NFL Draft ’14: Ranking the offensive tackles
The Arizona Cardinals have talked extensively about wanting to infuse their lines with youth, length and speed.
It’s very possible they’ll choose to do that in next week’s NFL Draft, particularly on the offensive side of the ball.
The reality in the NFL is you can never have enough talent on the offensive line, especially at tackle.
While the Cardinals may not have a shot at the top names, there are some players to know heading into the draft.
Here’s a look at my top offensive tackles in the 2014 NFL Draft.
(Note: Rankings are based on how I believe prospects will pan out in the pros, not where they will be drafted.)
Jake Matthews, Texas A&M – 6-6, 308 lbs. – (Top 10)
The consensus top names at the tackle position in the draft, Matthews and Robinson, will be long gone by the time the Cardinals are on the clock. Both players offer elite, but different talent.
Matthews is a technician who understands the importance of footwork, hand placement and leverage better than most prospects.
He isn’t nasty or a bully in the run game or in pass pro, but he consistently wins, and does so with ease.
Matthews will have to answer questions if he helped Johnny Manziel more than Manziel helped him, as pass rushers could not just pin their ears back and go after the elusive QB.
Greg Robinson, Auburn – 6-5, 332 lbs. – (Top 5)
Robinson is the opposite of Matthews, offering an unlimited athletic upside and a mauler at the point of attack in the run game.
He shows enough athleticism to be a tackle in the NFL, but was not asked to drop into pass pro a lot while at Auburn, something that will make or break his time at tackle. Worst case scenario for Robinson is he moves down to guard, like former Cardinal Leonard Davis.
Joel Bitonio, Nevada – 6-4, 302 lbs. – (Round 2)
Maybe the most athletic tackle prospect in the draft, Bitonio continued to turn heads at the Combine after a very good Senior Bowl.
Bitonio plays like a wild man, seeking out people to hit, often foregoing proper technique in favor of just finding someone to pummel.
Bitonio doesn’t play to his length enough, too often letting defenders get into his body. His footwork is sporadic as he is overaggressive and will lunge and attack.
Many project Bitonio as a guard, but his length and ability to lock down some of the best pass rushers in college means teams should give him a look at tackle first.
Taylor Lewan, Michigan – 6-7, 309 lbs. (Top 20)
He may not have prototypical left tackle feet, but Lewan is a scary, imposing force on the field.
Lewan uses his length well, keeping defenders at bay and coupling that with a strong punch, he can be extremely effective in pass pro.
Lewan has an elite first step off the line in the run game, shows the ability to drive and punish defenders when he gets on them and plays well at the second level when he gets there cleanly.
Lewan’s footwork and base too often don’t jive with his upper body, allowing defenders to counter that length and get by him.
He misses blocks by ducking his head and lunging too often which will negate his length and strength advantage.
Morgan Moses, Virginia – 6-6, 314 lbs. (Late Day 1/Early Day 2)
No one in this draft looks more like a franchise left tackle than Morgan Moses. With his long, large body, massive wing span and frying pan sized hands, Moses is exactly what you want in a tackle — if you are just looking at him.
Moses doesn’t play nearly as strong as he actually is and his length can be negated by sluggish footwork. But when he gets his hands on someone, the game is over in pass pro.
In the run game, Moses again struggles to use his natural abilities to his advantage, as he doesn’t stay low and explode but will pop up and plod through blocks.
He looks winded and out of shape at times and needs to get whipped into shape into the weight room.
Zack Martin, Notre Dame – 6-4, 308 lbs. (Day 1)
Maybe the “safest” offensive line talent outside of the top two, Martin is a highly experienced, highly productive tackle product that maybe doesn’t have the measurables you want in an offensive talent, but does possess the raw skills.
Martin is a fantastic technician who uses a strong punch, good hand placement and excellent balance to keep pass rushers at bay.
He has to win with technique because he doesn’t possess the frame to keep defenders at bay. If someone gets inside it is hard for him to recover, but as a right tackle he should not have as much of a problem.
In the run game, Martin is a smart, quick and accurate blocker, getting his hands on guys and getting people turned. He doesn’t have great strength and a lot of the time doesn’t win, but gets stalemates.
Ja’Wuan James, Tennessee – 6-6, 311 lbs. (Day 2)
In terms of athletic potential among tackles in this draft, there are two names that jump off the page: Greg Robinson and Ja’Wuan James.
James is a long, quick athlete who isn’t the most powerful guy, but has a great frame and uses his upper body well.
James’ lower half presents a problem, though, as his quick feet do not show up when he is in pass pro. He too often ends up bending at the waist and reaching for defenders.
James isn’t a huge force in the run game. He can get moved and pushed back, but he does a good job of getting a release and getting off the line of scrimmage and getting to the second level.
Billy Turner, North Dakota State – 6-4, 315 lbs. (Day 2)
Small school players are always hard to break down because at times they are so overwhelmingly superior in a physical aspect that they can get away without having the finer points of the game down.
Turner seeks out contact and plays with a mean, nasty demeanor that shows off an ability to dominate his opponents at times.
He uses his hands well in pass protection and has the length and strength to win consistently from the tackle position.
He struggled against superior competition at the Senior Bowl and may have to move down to guard if he can’t figure out his footwork as a tackle.
In the run game, Turner has to learn to play with a lower pad level, as his raw athleticism and strength won’t be able to overwhelm in the NFL.
If he figures out his technical flaws, he has the ability to be a special player.
Cyrus Kouandjio, Alabama – 6-6, 322 lbs. (Day 1/Day 2)
While many have soured on Kouandjio, he’s the type of guy you plug in at right tackle and enjoy what he does well.
He has the length and strength to be an excellent asset in pass protection, but his feet are slow, he doesn’t have great flexibility and he has to get his hands on a guy or he’s in trouble.
As a run blocker, it’s all about getting into his man, and when Kouandjio is on, he’s an elite-level run blocker. But if he’s struggling to find his man and latch on, he can get lackadaisical and start lunging and leaning.
Jack Mewhort, Ohio State – 6-6, 309 lbs. – (Day 2)
Mewhort has the look of an NFL left tackle with a good frame and long arms, but he doesn’t play nearly quick enough.
Mewhort excels in fighting with players in close quarters in pass pro, as he is able to mirror his hands and feet when engaged. But ask him to cut a pass rusher off the edge and things get hairy.
When run blocking, Mewhort wins with quick, heavy hands and a good drive blocking, but he struggles to get to reach blocks and isn’t great at getting to the second level and getting his hands on linebackers.
Best of the Rest:
• Laurent Duvernay-Tardif, McGill (Canada) – 6-5, 321 lbs.
• Antonio Richardson, Tennessee – 6-6, 336 lbs.
• Cameron Fleming, Stanford – 6-5, 323 lbs.
• Seantrel Henderson, Miami – 6-7, 331 lbs.
• James Hurst, North Carolina – 6-5, 296 lbs.