Top 10 offensive tackles in the 2021 NFL Draft:

We are starting our second week of positional breakdowns, where we’ll once again go over an offensive and a defensive group. Last week we talked about running backs and linebackers. This week we’re looking at the offensive tackle class and then later on at edge rushers, which there will also once again be a Youtube video on.

As far as this offensive tackle group goes, the top three I believe stacks up favorably even to what we had last year and this top seven or eight is probably as good as I have seen. I will talk about the individual prospects in detail here, but as a general overview – right now I have numbers one to three as top 15 overall prospects and there is a chance the top eight names will all land in my top 40. However, the talent level drops off dramatically once you get past the first 13-14 names or so. So there could be massive run on the position from the latter half of the first round through the second.

 

Let’s get into it:

 

 

1. Penei Sewell, Oregon

6’5”, 325 pounds; JR

A consensus five-star recruit, Sewell immediately earned the starting gig at left tackle and was on his way to having one of the best freshman seasons for anybody I have seen at the position, but missed the latter half of it and then returned at less than full strength for the Ducks’ bowl game versus Michigan State. In year two, he was already arguably the best overall offensive lineman in the country, earning first-team All-American honors, and would have probably been the first one off the board in a strong 2020 group, if he were eligible. Yet, now he is still at the top of board for most people out there, after sitting out his junior year due to COVID.

Right off the bat – the athletic profile for Sewell gives him Hall of Fame potential. He is a dominant blocker in that zone run game, working off combo-blocks and engulfing linebackers at the second level, often times being able to deliver a good bump on down-lineman and then still having the mobility and quickness in the lower body to get hands on the backer in very unfavorable settings. The absurd mobility for his size is displayed when he is asked to execute skip-pulls, but more consistently the ability to scoop-block defenders in the B-gap on wide zone plays, where he really pulls that outside foot to the far hip of the man. Because of which you see three-techniques and linebackers take much flatter angles than they usually would, to not get scooped/sealed and then Sewell can transition into just riding them, to create cutback opportunities. On the frontside of those plays, there are no issues in terms of getting to the outside edge of 7-techniques or even further away and seal them inside, but I have also seen Sewell set that first wide step for reach-blocks and the edge defender instantly realizing it and shooting the B-gap, but Sewell still has those long arms to grab the near pad and kind of pin the man inside, to allow the ball-carrier to get out to the edge anyway, However, he is far from just a finesse blocker, bringing plenty of umph at initial contact, often times uprooting B-gap defenders in more vertical schemes, while doing a good job of attacking the near half of edge guys on down-blocks, to establish a wall-off position and then at times driving him close to the sideline.

In the pass game, Sewell has truly special feet to match twitchy rushers and he is such an easy mover. There are certainly some refinements that need to be made to the technique in his sets – which I’ll get to in the next paragraph – but you know he can get himself into position to engage and mirror with the best of them. Sewell has that inside hand ready to take steam off anybody slanting hard into the B-gap or possibly pick them up. and even when he is late to recognize twists, he has the quick feet and hip mobility to recover anyway. If he does see it, with his man being the first to cross, he gives that guy a good shove, to make the job easier for the guard next to him. Sewell is so explosive out of his stance, that he can get to wide alignments and initiate contact on play-action with very aggressive angles and rarely ever whiff. And in the screen game, his athleticism can really shine, where he uses swim-moves to release and then puts DBs on their backs. Something that is just mind-boggling to watch for me is when he actually seals wide nine’s or split-the-difference backers (OT to slot) on swing screens, or takes out slot defenders on tunnel screens. Sewell only surrendered eight total pressures on 215 pass-pro snaps in 2018 and as a true sophomore, he finished with PFF’s highest grade among all offensive linemen at only 19 years old, with just two hits on the QB on almost 500 pass-blocking snaps.

In terms of the negatives, when Sewell is away from the point of attack is asked to just seal his man, he can get a little lazy. And he is guilty of overextending at times, when trying to put hands on targets in space. However, his bigger technical issues are in pass-pro, where he tends to shoot his first punch before his man is actually in range for engaging proper contact and he ends up kind of catching rushers, while getting way too tall. He also picks up that inside foot way too much, when he doesn’t need to at all. Overall, to me there is too much bobbing, rather than stepping and sliding and he doesn’t make great use of his length, to keep rushers at bay and force them to take wider angles. And there just weren’t a ton of true drop-backs in that Oregon offense anyway, because of how much they ran the ball and how horizontal the passing attack was.

