Grading the Pro Potential: Offensive Tackles

Auburn's Greg Robinson, Texas A&M's Jake Matthews and Michigan's Taylor Lewan are the cream of a bumper crop of offensive tackles. Head NFL scout Dave-Te' Thomas provides his opinion on those players and several others.

Teams looking for offensive line depth will find it in abundance during the 2014 draft. Most of the early-round attention will be for the stud offensive tackles. While I see the league having at least "20/20" (at least 20 tackles and 20 guards drafted), the quality and quantity along the front wall is featured at this position.

The steady rise of Auburn's Greg Robinson saw him surpass Texas A&M's Jake Matthews on most draft boards throughout the league. With patient coaching, Robinson has the potential to be in the Jonathan Ogden class, as he has only two seasons of experience under his belt.

The first thing you notice about Robinson is his quickness and flexibility in his kick slide. He has classic natural knee bend with good hip snap to redirect and mirror the edge rushers. He is nimble moving his feet in his pass set-up, retreating fluidly while maintaining body control. He shows good urgency and leg drive coming off the snap, demonstrating the knee bend to drop his weight well.

Robinson possesses above-average strength (one of six draftable tackles who can bench press 225 pounds at least 30 times, producing 32 reps at the Combine) to create and hold the rush lanes and is very consistent attaining strong anchor. His balance and flexibility allow him to change direction fluidly, and he shows very good acceleration when blocking into the second level.

Robinson is quick to readjust and plays on his feet, showing good body control and balance operating in space. His lower-body flexibility lets him recover to anchor, and he is very smooth changing direction to get in front on traps and pulls, demonstrating very good foot speed when having to run long distances (seven of his 25 touchdown-resulting blocks came from at least 20 yards away from the line of scrimmage in 2013).

Robinson earned All-American and All-Southeastern Conference honors in 2013. He had 172 knockdown blocks, most by clearing rush lanes for a pair of Tigers ball-carriers that each gained 1,000 yards on the ground, just the third time in school history multiple players reached the 1,000-yard level in the same season.

The left tackle's acclaim as a "man playing against boys" had scouts flocking to campus in droves. What they saw was this youngster producing a national-best 25 touchdown-resulting blocks. Auburn would capitalize on that blocking prowess to lead the nation in rushing (4,596 yards) and rank 12th in scoring (553 points) on the way to a meeting vs. Florida State in the BCS Championship Game.

Robinson started all 26 games that he played in at Auburn University, manning the demanding left offensive tackle position. Among the 64 touchdown runs recorded by the Tigers the last two years, Robinson had 38 touchdown-resulting blocks, adding 292 key blocks/knockdowns.

From the moment the 2013 NFL Draft concluded, Matthews rested at the top spot among 2014 draft hopefuls on many teams' boards. He entered his final season perched at the top spot among tackles, but while he had his typically steady performance for one of college football's most explosive offenses, Robinson's emergence pushed Matthews down at least one spot at this position. Some even have him resting behind Michigan's Taylor Lewan.

Matthews, a two-time All-American and All-Southeastern Conference first-team selection, has been the cornerstone of the Aggies' offensive line ever since he stepped into the starting lineup for the final seven games of his freshman season. The team would win 36 games during Matthews' time at College Station, and he would form one of the best bookend tackle tandems in college football from 2010 to 2012, as he was joined on the Aggies' front wall by Luke Joeckel, who was the second overall selection in the 2013 draft by Jacksonville.

Matthews has excellent athletic ability for an offensive lineman, as he runs with a normal stride and shows very good balance attacking and stalking second-level defenders. He consistently shuffles his feet when engaging defenders in the trenches and has the flexibility to change direction without taking added steps.

He displays very good balance staying on his feet during his pass protection retreat and shows very quick hand usage in attempts to position, gain position and create separation (excels executing the scoop and cross blocks). He comes off the snap with good initial explosion and is quite nimble for a lineman, as he gets out on traps and pulls in a hurry, maintaining balance throughout his stride.

Matthews has the physical tools to be a productive starting left tackle at the next level, but he could see quicker action with the first unit on the right side, a position he has considerable experience playing. Due to his quick feet to get into position to make the blocks on the edge, along with his above-average balance, he also has the ability to perform capably as a pulling guard. He is an exceptional hand puncher with the arm quickness that rivals any other offensive lineman in the SEC.

