2021 NFL Draft prospects to know for the Cardinals: Offensive line
There’s a ton of ways the Arizona Cardinals can go with their first-round pick in the 2021 NFL Draft.
While cornerback and wide receiver figure to be the most likely and beneficial, getting some added protection in the trenches for third-year quarterback Kyler Murray wouldn’t be such a bad idea.
It may not be the sexiest pick in the draft, but it could pay dividends in the future. Keeping your signal caller upright is key to NFL success.
A look at some of the offensive linemen the Cardinals could target in the first round, whether they stand pat with the No. 16 pick or make a move up or down:
Penei Sewell, Oregon
Considered the best offensive lineman in the draft, Arizona likely won’t see Sewell fall low enough to 16th. That doesn’t mean the Cardinals couldn’t trade up, however.
Although the tackle opted out of the 2020 season, Sewell enters the draft after starting two seasons at Oregon. As a sophomore in 2019, the 6-foot-5, 331-pound tackle won the Outland Trophy, which is given to the top college football lineman on either side of the ball. Sewell made 13 starts that season.
NFL Network’s Lance Zierlein writes:
Rare-breed tackle with good size and the elite foot quickness to make the most challenging move blocks the game has to offer. He’s an explosive athlete who is better at moving forward than backward at this point, and his tape shows an ability to single-handedly spring touchdown runs (both long and short) with “wow” blocks. He possesses average balance and core strength, but he has trouble protecting his edges when rushers get into his frame.
Zierlein’s NFL comparison of Sewell is none other than the San Francisco 49ers’ Trent Williams, one of the highest rated tackles in the league.
Christian Darrisaw, Virginia Tech
Joining Sewell as another offensive lineman that could be potentially gone before No. 16 is Darrisaw.
The left tackle started all 35 games he played with the Hokies since 2018, including 10 starts last season. He missed one game due to a groin injury.
Darrisaw received Second Team All-American honors and was named to the First-Team All-ACC for his efforts in 2020. He didn’t allow a sack and gave up just six pressures.
The Draft Network’s Joe Marino writes:
Virginia Tech offensive tackle Christian Darrisaw earned the opportunity to start for the Hokies as a true freshman and did nothing but improve for three seasons, developing into a dominant blocker in 2020. From a size, length, and mobility standpoint, Darrisaw firmly checks the boxes and should immediately become an asset to an NFL franchise in pass protection, outside zone runs, and utilizing his exceptional ability to pull and connect with moving targets in space. Like most young offensive linemen, Darrisaw has room to add functional strength to improve his overall power at the point of attack, but it’s far from a deficiency that is of major concern.
Rashawn Slater, Northwestern
Slater rounds out the trio of offensive linemen that potentially won’t last to pick No. 16, but hey, anything can happen.
The 6-foot-4, 304-pound tackle, who is the son of former NBA player Reggie Slater, started all three seasons at Northwestern before opting out of 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
After starting out at right tackle in 2017, Slater moved over to the left side in 2019.
His compact frame carries play strength that can be filed in the “grown man” category, as evidenced by his heads-up battles against 2020 No. 2 overall pick Chase Young in 2019. Slater operates with confidence and efficient movement that sees him in position to get his job done on most snaps. His lack of length will lead some teams to view him as a guard, but the footwork and talent outside might be worth allowing him to prove it at tackle first. His combination of strength, athletic ability and quick processing should make him one of the safer offensive line picks in this draft and an early starter.
The draft analyst compares Slater to Cincinnati Bengals tackle Jonah Williams.
Alijah Vera-Tucker, USC
The 6-foot-4, 308-pound guard is a much more realistic option for the Cardinals at No. 16 if they choose to go that route.
After redshirting his freshman year at USC, Vera-Tucker served as a backup guard on the right side in 2018 before starting all 13 games at left guard the following season. He started all six games in 2020.
For his efforts last season, Vera-Tucker was awarded the Morris Trophy, which goes to the best offensive and defensive linemen in the Pac-12.
Zierlein, who compares the guard to the New York Giants’ Will Hernandez, had this to say:
Ascending wide-body with powerful hands and above-average core strength, allowing him to play with good balance and control the action around him. He’s not a forklift-style drive blocker, but he does have the frame and natural strength to improve in that area if he can play with a little better pad level. Vera-Tucker is adept at catching and tagging moving targets in space. His effective play at left tackle in 2020 might create some buzz about him making that a permanent position if teams are OK with his lack of prototype length. He’s a plus in pass pro and solid as a run blocker.
Teven Jenkins, Oklahoma State
Jenkins is slotted to go a few spots lower than Vera-Tucker in numerous mock drafts.
The 6-foot-6, 315-pound lineman started 35 of his 37 games played at Oklahoma State. Primarily used at right guard, Jenkins also saw time at both tackle spots.
He played in eight games in 2020 before opting out of the season due to lower back issues.
The Draft Network’s Jordan Reid writes:
The … senior offensive tackle is a top-heavy blocker that has experienced success in the team’s Air Raid offense. A quick setter that’s prone to take horizontal pass sets, he’s created a habit of establishing quick wins by striking his hands and controlling defenders. As a run blocker, he’s able to create considerable amounts of movement when able to gain momentum prior to engagement points. A well above average finisher, Jenkins is the type of offensive lineman that attempts to humiliate players in the opposite color jersey. … Jenkins’ athleticism and lack of overall range may create questions about his potential at offensive tackle and there will be some teams who grade him as a guard as a result.