•  Register
17

Tackling the Competition

by DJ Boyer on Apr. 17, 2014

Tackle is often seen as the most important part of the offensive line, mostly because you are protecting against opposing speed rushers and cunning sack artists. While the game continues to evolve, finding premier tackle play and having it equate to success has not. Find me a Championship team over the last 10 years that has not had solid play from the Tackle position…I dare you.

 

The Top Prospects

 

Taylor Lewan is a prospect that seems to get lost in the shuffle but he will go somewhere between 7-20 overall during the first round and is a physical specimen that has shown he can play through pain and injury. Lewan seems to be branded with the dreaded “off the field issues” label but he plays with a nasty streak and he has kept himself in line so many teams do not seem very concerned. Lewan has the overall talent to be the top lineman taken in this draft, or at least challenge the likes of Greg Robinson and Jake Matthews for the honor. Lewan will likely be the 3rd tackle and lineman off the board.

 

Zack Martin is another likely 1st round draft pick but he may end up as a guard and not a tackle depending on who selects him. At around 6’4” Martin does not possess the height teams are looking for in their prototypical tackle and he has a short wingspan which usually translates into being a guard (see Robert Gallery for a classic example of this).  Martin has the experience and the diversity with both the pass and run to at least command attention and get a look as a tackle. He has exceptional footwork and his lateral movement is the best in the class outside of Jake Matthews. Martin has made improvements with his upper body strength, so much so that it now looks like the lower body is a bit behind. He should be selected in the 15-25 range overall with Baltimore, Miami, and Arizona looking like likely destinations.

 

Jake Matthews is the cream of the crop and in my eyes the #1 offensive prospect in this entire draft class and #3 overall on my board behind only Jadeveon Clowney and Khalil Mack. Matthews looked like a top 5 selection a season ago and surprised many when he decided to return to Texas A&M for his senior season. Matthews wanted to show he could play the left side as well as the right, once Luke Joeckel was drafted into the NFL (#2 overall). Matthews looks like he will fall no lower than #7 overall and could be taken as high as #2 where Jeff Fisher and the St. Louis Rams currently wait. Fisher coached Bruce Matthews, a Hall of Fame center, who happens to be the father of Jake Matthews and that relationship could go a long way in determining where Jake ends up. Matthews has the best lateral movement and footwork of any lineman available and is the best pass protector we will see. The only downside is that he is a tactician, not a mauling type, and teams that might want more muscle or more punch for the running game could bypass Matthews and select Greg Robinson first.

 

Morgan Moses is a severely underrated player that I have been screaming about all season. I predicted Moses would be selected in the 1st round and his status has risen from the 4-5 round range at the start of the season to now where Moses is a late 1st/early 2nd round prospect. Moses is better overall than other players like Zack Martin or Cyrus Kouandijo and I am glad others seem to finally be taking notice. Moses excelled in a pro style offense at Virginia (even though the execution was not pro style) and more specifically in the zone-blocking scheme we see a number of NFL teams employ. Moses is very durable and looks like he could add another 10-15 pounds to his 315 pound frame quite comfortably. Moses could be a fit as early as #19 where the Dolphins have an offense that seems to be tailor-made to his strong suits. H could wind up being a player that we see as a steal about 3 years from now and wondering why he was drafted so low. His recent hamstring pull at his Pro Day was not serious and should not affect his draft stock.

 

Greg Robinson could be the top lineman selected going as early as #2, but there is some bust potential here. His numbers and the speed he showed at the Combine was ridiculous but they should not dwarf his on the field accomplishments. While Robinson excelled on the field he is just a redshirt sophomore, and while Auburn was setting SEC records running the football, it is a very simplistic blocking scheme they run. Robinson may struggle out of the gate against the seasoned NFL vets and may not have the impact of players like Jake Matthews and Taylor Lewan due to their experience and the offenses they played in. Robinson may be the best of the bunch and he will have his shining moments to couple with his massive physical strength and quickness, but the immediate return on investment will likely not be there.

 

Second Tier

 

JuWuan James may not get as much publicity as teammate Antonio Richardson but envisioning him having a more productive pro career is very easy. James spent his entire Tennessee career as a right tackle where he started all four years. James shows fantastic agility and athleticism for a 6’6” tackle and his hand placement and backpedalling have improved greatly over his junior and senior seasons. James could move into the 2nd round but the 3rd round is where he will most likely go. He has the technique and is fluid enough to play the left side, where he just never had to at Tennessee.

