The offensive tackle class features some of the best prospects in the entire class with the potential for half a dozen to go in the first round of the draft. As is usually the case, the NFL is always trying to find more blockers, especially when it comes to protecting the quarterback position and there is virtually no team that can say they are not always looking for more. Here are the rankings for this year’s group of tackles, which only include players that I have broken down:
1. Jake Matthews, Texas A&M - Matthews is one of three elite prospects in this class. He has all of the tools including strength, agility and technique to be a great left tackle. Matthews has experience at both tackle spots and has been outstanding in protecting Johnny Manziel as well as being nimble enough as a run blocker to get out and wrap, going from left tackle all the way outside of the right tackle to get out and run block. In addition to everything else, he has great bloodlines and the question is not whether or not he will be a great tackle, but how great he can be. The only reason he is not more frequently discussed is because it is understood how great he is. There is no real argument with him.
2. Greg Robinson, Auburn - Had Robinson stayed in college, he would have warranted getting talk for next year’s Heisman Trophy in the preseason based on how overwhelming he was down the stretch this past year. Robinson has the tools and potential to be an Orlando Pace level tackle. He is incredibly strong and athletic. In terms of the offense, Robinson can actually be looked as a weapon in just how impactful he can be as a run blocker. The issue with Robinson is he is still raw, being hit or miss as a run blocker and really has a ways to go in pass protection. It may be only a matter of time when Robinson dominates, but the fact that Matthews should be good from the word go while Robinson may experience some growing pains is what separates the two. Robinson has as much upside as just about anyone in the entire draft.
3. Taylor Lewan, Michigan – There is no question that Lewan has a ton of talent. He can occasionally have problems getting all of his functional strength out of his hips, but he has been an impressive run and pass blocker basically since his freshman year. On talent, the argument can easily be made that Lewan warrants a top 10 or top 15 pick. The problem with Lewan is a concerning pattern of behavior in his time in Ann Arbor that is not much different from the type of behavior that Richie Incognito displayed when he came out of Nebraska. It remains to be seen if this will have any impact on his draft status or if this will come back up during his NFL career the way it did for Incognito.
4. Joel Bitonio, Nevada - Bitonio has proven he can play against some of the toughest competition in the country and excel. Additionally, he has crossed off potential issues at each check point in the process including at the Reese’s Senior Bowl and then the scouting combine, where he was one of the best performers at the tackle position in the class. There is some talk that he could be moved to guard or center, but he should be given every chance to play at least right tackle first. Bitonio has the athleticism to get out and block and the tenacity to finish blocks and look to dominate.
5. Zack Martin, Notre Dame - Martin is a great technician to the position that lacks ideal physical characteristics, but gets the job done. Despite talk that he could ultimately kick inside to guard, players that went up against Martin at the Senior Bowl continually referred to him as the best competition they faced. This could be a case of Martin being a head of the game technically and that advantage will disappear at the next level, but it is difficult to argue with the guys facing him. The other small concern with Martin is that he is maxed out physically. Like with Bitonio, Martin should get every opportunity to play tackle before moving inside to left guard if it comes to that.
6. Morgan Moses, Virginia - Moses is a powerful run blocker that really handles himself well in a phone booth, anchoring against power. His lateral quickness is not ideal, but he makes up for it with good angles and length. Occasionally, he has some issues dealing with speed rushers, but for a gap scheme that is going to keep the opponent more honest up the middle, Moses could be extremely successful.
7. Wesley Johnson, Vanderbilt - In what is supposed to be the best conference in the country of the SEC, Johnson has a ton of starting experience at both tackle spots as well as at guard and he could play center. Johnson is an absolute grinder that just loves the game and loves being an offensive linemen. He also put together one of the better performances any offensive lineman had against Jadeveon Clowney this year.
8. Antonio Richardson, Tennessee - Some are quick to dismiss Richardson after a disastrous outing against Clowney, but Richardson is another gap scheme tackle that shows impressive strength. His upper body, especially his shoulders and back are incredibly strong that he actually looks unusual for the position. Richardson is a powerful run blocker that has relied on his brute strength and needs to continue improving his technique but there is a ton of potential to work with here.
9. Ja’Wuan James, Tennessee - Although James played right tackle across from Richardson, he has more than enough athleticism and ability to play on the left side. He really looks the part, having a terrific, lean build that allows him to be athletic as well as strong. The issue with James is that he will have issues with concentration and occasionally just misread what opponents are doing, resulting in some lookout blocks. There is a good amount of potential with James, but those mistakes are what could ultimately prevent him from every being reliable enough to protect the blind side.
