Live Big or Die Ugly . . . The Sequel That Will Not Die!
2012 Big Ugly Series - Offensive Left Tackle Review
Submitted by Long Ball, DOF
March 19, 2012
"Long Ball" heads up Drafttek's scouting crew . His personal specialization are the "Big Uglies", Linemen on both the Offensive and Defensive side of the line of scrimmage.
Defensive Line Review (3-4 Defensive Ends)
Interior Defensive Line Review (Defensive Tackles)
Go to Right Offensive Tackle Review
Go to Left Offensive Tackle Review
Go to Interior Offensive Line Review
Getcher popcorn ready, the movie is fixin' to start . . . one would think there would be better titles of sequel movies for me to pilfer! LOL welcome back to the trenches, it's that time of year again when old Long Ball pulls out his "cheaters" (reading glasses for you young 'uns) and squints at the prospects that really make things happen in a football game: the Big Uglies! As I am extremely fond of saying (and I'm sure by now that you're tired of hearing), my philosophy has always been that I don't care if you run a pro-style formation, shot-gun, run-and-shoot, Wildcat (single-wing) or the wishbone . . . . if my big guys whip your big guys, I'm gonna win!
This year, I'm going to incorporate some simple mathematical equations developed by Pat Kirwan (from his book "Take Your Eye Off The Ball") to bring the "underwear olympics" into play for the Big Uglies: explosion (Bench Press Reps + Vertical Jump + Long Jump, sum of 70 is outstanding) and lateral agility (40-yard dash time - 20 yard shuttle, difference of 0.5 seconds is outstanding). As in the previous three years, we will start on the offensive side of the ball and then work our way over to the defense . . . so while I'm searching for my grading cards on the 2012 prospects, let's review some of the basics.
Developing NFL offensive linemen is normally a 2-3 year process - many players' first starting opportunity is at a position they will not remain, i.e. future LT's may start at RT, future RT's may start at OG, etc. In some instances, a college offensive tackle may struggle in space in the pros, leading to an inside move.
Left tackles are coveted for their ability to protect a QB's blind-side (given the limited number of left-handed QB's in the NFL) and must be able to block the opponent's best pass-rusher, who normally exhibits both speed and power in their respective pass-rush moves. As these athletes' values are normally quite high among NFL talent evaluators, Drafttek differentiates between Left Offensive Tackles (LOT) and Right Offensive Tackles (ROT) - keep in mind as we go through this evaluation process that many of these prospects would be quite capable of manning either position. On top of that, defensive coordinators will move their best pass rushers around, looking for a favorable match-up; as a result, ROT prospects cannot be totally bereft of pass protection techniques.
The quality at the top of this year's LOT draft class is impressive . . . 4 prospects have 1st round grades and should be "plug-n-play" starters for the teams that draft them. After those fellas are a whole lot of "ifs, ands, buts, maybes" who could be developed and we'll take a look at some of the more interesting "hidden gems" after introducing the "Fantastic Four".
Matt Kalil of USC is the #1 LOT in this year's draft class. The 4th year junior declared for the 2012 NFL Draft and it appears he made the right decision . . . he played the position for the Trojans well enough to keep last year's #9 pick, Tyron Smith on the right side of the line. Classic size at 6'7" and 306 lbs, Kalil dispelled any concerns about being strictly a technician and lacking athleticism at the Combine with a 4.99 forty (1.69 for the 10 yard split, which is more important for the Big Uglies), 4.65 shuttle, 7.33 3-cone, 27" vertical and 30 bench reps. I cannot calculate the explosion factor since he DNP in the broad jump and his lateral agility is only average (0.34), but his 34-5/8" reach and 80-1/8 wingspan more than make up for it.
Kalil is smooth in pass protection out of his stance, demonstrating patience in allowing the defender to come to him. His reach and arm length are such that once Kalil gets his hands on his opponent, he has the power and agility to mirror every movement. If you wanted to illustrate the impact of appropriate OL posture, a picture of his technique with knees bent, shoulders square and on the balls of his feet should be required viewing. Excellent recognition and anticipation in pass protection, as he picks up stunts and blitzes.
