Position Analysis: Offensive tackle

The Vikings have their starters for years to come in place at offensive tackle, but they need some depth at the position. We go in-depth to review the measurables and strengths and weaknesses of the top dozen options in the draft at offensive tackle.

POSITION OVERVIEW: While quarterback is the draft position that gets the most attention, it can be argued that just as many teams put as big a priority on offensive tackle as any single position on the field. A quarterback is only as good as his O-line and having a blindside protector. Teams can replace quarterbacks (many of them do), but, when they get bookend offensive tackles in the fold, they rarely let them get away, which speaks to their value. As a result, the first round will be dotted with elite left tackles, but it won't stop there. The second and third rounds will also see several teams investing in offensive tackles because, whether on the left side or the right, they are so critical to offensive success that teams can't have enough quality talent. Tackles can remain largely anonymous when they're doing their jobs right, but when they aren't consistently doing their job well, teams start looking at the talent in the draft.

VIKINGS OFFENSIVE TACKLES – Matt Kalil, Phil Loadholt, DeMarcus Love, Troy Kropog, Kevin Murphy.

VIKINGS NEED – The Vikings drafted Kalil last year and re-signed Loadholt, so the only draft positioning the Vikings will have at offensive tackle will be to compete for depth behind their two starters. As a result, it's unlikely that the team will invest a draft pick here until the third day – if at all.

THE CREAM OF THE CROP

Luke Joeckel, Texas A&M, 6-6, 306 – Third-year junior…Started all 39 games of his college career…A high school All-American…Was first-team All-Big 12 as a sophomore and a unanimous All-American as a junior…Won the Outland Trophy, given to the country's top lineman, in 2012…Allowed just two sacks in 2012 for the pass-happy Aggies…Prototype size and has a body that can add 10-15 pounds of bulk and mass…A durable three-year starter in the SEC…The best pass blocker not only in this year's class, but in the last several years…Incredible technique and mastery of the fundamentals needed for the position…Has excellent lower-body strength…A smart player who doesn't get beaten by the same move twice…Doesn't have a violent hand punch…Doesn't play with the classic "mean streak" most elite left tackles have…Isn't as strong as a run blocker as he is a pass blocker…Loses some of his power when he is on the move…His numbers were enhanced by blocking for two mobile quarterbacks (Ryan Tannehill and Johnny Manziel), which helps make up for his mistakes…Ran a 5.30-second 40-yard dash at the NFL Scouting Combine with 27 reps of 225 pounds, a 28½-inch vertical jump and an 8-foot-10 broad jump. PROJECTION: Should be the No. 1 pick in the draft, whether Kansas City stays in the top spot or trades out of it.

Eric Fisher, Central Michigan, 6-7¼, 306 – Fourth-year senior…Three-year starter who made 34 career starts…While known as a left tackle, also made starts at right tackle and right guard…A natural to the position, he routinely dominated opponents on a weekly basis…Earned a lot of money at the Senior Bowl as one of the top performers at the all-star week of practice…Very strong in pass protection and gets into blocking position quickly…Leads by example, both on the field and in practice…Has excellent agility and moves well side to side and improvising when a defender gets a step on him…Has a strong hand punch and plays with ferocity…Didn't play against top competition on a regular basis…Doesn't have ideal lower body strength and will get pushed back by power pass rushers…Is a little too tall and allows speed rushers to get under his pads too easily…May struggle to maintain his anchor at the next level…Ran a 5.05 40 at the combine with 27 reps, a 28½-inch vertical jump and a 9-8 broad jump. PROJECTION: A durable star at a smaller school, the only concern decision-makers might have is that he hasn't consistently faced top competition. But he has so many good attributes that he is almost a lock to go in the top 10 with some considering him a candidate for the No. 1 overall spot.

