Projecting picks in the NFL Draft is a question of supply and demand. And there are few positions more in demand of this particular draft than tackle. There are almost no teams in the NFL who are satisfied with both of their starters on the edge of their offensive line in 2012, and the free agent market at the position is downright depressing.
That means that teams looking to beef up the exterior of their lines are going to be hunting high and low for talent in this year’s Draft, which is very bad news for all the teams who will be scrambling against one another for the available talent, but it’s very good news for any draft prospect that has a remote chance of playing tackle.
We could be looking at some very serious reaches and trade-ups for tackles all over the first few rounds of the NFL draft, as the Tier A (Kalil, Reiff, Martin, Adams) and Tier B (Datko, Massie, Potter, Sanders) are reached for.
There is a good amount of tackle talent available, some of them more naturally fit for the more athletic left tackle and left positions, some of them more naturally fit for the more powerful right tackle and right guard positions. I do my best to preview 18 prospects over the course of this post for you to familiarize yourself, projecting what round they are most likely to go in, as well as what positions they are most naturally suited to play.
There are plenty of other prospects that aren’t mentioned in this post. If you have any you think we should keep an eye on over the next two months, post it in comments!
Matt Kalil, USC (projected: 1st)
6’6″, 306 lbs.
Compared to the other top-end tackles in drafts prior, Kalil probably would fall somewhere in the middle. He is much more of a “sure thing” compared to 2011′s Tyron Smith and Nate Solder, but doesn’t boast the all-around game of 2010′s Trent Williams, Russell Okung, or even Anthony Davis. The reason he’s not the outstanding prospect some make him out to be involves his one-dimensionality. Kalil is a great pass protector, and kept Barkley’s blind side clean all season despite the assortment of talent he saw against him: speed guys, power guys, no one was successful. This makes him incredibly unlikely to bust, and one of the safest picks you can make this year. But his run game has some serious holes in it, he’s not particularly powerful and he doesn’t blow defenders off the spot like a Joe Thomas or a Branden Albert. Which means his talents aren’t going to transfer to right tackle.
Riley Reiff, Iowa (projected: 1st)
6’5″, 313 lbs.
Position(s): LT, LG, RG, RT
Ladies and gentlemen: Bryan Bulaga, volume two. Now, I was notorious two seasons ago for beating up on Bulaga, but that’s because people kept painting him as a Top 10 candidate. Which he wasn’t. He was a really good right tackle prospect that people kept trying to paint as an elite left tackle. I continually chimed in my dissent, and sure enough, he falls to the Green Bay Packers at #27 overall and has played right tackle ever since. Do I think Reiff is headed for the same fate? Not so fast… I think Reiff has more left tackle potential than Bulaga. He’s a punishing run blocker and boasts an athletic versatility Bulaga never had. He was originally recruited to play tight end, for instance. But he has excelled everywhere along the offensive line he’s played: guard, right tackle, left tackle. And he’s blossomed since Bulaga left. I think his versatility makes him the surest thing at tackle in the 2012 draft, and you can bet on him being a Kansas City Chief if he falls to #11.
Jonathan Martin, Stanford (projected: 1st)
6’5″, 312 lbs.
Position(s): LT, LG
Martin is a finesse pass-protector, whose game is built better all-around than Kalil’s is. But I think he has a work left to be done on his fundamentals, because like Kalil, he is a bit light and he doesn’t play with that kind of power you love to see in your big uglies up front. It should also be noted that he was protecting Andrew Luck, and I think Andrew Luck might have a Peyton Manning effect on his teammates, making them all look so much better than they actually are. Martin is going to get overdrafted, like I think all of this year’s tackles will be, but he struggles against power rushers, which he’d see constantly at right tackle, making him a poor fit there. He’s going to have to play on the left, but until he develops his fundamentals, he’s going to get beat like a rented mule there. Draft Martin if you have a year to either sit him (crazy, I know) or play him at guard or tackle and let him get beat while he slowly figures it out.
Mike Adams, Ohio State (projected: 1st)
6’7″, 323 lbs.
Positions(s): LT, RT
Adams is a massive, powerful stud with surprising agility. With his measurables, you’d think he could rocketing up depth charts, and he could have been the best tackle in this year’s draft. He’s got great ability in pass-protection, as he defeated everybody he went up against at the Senior Bowl. He might not time well at the Combine (5.4 40 yard dash), but Adams is capable of punishing speed demons and doesn’t give an inch to power rushers. He will need some work on his technique, but he can groomed for a season on the right side if you want without fail; he is punishing and powerful in the run game. All that said, he is the most likely to slide in the first round of the four Tier A tackles. Work ethic has been a major concern of his this offseason, which is an even bigger red flag than usual because it was raised during draft season. That is the red flag which will keep his considerable talent from ever getting drafted by Scott Pioli.
Nate Potter, Boise State (projected: 2nd)
6’6″, 303 lbs.
