Even though the Notre Dame Fighting Irish changed head coaches from Charlie Weis to Brian Kelly, the build and style of their offensive line has largely remained the same up to this point. The Irish left tackle, Zack Martin enters his fifth year with the team as a grad student. After not playing during his freshman year, Martin has started every single game since ending with a total of 52 games in his career.
Martin is an extremely effective technical left tackle for the Irish and excels in large part because of it. He is not an overwhelming athlete and uses his understanding of the game to play at a much higher level. Between his understanding of angles, how well he mirrors, and hand technique, Martin seems to do everything in his power to compensate for his weaknesses. While Martin is not slow footed, he is not great at sliding to the far outside to protect the edge. He has improved his strength in his final year, allowing him to be a more effective and attractive NFL player. Martin projects as a top 75 pick that could get looked at as a tackle or a high level left guard. If linemen start flying off the shelves, which has been happening in recent years, Martin could end up flirting with the first round.
Vitals & Build
Martin is listed at 6’4” 308lbs and he is an above average athlete. He moves pretty well laterally but he looks impressive accelerating going up the field. From a strength standpoint, Martin has improved from last year, but has built his career on his functional power. Martin still has the frame to add more bulk and continuing to get stronger will be key for his future in the NFL, but the concern, which might be a relatively small one, is that he is maxed out as he enters the league. With a program like Notre Dame, who should have a fantastic strength program, it is difficult to imagine that the move to the NFL would make that much of a difference and the training there would be so much better than Notre Dame that he would suddenly have an increase in growth that he could not get to in South Bend.
Martin does not have an overwhelming amount of power but he is able to compensate for it because he fires off of the ball so hard that he creates momentum quickly and generates power. With that, Martin appears to play with a ton of emotion and seems to have the ability to really get himself fired up to block for the run. As a result, Martin looks like a bull attacking defensive linemen. When he is right, which is more often than not, he locks on and just drives and goes until the whistle blows.
There are a couple risks with how Martin run blocks and they occasionally show up but not as often as one might think. The first is that Martin can occasionally miss his mark and not hit the target flush which opens up a lane for the opponent to attack the ball carrier. This is extremely rare as Martin does a great job of consistently taking good angles and using his hands well. The other is that defensive lineman will occasionally get him leaning too far forward and use a quick move to get past him. Especially going to the NFL, this could pop up more often, but again, he seems to be effective enough with his technique that he avoids it happening too often.
For as hard as he fires off of the ball, Martin has good body control and is able to gather himself quickly. Martin can help with a double team, attacking with full force to help his guard establish control of a block, then turn and go get another opponent with every bit of energy he had on the first block, lock on, and drive that player off of the ball.
The intensity he brings and the pure passion he brings with that effort make him extremely enjoyable to watch as he does it as well. It seems characteristic of a player who has always been slightly undersized and had to play like that to survive and excel. His style of play appears to have been born from necessity and as he adds the power to be a legitimate NFL player, if he maintains that style and attitude, he could be scary. Not only is that great for Martin, but it sets a tone for the rest of the offensive line as well as the rest of the locker room in terms of effort, which is always good to have.
Martin is an effective player when it comes to getting to the second level and making the block on the second level defender. His use of angles and his speed going forward makes him extremely effective and has the ability to catch some defenders a little by surprise. He is also able to pull if needed and kick out to lead block on the outside.
Martin has an above average ability to slide and get outside to protect the edge. He can get be beaten to the outside and simply not be able to get out far enough, fast enough to make the block. Where Martin excels is in how well he mirrors the opponent. Martin can get beaten, but it is rare that he is fooled. He does a good job of staying in front of the opponent.
As long as he can get there to cut off the block, Martin can handle speed pretty well. He can control the opponent or at least push him outside of the play. Martin has a little more trouble when it comes to taking on power. With Martin, the way he operates as a run blocker is in part because he is not an overpowering force. He takes advantage of momentum as much as he possibly can. That is not there when it comes to pass pro, so he is at a disadvantage when it comes to pure strength and has to rely on technique to be effective. For the most part, he is able to do that and shows a good base, anchors well, and can hold his ground. He has been able to add strength which has allowed him to anchor more effectively and handle power with more confidence.
Like with his run blocking, more strength would make a huge difference for Martin and continuing to work on trying to protect the edge against the furthest outside speed rush. The technique and ability is there; the physical ability needs to catch up for him to take another step forward.
Occasionally, he can get knocked off balance as he tries to work to the outside, which can cause him an issue. This is part of why some believe he might be better suited to slide inside and be a left guard. Reducing the amount of area he has to cover allows him to easily keep the opponent in front of him and dominate in that facet of the game.
Martin has good hand use and makes use of a good punch, especially in the running game. Momentum obviously helps, so this is something he can continue to improve in the passing game and help to slow down and control opponents. Martin is able to use his hands to control them and keep them in front of him once he has engaged his block. Once he has made the block, it is extremely rare that he will lose it. Opponents get the best of them when they are able to keep his hands from getting into their body.
Martin is smart and judicious with his steps. He rarely wastes a step and mirrors extremely well. Martin takes good angles, wastes little motion and is able to be extremely efficient. He does need to work to get better at protect the furthest edges of the pocket from the outside rush, but Martin does a good job of taking away the inside lane.
Martin is at his most impressive when he comes off of the ball and goes forward. He has a great first step and really goes downhill and enables him to get to the opponent quickly, which makes it difficult for them to react and counter. He is able to help with double teams or get to the second level effectively in addition to kicking out and pulling.
Martin seems best suited to a zone blocking scheme or a system that wants to take advantage of his range and ability to play on the move. If he stays at tackle, this is less of a concern and he could play in most any scheme. If he is drafted to play guard, scheme might be more important, but he can pull, play on the move, and get to the second level pretty easily.
Martin’s game is somewhat similar to newly retired New York Giants offensive lineman David Diehl. Diehl played a little of everything in his career for the Giants, showing the ability to contribute at both tackle and guard. He was able to do a solid job as a tackle but always seemed to be a little more suited to play guard and helped contribute to the Giants winning both Super Bowls. That might be where Martin is in terms of his game. He seems like he can do a good job as a tackle and warrants getting the shot to prove it but might be more suited to play left guard.
There is no question that Zack Martin understands the position of offensive tackle. The question facing him is how far his physical ability can take him and how much it can improve going forward. Martin is extremely technically proficient and does everything he can to make up for the dominant physical ability he lacks. Still, Martin has been an extremely effective offensive tackle for the Irish and deserves to see if he can play there in the NFL, but might be better destined to be a guard in the long run. He has been able to address some of the concern dealing with his strength, so he has taken an important step forward in his ability. Martin projects as a second day pick and likely will be gone in the second round, but with the way linemen can go in bunches, there is a chance he could go at the end of the first round.
Some of the film used in this scouting breakdown was provided by the good folks at draftbreakdown.com