As a senior, Matthews delivered 116 knockdowns along with 22 touchdown-resulting blocks, including 16 for a rushing attack. His ability to protect the pocket allowed Johnny Manziel and crew to rank seventh in the nation with 4,593 aerial yards and fourth in the FBS with 6,999 total yards. For his career, he appeared in 52 games for Texas A&M, starting his final 46 contests — the first 33 at right tackle and the final 13 on the left side. He collected 369 key blocks/knockdowns and recorded 65 touchdown-resulting blocks as a collegian.

While there has been a lot made about Lewan's frustrations and attitude that led to the worst game of his career vs. Michigan State in 2013, along with his off-field troubles coming under the microscope, his athletic ability and production has never come under question.

Lewan is an aggressive blocker with a functional power base, making him one of the elite blow-up, impact type of players in this draft. On contact, when he drives with his feet, he can generate movement on the double team. He generally plays under control and shows that he has the ability to work his hips in attempts to wall off and force the chase route. It is rare to see him get too tall in his stance, as he works hard to stay low in his pads, doing a nice job of swinging his hips and running his feet well leading on the sweep.

Lewan is textbook-perfect rooting out second-level defenders and he is usually in position of advantage, especially when asked to seal, as he has good ability to wheel and cut off the back side. He flashes quick, active feet in his kick slide, as he has the lateral agility to mirror and adjust to stunts, thanks to his ability to redirect at a low pad level. When he drops his weight, he has no problems adjusting to the outside blitz.

The Wolverine blocker moves fluidly to challenge in one-on-one confrontations and has excellent body control playing in space, demonstrating the initial kick off the snap to surprise a slower opponent. When he drives with his legs and rolls his hips on contact, even the stronger bull rushers are contained.

The emotionally charged offensive tackle is the type that coaches and teammates love, but opponents hate, as his mantra when he steps on the football field is "take no prisoners." While there are times when his aggression will lead to costly penalties, even the defensive linemen that combat him each week have the utmost respect for Lewan, knowing that he is the type of opponent that will leave everything out on the football fields.

Lost in the media attention that Lewan received, whether fairly or unfairly, was the stellar play on the other side of the offensive line, where right tackle Michael Schofield might be the best player in this draft at that position. The Michigan senior has very good timed speed (5.01 seconds in the 40-yard dash, with a clocking of 1.73 seconds at 10 yards) and footwork, along with the ability to quickly recover when out on an island with an edge rusher.

When he gets out of position, he is quick to redirect, thanks to good hip snap. He shows very good strength and good explosion out of his stance, as he consistently plays with a good base. He doesn't bend too much at the waist and is a solid second level blocker, thanks to his foot speed and good agility in the open field. He's the type of athlete that looks better on tape, as he will surprise a lethargic defender with his quickness anchoring and establishing position.

Schofield flashes above-average body control, balance and change-of-direction agility on the move, and those attributes could see a few teams regard him more as a guard, due to his success on traps and pulls. With his strength, he can be explosive coming off the snap, but when he narrows his base and gets too upright, it negates his anchor. He has good lateral agility working in-line and runs with a normal stride getting out in front on drive blocks.

While it is evident that Zack Martin of Notre Dame will go within the first 35 picks, most teams are targeting him to play an interior line position. He showed during practices leading up to the 2014 Senior Bowl that he is capable of performing at the same level as a left guard that he did as a left tackle. North Dakota State's Billy Turner, Nevada's Joel Bitonio, Boise State's Charles Leno and Vanderbilt's Wesley Johnson are all college tackles that have better draft value projected as guards (see upcoming guard analysis for further details on this group).

Tennessee has a pair of tackles going in different directions on draft boards. Antonio Richardson was considered certain first-round material, while JaWaun James was regarded as a mid-round type before the 2013 season. Richardson decided to "go through the motions" at left tackle for the Vols, while James was perhaps the most dominant drive blocker in the SEC not named Greg Robinson.

James has the frame to develop more bulk, but he possesses above-average strength, especially in the lower frame, and appears to be stout at the point of attack, despite possessing a linear, basketball player-like physique. His athleticism and loose hips explains his flexibility moving laterally, and he has good quickness on the move to attack second-level defenders.