Lane Johnson, Oklahoma, 6-6, 303 – Fifth-year senior…Two-year starter…He began his college career as a quarterback at Kilgore (Texas) College…Came to OU in 2009 as a tight end prospect and split time between TE and defensive end in 2010…Played 2011 at right tackle and 2012 at left tackle…Has elite athleticism and has all the physical tools to be dominant…Very agile and nimble on his feet with rare foot quickness for an offensive lineman…Uses technique and mechanics to steer defenders where he wants them to go…Is impressive in space and seeks out defenders to spring big plays…Has very long arms (35 inches) to keep defenders off his body…Has a powerful hand punch and uses them with some nastiness…Doesn't always sustain his blocks and will fall off when asked to maintain blocks too long…Could add some bulk and muscle mass to succeed at the next level…Doesn't have an elite burst off the snap and can be vulnerable to speed rushers…Too often stops his feet on contact and loses his advantage at that point…Plays a little too high and needs to be more of a knee-bender to prevent swim moves…Ran an impressive 4.72 40 at the combine with 28 reps, a 34-inch vertical jump and a 9-10 broad jump. PROJECTION: In another draft class, he would be viewed as one of the top prospects, especially given his very strong combine performance. But, with this year's draft class, he might slip out of the top 10 but won't last long after that.

D.J. Fluker, Alabama, 6-4¾, 339 – Fourth-year junior…Started 36 of 37 career games…A high school All-American…Started games at left tackle, right tackle and right guard for the Sooners…Has incredibly long arms (36½ inches) and uses them to abuse defenders…Has dominating size and is hard to get around…Has enormous mass and body girth that few athletes possess…The best run blocker in this year's class…Has a jolt in his hand punch…Once he gets his hands on defensive ends, they stay blocked…Has enormous upside and is a fast-rising prospect…Doesn't have ideal agility and is susceptible to speed…Some contend he may end up being a dominant guard instead of tackle, but that isn't a consensus view…Struggles when blitzers come his way and he isn't already in position to take them on…Will have problems making blocks in space in the open field…Needs to refine his pass-blocking skills…Did not jump at the combine but ran a 5.31 40 with 21 reps. PROJECTION: Most right tackles aren't even considered in the first round, but Fluker has the potential to be one of the most dominating ones in the game in a short period of time. He won't make it out of the first round.

THE NEXT LEVEL

Menelik Watson, Florida State, 6-5¼, 310 – Fourth-year senior…A one-year starter at FSU…Grew up in England and was a basketball player…Began his college career at Marist as a basketball player for two years before transferring to Saddleback College in California and becoming a football player…Has prototype size…Possesses incredible athleticism for an offensive tackle…Has long arms and light feet, a lethal combination for an OT…Has a jolting hand punch…Has the speed and agility to make up for a misstep and drive defenders away from the QB…Plays with a mean streak and goes all out to the whistle…Extremely raw and a developmental project…Is very inconsistent on the snap – at times, he pops up in ideal position while at other times he is the last to move…Needs to refine his technique and will require a patient coaching staff…Gets burned too often by blitzers flashing past him…Grabs defenders when they have a half-step jump on him, which will result in holding calls in the NFL…Did not lift at the combine, citing nerve issues in his left shoulder, but ran a 5.29 40 with a 24½-inch vertical jump and an 8-7 broad jump. PROJECTION: There isn't a greater roll of the dice at the tackle position in this year's draft. He has minimal experience but such a tantalizing skill set that he may well work his way into the first round of the draft.

Justin Pugh, Syracuse, 6-4½, 307 – Fourth-year junior…Started all 34 games of his college career…Suffered a left shoulder injury during spring practice in 2012 and missed the first four games of the 2012 season…Despite missing four games, was named first-team All-Big East last year…Has very good balance and body control…Is agile and can pick up blitzers with relative ease…Has excellent vision and will find linebackers at the second level when a run play springs…Has good athleticism…Has short arms for a left tackle (31½ inches)…Didn't play elite competition very often…Some scouts project him at guard, where he could be more dominant, but has no experience there…Doesn't have a jolting hand punch or elite burst off the snap…Needs technique refinement to hold his anchor strength, which was exposed at the Senior Bowl…Didn't lift at the combine, citing his surgically repaired shoulder, but ran a 5.14 40 with a 28½-inch vertical jump and an 8-7 broad jump. PROJECTION: A college left tackle that, depending on what a team thinks of him, could be drafted as a left tackle, a right tackle or a guard. That could be viewed as a positive, but, in the NFL world, that drops a player into the second round at best as more "sure things" come off the board.

