Positional analysis: Offensive tackles

The Vikings are set with their starters at offensive tackle but could use a mid-round pick for depth at the position. We examine the strengths, weaknesses and draft projections of the top-10 tackle prospects.

VIKINGS OFFENSIVE TACKLES – Matt Kalil, Phil Loadholt, Kevin Murphy.

TEAM NEED – The Vikings haven't re-signed J'Marcus Webb, who served as a backup tackle in 2013, so, as things currently stand, the Vikings only have three offensive tackles under contract. It seems almost inevitable that the Vikings will draft an offensive tackle, but, with Kalil and Loadholt expected to be the foundation bookends for years to come, it likely won't come until the third day of the draft, when developmental project players are the best of what remains.

POSITION OVERVIEW – A pretty strong crop that likely will include four or even five first-rounders, including two (Greg Robinson and Jake Matthews) that could be gone in the first six picks. It's a relatively deep class that could end up with as many as eight or nine players come off the board in the first 64 picks. Offensive tackles are among the most important players in any offense and, when a team lands a good one, they make sure they keep him for a long time. They have a winner in Kalil and will likely start working on a new deal as soon as they can, making this a medium-level need on draft weekend.

THE CREAM THE OF THE CROP

Greg Robinson, Auburn, 6-5, 332 –
Third-year sophomore…Started the final 25 games of his college career…A two-time All-SEC selection…Was displaced by Hurricane Katrina and was moved to Houston as part of the massive evacuation, eventually returning to his hometown (Thibodaux, La.) to resume his high school career…Has prototypical left tackle size with a wide body and a "big bubble," which is a good thing for offensive tackles…Has an ideal combination of size, power and body control…Has long arms and can effectively lock onto defenders in the running game…Plays to the whistle and doesn't seem to be content until the man he is blocking is on the ground…Still relatively raw in NFL terms with only 25 games since high school…May need more refinement of his pass protection because his team ran the ball 70 percent of the time and his experience in pass pro is limited at best…Hasn't spent much time as a blindside island tackle asked to stop an elite pass rusher by himself…Can come out of his stance too high, making him susceptible to swim moves or counters…Ran an impressive 4.92 40 at the Combine with 32 reps of 225 pounds, a 28½-inch vertical jump and a 9-5 broad jump. PROJECTION: A supremely talented athlete, he is one of the rare athletes who accomplished everything he could at the college level in two years. He is being almost locked in with St. Louis at No. 2 and there is almost no chance he makes it out of the top five or six picks.

Jake Matthews, Texas A&M, 6-5½, 308 – Fourth-year senior…Started 46 of 49 career games, including 33 games at right tackle and 13 games as a senior at left tackle…Played right tackle while teammate Luke Joeckel, the second overall pick in the 2013 draft, played left tackle in 2012…The son of Hall of Fame offensive lineman Bruce Matthews…A first-team All-America in 2013…Has NFL size, long arms and a body capable of adding more muscle and mass…Very quick off the snap, has a powerful hand punch and gets into position quickly…He isn't a natural athlete, but is a technician who does each assignment at a high level…An aggressive run blocker who enjoys dominating the man opposite him…His bloodline plays in because he's never missed a game and neither did his dad…Struggles when he gets stood up and his feet stop moving…At times will overextend and get himself into an awkward position…Doesn't have extreme power to move a pile in short-yardage and goal-line situations…Isn't dominating in space and at times is chasing air…Ran a 5.07 40 at the Combine with 24 reps, a 30½-inch vertical jump and an 8-9 broad jump. PROJECTION: An NFL-ready lineman capable of being an elite left tackle or a dominant Hall of Fame-style right tackle. Most teams drafting as early as he will be drafted only consider taking bookend left tackles, so he will likely be expected to be a left tackle in the NFL. Atlanta looks like a good landing spot at No. 6.

