When looking back through the annals of Ravens history, the task of picking the worst tackle is far different than it is for most other teams. For starters, and most simply, their history is shorter. Up and running since 1996, their achievements have been noteworthy since their inception – particularly in the draft room.
It doesn’t make the search any easier when you consider the team’s first pick in franchise history just so happened to be one of the best left tackles that professional football has ever seen.
So while other teams may lament a top ten pick gone awry on a cornerstone-turned-bust at the tackle position, the Ravens hit the jackpot on their first token. For twelve seasons, Jonathan Ogden was written in the lineup with permanent marker. This made the Ravens personnel decisions at the position far easier, as the required abilities of a right tackle are less than their counterpart. To demonstrate this fact, consider that you can count the number of players classified as tackles drafted by the Ravens on two hands.
Sure, there were players like Adam Terry and Tony Pashos who never quite fulfilled their potential. But there aren’t any glaring missteps when looking at the team’s past in the NFL Draft.
So let’s direct our attention to the Supplemental Draft.
The year 2007 was the first sign of Jonathan Ogden’s mortality. He missed nine games that season to a toe injury that would eventually be his undoing. In his absence, it became clear to the Ravens that they would need to find his successor sooner than later.
2007 was an equally tumultuous year for the player who ultimately filled the role as heir apparent to the legendary Ogden. Jared Gaither was mentioned on mock drafts heading into his junior season as a potential top-15 pick. Scouts raved about his raw athleticism, saying they hadn’t seen a man that large move that well since, well, Ogden. However, when Ralph Friedgen announced that Gaither was to be ineligible for his junior year due to academic problems, his future became cloudier.
At the end, Jared Gaither declared for the 2007 Supplemental Draft. Players like Jared Gaither and Josh Gordon represent the peak of the potential available in this alternative route to the NFL. However, often they’re in that position due to bad decisions made in their pasts, so they come with serious red flags.
Now, before I go any further, when making the claim that Jared Gaither was the worst tackle in Ravens franchise history, it comes with a qualifier. The majority of his tremendous disappointment was due to his tremendous potential. But part of it was due to unrealistic standards from Ravens fans. When you watch the de facto prototype play for eleven straight seasons (Ogden played guard his rookie year), everything else just looks worse.
But still, Gaither was one of the most frustrating Ravens in franchise history. After playing well in 2008, he kept succumbing to injuries that kept him off of the field. But what compounded his absences were reports that he wasn’t working his hardest to regain his health. His work ethic became more his brand than did his stature and talent – even going so far as to earn the nickname, The Big Lazy – and Gaither didn’t report to minicamp in May of 2010. He was released later that month as the Ravens handed the left tackle position to their first round pick in that year’s draft, Michael Oher (another story altogether).
Gaither initially signed with the Chiefs in 2011, however he would be released midway through the season. The Chargers found themselves with a need on the blind side after losing then starter Marcus McNeil, and they scooped up Gaither a day after Kansas City cut ties. He solidified the position, and showed observers just why he was so highly touted in college. Suddenly, his past and work ethic didn’t matter as much, and all people could talk about was his bright future. The Chargers inked Gaither to a 4-year extension after the 2011 season worth $13.5 million guaranteed.
Gaither missed the first three games of 2012 due to back spasms he had been apparently dealing with in the offseason. He was able to play four games that year before a groin injury ultimately shelved him for the season. After that, Jared Gaither never played another down in the NFL.
Now, he represents something of a cautionary tale for front offices and self-proclaimed draft experts alike: talent isn’t all that matters.