Terron Armstead, Arkansas-Pine Bluff, 6-4¾, 306 – Fourth-year senior…Started 39 of 40 career games…An elite track athlete, he has eight SWAC titles…Very agile and is effective leading the way on pulling sweeps…Very tough, he played through almost the entire season and the postseason all-star games with a cracked collarbone…Has great burst off the snap…Gets to the second level quickly and takes out defenders…A team leader who led by example in games, on the practice field and in the film room…Ideal for a team that uses a zone blocking scheme…Played against sub-par competition, which doesn't bode well in being an immediate starter…Doesn't always play under control and will lunge too often…Doesn't always sustain and finish blocks…Doesn't have ideal anchor strength to hold his position…Doesn't have a powerful hand punch…Ran an impressive 4.71 40 at the combine with 31 reps of 225 pounds, a 34½-inch vertical jump and a 9-4 broad jump. PROJECTION: An impressive athlete from a small school, he will be on the list of a lot of teams when the draft hits the third round, but will need to be joined with a strong coaching staff to reach his full potential. His combine performance helped his cause.

Oday Aboushi, Virginia, 6-5½, 308 – Fourth-year senior…Three-year starter who started his final 37 college games…Is a classic wide-body who eats up a lot of space…Has a stiff hand punch and can neutralize defenders with it…Comes from a program known for producing NFL tackles…Physical player who doesn't let up until he hears the whistle…Has good lower body strength and can anchor in pass protection…Does not have nimble feet, which is why he is projected to be a right tackle despite playing left tackle in college…A better player than athlete…Struggles against speed rushers and will clutch and hold too often…Plays high and allows defenders to dip under him too often…Is slow in reacting to blitzers and too often allows second-level defenders to get a free run into the backfield…Ran a 5.45 40 at the combine with 17 reps, a 23½-inch vertical jump and an 8-4 broad jump. PROJECTION: A college left tackle who projects to either right tackle or guard – two positions with which he has limited to no experience. That doesn't help a draft prospect, which is why he will likely remain on the board until late in Day 2 or even early in Day 3.

THE BEST OF THE REST

David Bakhtari, Colorado, 6-4¼, 299 – Fourth-year junior…Started 33 of 34 career games…Started one year at right tackle and the last two seasons at left tackle after replacing Patriots offensive lineman Nate Solder…A very active player with good agility and excellent hand use to push defenders…Looks the part and has long arms to keep defenders at bay…Has good footwork and body balance – rarely ends up on the ground…Has good lower body strength and can anchor effectively…Has good technique to force pass rushers to take a circuitous route to the QB and often take themselves out of plays…Works his way efficiently to the second level and delivers hits on linebackers…Doesn't have elite intangibles in terms of overall size/length/bulk…Doesn't use his hands overly effectively and was clutch-and-grab rather than deliver a jolting hand punch…Does not consistently finish blocks and will slide off when asked to hold up a defender too long…Struggles with big, powerful defensive ends…Often had a tight end on his shoulder to provide chip blocks…Ran a 5.09 40 at the combine with 28 reps of 225 pounds, a 25½-inch vertical jump and an 8-5 broad jump. PROJECTION: A player who is undersized to play left tackle right now, he must add 15-20 pounds of bulk strength to be an NFL starter and that will take time, which will drop him deep into Day 2 or early into Day 3 of the draft.