In run blocking, Kalil is quick off the snap, maintains good pad level and leverage, and utilizes the strength in both his upper and lower body to drive his opponent off the line. He has excellent hand placement (inside the numbers), progresses well to the second level and shows acceptable (not great) mobility in blocking secondary targets. Kalil occasionally exhibits some of that "mean streak" I love, taking advantage of off-balance defenders with a "breakfast block" (pancake). Matt Kalil is not perfect, as he can improve on his strength and explosion in his lower body, which will improve his run-blocking; however, he is as close to NFL-ready as Joe Thomas was as a rookie . . . high praise indeed!
Long Ball's "pet cat" among this foursome is Riley Reiff from Iowa (Kirk Ferentz can coach some linemen, can't he?). He may not be the smooth, polished technician that Kalil is, but he generates raw power and displays a nasty disposition. Reiff, who carries 313 lbs on his 6'6" frame, had average results at the Combine with a 5.23 forty (1.71 10-yard split), 4.75 shuttle, 7.87 3-cone, 26-1/2" vertical, 8'02" broad jump and only 23 bench reps. His 33-1/4" arms promote an 80" wingspan, his explosion factor is 58, his lateral agility factor is 0.48 . . . but folks, game tape don't lie!
In pass blocking, Reiff rarely lost the edge battle to college DE's due to his lateral agility and length . . . and heaven forbid if they try to bull rush, as he locks up immediately. He exhibits natural knee bend and reach to send edge rushers around the pocket and/or the strength to just knock them to the ground, and is quick enough on recovery to cut off the inside rush lane. Riley shows excellent technique at cut blocking, attacking the thighs of defenders (unusual for a 6'6" lineman). He needs to work on maintaining upright posture, relying on his length and feet instead of bending at the waist. Stronger ends can get into his pads and drive him back due to his late and inconsistent hand placement. If Riley would set a wider base, he would be able to anchor more effectively against the power rushes he can expect in the NFL.
Reiff is an athletic run blocker who gets off the snap low (outstandingly so for his height) and with quickness, making him desirable for a power running game (essential in short yardage). He also possesses the lateral movement to effectively wall off opponents on the edge, and speed to get to the second level easily and at the appropriate angle to prevent defenders from reaching the play (evident on combo blocks from lineman to linebacker). Reiff is another tackle with a "mean streak", punctuating the end of his strong blocks by extending his arms through the defender for emphasis.
Riley has some work ahead of him to improve his technique at the next level . . . but that's what NFL offensive line coaches are paid to do! The coaches will find that they have plenty to work with (picture D'Brickashaw Ferguson with the speed of Trent Williams) . . . plug him in at LOT or ROT, this kid is a battler.
If Old Long Ball was to get out his Crayolas and draw a picture of a prototypical NFL offensive tackle, he could do far worse than using Mike Adams as a model. 6'7", 323 lbs and I would be surprised if his body fat % was much more than some of the WR prospects in this year's draft. However, "body beautiful" does not always translate to physical prowess . . . in his early years at Ohio State, Adams did not always play up to his perceived potential. His combine results were less than flattering: 5.40 in the forty (1.75 for the 10-yard split), 4.95 shuttle, 7.94 3-cone, 28-1/2" vertical, 8'04" broad jump and only 19 bench reps. His 34" arms promote an 82" wingspan, his explosion factor is 56, his lateral agility factor is 0.45 . . . but there is evidence that his maturity is increasing, a belief that he is "growing into his body" and a conclusion that his best years are ahead of him.
In pass blocking, Adams utilizes his height and length to his benefit. He normally gets out of his three-point stance with good knee bend and a wide base, and is constantly improving his hand placement to redirect rushers away from the pocket. He sets a strong anchor in close quarters, negating bull rushes with his strong hands and excellent footwork to sustain his position. He can rely on his length too much, allowing defenders to get the corner or spin inside.
Adams is a strong positional run blocker (flashing some of that Long Ball nastiness), attacking his opponent, but sometimes losing his balance by overextending. He's a "dancing bear" who can wall off inside and reach linebackers at the second level. His strong initial punch can knock down smaller defenders with one extension, but his height can work against him in short-yardage plays, as defenders can get under his pads to hold the line. Adams is best on the outside due to his height and athleticism, but is capable of blocking on the move.