 

Cyrus Kouandjio is a prospect that seems to garner a vast array of opinions. Many questions surrounding the left knee of Kouandjio have surfaced. While the knee has been surgically repaired and Kouandjio and his agent maintain there are no issues reports have surfaced saying as many as eight teams failed him during a physical at the Combine due to a possible arthritic condition within the knee. The stock of Kouandjio has bounced back a bit but there should be concerns surrounding his play on the field. His speed was very slow at the Combine confirming that Kouandjio seems to be a step slow during many of his games. He seems to engage well when keeping pass rushers in front of him but when needing to move laterally or backpedal to handle a bull rusher, there are issues. He seems to play well against inferior competition and against the tougher ranked opponents, but he is inconsistent and struggles. Kouandjio may be better suited as a guard with a power running team as his run blocking is far ahead of his pass protection skills. He possesses a lot of potential but there are some red flags here for the team that employs his services.

 

Jack Mewhort is a player who has steadily improved during his tenure at Ohio State and has been solid yet unspectacular while there. Mewhort raised some eyebrows and his stock by performing better than advertised during the Senior Bowl where teams marveled at the lower body strength that was on display. He may not be the most efficient blocker in the open field, but when engaged with interior rushers or with pass rushers close to his body he is nearly impossible to move. His Senior Bowl work and impressive one-on-one team interviews have likely pushed him into the 2nd round.

 

Antonio Richardson is another SEC product that has some areas of concern, but has an NFL body and his upper body strength is unquestioned and second to none. Richardson struggles with footwork and when he is forced to take shorter steps or strides he seems to lose his balance and leverage more often than not. If Richardson gets the right coaching and is able to clean up his footwork he could be a steal. Richardson should hope to go to a team with some depth where he can be brought along slowly and not thrust into action right out of the gate.

 

Billy Turner may be from North Dakota State but don’t let the jersey fool you, as Turner has a bright NFL future. The only issue for Turner is that he may be without a position. Turner seems to struggle with speed rushers and might be best suited as a guard at the next level. He looks like a player who may never be a star or an everyday starter at the NFL level, but his versatility and talent should be on display as he should be able to slide in at right tackle and both guard spots with ease. Turner has been used in the backfield in short yardage packages and communicates well with his teammates showing leadership potential. He should be selected during the 2nd or 3rd round when May rolls around.

 

Lurking

 

Laurent Duvernay-Tardif is the mystery of this draft as Duvernay-Tardif plays for McGill University in Canada. At 300 pounds and 6'5” Duvernay-Tardif has an athletic physique and put up some impressive numbers at his workout attended by 9 teams. Duvernay-Tardif has some impressive strength numbers and would likely spend a year on the practice squad while adjusting to NFL life but teams may have to reach as high as the 4th round to select him.

 

Cameron Fleming is flying up the draft boards and is a departure from the standard Stanford lineman in that he seems to be better as a run blocker than in pass protection where he is still a bit green. Fleming has shown he is a capable pass protector but the consistency is not yet there as he was beaten badly on more than a few occasions this season. As a run blocker, look how often Tyler Gaffney and the Stanford running backs went behind Fleming and the success they enjoyed. During crucial points in a game Fleming always seemed to be the person David Shaw would have his team run behind and we know Stanford was one of the most successful teams at the NCAA level once again this season. He needs to improve his hand placement and overall upper body strength to be a solid performer in the NFL.

 

James Hurst is a classic example of how the football gods can sometimes be very cruel. Hurst looked like a 2nd or 3rd round pick and then suffered a broken fibula during the Tar Heels bowl victory over Cincinnati. Hurst has been battling back from the injury and while he isn't currently able to work out he is very close and should be ready for the start of the NFL season. Hurst will go a bit lower but there are a number of teams who will still want him and he should go no lower than the 5th round. Hurst is a solid all-around performer who doesn't have the upside that many prospects have but he can play a variety of positions and will be pro ready.

 

Michael Schofield was overlooked at Michigan due to the presence of Taylor Lewan on the left side of the line but Schofield has started to get some attention and has moved from being a 7th round /free agent prospect to one that should be selected during the 3rd or 4th round. Schofield shows promise as a pass protector with the biggest knock being his propensity to get holding calls. He will need to work on his hand placement but his lower body strength and his ability in space will make him a hot commodity. Schofield has reportedly interviewed well with a number of teams and seems to display leadership characteristics who can be counted on to make calls for the line at the line of scrimmage. Like Lewan, Schofield is a former tight end who understands the fine art of the chip block as much as mauling an opponent.