You can see on film that James has suddenness getting out on the edge to block for the outside running game. He shows good change-of-direction agility, loose hips and good agility to sit and anchor. Despite his tall frame, he has become quite adept at keeping his pad level down. He might lack explosive speed, but is fairly nimble for a down lineman, displaying good body control moving down the line, as he has probably the best change-of-direction agility of any UT lineman in the last decade. He runs with a normal stride and shows good agility and balance in his retreat and kick slide to develop into a quality pass protector. With his body control on the move, he should have no problem at the next level, if called upon to make contact down field.

Richardson needs to keep his head in the game, as his mental lapses have proven costly. He did not have a great season — South Carolina's Jadeveon Clowney simply destroyed Richardson during their 2013 meeting, constantly walking the tackle back into the pocket. The problem with this junior is that he is very inconsistent using his hands and constantly uses his body as a crutch, either leaning into or overextending when trying to stop the edge rushers.

Richardson gets very frustrated when his initial move fails to work in pass protection and he needs footwork refinement, as he fails to open his hips or recover when a rusher executes a quick spin move. He gets too tall in his stance, leading to problems in attempts to establish a strong base. With his long arms, it should be very difficult for defenders to get around him, but he gets his hands outside his frame and whiffs often when trying to deal with outside-in and inside-out moves.

The player who has perhaps gained the most in moving up draft boards is Stanford's Cameron Fleming, called by our staff a "man playing with boys" for the devastating blocks he delivered the last two years. Guard David Yankey got all the ink, but Fleming appears to be a much better prospect and likely will battle with Michigan's Schofield for interest from teams looking for an instant starter on the right side of the line.

Fleming's frame continues to develop bulk and strength. He has a lot of similarities to the Titans' Michael Roos with his outstanding size and wingspan. For a player his size, he plays with a good base, is light on his feet, stays low in his pads, and defenders have had little success in attempts to push him back into the pocket. With his strength, he can be explosive coming off the snap, and he has good lateral agility working in-line, along with running with a normal stride getting out in front on drive blocks.

Fleming is highly capable of jolting and shocking defenders with his hand punch. He has good natural strength and the ability to knock defenders off the ball coming out of his stance with arms extended. When he stays low in his pads, he creates movement and uses his body mass to lean into and get underneath the defender to sustain. He started all 39 games that he appeared in for Stanford, missing two contests with an ankle sprain as a redshirt freshman. He finished his career by posting 272 key blocks/knock-downs and 30 touchdown-resulting blocks.

Virginia's Morgan Moses is getting some late first-round consideration, but will likely still be available during the second day of the draft. Even though his linemates allowed 39 sacks last season, Moses yielded just two on 506 pass plays. The senior showed throughout the season that he knew how to utilize his reach and hand punch to stave off those quick jab-steps inside and explosive bursts that his opponents featured weekly, simply preventing his assignment from reaching his quarterback by delivering an emphatic pancake block.

Much was made of the poor performances by Alabama's Cyrus Kouandjio at the 2014 NFL Combine, followed by an equally unimpressive showing during the Tide's Pro Day. Many thought that injuries could have been a factor, but if you look around the league, former Alabama players failing to live up to their press clippings have become commonplace, and I expect Kouandjio, safety Ha-Ha Clinton-Dix and linebacker C.J. Mosley to be the next wave of disappointing performers coming out of that program.

The Tide blocker has the functional foot movement to slide and reach his set point, but needs to do it more consistently. It is no secret that he is not an explosive hip roller, but shows good body control to generate movement in the short area. He is a bit top heavy, causing him to overextend at times, but he showed better patience waiting for defenders to attack him in 2012, rather than try to step out and attack them kike he did last season.

Kouandjio has to learn to keep his hands inside his frame better, as too often in 2013 he could not prevent from falling off blocks. He has the functional feet for a left tackle, but struggles when defensive ends cross his face and needs to be more active with his hands, as he lacks the hip snap to readjust to counter moves.