Adams had some "off the field" problems, violating team rules in 2009, stopped for running a stop sign and had drug paraphernalia, and one of the 5 Ohio State players who sold championship rings, jerseys and awards for benefits received from a tattoo parlor owner. Nevertheless, this a "quick-twitch" athlete who appears to have grown up and could anchor either side of an NFL offensive line.
I have Jonathan Martin ranked a little lower than some scouts . . . not that I think he won't be a fine pro, but to me he's "just a little light in the britches"! He can build up his lower body with an NFL weight program, and will need to based on the DE's he can expect to see at the next level. Martin was recovering from an illness and did not participate at the NFL Combine; as a result, we will have to wait until Stanford's Pro Day on March 22nd to look at numbers. He is 6'5" and 312 lbs, has 34" arms and a wingspan of 80-1/8".
In pass blocking, Martin is an athletic left tackle with natural bend, lateral agility and good foot quickness. Although he plays with a wide base to stand up against a strong punch and anchor against bull rushes, stronger rushers (like he'll face in the NFL) can get under his pads. He uses his hands well and will reset them while moving laterally to mirror his opponent, and bends to get his man to the ground when they are getting low around the corner. The only time he gets in trouble is when he gets lazy with technique, stops his feet and reaches, which allows defenders to get around him with hands and quickness.
Martin displays only average strength in run-blocking, as he is more of a positional blocker with good feet and lateral agility to wall off defensive ends. He does have a little "Long Ball Nastiness", as he stays on his block until the whistle, and sometimes after. Martin excels in ZBS, as he pushes the pile to give running backs cutback lanes. He lacks the foot speed and ability to sustain blocks to consistently produce as a move blocker, though his effort to reach and cut defenders in space is good. But his lack of straight-line speed should not be confused for quickness, as Martin has that "quick-twitch" and probably anticipates the snap as well as any college tackle.
As Martin improves his strength through the years, he will be a solid LOT (not ROT) but may take an additional year or two to fully reach his potential.
Prospects worthy of a 2nd to 3rd round grade include Zebrie Sanders (6'6", 320 lbs), who played both tackle positions at Florida State after Andrew Datko suffered his second shoulder injury. At the end of his extraordinary long arms (35" with 83-5/8" wingspan) are 10-7/8" meat hooks that look like hands. His Combine results include a 5.41 forty (1.76 for 10 yard split), 5.00 shuttle, 8.16 3-cone, 27" vertical, 8'04" broad jump and 28 bench reps: this gives him an explosion factor of 63 and a lateral agility factor of 0.41.
In pass blocking, Sanders exhibits good knee bend, can slide his feet, anchor, and athletically respond to double moves. His hands are strong, placement is excellent and when he sinks his hips, sets an excellent anchor against the bull rush. The one concern is handling the super quick edge rusher, as his foot speed and quickness are good, but not great. Sanders can occasionally lunge and lose leverage in an attempt to punch too soon.
Sanders run blocks with excellent leverage, sinking his hips and generating power with his lower body, moving opponents off the line. He is an outstanding blocker on the move, agility is good, power is excellent and would make one helluva pulling guard. Fires off the snap quickly, gets to the 2nd level well and finishes blocks with an attitude.
He started at LOT as a true freshman in 2008, moved to ROT for the final 10 games, started at ROT for 12 of 13 games in 2009 and 13 of 14 games in 2010. In 2011, when LOT Datko suffered a season ending shoulder injury, Sanders moved to LOT for the final 8 games. Although he would be a great swing OT, he is clearly too good not to be a starter: the question is, which side? Zebrie's willingness to play where needed accentuates his intangibles, which are off-the-charts great. Like the old song goes "Put me in Coach, I'm ready to play . . . today!"
After the top five, the next group of prospects who could potentially play LOT in the NFL "have some warts". Mitchell Schwartz of California (6'5", 318 lbs) is a versatile lineman, much like his older brother Geoff who plays for the Carolina Panthers. After redshirting in 2007, he started all 13 games in 2008 as a redshirt freshman (3 at right tackle, 10 at left tackle). Schwartz moved to right tackle in 2009 as a sophomore (13 starts), earning All-Pac 10 Honorable Mention honors. He switched back to left tackle in 2010 as a junior and started every game, earning Second Team All-Pac 10 honors. Schwartz started all 13 games at left tackle in 2011 as a senior, earning First Team All-Pac 12 honors.