The lazy comparison is often the best one to start off with: is Nate Potter the next Ryan Clady, former BSU Bronco and current Denver Broncos LT extraordinaire? This time, the answer is yes. He is, in all his inconsistent glory, the next Ryan Clady. That means for every really good season you get out of him, you’re getting two really underwhelming seasons. Potter comes with a polish to his pass protection that any number of teams would love to reach for, but he’s the smallest 6’6″, 300-pounder I’ve seen. He is a total finesse tackle, possesses no real mean streak that I’ve seen, and he just looks light? That doesn’t mean he can’t excel in the NFL, but teams will bull-rush him until he gets thicker. It looks like he’ll need at least two years to get to realize his potential in the size department, but will that negate his great athleticism in pass blocking?
Bobby Massie, Ole Miss (projected: 2nd)
6’6″, 316 lbs.
Position(s): LT, RT
I love Bobby Massie, when he’s on. There is some game film on Massie from 2011 when he looks like a surefire first rounder. It was only a couple games, and for the most part it looks like Massie lacks some of the athleticism and technique to make the left side work, but he should be able to handle the right side perfectly. Nonetheless, there are about 10 teams who will need help at their left tackle positions in 2012, and with nothing in free agency, most of those teams will be looking to reach in the draft. With the first round come and gone and the four top prospects off the board, teams will be looking for a desperate chance to land a left tackle in the top half of the 2nd. Massie is, to me, the most likely candidate for that. Again, he will need some work, but he is very young and has stretches where he just seems as good as any candidate on the board this year.
Andrew Datko, Florida State (projected: 2nd)
6’6″, 315 lbs.
It’s the second round. Your team is in desperate need for a left tackle. Nobody in free agency was worth a darn, and the Big Four in the first round are all gone. Where do you look? Chances are, you’ll give Datko a good look. There has been some buzz around his teammate and fellow prospect, Zebrie Sanders, but Datko was Florida State’s incumbent at left tackle and was never supplanted by Sanders. Datko, when he was healthy (he’s had concerns with his shoulder), has had a good career at FSU protecting the blind side who is never out of the play, even when he’s beat. He has had some injury concerns, yes, but he has shown an unbreakable spirit in his work ethic. He has consistently put on weight (which he carries very well) at the request of his coaches, and now stands as one of the biggest tackle prospects, weight wise, in the first three rounds. He still lacks power, however, and one fears that he may be injury prone. So he may not have any juice as a right tackle.
Mitchell Schwartz, California (projected: 3rd)
6’6″, 318 lbs.
Schwartz is a great right tackle prospect, with really zero left tackle potential. In his four years at Cal, he has grown into looking like a ten-year NFL veteran in the run game. His base stays really low and he uses every ounce of his frame to blow through defenders. He has enough athletic versatility, however, to play with that kind of aggressiveness in the power-run scheme or a zone-blocking scheme, but that’s his game. His pass game has some serious issues, and will need work. He was clowned at the Senior Bowl by Melvin Ingram and Quentin Coples, players he’ll see less playing on the right side. There’s a possibility he could play inside if you need him too, but you want that kind of great blast on the right side of your line in the run game.
Zebrie Sanders, Florida State (projected: 3rd)
6’6″, 320 lbs.
Position(s): LT, RT
Sanders played left tackle for much of last season when Andrew Datko went down with injury. He played reasonably well, but there were too many games where the bottom fell out. I like that he can play the left tackle position in a pinch. But he’s much more of a right tackle utility guy than he is any sort of answer at left tackle. He is a zone blocking tackle, I believe; a lot of the mistakes he makes in pass protection are against bolder, stronger passrushers who attempt to bowl him over. He will need a strong performance at the Combine to demonstrate his strength. He’s plenty athletic, it’s his power that concerns scouts.
Levy Adcock, Oklahoma State (projected: 3rd)
6’5″, 318 lbs.
Position(s): LG, RG, RT
Adcock entered this season as a force at tackle that many (myself included) thought could threaten the first round. Instead, he suffered through injuries and opposing teams started to throw the farm at him. The result was a mixed season; he stonewalled teams towards the end of the year at left tackle, but as the team shuffled him between tackle positions in 2011, he sometimes looked overwhelmed and consistently lost out to speed rushers. He does have a good degree of natural power to his game, but he just looks so much slower this year. Adcock might be a threat to slip to the third day of the draft, as teams start thinking of him more as a guard than as a tackle. I could see him as either, but he does seem to be a bit of an awkward fit as tackle… He is a powerful blocker but he doesn’t have that outstanding size power-blocking teams love, though I think he’d still excel in that system, and he’s definitely not a fit in a zone-blocking scheme, although I am no expert. Guard might be where he lands.
Senio Kelemete, Washington (projected: 3rd)
6’4″, 307 lbs.