As you can tell, other than wanting to be a little more aggressiveness when he isn’t directly at the point of attack, the problems with Sewell are all technical ones, that can be fixed with proper coaching. This guy dominated as a 19-year old and still has room to grow, in terms of learning the intricacies at the position. I have been following the draft for about a decade now and studied it in-depth for the latter half of it – this is the best OT prospect I have ever watched.

 

 

 

2. Rashawn Slater, Northwestern

6’4”, 315 pounds; SR

This former top-700 overall recruit immediately became an impact starter for the Wildcats and excelled at both tackle spots. Slater started out at right tackle, where he was named to the Big Ten All-Freshman team. In year two he made third-team all-conference for his services at that same spot, before switching to the left in 2019, where he somehow was only a consensus honorable mention All-Big Ten selection as an 11-game starter, despite being one of the consistent players at the position in the country.

As a run-blocker, Slater uses good leverage, makes the head of defenders snap back when he meets them and rolls those hips through contact, to go with excellent hand-placement. He is so technically sound in that area, whether it’s blowing the B-gap wide open on the front-side of zone plays and locking out his man or showing off his mobility from the backside, scooping up interior guys, cutting them off and taking the appropriate angles up to the second level, where he establishes contact with force and takes some linebackers for a ride. He just bullied Tuf Borland and those other Ohio State linebackers in 2019 and very much the same story for the front-seven of Stanford that same season. So it’s not just technical refinement, but he actually sets the tone with the way he drives defenders off the ball. His athleticism is also apparent, when he almost backpedals on the backside of rollout protections. And he displays that fluidity in his hips when adjusting angles on the move or pivoting back around to cut off pursuit defender. Slater is pretty impressive with the way he puts hands on DBs in the screen game for such a big mauling dude.

In pass-pro, he has a quick hop out of his stance to counter speed rushers, plus he displays great timing and placement in his punch, attacking the middle of the chest to avoid getting long-armed. He does a nice job of keeping edge rushers at the end of his reach and when they try to knock his hands down, they quickly land back on the target. When his man actually does successfully attack his chest and gets that momentum, Slater quickly shuts that down, by kicking his feet backwards and re-anchoring. He has plenty of junk in the trunk to hold his ground against big base D-ends as well as wide rushers looking to convert speed to power. So you really have to string moves together exceptionally well to even get a couple of wins in a game. Slater has something on tape that no other linemen in this draft done – he was clearly the better player one-on-one that day against a generational player in Chase Young. Whether it was locking him out and make him stop almost every time they were at the point of attack in the run game or the way he completely neutralized him as a pass-rusher. And you saw the confidence that Northwestern coaching staff had in their left tackle, when they left him soloed up against Young for pretty much the whole time, while they put a tight-end over to double every single snap he went up against the right tackle. In 2019, he surrendered no sacks, just one hit on the QB and five overall pressures, over the course of 355 pass-blocking snaps.

As great as all that is, Slater can’t quite be number one, since he doesn’t have that type of physical upside of a Penei Sewell. He doesn’t quite have those nimble feet or elite recovery abilities and he doesn’t meet those prototype measurements in terms of height or length at 6’4” with 33-inch arms. Slater doesn’t the loosest lower body among this group and his foot speed isn’t quite there, where he can cut off speed-rushers around the corner solely with his lower body. While his tape is very clean overall, his hands and pads do have a tendency of sliding a little high as plays progress. Because his measurables, some NFL scouts might want to see transition to guard at the next level.

I absolutely believe Slater should stay on the edge however. What he does have in arm length, he makes up with hand-combat, and while he might not quite have elite foot quickness, he rarely takes false steps. I think he can really excels in any system you run and will probably the best day one starter of this entire group. Slater can bully defenders in the run game and be very frustrating to get around on passing downs, from day one potentially.

 

 

 

3. Christian Darrisaw, Virginia Tech

6’5”, 310 pounds; SR

Surprisingly just a three-star recruit coming from a military academy, Darrisaw started 25 of the 26 games through his first two years with the Hokies at a pretty high level. However, his continuous improvement saw a rapid peak this past season, when he rose up to be a first-team All-ACC selection at left tackle, despite missing a couple of contests. He is now entering the draft pretty much cemented as a top three prospect at the position.