Schwartz had a good Senior Bowl, which improved his draft stock . . . he didn't start playing football until high school and appears to still be growing into his body. I would not call Mitchell a "quick-twitch" athlete, but he is a high-effort blocker with strong intangibles. He reminds old Long Ball of Doug Free (Cowboys) as a rookie, and may end up on the right side but exhibits the toughness, maturity and intelligence to be a backup (maybe a swing tackle) while fighting for a starting spot.
If an NFL team is looking for a "late bloomer", they could do worse than Brandon Mosley of Auburn. Mosley (6'5", 314 lbs), a former TE (who has also played DE, but more on that later), has the raw potential (that dreaded word) to blossom. At the combine, he ran a 5.21 forty (1.75 for 10 yard split), 4.78 shuttle, 7.43 3-cone, 27" vertical, 8'07" broad jump and 30 bench reps: this gives him an explosion factor of 66 and a lateral agility factor of 0.43.
In pass blocking, Mosley exhibited a somewhat "cool" attitude, easing out his stance and allowing the defender to come to him. He plays with natural knee bend and lateral agility to remain square to his opponent and has a strong initial punch and long arms to control their advance. Techniques such as hand placement (sometimes too low against swim moves) and kick-slide need to be improved, but even with his limited experience, is a quick study in recognizing stunts and blitzes.
Mosley is an athletic run blocker, coming off the snap low and with good leg drive to gain the necessary push off the line against opposition. He also possesses the lateral movement to seal off defenders on the edge. Once again, hand placement is inconsistent and must get higher (on the numbers) as defenders can slip his blocks. Mosley gets to the second level easily and is surprisingly fluid in his movements and sound in the angle of his blocks. The former DE has enough of that "mean streak" to finish his blocks and pancake the opponent when he senses a loss of balance.
Some of your favorite names may not have been discussed at this point, so I'll provide some short reasons ("levity with brevity") as to why I believe they will not be able to play LOT at the next level. Matt McCants of UAB (6'6", 308 lbs) has raw athleticism but will need to be "coached up" on technique, Tony Bergstrom of Utah (6'5", 313 lbs) will most likely find his calling at ROT or OG due to faulty footwork, Nate Potter of Boise State (6'6", 303 lbs) is a finesse player that needs serious time in the weight room, and even after that will probably be limited to a ZBS, and Levy Adcock of Oklahoma State (6'5", 322 lbs) is, in a word, a heavy-footed plodder.
But now I want to jump to my "Dark Horse" category . . . two players who I believe could be solid starters at LOT after 2-3 years. The first prospect is Bobby Massie of Ole Miss (6'6", 316 lbs) . . . now before I hear "Long Ball, that ain't fair - he's highly ranked!" Yep, but he's "highly ranked" at his college position (ROT) . . . and he helped Ole Miss lead the SEC in fewest sacks allowed. Some scouts have Massie as a right tackle only or moving inside to guard, but with his athleticism (and a couple years of NFL coaching), he might have the potential to move over to the blind side.
My second dark horse is from all the way up in little old South Dakota: Tom Compton (6'5", 314 lbs). A 5th round investment might net an NFL team a solid developmental project . . . Compton stood out in game tape, albeit against lesser competition. He displayed his athleticism at the Combine, where he ran a 5.11 forty (topped all OL prospects with 1.67 for 10 yard split), 4.60 shuttle, 7.59 3-cone, 30" vertical, 9'0" broad jump and 20 bench reps (however, it should be noted that he squats 700 lbs): this gives him an explosion factor of 59 and a lateral agility factor of 0.51. Time in an NFL weight room will rapidly improve that explosion factor. His 34" arms promote a wingspan of 80-7/8".
Too many numbers? How about a durable, 4-year starter in college with leadership intangibles that are off the charts? Yes, he may end up on the right side of the line (which ain't all bad) but the football smarts are there to build a solid starting LOT for some NFL team willing to invest the time.
That takes care of this first post covering LOT prospects . . . on my next segment, we'll go over to the other side of the line and analyze the ROT prospects.