Position(s): LG, RG
I watched Kelemete a ton last year when he protected Jake Locker’s blind side, and some this year as he bulldozed paths for Chris Polk. I just don’t see him as a tackle. I am including him here for completeness sakes. He puts up amazing work in the weight room and is soon to blow everybody’s pants off in Combine. But the one thing I think he is absolutely miserable at is his kickslide. It’s like watching a kodiak bear battle for the right to mate… it’s pretty damn ugly. It’s so ugly that I think he’s going to need a year inside before he does anything at the tackle position.
Brandon Mosley, Auburn (projected: 4th)
6’6″, 314 lbs.
Position(s): RG, RT
Mosley is a dramatically underrated prospect. Recruited to Auburn as a tight end, Mosley still has a ton of room to grow as a tackle. He could be plugged in as a guard immediately, but I think he’s just too athletic to waste on the inside. Mosley is going to be a midrounder because he will still need some development and his experience in college has almost been exclusively at right tackle, but I think he’s a great midround pick. Because while he is a good athlete, he is a powerful road-grader at right tackle. You can tell that Mosley just relishes thrashing defensive lineman in the run game, and that enthusiasm, combined with his potential, as well as his experience in the SEC makes him a fantastic flyer if you need support at tackle.
Markus Zusevics, Iowa (projected: 4th)
6’5″, 303 lbs.
Position(s): RG, RT
It’s easy to look at any Iowa prospect as a future Pioli draft pick, especially offensive lineman. They are all exceptionally well coached for a program with a good track record for producing “hit” draft picks. Zusevics fits the pedigree. He lacks some athleticism, but is a whistle-to-whistle run defender and doesn’t relent even when he hits the turf. His pass protection is also very strong but he ends up helpless against clearly superior athletes. Unfortunately, he’ll see a ton of those in the NFL, so it wouldn’t surprise me to see him slide in and play guard rather than man the right tackle position.
James Brown, Troy (projected: 4th)
6’4″, 306 lbs.
Every year a few developmental guys crop up that fascinate the pants off of everyone, and this year Brown seems to be the guy with the right materials. He’s a natural bender, he’s got really good arm length, he fended off strong competition at the Senior Bowl, and looks natural on the move. For a team that could have a hole at right tackle in a year or so, Brown makes for an interesting prospect to groom. He’s going to need a year to polish up some of the technique, and his frame will demand more size in order to fend off more powerful defenders, but he’s got enough natural athleticism and ability to demand placement at tackle.
Matt Reynolds, BYU (projected: 5th)
6’5″, 302 lbs.
Position(s): LG, RG, RT
Reynolds is a mystery to me, because he is clearly a very intelligent football player who received superior coaching in a great program at BYU. But so much of Reynold’s game seems off to me. All season, he looked sluggish on the edge, and his footwork and handwork and seemingly every other kind of work you can have was just off. He was once thought of at the start of the 2011 season as a threat to go in the first round. But all I see is an enthusiastic run blocker who can’t be trusted to protect the area that a tackle has to protect. If he hasn’t “gotten it” against inferior competition with top notch coaching, he may just be destined to play guard in the NFL.
John Oglesby, Wisconsin (projected: 6th)
6’7″, 338 lbs.
A titanic-sized lineman, Oglesby is a poor man’s Phil Loadholt. He is a pure road-grader in the run game and should be on big boards for any and every power-blocking team. The problem is that he is not much of an athlete, even by offensive linen standards. He ran a 5.8 40 yard dash at the Combine, and was beat like a drum by the speed rushers he faced throughout 2011, including Whitney Mercilus. If you start Oglesby at tackle, you have to give him help all game at the NFL if you’re facing any sort of athletic passrush. As a result, Oglesby is much more of a guard than he is a tackle, and should be utilized that way.
Matt McCants, Alabama-Birmingham (projected: 6th)
6’6″, 308 lbs.
Position(s): RG, RT
I don’t think I have ever watched a game of Alabama-Birmingham my entire life, but I’m including McCants in here because he was getting some buzz before he laid an egg at the NFL Combine (5.5 40 yard dash, only 17 reps on the bench). He’s certainly got the size teams adore in offensive tackles, and that 308 lbs that he weighed at the Combine is light, I believe. I think he’s got room for as much as twenty more pounds of muscle on his frame. His 35″ arms are ridiculously long, among the longest in this draft class. It’s written that McCants is a really good athlete; he has the ability to move very well in space that will make him supremely appealing to zone blocking teams of all stripes. I’m told that I “have to see this kid in space,” apparently he’s amazing at the second level.
Bradley Sowell, Ole Miss (projected: 6th)
6’6″, 316 lbs.
Position(s): RG, RT
Sowell is a developmental prospect for a power running team. His strongest attributes are his great size (I imagine he will get much larger) along with his natural demeanor to play downright nasty on the field. But he has the propensity to get beat like a drum by athletic defenders, and will need some time to develop on the back end of someone’s roster.