Brennan Williams, North Carolina, 6-5¾, 318 – Fifth-year senior…Became a starter late in his freshman season and started 38 of his final 40 games…His father Brent had an 11-year career with Patriots, Seahawks and Jets…Had two surgeries in 2012 – arthroscopic knee surgery in the spring and for a torn left labrum in November…Has prototype size…Has a good hand punch and upper body strength to control and steer defenders…Has solid anchor strength in pass protection…Has long arms and uses them effectively…Consistently finishes blocks…Doesn't have ideal burst off the snaps and allows defenders to get the first step too often…Gets burned by stunts and double moves…Is not a high-intensity player…Has a history of injuries that will scare off some teams…Is not aggressive at the second level and tends to grab more than attack when he gets to the linebacker level…Was granted a medical exclusion (shoulder, knee) from working out at the combine. PROJECTION: A classic project player who needs to improve his technique and his field vision. Given his injury history and the concerns those bring, he won't be on the draft radar until the third day of the draft and may have a long road to becoming a starting right tackle.

Xavier Nixon, Florida, 6-5¾, 321 – Fourth-year senior…A part-time starter for most of his career, he started 33 of 46 career games…Comes from a military family where both parents were in the armed forces…The first true freshman to start at left tackle for the Gators in almost 20 years…Has prototype offensive line size…Has experience at both left tackle and right tackle and held up well in both…Has a mean hand punch…Has good flexibility and moves fluidly in space…Has good lock-on strength and can pick up blitzers with ease…Holds up well against power pass rushers…Doesn't have the overall body strength to play left tackle at the next level…Gets beat too often by swim moves and counter moves…Has had problems maintaining his weight…Has had a few run-ins with coaches and could be a red flag for a blood-and-guts old-school line coach…Makes too many mental mistakes and gets himself out of position…Didn't work out at the combine due to a combination of hand and hamstring injuries. PROJECTION: Any player with SEC experience is likely to be elevated higher on some draft boards than we have him, but he comes off as a boom-bust prospect. If the right coaching staff can harness his ability, he can be an NFL starter. But he seems to have problems with authority, which would only become more pronounced at the next level.

Emmett Cleary, Boston College, 6-7, 316 – Fifth-year senior…Became a starter late in his redshirt freshman season and started 38 of his last 40 games…Started at right tackle, right guard and left tackle during his career…Named first-team All-ACC as a senior…Has excellent size…Plays with a lot of intensity and seeks out contact in one-on-one battles…Has ideal versatility having played at a high level at three different line positions…Has a good burst off the line in run blocking and initiates contact and steers defenders well…A smart player with good field awareness…Does not have the foot quickness or nimbleness to be a left tackle at the next level…Doesn't have ideal upper or lower body strength…Doesn't have a powerful hand punch to stop defenders in their tracks…Doesn't have good lateral agility and will end up on the ground too often when he has to extend…Does not consistently play to his massive size…Ran a 5.21 40 at the combine with 24 reps of 225 pounds, a 28½-inch vertical jump and a 9-0 broad jump. PROJECTION: A player who clearly passes the eyeball test, he seems best suited to be right tackle or guard at the next level. Unless a team believes it can get the utmost out of him, he will likely still be on the board when the final day of the draft begins.

OTHERS TO WATCH

Nick Becton, Virginia Tech, 6-5¼, 323
Braden Brown, BYU, 6-5½, 310
Chris Faulk, LSU, 6-5½, 321
Reid Fragel, Ohio State, 6-7¾, 308
Rogers Gaines, Tennessee State, 6-6¼, 334
Tanner Hawkinson, Kansas, 6-5¼, 298
Ryan Jensen, Colorado State-Pueblo, 6-4, 317
Jamaal Johnson-Webb, Alabama A&M, 6-5, 313
Jordan Mills, Louisiana Tech, 6-5, 316
Rick Wagner, Wisconsin, 6-6, 308
Patrick Ward, Northwestern, 6-6¾, 308
Josh Wetzel, Boston College, 6-7, 315


John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.

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