TEAM NEED – This looked a lot more perilous a couple months ago, but the Vikings did a lot to address the position in the offseason. With Kalil entering the final year of his contract, there is a mid-eight-figure contract he’s playing for. Clemmings started all 16 games at right tackle last year, but the competition could be fierce with free-agent signing Smith now in the mix and former starter Loadholt back at a reduced salary. Barring injury or trade, unless one of them is released, it may be a hard sell for Shepherd and/or Bykowski to make the roster – and that doesn’t take into account the potential for the Vikings to draft a tackle in the middle or late rounds.
POSITION ANALYSIS – This is one of the stronger draft classes in recent years. Laremy Tunsil of Ole Miss is likely to be the first overall pick and Notre Dame’s Ronnie Stanley won’t be far behind. There will be at least two more offensive tackles – Michigan State’s Jack Conklin and Ohio State’s Taylor Decker – getting selected in the first round and as many may go in the second round. For teams with aging or sub-par left tackles, the pickings will be lush because the Class of 2016 is deep and talented.
CREAM OF THE CROP
Laremy Tunsil, Ole Miss, 6-5, 310 – Third-year junior…Started 26 of 29 career games…Was never named a first-team All-SEC player because he never started a full season due to injuries and a suspension…Allowed only two sacks in his college career, which is saying something in the SEC…Has prototypical size, long arms and a frame built to add 10-15 more pounds of muscle and bulk without losing quickness…Has elite balance and change-of-direction skills…Has a jolting hand punch that can consistently neutralize pass rushers…A natural knee bender with good footwork, athleticism and agility…Will need to add some bulk and lower body strength to adapt to speed rushers in the NFL…Has some red flags, including a charge of domestic violence against his stepfather and was suspended seven games last season for taking impermissible benefits…Has an injury history that will cause some pause for those at the top of the draft…Chose not to do any of the workouts at the Combine.
PROJECTION: A massive lineman who will be 22 as a rookie, meaning, if he can stay healthy, he could have a 10- to 15-year NFL career. He is the presumptive first pick in the draft and, in a worst-case scenario, would likely come off the board at No. 3 to San Diego.
Ronnie Stanley, Notre Dame, 6-5¾, 312 – Fourth-year senior…Three-year starter who started all 39 games in the span…A consensus All-America pick in 2015…Has ideal height with long arms and nimble feet for a man his size…Has very good lateral movement skills to mirror and redirect speed rushers…Has extremely sound technique and is a student of the game who learns from mistakes and doesn’t repeat them…Keeps his hands inside his frame and has a stiff punch…Isn’t a glass-eater and can be a little too passive for a sport looking for players who have a mean streak…Needs to improve his blocking angles, but those issues can be corrected through good coaching…Will likely need to add a little more bulk and core muscle mass to compete…Did not lift at the Combine with a left wrist injury or take part in the broad jump because of a knee injury, but ran a 5.20 40 with a 28½-inch vertical jump.
PROJECTION: Because of the schedule Notre Dame plays, Stanley has a ton of tape going up against some of college football’s best pass rushers and he has consistently held up well against them. He’s a clear top-10 pick and has been strongly linked to Baltimore at No. 6, Philadelphia at No. 8 and Tampa Bay at No. 9, so he won’t have to wait long in the green room on the draft’s opening night.
Jack Conklin, Michigan State, 6-5¾, 306 – Fourth-year junior…Started all 38 games of his college career…A former walk-on who didn’t receive any scholarship offers coming out of high school…Is likely to be the first MSU offensive lineman drafted in the first round since Tony Mandarich in 1989…Was a first-team Big Ten and All-America in 2015…Has a very good combination of size, length and power…Is an aggressive, punishing run blocker who plays to the whistle and is looking to dominate his opponent on every play…Has a wide base and good lower body strength to neutralize defenders…Has a good hand punch and, if that doesn’t work, he has good recovery skills…Doesn’t have elite agility and lateral movement skills, which may force a team to start him off at right tackle…Does not look very athletic in space and will lunge and end up on the ground too often…Doesn’t explode out of his stance and may struggle against speed rushers…Ran a 5.00 40 at the Combine with 25 reps of 225 pounds, a 30-inch vertical jump and an 8-7 broad jump.
