In an analysis of 12 national mock drafts, three experts had the Minnesota Vikings taking an offensive lineman at No. 23 overall, two had them taking a guard and one, Peter Schrager of Fox Sports, had them selecting Michigan State Spartans offensive tackle Jack Conklin.
At 6-foot-6, 325 pounds, Conklin is an ideal size to play the tackle position in the NFL, but the question becomes where teams wish to put him. He has experience playing both on the right and left side, but a majority of his playing time in college came at left tackle. Still, there are many people who believe he will be better fitted on the right side in the NFL.
He possesses average athleticism for the tackle position and that could pose a problem at the next level, especially if he is forced to play left tackle and has to go up against the best pass rushers the leagues has to offer week in and week out.
Conklin has a tendency to open up his stance too quickly and that causes his feet to lag behind, making him unbalanced. That is not a position any tackle wants to be in, especially when going up against the speed and strength NFL defensive ends and outside linebackers possess. Still, he can usually handle a single rush move, but may struggle with counters and stunts.
It is hard to look past Conklin, though, even if he doesn’t seem like the perfect, cookie-cutter type left tackle that teams are looking for. Coming out of high school he did not have a single FBS offer to his name and decided on Michigan State after they offered him a spot on their team as a preferred walk-on.
He then earned a scholarship halfway through his redshirt season by beating all the defensive ends he was forced to go up against in practice. He started the following season as a redshirt freshman and raked in the national awards until he decided to declare for the NFL draft following his junior season.
Conklin is a scrappy player who always appears to grind it out on the football field, even when it seems like nothing is going his way. He may not be the most athletically gifted player on the field, but analysts believe he plays with great technique and an understanding of the game, which allows him to recover quickly if he gets beaten.
Last season, Vikings starting right tackle Phil Loadholt went down in the preseason with a torn Achilles tendon, which caused him to miss the entire 2015 season. He also missed the last month of the 2014 season with a torn pectoral muscle and now there is a lot of speculation about whether or not he can still be a productive player on the field when he returns. The veteran right tackle could also be a casualty of cuts this offseason as the Vikings look to save some money moving forward.
In Loadholt’s absence last year, rookie tackle T.J. Clemmings was given the starting job on the right side. The team was likely hoping that he would step up and prove to be the team’s long-term solution at right tackle, but there were struggles throughout the season and that left more questions than answers at the right tackle position.
Conklin is a player that would be able to come in and likely be a Day 1 starter at right tackle. But what could really make this pick a good one for the Vikings is that he is a player that could also hold left tackle Matt Kalil accountable.
Kalil has struggled off and on since he made the Pro Bowl as a rookie. He is now in a contract year and needs to turn things around quickly if he hopes to stay in the organization. Conklin is a player that could push Kalil since he has the ability to play left tackle, and if Kalil continues to struggle he is a player that could move over to the left side and replace him.
Conklin would provide the offensive line with a hard-working player that refuses to give up – the kind of player that Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer loves to work with.