2013 looks as though it will be a year in which the NFL draft class will be abundant with offensive line talent. There will likely be two guards drafted in the first round but the tackles are where the real money is made.
Teams are looking for the big, athletic specimens that will be protecting their quarterbacks for years to come. Four of the five tackles on this list are upper-echelon left tackle prospects. Of course with just five spots, I had to leave out some talented players. The players who missed the cut include: Oregon’s Kyle Long, Colorado’s David Bakhtiari, and Arkansas Pine-Bluff’s Terron Armstead; in order of where I have them ranked. This list is not necessarily based on where I think the player will be drafted, rather it is a grade on where I rank them after studying their film and combine results.
5. Menelik Watson
College: Florida State
Pros: Watson is probably the best all-around athlete on this list, and that is saying something. He has only played football for two years after transferring to Florida State from Marist where he played Basketball. He has good straight line speed that he uses to get into the second and sometimes third levels of the defense. He has good Balance. He shows the ability to absolutely bury defenders in the run game. The more you watch tape of him the more you realize his potential and how much he has improved. His upside is sky high. Offensive line coaches are going to fall in love with this guy’s skill set and measurables. Watson has a very high football I.Q. for being so new to the sport. Note to all Bears fans: You have been looking for a talented left tackle prospect late in the first round for years… Well, here he is. He may be a long-term project, but he could very well turn into an upper-echelon tackle in the NFL.
Cons: Watson is very raw. He has never played left tackle as he was a right tackle at Florida State. He is not consistently quick off the ball. He allows his hands to get outside of his target frequently. Because of this, he draws his fair share of holding calls. He did not show as much at the combine as many had hoped. He has only played football for two years so he is still hesitant. His skittishness manifests itself sometimes when he gets confused on stunts and exotic blitzes. He is not always sure of who to block when he gets to the second level. Watson is the biggest boom or bust prospect of any offensive lineman in the draft.
Projection: 2nd round
NFL comparison: Tyron Smith- Dallas Cowboys
4. D.J. Fluker:
Pros: Fluker is massive, strong, and relatively athletic for his size. He possesses good straight line speed for a near 340-pounder. He bends extremely well for his size. This will allow him to slide into guard if need be. Fluker has a very wide trunk and a strong anchor. Fluker has heavy hands and a very strong punch that he uses to get initial separation off of the line-of-scrimmage. He seems to be perfectly suited to be an elite right tackle from day one in the NFL.
Cons: Fluker is slow-footed and gets beat regularly by speed rushers. He drops his head and lunges in the run game far too often. Fluker is not a left tackle prospect and will likely never develop into one because of his heavy feet.
Projection: Mid to late 1st round.
NFL comparison: Phil Loadholt- Minnesota Vikings
3. Lane Johnson:
Pros: Johnson is incredibly athletic. He is a former quarterback, so it is no surprise that he has good feet, good hands, and long arms. He has incredible straight line speed as exemplified by his 4.76 second 40-yard-dash time at the NFL combine. Johnson moves down the line-of-scrimmage with ease. He bends well and has great flexibility. Johnson uses his long arms and good hands to lock out defenders and keep them from getting into his body. He plays hard and with tenacity. Johnson is downright mean: he plays with the nastiest attitude of anyone on this list. He has tremendous upside, and has made enormous strides after converting from tight end just two seasons ago.
Cons: Johnson is still raw. He plays over-aggressive and overextends/lunges in the run game from time to time. He has gained over 100 pounds in five years but will need to tack on a little bit more weight in order to add on some much needed strength. He is a work in progress: Johnson has only played on the offensive line for two seasons and at left tackle for just one season.
NFL Comparison: Jordan Gross- Carolina Panthers
Projection: Top 15
2. Eric Fisher:
Weight: 306 lbs.
College: Central Michigan
Pros: Fisher possesses a tall lean frame that will allow him to be an effective left tackle in the NFL. He has great feet, which make him extremely effective against speed rushers. Fisher is a fiery competitor who plays with a nasty streak. He has decent power in the run game, especially for his tall and relatively slender frame. He is a very good athlete who possesses good straight line speed as exemplified by is 5.05 second 40-yard-dash time at the NFL Combine.
Cons: Fisher is not particularly strong. He has put on weight but has more of a tight-end frame than anything. His tall frame causes him to struggle to consistently get his pad level low enough to get leverage against bull-rushers. He will need to add strength to improve his anchor against stronger defensive ends that he will face in the NFL. He did not face top end competition at Central Michigan.
NFL Comparison: Joe Staley- San Francisco 49ers
Projection: Top 15
1. Luke Joeckel:
College: Texas A&M
Pros: Joeckel is an elite pass blocker. He possesses a wide body, with good weight distribution. Basically speaking, he has a prototypical left tackle frame. He has good hands, good balance and great technique. He has long arms which he uses effectively to lock out bull rushers in pass protection. If he gets beat, he has the athleticism to readjust and stay with his guy. Joeckel handles all different types of pass rush moves well. Joeckel is quick off the snap and gets to the second level effectively in the run game.
Cons: Joeckel does not possess elite upper-body strength. He is not a mauler nor is he aggressive enough in the run game. He does not get a big push against stronger defensive lineman. Joeckel does not seem to play with as much of a nasty streak as Eric Fisher or Lane Johnson. He lunges from time to time and allows defenders to slip off blocks in the run game.
NFL Comparison: Matt Kalil- Minnesota Vikings
Projection: Top 5
This is the first in a series of position rankings that I will write before the draft of April 25. Special thanks to Gabe Kuhn for his help.