PROJECTION: A battle-tested offensive tackle in the Big Ten, where they tend to play more old-school football, he has the ability to be a long-term NFL tackle. But there are some scouts that think he could be a good left tackle and a dominant right tackle. He should get picked somewhere in the middle third of the first round.
Taylor Decker, Ohio State, 6-7, 310 – Fourth-year senior…Three-year starter who started all 42 games in that span…Consensus All-America and Big Ten Offensive Lineman of the Year in 2015…Has an ideal combination of size, power and bulk strength…Has very strong hands and can latch onto defenders and consistently steer them where he wants…Is powerful in the run game and plays with a bit of a mean streak…Has solid technique, has become a more natural knee bender and delivers a crushing hand punch off the snap…Can be a little slow off the snap, which will have to change given the speed of the NFL…Is very tall and occasionally will lose his pad level and lose leverage…Will need some refinement since he almost always lined up in a two-point stance in OSU’s spread offense…Ran a 5.23 40 at the Combine with 20 reps, a 29-inch vertical jump and an 8-5 broad jump.
PROJECTION: There isn’t a scout in the league that hasn’t seen just about every Ohio State game, so there’s no shortage of background on Decker. He may start his career on the right side but projects to a long-term left tackle, which should see him drafted in the middle of the first round.
Jason Spriggs, Indiana, 6-5¾, 301 – Fourth-year senior…Started 47 of 48 career games…Has good height and long arms to keep defenders away from his body off the snap…Has a nice combination of initial quickness off the snap, lateral agility and good balance in a short area in both the run and pass game…Has good anchor strength and shoots his hands in pass protection…Is less effective the farther away he gets from the line because he doesn’t have natural athleticism…Played in a scheme that doesn’t call for the consistent physical pounding he will take in the NFL…Is not a road grader who drives defenders backward…Had a good Combine, running a 4.94 40 with 31 reps of 225 pounds, a 31½-inch vertical jump and a 9-7 broad jump.
PROJECTION: His stock is on the rise after a strong Combine and Senior Bowl week. However, his game will need to be tweaked at the next level because of the scheme he played at Indiana, which will likely have him starting on the right side and coming off the board sometime early on Day 2.
Shon Coleman, Auburn, 6-5½, 307 – Fourth-year junior…Two-year starter who started all 25 games he played in that span…Powerful run blocker who can move people off the ball…Has a devastating hand punch off the snap that can stop a lot of defenders in their tracks…Has a huge frame and plays with a wide base, making it difficult to get through him or around him…Plays with a high pad level, which will have to change at the NFL level…Despite being a junior, he initially enrolled at Auburn in 2010, but missed two seasons after being diagnosed with leukemia…Once he locks on defenders, his feet stop moving and he falls off too many blocks…Did not run, jump or do position drills during the Combine with a right knee injury, but did 22 reps of 225 pounds.
PROJECTION: The medical staffs will go a long way to determining his future because a leukemia diagnosis is troubling. He has overcome a lot and has proved his worth. He will likely be forced to play right tackle or guard in the pros and has a good chance of being drafted somewhere on Day 2, but his stock could drop because of medical fears.
BEST OF THE REST
Germain Ifedi, Texas A&M, 6-5¾, 324 – Fourth-year junior…Started 36 of 38 games in his college career…A giant player with very long arms (36 inches) that he uses effectively…Plays with good technique, using a wide base that forces defenders to try to loop around him or use double moves…Has good knee bend and can generate power in the run game…Doesn’t use his hands very well, prompting some scouts to see his future at guard…Needs to improve his footwork because he can look sloppy and NFL defenders take advantage of those situations…Looked more impressive as a freshman and never quite took his game to the next level…Ran a 5.27 40 at the Combine with 24 reps of 225 pounds, a 32½-inch vertical jump and a 9-1 broad jump.