What stands out right away with Darrisaw are his great length and easy movement skills. He displays tremendous quickness and hip mobility to hinge-blocking or scoop up three-technique on the backside of zone run plays, with the way he can truly put his whole body in between the defender and the ball, or he can ride the linebacker on his side whilst on the move to create a huge cutback lane. On the front side of those wide zone plays, he has the agility to reach edge defender, but then also seamlessly transitions into a drive-block if can’t quite seal the man, with great torque of the inside pad, to get him to the outside edge and then running his legs. In more of the vertical rushing attack, he can move those B-gap defenders out of their fits while rolling his hips through contact and when he combos off that, he can literally toss smaller bodies around. He was even asked to pull a few times on their sweep plays, in combination with the tight-end blocking down on the D-endm or wrap around to the play-side backer on power plays, and I like the way he gathers himself in space, which also shines in the screen game. When you watch his tape, the way he covers up bodies and shields those guys from the ball is apparent.

In the pass game, Darrisaw tough to get around, He has the foot speed and quick-twitch athleticism to counter speedier rushers and I have yet to see anybody actually be able to go through his chest. He packs a good punch and forces edge defenders to run the loop. Especially against those wide nine alignments, his balance and patience can really shine. And he does not panic at all, when he has to pick up DBs blitzing off the edge, giving them nowhere to go. I’ve seen Darrisaw completely neutralize the guys across from him for a series on multiple occasions, to where they don’t even try any maneuvers anymore, because of the way he can force them to go through him and then he such a tight grip, to not let them get away. And when he is asked to cut-block rushers on the edge in the quick-game, he does a nice job of inviting them upfield and then working across the body to take them off their feet. Darrisaw was the highest-graded offensive tackle in college football by PFF last season, due to allowing no hits on the quarterback and just six pressures overall. That included six games, where he allowed zero QB pressures.

Darrisaw didn’t have a ton of actual dropback pass-sets in 2019 in particular and he didn’t have a true kick set, just guiding rushers around the edge with shuffle steps. He has now added some short kicks, but would still benefit from refining that, as he will go up against some speed-rushers, where that won’t be enough and he will have to gain vertical depth on actual kicks. He is often a tick late at identifying twists and picking up the guy looping over from the inside. Darrisaw also gets a little wide with his base at times and that inside foot travels too far back in the pass game, which doesn’t allow him to post that well versus inside counters. On those wide zone plays, he gets a little too aggressive at times trying to reach-blocks the end-man on the line and allows that guy to shoot up the B-gap quickly. And overall, when his job is done, he is done, not necessarily looking for extra work.

While I don’t think Darrisaw has the same level of tenacity or technique as Slater, there is an argument to be made for him being a higher upside selection. His athletic traits are probably second only to Oregon’s Penei Sewell in terms of what you want your left tackle to look like physically and when he starts to move. While he didn’t face a ton of great edge rushers in the ACC, all I really have to look at is the Miami game, where Jaelan Phillips was wreaking havoc from the opposite side and Darrisaw pretty much shut down Quincy Roche. Considering he can still improve his pass-sets quite a bit, his success in that are already is very promising.

 

 

 

4. Samuel Cosmi, Texas

6’7”, 310 pounds; RS JR

Outside of the top 1000 in his recruiting class, Cosmi redshirted his first year on campus, before starting all but the season-opener at right tackle for Longhorns as a freshman. Since then he has been a fixture in the lineup and a key piece on the left side, that has helped the Texas offense score 35.2 and 42.7 points per game respectively these last two years, earning second- and then first-team All-Big 12 selection honors along the way. Cosmi could have easily entered the 2020 draft, but decided to come back for his redshirt junior year and opted back in, after initially saying he wouldn’t play.

Cosmi displays excellent functional athleticism in all areas of the game. As a run-blocker, his leg-drive as and that finishing mentality really jump out. He has the tremendous agility to scoop or reach-block defender in the B-gap, to either seal the backside or enable his fellow linemen to pull, where he hits that far part of defenders’ chests to turn their bodies and put his own in front of them, or he can cut them off by attacking across their legs. Yet, you also see him wash down guys on the inside to create big holes and he has those reps, where he rides the edge defender on the front-side of inside zone runs down the line, pushing underneath that inside arm pit to get them off balance and then bury them. Cosmi routinely beats linebackers to the spot and forces them go around him, when asked to directly climb to the second level. And he has the ability to kind of catch smaller bodies out in space, while exceling on those “move” blocks.

In the pass game, Cosmi has the foot speed to match true speed off the edge and he rarely allows anybody to establish those half-man relationships, while being able to flip and push those guys past the arc that attack too aggressively upfield, or sometimes just slap down their hands as they try to work some power-based move, to make them fall flat on their face. He does a really nice job of timing up initial contact and engaging in hand-fights, so he can clear the frame of the defender coming off the edge and get his hands inside, where they rarely come off from anymore. His cleats really eat grass to anchor versus bigger rushers and he can torque guys to the turf, where you don’t have to wait very long for the Texas tackle to land on top of them. He may not always have that post-leg ready to step vertically, but his athleticism allows him to match inside counters anyway. And he quickly closes the distance to his guard, when his man drops out or he just isn’t matched up with anybody, to pick up anybody working over the top to him or knock down those guys on the interior. Cosmi has allowed just four combined sacks and QB hits since start of the 2019 season on almost 1000 drop-backs.