THE NEXT LEVEL

Taylor Lewan, Michigan, 6-7¼, 309 –
Fifth-year senior…Started 48 of 50 career games…Two-time first-team All-Big 10…Brought in to replace former No. 1 overall pick Jake Long…Is facing an assault charge from a 2013 fight in which he won't be arraigned until after the draft…A drive blocker in the run game who pushes defenders backward consistently and seals them off…Was a high school defensive lineman and has extremely good footwork…Plays with a mean streak and plays to the whistle – and occasionally beyond…Has great field awareness and instinctively picks up blitzes and added pressure to his side and takes the right player on…Leads with his helmet too often and has already started to build a concussion/bell-rung history that, in this age, is something to be concerned about…Can struggle with speed rushers quick enough to make the loop to the quarterback…Draws too many penalties…Needs to work on his technique because he has relied too much on athleticism to make up for his mistakes…Doesn't have elite lateral movement and, if he gets caught leaning, he can get tossed…Ran a 4.87 40 at the Combine with 29 reps of 225 pounds, a 30½-inch vertical jump and a 9-9 broad jump. PROJECTION: One of the better athletes in the 2014 draft class, Lewan replaced a first-round pick who is building a Hall of Fame résumé. While he likely won't be as dominant as Long, he's going to be a decade-long foundation piece for a team in the top half of the first round.

Zack Martin, Notre Dame, 6-4¼, 308 – Fifth-year senior…Started all 52 games of his college career (50 at left tackle, two at right tackle)…Two-time team captain…Had a strong week at the Senior Bowl…Has good footwork to handle speed rushers in pass protection…Fires off the snap and has a good hand punch to direct defenders in run blocking…Has good speed for a big man and gets to the second level with ease…Durability isn't a concern since he hasn't missed a game in his entire football career…Has shorter arms than most left tackles and small hands…Doesn't have the mass that will make him an automatic choice for left tackle, so he may have to switch to right tackle…Has a bad habit of leading with his helmet, which causes him to lose sight of defenders and could end lead to concussions at high speed…Will get ahead of himself trying to get to the second level and will allow defenders to slide in behind him…Did not run at the Combine due to hamstring stiffness, but had 29 reps, a 28-inch vertical jump and an 8-10 broad jump. PROJECTION: A player with 50 starts at left tackle for a major college program, many still think he's best suited for right tackle in the NFL. He's a first-round prospect, but his stock may slip a bit if perception becomes reality.

Cyrus Kouandjio, Alabama, 6-6¾, 322 – Fourth-year junior…Two-year starter who made starts in 26 of 27 games in that span…The Alabama coaching staff thought enough of him to move Outland Trophy winner Barrett Jones inside to center to put him at left tackle…Several teams failed him at their team physicals at the Combine due to an arthritic knee that was the result of a 2012 surgery that didn't come out as hoped…Had shoulder surgery in the spring of 2013…Plays with a mean streak and looks the part of a potentially dominant left tackle…Has good flexibility and long arms to handle speed rushers…Has a good bubble and a solid base in run-blocking assignments…Is quick off the snap and has excellent lateral movement skills…Durability will be a huge concern, given that he's had multiple surgeries and failed some team physicals at the Combine…Drops his head too often on contact and will lose leverage as a result…Has an inconsistent hand punch and will fall off blocks if not squared up…Doesn't have ideal upper body weight-room strength (see below)…Ran a 5.59 40 at the Combine, with just 21 reps of 225 pounds, a 27½-inch vertical jump and an 8-0 broad jump. PROJECTION: Viewed as a lock for first-round selection, injuries and a dismal performance at the Combine have dropped his stock to the point where he is no longer viewed by some teams as a first-round prospect and some may drop him significantly due to medical red flags.

Morgan Moses, Virginia, 6-6, 314 – Fourth-year senior who spent a year at Fork Union Military Academy…Became a starter five games into his true freshman season and started 44 of his final 45 games – 31 at right tackle and 13 at left tackle as a senior…Only the third true freshman to start at left tackle for Virginia, joining D'Brickashaw Ferguson and Brad Butler…Has surprisingly nimble feet for a man his size…Has extremely long arms (35½ inches) and a 10-inch hand…Stays wide in his base in pass protection and uses good technique to shadow and mirror defenders…Has an explosive first step and a strong hand punch…Came to UVA as a 350-pound freshman and has always had to battle to keep his weight down…Has a long injury history that included him not lifting at the Combine and straining a hamstring at his pro day…Doesn't have great stop/start speed or the ability to quickly redirect in a short area…Doesn't look natural at the second level and is inconsistent…Didn't lift at the Combine due to a left shoulder and pectoral injuries he sustained during Senior Bowl week, but ran a 5.35 40 with a 21½-inch vertical jump and an 8-10 broad jump. PROJECTION: A four-year starter for a major college program, he projects as a right tackle in the pros and that should be enough to drop him into being a premium pick on the second day of the draft.