PROJECTION: An accomplished college lineman who played both tackle spots and guard, he gives some position flexibility, but if enough talent evaluators see him as a guard at the next level, he may struggle to get picked before Day 3.
Le'Raven Clark, Texas Tech, 6-5¼, 316 – Fifth-year senior who started all 51 games of his college career…Played both guard and tackle…Three-time All-Big 12 selection…Has very quick feet and good lateral movement, which could bode well for making it as an NFL left tackle…Sets up quickly and attacks defenders off the snap…Has very good functional field strength and brings a heavy hand punch to the party…Played in a two-point stance his entire career, so there will be a learning curve at the next level…Plays too high at times and doesn’t power defenders backward…Is not quick to read and react off the snap and will get beat…Did not jump or do position drills at the Combine after pulling a hamstring running the 40, but had a 5.19 40 and did 18 reps of 225 pounds.
PROJECTION: The kind of player position coaches will love to try to develop. He has a lot of positive things going for him, but his game will need some refinement, whether at tackle or moving inside. He should be a priority pick early in Day 3 and could have a solid NFL future.
Jerald Hawkins, LSU, 6-5¾, 305 – Fourth-year junior who started all 37 games of his college career…Played both right and left tackle – two seasons at right tackle and 2015 on the left side…Has excellent size and a frame capable of adding 10 to 15 pounds more of muscle and bulk strength…Has natural feet that left tackles need and is quick off the snap to get into blocking position…Has good balance and body control and doesn’t lose much when pulling or on the move at the second level…Has a history of ankle injuries, which is poison for an offensive tackle…Does not have explosive hands and doesn’t drive defenders off the ball in the run game…Is a work in progress because he doesn’t have elite upper or lower body strength…Ran a 5.23 40 at the Combine with 23 reps, a 23½-inch vertical jump and an 8-4 broad jump.
PROJECTION: A raw prospect who has good fluid movements and, given his experience in the SEC, has had a lot of eyes on him the last three years. He will likely be an early selection on the final day of the draft and, while he will need some work to reach his full potential, could develop into a long-term answer at right tackle for someone.
Willie Beavers, Western Michigan, 6-4¾, 321 – Fifth-year senior…Three-year starter who started all 38 games in that span…Very good size and long arms to keep defenders at bay…Has the quickness, lateral movement skills and agility to play left tackle…Has good speed to lead the way in the run game and drop in pass protection quickly…Doesn’t have strong read-and-react skills and will set himself up to get beaten on plays by reacting slowly off the snap…Will lunge and overextend, winding up on the ground too often…Didn’t play against elite competition so his game will need refinement and there will be a learning curve…Ran a 5.28 40 at the Combine with 20 reps of 225 pounds, a 25½-inch vertical jump and an 8-7 broad jump.
PROJECTION: A mid-major left tackle who has some very good attributes but will need some polishing to his game. He likely will be available a ways into Day 3 but is a player with upside that could make an impact in time.
OTHERS TO WATCH
Caleb Benenoch, UCLA, 6-5½, 311
Fahn Cooper, Ole Miss, 6-4½, 303
Parker Ehinger, Cincinnati, 6-6¼, 310
Joe Haeg, North Dakota State, 6-6, 304
Tyler Johnstone, Oregon, 6-5½, 301
Alex Lewis, Nebraska, 6-6, 312
Tyler Marz, Wisconsin, 6-6¾, 316
Kyle Murphy, Stanford, 6-6½, 305
Stephane Nembot, Colorado, 6-6¾, 322
Dominique Robertson, West Georgia, 6-4¾, 324
Brandon Shell, South Carolina, 6-5½, 324
John Theus, Georgia, 6-6½, 313
Halapoulivaati Vaitai, TCU, 6-6, 320
Avery Young, Auburn, 6-4¾, 328