In spite of the quality of play in the conference that keeps improving, the Mountain West can still hide some great NFL talent. Nevada’s left tackle Joel Bitonio looks like he could be a name that really moves up boards the more people catch up with the Wolf Pack tape and see him. Bitonio has been a terrific blocker for Nevada for the past three years and really been a nice blind side protector for Cody Fajardo while being a powerful run blocker who just keeps getting after it on every play.
When it comes to the NFL, there is no question that Bitonio has the ability to contribute in the NFL; the question is where. When it comes to his athletic ability, strength and technique, he looks like can be an effective tackle in the NFL, but there is a chance that he could end up playing left guard. He should get every chance to fail at tackle before he would move to guard, but it is nevertheless possible. Bitonio projects as a top 50 pick that could end up slipping into the first round if there is a run on tackles and a team does not want to miss out in addition to what Bitonio brings to the table. If he falls farther than the top 50, it is likely the NFL has made the decision collectively that he will be a guard.
Vitals & Build
Bitonio is listed at 6’4” 315lbs and has a solid build for the position without a ton of weight around his midsection. There will probably be a lot of eyes to see how tall he actually measures in and his arm length as some judge whether they believe he can play tackle at the next level. He has good functional strength and can demonstrate a good amount of power, seeming to make the most of what he has. His feet are impressive and he has good balance that seems able to move as much as needed. Bitonio looks as though he can keep getting better physically, adding more muscle and improving his overall body composition.
Bitonio looks good athletically and he has shown he can slide really well with short, quick steps. He maintains balance effectively and is pretty light on his feet. Bitonio has shown the ability to get to the second level with ease but has some issues with breaking down effectively and making blocks in space. He does a great job in terms of his ability to move and get to the positions the Nevada system asks him to do, but it is not an overly ambitious blocking scheme that gives him a ton of opportunities to show off what all he can really do.
The first thing that stands out about Bitonio is he plays with a mean streak, looks to beat up his opponent and win whenever possible Bitonio fires off of the ball, looks to lock on to a defender and drive them down the field or into the ground. He has caused a number of pancake blocks and had examples where he put opponents on skates going down the field.
Bitonio does a pretty good job of locking on and using technique to keep the opponent in front of them, but there are times when he will get off balance, leaning too far forward and opponents can get past him using a push pull move or slip off of the block. At times, Bitonio will end up on the ground as a result.
He will occasionally end up on the wrong shoulder of the opponent but does do a nice job of working to get to the proper one as the play develops, working to cut them off from the play. Bitonio is always working his feet and he can drive opponents down the field, but will also make sure he gets in position to shield defenders from the ball carrier.
Bitonio does a good job of working through the whistle. He can get to the second level, but he has really inconsistent results when it comes to making blocks in space. There are definitely times when he is able to make one block and get off and make a second one down the field, but again, has trouble hitting opponents in space.
Bitonio is really awkward when it comes to cut blocking. It just never looks comfortable and he ends up too short of the target. He always looks like he would better off going and just blocking them straight up when it comes to the running game.
Bitonio has the agility and footwork to slide and protect the edge even if he does not have the ideal length for the position. He has quick, choppy steps that are able to cover a good amount of ground, enable him to keep his balance and control to block opponents. Rarely, he will get caught flat footed and surprised by the opponent.
He does a nice job of playing tall and anchoring well against power. There are times when he can get caught with power under his pads, but he is able to adjust and re-anchor effectively.
Bitonio also does a nice job of protecting the edge effectively against speed, is able to go basically as fast as he needs to in order to seal off the opponent and has the power to keep them from getting inside. He also does a good job of adjusting to various moves, opponents switching their angle and is able to protect the quarterback.
For the most part, Bitonio does a great job with his hands, displays a solid punch and is able to use it without putting himself at a huge disadvantage. When he gets control of opponent, especially in pass protection, he is able to take away momentum and really stifle them, eliminating them from the play.
One of the areas he can work to improve is working to maintain his balance as he drives an opponent down the field as well as doing a better job of hitting opponents in space. Perhaps as a result of not having ideal height for the position, he has really worked to have good technique. He trusts it, he stays with it and he has a ton of success as a result.
Bitonio’s footwork is largely impressive, especially when it comes to pass blocking. He is good at using quick steps while maintaining his balance and body control, so he is rarely caught in a bad position. There are occasionally times when he will get caught flat footed as he gets caught over shifting his weight, but they are rare and hardly an issue.
Bitonio does a nice job when it comes to leg drive and continuing to move his feet when landing blocks in the running game, both to drive opponents down the field but turn them out from the running play. He needs to work on doing a better job when it comes to angles at the second level, getting his hips low and making the proper adjustment to the opponent.
Some people might question Bitonio’s overall height and length for the position, but he really does look the part of a good tackle, whether it is on the left or right side. He is able to protect the edge but also really gets after it in the running game, so he could be attractive to a significant number of teams. Zone blocking schemes who like blockers who can move may like him the most, but in spite of the fact he is not enormous, he can be a bully and play with a lot of power, so power schemes certainly cannot be eliminated from the conversation.
Bitonio appears to be a player that will get every chance at tackle and only if he fails in that capacity might he be moved to left guard. He should still excel in that position with all of his talent. Bitonio looks like he should be able to contribute immediately when he is drafted somewhere on the line, be it at tackle or guard.
Bitonio’s game might be similar to that of Duane Brown of the Houston Texans. Like Bitonio, Brown did not have ideal size coming out of Virginia Tech and the fact he was picked in the first round came as a surprise to many. He has developed into an extremely effective left tackle even if he is not necessarily in the conversation of the elite tackles. Brown just does his job consistently and effectively, which is largely how Bitonio plays.
Joel Bitonio really does a nice job with his technique to maximize his physical ability, but there will be questions about his length. The good news for Bitonio is he has accepted an invitation to participate in the Senior Bowl and those drills should help make it clearer where he should ultimately end up when it comes to drills. He appears to be NFL ready and should only get better with added strength and improved overall body composition at the next level. Bitonio projects as a top 50 pick as long as teams view him as a tackle and there is a chance he could slip into the first round if teams make a run on offensive tackles. If they view him as a guard, he might slip further down, but he should not have to wait long.
Some of the film used in this scouting breakdown was provided by the good folks at draftbreakdown.com