With that being said, Cosmi lifts that inside foot too much at times and can literally be “caught on the wrong foot” to create some balance issues. That’s exactly what happened a couple of times against LSU’s K’Lavon Chaisson in 2019, who beat the Texas OT for multiple hits on the quarterback. I think he needs to do a better job anchoring against the bull-rush altogether, which that and the fact his feet get too narrow in his sort of a sideway shuffle, can be a problem in particular against those guys who can convert speed to power. His hands are a little wide and low, while his pads and weight are too far out in front a lot of times in general, which makes him vulnerable to push-pull maneuvers and forces him to just slip off blocks in the middle of a run play. He also has pretty skinny calves, that look like more than they actually are, because of those leg protectors he wears.

OT4 was probably the toughest choice of any group so far. For me numbers one, two and three are pretty clear, but then from four to seven, you can really go either way. They will all have top 40 grades and depending on what you are looking for in terms of skill-set and scheme fit, they can all make sense. I decided to go with Cosmi here, because I think if you teach him to slide that inside foot more and work on his base strength, he can be a top-tier pass-protector very early, while showing superb agility and the want to finish as a run-blocker.

 

 

 

5. Jalen Mayfield, Michigan

6’5”, 320 pounds; RS SO

A former four-star recruit, Mayfield played three games at left tackle as a true freshman, before taking over and starting all 13 contests on the right side in year two, where he earned honorable mention All-Big Ten accolades. After initially opting out for 2020, he did come back, playing the best ball of his career, but got hurt two games in for Michigan and now enters the draft as one of the most inexperienced prospects, but a lot of intriguing qualities.

Mayfield has the agility to help ball-carriers get around the edge routinely, by reaching the last man on the line or sealing off second level defender, with how smooth he is at getting to those spots. Yet, he can also scoop B-gap defenders on the backside of zone runs. In 2020, I thought he was much more effective at creating a lane inside, when he was riding D-ends on the front-side, twisting pads to get their butt facing the sideline and then creating that momentum. To me, he is at his best as a run-blocker when he caves in linebackers or combos off to them with a puller coming over to kick out the end-man, to create that new gap between the two. The Wolverines also used Mayfield himself as a puller, getting out in front on smaller bodies, with the tight-end(s) blocking down, where he had no issues of covering them up. And overall he excels on those “running blocks”, where he hits the pressure points right and stays engaged through the whistle, while showing tremendous reactionary athleticism to deal with sudden movement by second- and even third-level defenders to some degree.

Mayfield gets a great jump on the snap and is light on his feet in pass-pro, to cut off the angle to the quarterback, but he also has a firm enough base to handle rushers attacking his chest. He uses that inside hand very well to engage with the rusher and force them to take a wider lane. Mayfield just makes it really tough for rushers, because of the way he can square them up and force them to go through him, while having enough sand in the pants to sit down on power moves. And when they do get to the edge of his frame, he rides them past the arc with ease, to make them useless. He even looked comfortable picking up nickels and cornerbacks blitzing off the edge, when he was tasked with doing so. Mayfield dominated Minnesota’s defensive ends in their first game of 2020, where he put them the ground much more than what I had seen from him the year prior. He has the agile footwork and overall athletic capability to recover as a protector or shove some late blitzers or loopers off course. Overall, he was responsible for only one sack and one more hurry over his two games last season.

On the flipside, Mayfield just doesn’t create a ton of movement at the point of attack when I look at all of his tape. He doesn’t necessarily crush linebackers in space despite having that size advantage and he needs to do a better job of attaching to the hip of his teammates on combo-blocks, to enable them to come off those. In pass-pro, he is a little vulnerable to have edge rushers snatch the inside part of his jersey and the foot to that side gets too far off the ground on top of it. You also see some rushers get underneath his pads and him having a hard time re-anchoring. And while it doesn’t really come through when you watch the totality of his snaps, when he is matched up against elite speed off the edge, you realize that he doesn’t a lot of depth on that initial kick and then kind of shuffles to stay along, in order to guide them around.

