookie year to his second year is often as big of the jump for a QB, WR, or RB, if not bigger. We saw proof of that with Mike Harris, who was atrocious last year before looking like a capable tackle this season.
Looking at what we've seen so far in 2013, Fluker looks to be in the same category as the guys he was drafted behind. He might've been the fourth best left tackle in the draft, or the best right tackle in the draft, but that puts him ahead of some other guys around the league that will eventually get a chance to prove themselves as starting left tackles.
Should Dunlap's return to the team signal a return to right tackle for Fluker? Or should the team leave Fluker at left tackle permanently? Which would be better for the team in the long-term?