NFL Scouting Combine Research: Offensive Tackles, Part 2

Whose path to the draft started in Cameroon? Who started as a 268-pound freshman? Who was the center of a recruiting controversy? Those answers and more as we explore the offensive tackle prospects.

Kyle Murphy, Stanford (6-6, 300): Murphy was a two-year starter who earned second-team all-Pac-12 honors at right tackle as a junior before being awarded first-team accolades along with some All-America attention at left tackle as a senior. Murphy has three brothers, including Kevin, who played at Harvard and spent training camp with the Vikings as an undrafted free agent in 2012. As a freshman in high school, he tried to break out of his brother’s shadow by asking to play tight end. The coaches said no. “It took a little while, but he came over to the dark side,” San Clemente (Calif.) High School coach Jamie Ortiz said. “He kind of realized, ‘This is where I’m going to end up.’” Murphy’s roommate for three seasons was Joshua Garnett, one of the top guard prospects in the draft.  “They’re two peas in a pod,” center Graham Shuler said. “We joke around that we’ve got a married couple on the offensive line.” They’re nicknamed the “Bash Brothers.”

Stephane Nembot, Colorado (6-7, 318): Nembot started seven games at right tackle as a freshman and never looked back. He held that spot throughout his sophomore and junior seasons before being shifted to the left side as a senior. Changing positions is nothing new. This is how he became the starting right tackle: Nembot was a backup defensive tackle until the middle of a game against Fresno State, when injuries forced Nembot to switch sides of the ball and play right tackle — never mind that he didn’t know the plays or calls. Nembot’s not one to back away from a challenge. He was born in Cameroon. His father is from the Bangoua, a male-dominated tribe. "My mom's and dad's tribes, they teach you how to be a man. Never give up. They teach you after darkness, there is light." To get the NFL, he’ll owe a thank you to Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, a former UCLA star who played in the NBA. A UCLA coach went to Cameroon to see if he could unearth more stars. He found Nembot. "I took my one step and when I dunk it, I broke the (rim) in my hand. We had to stop and switch gyms. He look at me and said, 'I'm taking you with me.'” He arrived in 2008, with Nembot’s stops taking him from Maine to Illinois to California. "I made tons of people bleed on the basketball court," he says. "When I catch my rebounds, you'd better not be there. When I'm coming down with my rebounds, your mouth, your nose, something is going to pay for it." He’d like to give back to his homeland by starting an orphanage. His inspiration? His grandmother died giving birth to his mother, so she spent part of her childhood in an orphanage. On Christmas Days, his parents would go to a poor part of their hometown of Douala (population 1.3 million) and cook meals. "I was like, 'Man, we barely can eat at the house. Why would you do that? Why would you get in debt to go cook for them?'" Nembot said. "That's the way I was raised."

Dominique Robertson, West Georgia (6-5, 330): Robertson, a driving force behind the Division II semifinalists, was selected to the all-Gulf South Conference and all-region teams at left tackle. He arrived at West Georgia via Texas Tech, where he spent part of the 2014 season before leaving the team in November, and Riverside (Calif.) Community College.

Brandon Shell, South Carolina (6-6, 325): Shell started the final 47 games of his career. He played right tackle for his first three seasons and shifted to left tackle as a senior, doing so despite missing spring practice with a torn labrum. It’s the second most consecutive starts in school history. He didn’t receive any on-the-field accolades but was a two-time member of the SEC Academic Honor Roll and earned his degree in three-and-a-half years. Shell stepped up to a midseason challenge from the coaches. “I told him, ‘Listen you have to make one of two decisions,’ ” interim head coach Shawn Elliott said. “‘You can run this thing out, and who knows what might happen, or you can make a commitment and get (yourself) better. Prove to these players how dominating you can be as an offensive tackle.’” If you’re wondering whether Shell is related to NFL legend Art Shell, the answer is yes. Art Shell, a Hall of Fame offensive tackle and former head coach, is Brandon’s great-uncle.

Pearce Slater, San Diego State (6-7, 335): Slater, a first team all-Mountain West honoree and a team captain, started all 14 games for the Aztecs. He helped anchor an offensive line that allowed San Diego State to break the program’s rushing yards (3,266) and rushing touchdowns in the Division I era (62) records, paving the way for two 1,000-yard rushers in the same season for the first time in program history. After a two-year junior-college stint, Slater started all 27 games at right tackle during his two seasons at San Diego State. Basketball was his first love — he played only two years of high school football.

Jason Spriggs, Indiana (6-6, 301): Spriggs started 46 games at left tackle during his career. As a senior, he earned some All-American honors and was second-team all-Big Ten. The coaches charged him with only two sacks in 526 passing plays. He was an honorable mention on the all-conference team as a freshman, sophomore and junior. With athleticism developed playing tight end, basketball and lacrosse in high school, the Hoosiers’ coaching staff saw his long-term potential on the offensive line. He started at left tackle right away, even though he was just 268 pounds. “We told him he’d probably be an offensive lineman,” Hoosiers coach Kevin Wilson said. “Then he got here and we told him, you’re the starting left tackle.” He might make some money at the Combine. Wilson had Spriggs with a 4.82 in the 40, a 37.5-inch vertical and 33 reps on the 225-pound bench press in March.

