Austin Shepherd has come a long way since patiently waiting for his opportunity to start. In two seasons at right tackle, he allowed just two sacks, both coming during a team-wide uncharacteristic flub vs. Oklahoma when the Sooners racked up seven sacks vs. the Tide in the 2014 Sugar Bowl. While he does not have the high knockdown figures of other Alabama blockers, he is highly effective at staving off action along the edge and when injuries hit the unit last year, he made a seamless transition over to left tackle for a handful of series with no drop-off in his performance.
Shepherd has a wide, thick frame and surprisingly good foot quickness for a player his size, but has better lateral range and suddenness out of his stance when he plays at a lighter weight (best at 325 pounds). He is mentally tough, but not overly aggressive and shows good field awareness (only penalized once the last two years). He extends his arms properly and sinks his hips in order to consistently lock on and ride his man wide.
You can see on film that the right tackle keeps his pad level down and shows good determination to finish his blocks, as he uses his long arms (80-inch wingspan) well to reach, wall off and seal the defender. He demonstrates decent flexibility and adjustment skills on the move, but does struggle at times to cut off at the second level (only five second level blocks last season).
Shepherd generates a powerful explosion behind his hand punch and displays good tenacity as a drive blocker, using his long arms and hand jolt to handle double moves and anchor firmly vs. the inside surge. He rolls his hips and slides his feet well in pass protection, as it is rare to see him cross his feet, doing a nice job of shooting his hands and keeping his arms properly extended to mirror the edge rushers. There are times where he will struggle vs. quick counter moves, but it is rare to see a bull rusher walk him back into the pocket.
Shepherd runs his feet well in attempts to finish blocks. He knows how to use his size to wall off his opponent, doing a better job of maintaining inside leverage and readjusting back than most big blockers. He stays on his feet upon initial contact and can generate a strong punch with either hand rising out of his stance. He’s a determined drive blocker with the natural strength to consistently drive through and knock down defenders, as he aggressively attacks his man until the whistle.
When he extends and uses his hands to lock up and sustain, the battle is quickly over. He can slide his feet adequately in the short area (will struggle to adjust in the second level) and is not the type that will rely on his big frame to lean into a defender (loves to face up and maul rather than sit back and wait for the action.
Shepherd has nimble feet for a player his size and even though he lacks the change of direction skills to consistently handle the speed rush, he will drop his weight and extend his long arms to wall off. He has the hand strength to win most one-on-one battles when he gets into the defender’s chest. He needs to improve his lateral range, but he has the functional foot quickness to slide and reach his set point.
His best asset is his ability to explode into his man and maintain balance doing it. Move him inside to guard for a few years to enhance his learning curve, as he’s had just one season as a starter at offensive tackle under his belt. He is very alert on the field and short sets well, but he is better suited for right tackle chores, as he struggles with the quick edge and fast lateral movements (lacks those requirements needed to play left tackle).
Austin Shephered NFL Scouting Combine measurables
6-4/315 (5.39 forty)
32 7/8-inch arm length
29-inch vertical jump
94-inch broad jump
8.04 3 cone drill
4.70 20 yard shuttle
11.65 60 yard shuttle
Dave-Te’ Thomas is a sports writer, talent evaluator and scouting personnel consultant for a majority of teams in the National Football League. Thomas runs a scouting information service called NFL Scouting Services and produces THE NFL Draft Report, a publication provided by league headquarters to the media in preparation for the NFL Draft.
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