One of the main reasons Ohio State lost just twice in the last two years has been the leadership and drive blocking skills of Jack Mewhort. The senior made his mark during his final season, leading the Big Ten Conference with 24 touchdown-resulting blocks among his 115 knockdowns. His dominance in the trenches earned him All-American and all-Big Ten Conference first-team honors, along with an invitation to play in the 2014 Senior Bowl. He saw the Buckeyes set school season-records for points scored, most total touchdowns, most yards rushing and finish third in school history with 45 touchdowns on the ground.

The early portion of the draft's third day is where teams will have the opportunity to still find potential down-the-road starting tackles. Heading that group should be Boston College's Matt Patchan, Justin Britt of Missouri, Kevin Pamphile of Purdue, James Hurst of North Carolina, Cornelius Lucas of Kansas State (both Lewis and Hurst have injury issues) and, from north of the border, Laurent Duvernay-Tardif from McGill University.

MY PERSONAL LIST

CREAM OF THE CROP: Greg Robinson (Auburn) and Jake Matthews (Texas A&M)

BEST OF THE REST: Taylor Lewan (Michigan) and Cameron Fleming (Stanford)

MOST UNDERRATED: Michael Schofield (Michigan) and Jack Mewhort (Ohio State)

MOST OVERRATED: Cyrus Kouandjio (Alabama) and Seantrel Henderson (Miami)

SUPER SLEEPER: Laurent Duvernay-Tardiff (McGill University)

                                                                                                               
PLAYER HTWT 40225 VJBJ SH3C PRORND
#ROBINSON, Greg   6:05332 4.9232 28 1/209'05" 4.867.8 8.71
MATTHEWS, Jake   6:06308 5.0724 30 1/208'09" 4.477.34 7.71
LEWAN, Taylor   6:07309 4.8729 30 1/209'09" 4.497.39 7.61
MARTIN, Zack (OG) 6:04308 5.2229 2808'10" 4.597.65 72
JAMES, JaWuan   6:06311 5.3422 2908'07" 4.567.42 6.82
#FLEMING, Cameron   6:05323 5.2826 23 1/208'01" 58.24 6.73
MOSES, Morgan   6:06314 5.2226 2608'11" 4.957.93 6.62
KOUANDJIO, Cyrus   6:07322 5.4221 3108'10" 4.827.71 6.32
SCHOFIELD, Michael   6:07301 5.0125 25 1/209'00" 4.577.62 6.34
MEWHORT, Jack   6:06309 5.3728 2608'05" 4.647.79 6.14
TURNER, Billy (OG) 6:05315 5.1625 2809'00" 4.717.92 64
PATCHAN, Matt   6:06302 4.9722 33 ? 09'05" 4.637.45 5.95
#RICHARDSON, Antonio   6:06336 5.336 3108'01" 4.998.11 5.74
DUVERNAY-TARDIF, Laurent 6:05298 4.9433 31 1/209'06" 4.657.3 5.65
BRITT, Justin   6:06325 5.1923 27 1/208'04" 4.698.14 5.56
PAMPHILE, Kevin   6:05310 4.9425 3209'00" 4.817.61 5.36
%HURST, James   6:05296 5.2824 2507'09" 4.878 5.26
%LUCAS, Cornelius   6:08316 5.2924 29 1/208'02" 4.887.92 5.17
HENDERSON, Seantrel   6:07331 5.0425 2407'11" 4.778.15 5.16
GRAF, Kevin   6:06303 5.0327 2908'11" 4.777.53 57
SCOTT, Garrett   6:05307 5.0525 33 1/209'07" 4.47.09 57-FA
%QUIGLEY, Bryce   6:05300 5.0722 3008'08" 4.87.9 4.97-FA
HALL, Matt   6:09324 5.4832 27 5/808'05" 4.887.77 4.97-FA
GRAHAM, Parker   6:07308 5.3429 30 1/208'06" 4.787.93 4.87-FA
HAWKINS, Donald   6:05301 5.2827 23 1/207'09" 4.87.82 4.87-FA
MARTIN, Chris   6:05305 5.1433 3108'08" 4.687.77 4.7PFA
FINKENBERG, Evan   6:05300 5.2526 2408'05" 4.77.68 4.7PFA
VAN DYK, Mitchell   6:07313 5.1214 2708'07" 4.887.47 4.7PFA
SIRLES, Jeremiah   6:07308 5.3721 2608'06" 4.867.83 4.7FA
VAN SLOTEN, Brett   6:06300 5.2726 2808'04" 4.787.45 4.7FA
FONOTI, Fou   6:04308 5.1224 28 1/208'10" 4.697.66 4.7FA
WILLIAMS, Kadeem (OG) 6:07310 5.5617 27 1/207'07" 5.218.35 4.6FA
QVALE, Brent   6:06318 5.224 2908'03" 4.867.4 4.6FA
FEIGT, Curtis   6:07315 5.3118 2709'02" 4.768.07 4.6FA
FEILER, Matt (OG) 6:06330 5.3736 26 1/208'07" 4.868.13 4.6FA
GATES, Kenarious   6:04327 5.2425 28 1/208'10" 4.77.87 4.6FA
KISTLER JR., Danny   6:07315 5.8318 23 1/207'09" 5.028.4 4.6FA
SIDDOWAY, Charles   6:05301 5.0726 28 1/208'06" 4.657.38 4.6FA
#HACKNEY, Terrence   6:05310 5.28        4.6FA
LADSON, Erle   6:06346 5.41        4.6FA
PALMER, Kelvin   6:04302 5.05        4.6CMP
BENNETT, Jimmy   6:08305 5.44        4.5CMP
FORBES, Rico 6:04302 4.97        4.5CMP
HURD, David   6:06308 5.25        4.5CMP
WELLS, Josh   6:06315 5.27        4.5CMP
DIMA, Anthony   6:06302 5.23        4.5CMP
BURTON, Pierce   6:06303 5.26        4.5CMP
OLSON, Jake   6:08301 5.3        4.4CMP
SIMMONS, Perry   6:05300 4.98        4.4CMP
LICHTENBERG, Kyle   6:05296 5.08        4.4CMP
%LEWIS, Corey   6:05330 5.33        4.4CMP
BRYANT, Kyle   6:06317 5.85        4.4CMP
WHITE, Ian 6:04311 5.27        4.3CMP
GOTTSCHALK, Ben   6:04299 5.32        4.3CMP
CONRAD, Tevon   6:07331 5.3        4.3CMP
JOHNSON, Darryl   6:04295 5.19        4.3CMP