What you have realize with this kid is the fact he is only 20 years old. So he can still grow a lot physically and technically. In my opinion, Mayfield is probably suited to be a zone-blocker only and for a team that finds ways to take advantage of his mobility. With only 15 career starts the tape is pretty limited and there were some learning moments in year one, but having to face that trio of D-ends for Penn State, the duo that entered last year’s draft for Notre Dame, Alabama and Chase Young certainly didn’t help. And he absolutely held his own as a first-year starter.

 

 

 

6. Teven Jenkins, Oklahoma State

6’6”, 315 pounds; RS SR

Just outside the top 1000 overall recruits, Jenkins redshirted his first year in Stillwater. The following season, he played in 12 games and started three of them, before earning the starting gig at right tackle in 2019, where he earned honorable mention All-Big 12 accolades. And then last year he improved that to first-team all-conference as a dominant player at that spot for the Cowboys.

Jenkins is one of the intimidating players in this entire draft. He can create a lot of vertical push in the run game, especially when he gets a little bit of help on combos, to square up the defender and just drive him off the ball, but he can also set up teammates with a good bump on the down-lineman, before he works up to the backer. Jenkins is strong like a bear, but also has great short-area agility and hip mobility, to transition on combo-blocks among other things. With how many odd fronts and head-up D-ends he faced in the Big 12 you didn’t see a ton of it, but when Jenkins had those guys shaded to the outside, he could really blow that B-gap wide open on the front-side of zone runs, getting underneath the inside arm pit and getting them moving towards the sideline. He has that quality of making guys land on the turf routinely in those situations, as an awesome finisher. Jenkins does a nice job of sealing four- or five-techniques on the backside of run plays, bringing his hips all the way around. He stays very balanced and patient working up to the second level and while he may not fly around the field, he is very effective getting in front of people and forcing them to find a different path in the screen game.

In the pass game, that back-leg kicks back with violence and Jenkins has clutches, to shut down pass-rushers, plus he is looking to finish on top of those guys. He uses this slick maneuver, where he knocks down the hands of the edge rusher, which gets them off balance and then again underneath him in the end. And while he doesn’t have very long arms, he displays excellent individual hand usage, like swatting down the hands of rushers trying to use the icepick and keeps that chest free. Jenkins has just absurd power to swallow bull-rushes and set the anchor, to where he brings the rusher to a complete stop. And because of how massive he is combined with the depth he gets on that first step, you can’t really shorten the arc much against him. Jenkins is plenty loose enough to adjust on twists to his side and he does a nice job of setting up draw plays with a couple of kicks and then pushing his man back towards the offensive end-zone. In the Texas game last season, that ability to torque pads and throw guys to the turf really was on display against a potential first-round edge rusher himself in Joseph Ossai, who he pancaked and drove out of the screen on several occasions. Overall, Jenkins hasn’t been charted with allowing any sacks and only two QB hits by PFF over the last two seasons combined (even though Ossai actually got on the last play against him, when the QB scrambled the other way.

On the flipside, Jenkins is a little too lethargic coming out of stance a lot of times in the run game and we rarely seen him use actual lead-steps, to create instant movement, more so squaring up defenders. And while he is a like a wall to get around when he gets into open space, he struggles to actually engage with more agile defenders and has to learn to throttle down in those situations. As a pass-protector, he gets caught oversetting to the outside on quite a few occasions or completely stopping his feet against up-and-under maneuvers. Plus, his second and first steps/kicks are not nearly as impressive, heavily relying on short-sets in that area. Oh, and while this may not be such a big thing, his cut-blocks are pretty gross to watch. So I wouldn’t ask him to execute those in some kind of quick game stuff any time soon.

If you are looking for a hulking right tackle, who will impose his will on defenders, this is your guy. I don’t think Jenkins has the impressive agility and foot quickness of the guys in front of him and he is often outmatched in arm length compared to his man on the edge, but he makes up for it with hand-usage and you have to go a pretty long way, trying to actually get around him massive frame. I think he has Pro Bowl potential at tackle or guard.

 

 

 

7. Dillon Radunz, North Dakota State

6’5” ½, just over 300 pounds; RS SR

 

A skinny 265-pound offensive tackle and defensive end coming out of high school, this former two-star recruit redshirted his first year at North Dakota State to bulk up. He was named a starter heading into his freshman season, but was lost for the rest of the year just 15 snaps into the opener. The next two years he started all 31 games for the Bison, improving from second- to first-team All-Missouri Valley Football Conference and being named a first-team FCS All-American, plus he started NDSU’s one game they played in the fall. After being part of three national championship teams, he now decided to forgo his senior campaign.

First and foremost, