Positional draft analysis: Offensive tackles

The Vikings likely won’t invest early in a tackle, but there are plenty of options throughout the first half of the draft – some with position flexibility and plenty with questions still unanswered.

VIKINGS OFFENSIVE TACKLES – Matt Kalil, Phil Loadholt, Mike Harris, Antonio Richardson, Carter Bykowski, Babatunde Aiyegbusi.

VIKINGS POSITION NEED – The multi-million-dollar question is whether Matt Kalil can rebound from a disappointing 2014 season in which he struggled to recover from a 2013 knee injury. He is entering the final year of his rookie contract and it will be a make-or-break season. If the Vikings are convinced he can be the long-term answer at left tackle, there won’t be a pressing need to use an early-round pick here. But, if there are internal questions, the Vikings might consider Brandon Scherff of Iowa – a player who could start at left guard as a rookie and, if Kalil doesn’t pan out, move to tackle in 2016 – if Scherff is still available. Tackle will be a position the Vikings consider in each round, but will they pull the trigger?

POSITION ANALYSIS – This is a strong class. There could easily be five players off the board on the first day and seven or eight gone by the time the second round ends. There is depth throughout the draft as teams look for starters or to groom backups in their individual schemes. In a pass-happy game, finding strong tackles, whether a pass-protecting left tackle or a multi-faceted right tackle who can both run block and pass protect, is a must. There will be no shortage of them in this year’s class and, by the time Day 1 is over, quarterbacks will rule the day, but offensive tackles will make noise.

THE CREAM OF THE CROP
Brandon Scherff, Iowa, 6-4¾, 319 – Fifth-year senior…A three-year starter who started 36 of 43 games, including all 33 he played in his final three seasons…Played left guard as a redshirt freshman and his final three seasons at left tackle…Has had two surgeries on his right leg…First-team All-Big 10 in 2014…Has excellent upper-body strength and loves to play physical and beat up opponents…Uses his hands extremely well and has an explosive hand punch…Is a strong drive blocker who pushes defenders where he wants them to go…Played in an NFL-style offense and knows all the fundamentals of run blocking and pass protection…Has relied on his strength and will need some refinement to become an elite player at the next level…Doesn’t look as natural or fluid at the second level taking on linebackers on pulls and sweeps…Despite being a college left tackle, some scouts view him as a better right tackle or left guard at the pro level…Didn’t jump at the NFL Scouting Combine after suffering a hamstring strain during drills, but, prior to that, ran a 5.05 40 and did 23 reps of 225 pounds.
PROJECTION: Scherff will almost surely be the first offensive tackle off the board, with most projections having him going in the top 10 picks (the Giants at No. 9 seem to be the agreed-on landing spot by draft experts). He has the chops to be an elite left tackle or a perennial Pro Bowl left guard. Either way, he’s the first O-lineman off the board.

Andrus Peat, Stanford, 6-7, 313 – Third-year junior…Two-year starter who started all 27 games he played in that span…Was an All-America at left tackle in 2014 and won the Morris Trophy, given to the top offensive lineman in the Pac-12…A massive prospect who has ideal intangibles in terms of strength, weight distribution and long arms to ward off defenders…Has the ability to neutralize defensive ends with a jolting hand punch…Very good footwork to slide and mirror defenders…Looks natural leading the way to the second level of the defense…Not a dominating run blocker despite his impressive size…Doesn’t always use the best technique in doing the fundamentals…Isn’t explosive off the snap to drive defenders backward…Did not lift at the Combine with a right elbow injury, but ran a 5.18 40 with a 31-inch vertical jump and a 8-9 broad jump.
PROJECTION: A dominating presence who has all the attributes to be an All-Pro left tackle. He needs to clean up little things in his game, but whoever drafts him will do so with the intention of him being a foundation bookend for the next decade.

La'el Collins, LSU, 6-4½, 305 – Fourth-year senior…Three-year starter who started the final 38 games of his college career…Received a first-round grade from the NFL Advisory Committee a year ago but came back for his senior season…Played seven games as a freshman at left guard before moving to left tackle…First-team All-SEC in 2014…A thick-framed player who is virtually impossible to move off his spot when he’s moving forward…Has big hands that he uses well and delivers a powerful punch to defenders…On tape, he is consistently the first lineman moving off the snap…Plays to whistle and looks to dominate his opponent…Struggles at times with speed rushers because he needs to work on his technique to maintain balance and leverage…Can be overaggressive and puts himself in bad positions at times…Needs to work on little things that differentiate good tackles from great ones…Ran a 5.12 40 at the Combine with 21 reps of 225 pounds, a 27-inch vertical jump and a 9-0 broad jump.
PROJECTION: Some draft analysts believe his true calling will be at right tackle or left guard, but he has the potential that, if he corrects his few deficiencies, he can be a dominant bookend left tackle. Regardless of where he plays, he will be gone in the second half of the first round.

THE NEXT LEVEL
T.J. Clemmings, Pittsburgh, 6-4¾, 309 – Fifth-year senior…A two-year full-time starter who made starts in 32 of the 34 games he played….Arrived at Pitt as a defensive end in 2010 and redshirted in 2011, making the switch to offensive tackle…Played right tackle the last two seasons…Has prototype size and intangibles and a body that can add 10-20 pounds of bulk weight and core strength without sacrificing agility…An explosive run blocker with excellent strength, long arms and big hands to keep players off of him…Can handle edge rushers and react to multiple moves…Despite having all the intangibles to play left tackle, he played right tackle and will have to take time if a team develops him into a left tackle prospect…Doesn’t always show the best on tape in pass protection from the right tackle position…Had some struggles at the Senior Bowl against elite edge rushers with multiple moves in their arsenal…Ran a 5.14 40 at the Combine with 22 reps, a 32½-inch vertical jump and a 9-3 broad jump.
PROJECTION: When you look at his body of work, he has all the looks of a left tackle, but played right tackle at Pitt and may be pigeon-holed as a right tackle at the next level, which drops him slightly behind Flowers in our eyes. The team that drafts him will likely have to decide where he will play and keep him there because he’s ready for the NFL and should come off in the first round.

Ereck Flowers, Miami, 6-6¼, 329 – Third-year junior…A two-year full-time starter who started 30 of 38 career games…Started four games at right tackle as a true freshman and all 26 games he played at left tackle the last two seasons…A solid run blocker who can hold the edge and get to the second level with ease to take on linebackers on sweeps…Has ideal size and arm length to keep defenders at bay…Has a wide base and thick legs to give him a solid blocking radius in pass protection…Allows speed rushers with double moves to get inside of him too often…Doesn’t have ideal recognition and will occasionally whiff and allow defenders to get a clear shot at his quarterback…Too often on tape is a half-step slow in coming off the line, sometimes being the last to move off the snap…Chose not to jump at the Combine, but ran a 5.31 40 with a position-best 37 reps of 225 pounds.
PROJECTION: There is no questioning whether Flowers has the strength and power to be a starting offensive tackle in the NFL, but he may have to start his career on the right side as he transitions and will likely end up as a left tackle down the line, if not immediately.

D.J. Humphries, Florida, 6-5, 307 – Third-year junior…Started 19 of 29 career games, spending two seasons as a full-time starter…Incredibly agile and nimble for a man his size…Has an ideal combination of size and long arms to knock defenders where he wants them to go…Has good size already and the kind of frame that can add 10-20 pounds of bulk and core strength if needed…His biggest red flag will be durability because he has missed time in both of his seasons as a starter due to leg injuries…Needs a lot of work on fundamentals, but those are correctable through strong coaching and a commitment to the basics…Will have to improve his run-blocking technique to push blockers away because he doesn’t have the needed strength at this point to consistently push big defenders off their spot…Ran a 5.24 40 at the Combine with 26 reps, with a 31-inch vertical jump and a 8-8 broad jump.
PROJECTION: A player we think would have been better-suited returning to the Gators for his senior season, Humphries has all the intangibles to be a very good NFL tackle, but his lack of tangible experience (just 19 career starts) will drop him significantly on some boards and he may need to have a team willing to gamble on greatness to go much higher than early in the second round.

THE BEST OF THE REST
Cedric Ogbuehi, Texas A&M, 6-5¼, 306 – Fifth-year senior…Became a starter a month into his redshirt freshman season and he started the final 42 games of his college career…He played two seasons at right guard, one at right tackle and 2014 at left tackle…Tore his right ACL in the final game of the 2014 season…Has excellent size, length and 36-inch arms, which won’t be lost on scouts…Has a very quick first step and technique that keeps in balance as he pops off the snap in pass pro…A very good run blocker who hits with some explosion…Some teams will knock him for being a jack of all trades but a master of none, having played three different positions over four years…Coming off significant knee surgery and may miss out on the preseason and training camp as he continues to recover…Had his share of problems trying to handle speed rushers from the left tackle spot…Did not run or jump at the Combine while rehabbing from right knee surgery, but did have 23 reps of 225 pounds.
PROJECTION: An intriguing prospect, but questions as to whether he can play the left side in the pros (many scouts see him as a right tackle or guard) combined with coming off of significant knee surgery, his stock may well plummet on draft day, pushing him into the middle to late area of Day 2 – perhaps below a couple of prospects we have rated lower than him.

Jake Fisher, Oregon, 6-6¼, 306 – Fourth-year senior…A three-year starter who started 35 of 38 games over that span…Played right tackle for most of his three years, but injuries moved him to the left side in the middle of last season…Has prototypical size with good athleticism, versatility and a jolting hand punch…Has good balance and looks very strong when asked to be in space…Has good anchor and mirror skills….Doesn’t project as a left tackle at the NFL level because he doesn’t have the pure power needed to handle bull rushers consistently…Played in an offense whose blocking schemes don’t translate all that well to the NFL…Doesn’t have ideal upper-body strength…Pulled a hamstring at the Combine that prevented him from doing the broad jump, but, prior to that, he ran a 5.01 40 with 25 reps and a 32½-inch vertical jump.
PROJECTION: Fisher is a versatile player who has strong fundamental skills, but his lack of bulk and core strength may force him to play on the right side in the NFL and will take time to develop, which could drop him into the late second- or early-third round range.

Daryl Williams, Oklahoma, 6-5¼, 327 – Fifth-year senior…A three-year starter at right tackle who started all 36 games he played in that span…A three-time All-Big 12 player, including a first-team selection in 2014…Has excellent anchor strength and can dominate defenders in the run game…Has good flexibility and balance and rarely gets caught out of position…Can slide and mirror and almost never gets beat by bull rushers taking the long way around…Needs a lot of work on hand/arm placement fundamentals…Lunges too often and will end up on the ground…Didn’t have a good showing at the Senior Bowl, which will hurt his stock…Ran a 5.34 40 at the Combine with 27 reps of 225 pounds, a 26-inch vertical jump and a 8-1 broad jump.
PROJECTION: Has some physical limitations that will push him at least to the late area of Day 2, but he has the skill to be right-side starter eventually at either tackle or guard.

Ty Sambrailo, Colorado State, 6-6, 311 – Fifth-year senior…Was a starter in 42 of 48 career games…A two-year starter at left tackle who also started at every offensive line position except center…Was a champion freestyle skier in high school…Has outstanding initial quickness and has the ability to mirror defenders well…Plays with a mean streak and plays to the whistle on every play…Is very football smart in terms of recognition and using angles to maintain leverage…Does not have elite upper- or lower-body strength…Did not face elite competition on a regular basis, especially against elite edge rushers…Has balance issues when he takes a misstep and will end up on the ground too often when he doesn’t stick to his basic fundamentals…Ran a 5.36 40 at the Combine with 23 reps, a 29-inch vertical jump and a 8-1 broad jump.
PROJECTION: An athletic prospect who will likely take time to develop into a solid pro on the right side, whether at tackle or guard. His biggest drawback is overall strength, which will mean he spends more of his rookie season in the weight room than on the field, which could drop him all the way into the third day of the draft.

OTHERS TO WATCH
Jamon Brown, Louisville, 6-3¾, 323
Takoby Cofield, Duke, 6-4¼, 310
Rob Crisp, North Carolina State, 6-6¾, 301
Tayo Fabuluje, TCU, 6-6½, 353
Rob Havenstein, Wisconsin, 6-7½, 321
Sean Hickey, Syracuse, 6-5½, 309
Terry Poole, San Diego State, 6-4¾, 307
Jeremiah Poutasi, Utah, 6-5¼, 335
Corey Robinson, South Carolina, 6-6¾, 324
Austin Shepherd, Alabama, 6-4½, 315
Donovan Smith, Penn State, 6-5¾, 338
Tyrus Thompson, Oklahoma, 6-5, 324

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