Depth on the offensive line can be the difference between losing the AFC Championship and winning the Super Bowl, and unfortunately for the Patriots, they learned that the hard way in 2015. When Nate Solder went down, New England was forced to adjust, inserting Marcus Cannon into the lineup, but it was clear from the start that Cannon was overwhelmed as a left tackle and was better off playing on the right side. Right tackle Sebastian Vollmer, who has played on the left side in the past, was moved to provide Brady the blindside protection he needed. Cannon did OK on the right side, but it was obvious that the Patriots didn't have a quality backup at the tackle position, and it was the main reason New England couldn't block the Broncos defensive line in the AFC Title Game, costing the Patriots a chance at back-to-back Super Bowls.
New England was wrongfully stripped of their first round pick, but they have a boatload of picks between the second and seventh round, so there is a great chance Bill Belichick selects a couple tackles to provide some young, coachable depth. One player that fits into this category is LSU left tackle Jerald Hawkins, a redshirt junior who decided to pass up his senior year and enter the NFL Draft. Hawkins started every game for three years, his first two years coming at the right tackle position before being moved to left tackle his junior year.
Mainly because he played more right than left tackle in college, many scouts are assuming that playing on the right side makes more sense, but if you look at Hawkins's skillset, he actually projects more as a left tackle. Hawkins has long arms, which as a pass blocker can be a huge advantage, assuming he has quick enough hands to win the "hands battle" with the defensive end. Hawkins also does a good job of sliding his feet into the play side and he makes blocks that a lot of tackles simply can't get to. He has very strong hands which he uses to get inside the defensive lineman's chest plate and legally hold, a talent that is crucial if you want to survive as a left tackle in the NFL.
Hawkins has good footwork (although he can be inconsistent at times) and does a great job maintaining his balance while pass blocking, and it also assists him when he is helping to pick up the blitz. He does need work as a run blocker, but his initial first-step and contact is strong, so he's coachable and will improve run-blocking as his career progresses. Playing in the SEC has also given Hawkins plenty of preparation and confidence to block the best athletes in the world.
Hawkins does need to work on his overall strength, especially his core. He's got a thin waist for a player his size, and that can be a major issue in the NFL. Scouts have noticed that he has a narrow base, which takes away your power and makes the player fall off blocks easier. Hawkins can get away with his deficiencies in college, but he'll need to fix these areas to succeed in the NFL. Another knock on Hawkins is the inability to stay on his block; he's great at initial contact, but many times he is overpowered because he isn't using his legs enough. Hawkins has been called the one thing lineman dread to hear- he's a waist bender.
Overall, Hawkins needs to improve his footwork consistency if he wants to be a starter in the NFL. His natural talents make him a better pass-blocker than run-blocker, which makes him a fit as a left tackle in the NFL, or right tackle if he ends up with a left-handed quarterback. With Dante Scarnecchia back with New England coaching the offensive line, drafting a somewhat flawed player like Hawkins isn't as much of a gamble because he'll be taught how to fix his flaws.
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