                   
RATING CATEGORYEXPLANATION
8.1-9.0Franchise
Player
Immediate starter...Should have a major impact to the success of the franchise, barring injury...Possesses superior critical factors...Plays with consistency and without abnormal extra effort...Rare talent.    
7.6-8.0Star Quality Eventual starter...Should make a significant contribution in his first year...Possesses above average critical factors...Has the talent and skills to start...Will contribute to upgrading the team...Can play without abnormal effort, but has some inconsistency in his play that will improve with refinement and development...Has no real weakness.
7.0-7.5Impact Player Possesses at least average to above average critical factors in all areas...Will contribute immediately, whether as a starter or a valuable reserve...Will move into the starting lineup with seasoning...Above average player who needs to refine certain areas.
6.5-6.9Eventual Starter Could move into the starting lineup within three years...Has average critical factors in all areas...Needs further development, but has the ability to contribute.
6.0-6.4Potential Starter Could force himself into the starting lineup with improved perform- ances...Will make a team...Has average critical factors in most areas, but at least one with less than average quality that he will have a hard time overcoming...Probable draft choice.
5.5-5.9Roster Player Has the ability to serve as a key reserve and possible future starter... Possesses average critical factors, but more than several areas are less than average...Plays with normal extra effort.
5.0-5.4Project Has the skills to play pro ball with proper tutoring...May make a team based on need...Possesses no real strong critical factors and is probably below average in several areas that the player will have a hard time overcoming...Possible draft choice, but only if that team is caught short on talent available at that position.
4.6-4.9Develop- mental Could make a team with an impressive showing in training camp... Not strong in most critical factors...Deficient in more than one area that he will not be able to overcome...At least average in the factor of competitiveness...May not make a team due to his limitations.
4.1-4.5Camp Player Has redeeming qualities that could allow him to play in the pros with improved performances...Deficient in more than one critical factor... Might make a team, but will always be the player that squad will look to replace.
3.5-4.0Reject Might make a team, but has glaring deficiencies in several critical factors...Below average competitor whose athletic skills will allow him to enter training camp, but has a difficult time in trying to make a team.

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