What’s the difference between the NFL Draft’s top OTs?
I do not know how to evaluate offensive tackles. There’s a good chance you do not know how to evaluate them.
NFL football players of other positions probably cannot evaluate offensive tackle play all that well, either.
Cardinals general manager Steve Keim, an offensive lineman in his playing days, has enjoyed scouring tape of the top offensive tackles in the 2020 NFL Draft. Four of them could be top-15 picks.
And even though Arizona extended left tackle D.J. Humphries and inked right tackles Justin Murray and Marcus Gilbert to one-year deals this offseason, the best player on the board at No. 8 this Thursday just might be a tackle.
“The left tackle was thought of as your premium protector,” Keim told reporters Wednesday. “People are flopping ends and outside backers now to be able to create those mismatches. You can’t get pigeonholed and say, ‘Oh, you only play left or right tackle.’ You want guys to have positional flexibility as well as a scheme that supports that.
“There’s some of these tackles, they’re all different in this draft, which has been fun to watch all these guys because they bring different skillsets. Some are a little more physical, some are better pass-protectors. A couple of them can play inside, outside. A couple of them can play at left tackle and right tackle. They have been fun to evaluate and we have had a lot of fun stacking all those players.”
Of course, Keim wouldn’t say which of Tristan Wirfs, Jedrick Wills, Mekhi Becton or Andrew Thomas were his favorite. He only said this:
“At the end of the day I think that all four of them are going to be good players and you just have to determine what fits what you do best.”
So let’s take a deep dive look at each of those players to see what might fit Arizona best.
Tristan Wirfs, Iowa — 6-foot-5, 320 pounds
Branded as an athletic wonder for some time now, Wirfs was a football player, wrestler and thrower in high school who earned a starting job at right tackle during his freshman year at Iowa.
While he transitioned to left tackle if needed, he mostly stuck at the right spot because the Hawkeyes had already named their left tackle before Wirfs pushed his way onto the right side. Some draft experts view him as a future guard.
What Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz said: “I think you could play him probably anywhere but center, and he probably could do that if you gave him some time. You play a guy like that inside, he’s basically going to kill guys. He’s a dominant player that way.”
What Cardinals GM Steve Keim said: “Wirfs has got tremendous upside athletically, does things out in space that are amazing. You’d like to think that’s he’s just going to continue to get better and better.”
Reading between the lines for the Cardinals: In several ways, Wirfs looks like a great fit for Arizona if Keim believes he has the “it” factor to work on his technique that has room for growth. That’s because Keim has a history of going after athletic wonders — at the offensive line position and beyond.
Wirfs ran a 4.85-second 40-yard dash at the combine, far and away the best at his position group. He posted a tackle combine record 36.5-inch vertical, beating all but 16 of the 46 wide receivers at this year’s combine with that mark.
The Iowa product also tied an offensive tackle record with a 10-foot-1 broadjump.
Arizona could test-run Wirfs at right tackle this year and worst-case move him to guard as a future replacement for Justin Pugh or J.R. Sweezy if that’s more his forte. His value as an athletic, down-the-field blocker with the ability to survive on an island in pass-pro makes him a fit in Kliff Kingsbury’s spread offense.
Jedrick Wills, Alabama — 6-foot-4, 312 pounds
Wills may be on the smaller side for a tackle, but his attitude, experience and technical skills push him among the creme of the crop.
He has 29 career starts on game-tape and quite a bit against high-level competition while playing for contending Alabama teams. With quick feet and quick hands, he’s a compact but powerful tackle who like Wirfs could play guard and mostly played at right tackle — it should be noted that was the blind side for left-handed Crimson Tide quarterback Tua Tagovailoa.
What NFL.com analyst Lance Zierlein said: “Jedrick Wills fires from his hips, he unlocks into his drive-blocking. He’s a physical, aggressive drive blocker, he’s got a nasty streak. He’s got really nice feet to set out wide to catch speed rushers, and he’s got the ability to slide back inside against counters, and that’s a major problem right now for Wirfs. I don’t really think it’s that close between Wirfs and Wills, to be honest with you.”
What Cardinals GM Steve Keim said: “Our guy out of Alabama, he can play guard, he can play right tackle, he’s tough, he’s nasty.”
Reading between the lines for the Cardinals: Looking past the “our guy” comment, Keim might lean more toward a player like Wills over Wirfs considering his recent comments over the past two drafts.
The GM known for going after athletic standouts donned a Pat Tillman Cardinals jersey during his video call with reporters on Wednesday, a reminder that he wants guys who love the game of football over those who blow scouts away during 40-yard dashes.
From the comments on Wills, he’s got the drive.
Mekhi Becton, Louisville — 6-foot-7, 364 pounds
A behemoth of a tackle, Becton can play either side of the line, but his height and frame bring blessings as well as unique challenges.
He’s got a 7-foot wingspan and the power to dominate, but leverage could be an issue.
What ESPN’s Todd McShay wrote in his March 2 mock draft: “Linemen weighing in at 364 pounds aren’t supposed to run 5.10-second 40 times. Becton has versatility and power, and he obviously moves extremely well for his massive 6-7 frame. And if you’re the Cardinals, you can’t let your 5-10 franchise mobile quarterback continue to take 50 sacks per season.”
What Cardinals GM Steve Keim said: “You’ve got Becton, who is freakish and one of the most powerful and gives you that wow factor.”
Reading between the lines for the Cardinals: Like Wirfs to an even greater degree, the Cardinals would need to feel good about Becton’s trajectory going in a positive direction, as he’s a unique developmental player despite how ready-to-go he might be upon entering the NFL.
The good news is Arizona in 2019 gained a lot of trust in offensive line coach Sean Kugler to get the job done from an internal developmental standpoint.
There are, however, weight concerns, as Becton’s size has fluctuated. That could be a problem in an uptempo offense.
Becton also got flagged pre-draft for a failed drug test.
Andrew Thomas, Georgia — 6-foot-5, 315 pounds
Thomas is arguably the most consistent and well-versed when it comes to both run-blocking and pass-protection.
After starting every game his freshman year at right tackle, Thomas moved to the left side and has the most college experience of this group with 41 starts under his belt at Georgia.
Thomas was an early favorite to be the first offensive tackle off the board before Wirfs, Wills and Becton pushed their way up the board in recent months. It’s not exactly his fault he’s “old news.”
What NFL.com’s Lance Zierlein wrote: “He’s a Day 1 starter who comes in well-coached and technically savvy, but occasional leaning, lunging and inconsistent knee bend in pass pro could be isolated and attacked by pass-rush wolves looking to feast if he doesn’t get those areas cleaned up.”
What Cardinals GM Steve Keim said: “He’s probably one of the best pass-protectors.”
Reading between the lines for the Cardinals: It would be a surprise to fans if Arizona selected Thomas considering he has been surpassed — by mock-makers, anyway — in the pecking order. You would think one of Wirfs’ or Becton’s upside, or Wills’ fierceness, will be the deciding factor.
That said, The Athletic anonymously polled 17 pro personnel people who picked Thomas as the best tackle on the board. Because of that, maybe Thomas is viewed as having the highest floor — he’s the safest of the four tackles to become a reliable starter.