THE BEST OF THE REST

Jack Mewhort, Ohio State, 6-6, 309 –
Fifth-year senior…Three-year starter who made starts in 38 of 39 games in that span…A team captain as a senior in 2013…Is a good combination of size, strength and athleticism…He has a good hand punch and uses his hands effectively to latch onto defenders and steer him…Can play with a mean streak and consistently plays to the whistle, which has been known to frustrate opponents…Is not an elite quick-twitch athlete, so he will likely have to move to right tackle…Is susceptible to insider counter moves…Doesn't have elite stop/start and change-of-direction skills…Ran a 5.37 40 at the Combine with 28 reps of 225 pounds with a 26-inch vertical jump and an 8-5 broad jump. PROJECTION: A good athlete from an elite football program, he has experience at all four line spots. He could be a dominant guard, but is a second-round prospect because he can likely be a long-term starter at right tackle.

Ja'Wuan James, Tennessee, 6-6, 311 – Fourth-year senior…Started all 49 games he played for the Vols, setting a school record…Missed time at the Senior Bowl after spraining a knee…Has good field awareness and sees what the defense is planning at the snap…Has the lateral movement skills to be a solid zone-blocking tackle…Has solid technique and the ability to mirror the different pass rush styles he saw in the SEC…Has below-average arm length and a doughy upper body…He has a top-heavy build and, after contact, can fall off of blocks…Doesn't have a killer instinct and is viewed as more of a finesse player…Ran a 5.34 40 at the Combine with 22 reps, a 29-inch vertical jump and an 8-7 broad jump. PROJECTION: A right tackle who has experience playing against some of the top college DEs in the country, he isn't a physically imposing tackle and may find it hard to take a job away from a solid veteran immediately. He looks to come off the board in the middle or late in Day 2.

Antonio Richardson, Tennessee, 6-5¾, 336 – Third-year junior…Two-year starter who started the final 24 games of his career at left tackle…Had arthroscopic knee surgery in the spring of 2013…Very coachable player who is a student of the game and a willing worker…Can be overpowering as a run blocker in a confined space due to impressive upper-body strength (see below)…Has surprising burst, speed and athleticism for a big man…Struggles will bull rushers and was owned by Jadeveon Clowney last year…Overextends too often and will get out of position…He has had problems controlling his weight and history says that becomes a bigger issue the older a player gets…Chose not to take part in the broad jump at the Combine but ran a 5.30 40 with an impressive 36 reps of 225 pounds and a 24½-inch vertical jump. PROJECTION: A college left tackle who projects to right tackle in the NFL, he could have spiked his draft selection by coming back for his senior year. As things currently stand, he looks to be a mid- to late-Day 2 selection.

Joel Bitonio, Nevada, 6-4¼, 302 – Fifth-year senior…Three-year starter who started 36 of 37 games in that span…A team captain as a senior…His father died of a heart attack at age 45…First-team All-Mountain West selection as a senior…Has excellent balance, speed and agility and isn't easy to shed once he gets his hands on a defender…Can generate a push in the run game, moving and steering defenders…Is field-aware and picks up defensive stunts and blitzes quickly – both pre- and post-snap…Doesn't have ideal upper-body strength (see below) or a jolting hand punch…Doesn't have the arm length or mass to play left tackle in the NFL and was dominant due in large part to the lack of consistent elite competition…Ran a 4.97 40 at the Combine along with just 22 reps, but an impressive 32-inch vertical jump and 9-6 broad jump – among the best jump numbers of all offensive linemen. PROJECTION: A solid athlete who played left tackle at college but projects as a right tackle in the NFL. His technique will need refinement, but he likely will come off the board late in Day 2.

OTHERS TO WATCH

Seantrel Henderson, Miami, 6-7¼, 331
Michael Schofield, Michigan, 6-6½, 301
James Hurst, North Carolina, 6-5¼, 296
Billy Turner, North Dakota State, 6-5, 315
Justin Britt, Missouri, 6-6, 325
Cameron Fleming, Stanford, 6-5, 323
Charles Leno, Boise State, 6-4, 303
Cornelius Lucas, Kansas State, 6-8, 329
Donald Hawkins, Texas, 6-5, 301
Matt Patchan, Boston College, 6-6¼, 302


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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