Ronnie Stanley, Notre Dame (6-6, 315): Underclassman. Stanley was a consensus first-team All-American at left tackle in 2015. Stanley started all 12 regular-season games and was a semifinalist for the Lombardi and Outland trophies. He helped power a prolific offense that had a 1,000-yard rusher, a 750-yard rusher and averaged 471.5 yards per game. Stanley started all 13 games at left tackle in 2014 and all 13 games at right tackle in 2013. He figures to be a top-10 pick; he might have been an early first-rounder last year, as well, had he elected to come out at that time. The Fighting Irish coaching staff went to Las Vegas after the season and persuaded him that another year of seasoning and strength training would ensure a standout NFL career. “People have been telling me I'm the best my whole life,” he said. “That doesn't do anything for me. The only thing that really means anything is what I do.” Stanley is half Tongan and was named the Polynesian College Football Player of the Year. He has a tribal tattoo that stretches from his left biceps to his chest. Part of it is a dove, which is on his grandma’s tombstone. Just don’t call it a pigeon.

John Theus, Georgia (6-7, 317): Theus’ career came full circle in that he started and ended his career at right tackle. Theus started for most of his four seasons — every game as a freshman, junior and senior and eight of 13 games as a sophomore — and 47 games in all. He was at right tackle as a freshman and sophomore — earning Freshman All-America honors in 2012 — the starting left tackle as a junior and a first-team all-SEC choice as a senior, when he started the first eight games at left tackle before moving back to right tackle for the final four games. His older brother, Nathan, was the Bulldogs’ four-year long snapper and is part of this draft class. “He can have that kind of pressure,” John Theus said. “When we line up for a big kick, I’m more nervous than he is. He’s great with pressure.” A third Theus, Jeremiah, plays left tackle for Georgia Southern.

Cole Toner, Harvard (6-5, 305): Toner was named to the FCS All-America team while helping the Crimson lead the Ivy League in scoring, total offense, passing offense and rushing offense. He also was an all-Ivy League selection as a junior. What sold Toner — an all-state player as a prep in Greenwood, Ind. — on Harvard? An impromptu campus tour by running back Treavor Scales. Because Harvard’s not exactly a football factory, Toner didn’t start considering his NFL prospects until his junior season. “We play football at Harvard because we love the game. We are like every Division 1 program because the practices are so demanding and the expectations are so high. Let’s face it — football for a lot of Harvard players is not in their future after college. The players love the game and the competitiveness.” He was a semifinalist for the William V. Campbell Trophy, which is known as the Academic Heisman. “Politics may be where I end up, but I need some more life experience,” he said. “Right now, the NFL is my priority.”

Laremy Tunsil, Ole Miss (6-5, 305): Underclassman. Tunsil will be one of the top picks in this draft despite a brief career at Ole Miss. He gave up two sacks in 28 games, according to the Rebels’ coaches. As a freshman, he was second-team all-SEC — making him one of only two players in program history to earn all-conference accolades as a true freshman. As a sophomore, he was first-team all-SEC, a second-team All-American and the winner of the Kent Hull Trophy as the top lineman in the state of Mississippi. As a junior this past season, Tunsil served a seven-game suspension due to impermissible benefits. The Rebels went 4-1 upon his return, averaging almost 100 rushing and total yards more with him in the lineup. Even in his abbreviated season, he earned some All-American honors. Tunsil was a star in one of the biggest recruiting shockers in memory, with Ole Miss — not exactly a powerhouse — landing four five-star recruits. “Once we got him in here on that weekend with all the other national guys, I knew that we had a great chance because the Mom fell in love with it,” coach Hugh Freeze said, “and if you win the Mom in the South, you’ve got a good chance at winning the recruit.” His brother is Rebels receiver Alex Weber, a no-star recruit with modest stats in high school, leading some to believe Ole Miss created a package deal to land Tunsil — which isn’t against NCAA rules. Weber redshirted in 2014 and didn’t catch a pass in 2015.

Halapoulivaati Vaitai, TCU (6-6, 315): Vaitai was an all-Big 12 second-teamer as a junior and senior. Vaitai started at both tackle spots as a sophomore, right tackle as a junior and left tackle as a senior. In 2015, he was part of an offense that ranked second in the nation in scoring and produced a 1,000-yard runner and 1,000-yard receiver for just the second time. At Haltom City (Texas) High School, Vaitai played left tackle and his twin brothers played left guard and center.

Avery Young, Auburn (6-6, 305): Underclassman. Young joined bookend offensive tackle Shon Coleman in being an early entrant in the draft. He started 36 games during his career, including at right tackle in 2015 and right guard, left guard and right tackle in 2014. He won the starting gig at right tackle in 2012 but wound up missing most of the season with a torn labrum. Young’s older brother, Willie Young, is a defensive end for the Bears. A cousin, Thomas Davis, is a star linebacker for the Panthers. The Youngs were inseparable as kids. "We'd fish to the point where we'd get in trouble sometimes because we didn't make it home in time," Willie said. Once, when Willie was in college and Avery in high school, Avery jumped in the water to grab an alligator. Instead, he started sinking in the mud. Big Brother was there to save the day. "Once you grab the gator, you can't let go, because he's thrashing his mouth outside, just waiting to catch anything with those teeth of his," Willie said.

ALSO IN THIS SERIES

Offensive tackles, Part 1
Offensive tackles, Part 2
Offensive guards, Part 1 (FREE)
Offensive guards, Part 2 (FREE)
Centers (FREE)
Tight ends, Part 1 (FREE)
Tight ends, Part 2 (FREE)
Wide receivers, Part 1 (FREE)
Wide receivers, Part 2
Wide receivers, Part 3
Wide receivers, Part 4 (FREE)
Running backs, Part 1 (FREE)
Running backs, Part 2
Running backs, Part 3
Fullbacks (FREE)
Quarterbacks, Part 1 (FREE)
Quarterbacks, Part 2 (FREE)
Quarterbacks, Part 3 (FREE)



Bill Huber is publisher of PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at packwriter2002@yahoo.com or leave him a question in Packer Report’s subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at www.twitter.com/PackerReport.


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