10. Jack Mewhort, Ohio State – Mewhort has great feet and athleticism that allows him to operate in protection effectively and get to the second level or kick out without issue. He is an effective positional blocker, but between having trouble getting behind his pads and a need to add more strength, Mewhort can have some issues generating power in the running game. If he can continue to get stronger and improve his leverage, he can be a starting tackle.
11. Michael Schofield, Michigan - Schofield was overshadowed by Lewan as well as an ineffective interior to the Wolverines offensive line. Nevertheless, Schofield was an extremely effective player in his own right. He has prototypical size and foot speed and the only thing that is really holding him back is the fact that he needs to continue to get stronger. As a result, Schofield could end up one of the best tackles in the class that many people never knew existed. He could certainly end up moving over to play left tackle in the NFL.
12. Billy Turner, North Dakota State - Turner is a small school player with big time talent if he can be put in the right situation. He has a ton of experience playing, entering the Bison lineup as a freshman and ultimately moving out to left tackle. Against the FCS, Turner was a man amongst boys that could occasionally toss opponents around like rag dolls. The Senior Bowl showed a player that was somewhat overwhelmed and he may not be suited to play left tackle at least initially. Whether at right tackle or perhaps guard initially, there is plenty to develop and like about Turner including a mean streak and the willingness to finish opponents.
13. Brandon Thomas, Clemson - Thomas would have finished higher as a talented blocker with range and strength that could play tackle or guard in a zone scheme, but an ACL injury during training will force Thomas to miss next season and be put on the shelf for a year, hoping he can recover fully from injury. If he can do that, Thomas has the talent to come in and start or at least be a great addition to depth with versatility and the potential to be a starting cog in the the offensive line.
14. Cornelius Lucas, Kansas State - Lucas is such a tough situation, because as a junior, he was a wall at left tackle for the Wildcats. He showed the ability to shut down opposing pass rushers with his overwhelming length, looking like Jonathan Ogden as he simply dwarfed opponents. His tremendous arm length and feet would allow him to slide out and cut off opponents and he was able to absorb power as well. Lucas was far more inconsistent in pass protection as a senior, having issues with opponents setting him up one way and going another, but he still shows talent to protect the quarterback.
If a team is content to get little in run blocking, Lucas could be a quick impact player that could come in and play. He can get in position as a run blocker, cutting opponents off, but it is a struggle for him to get behind his pads and driving anyone. The result is he gets virtually no push in the running game and is almost entirely ineffective when he cannot simply get in the way.
15. Cyrus Kouandjo, Alabama - In another case of damaged goods from Tuscaloosa, Kouandjio has the prototypical size and length to play the position. He became a better run blocker this past year and showed more of a mean streak. The issue with Kouandjio is the potential for a serious knee condition that could short circuit his career before it starts. If his knee is fully healthy as is, he struggled in workouts, especially when it came to speed and explosiveness. If his knee is not healthy, a team’s doctors are going to have to project how much better it can get. If he can recover fully from a knee injury, he could be a good tackle for a long, long time in the NFL. So, in essence, a team has to hope Kouandjio is hurt. That is an extremely tough sell.
16. Kevin Pamphile, Purdue - Pamphile is another in the increasingly potent pipeline of NFL talent from Haiti. He has barely played football, only picking it up as a senior in high school, not playing as a freshman in college and starting out his career on the defensive line. As a junior, he started seeing some time, but it was not really until part way into his senior year when he moved to left tackle where he started showing just how much potential he has. His strength and athleticism are off the charts and if he can develop and really learn the game, he could be a stud down the road. It may take a few years, but it could be worth it.
17. Seantrel Henderson, Miami(FL) - Seantrel Henderson looks like Atlas, but he treats the game like a burden rather than an opportunity. He is the prototype offensive tackle in terms of size, length, power, and athleticism, but it only shows up in flashes. Off the field issues have resulted in suspensions from games and inconsistent play has resulted in him being benched or subbed out at times. At the Senior Bowl, seemingly an opportunity to revitalize his value in the draft, he was invisible. If someone or something can motivate him to play with everything he has, there is no telling how far he can go, but it is worth asking if he even wants to play football at this point.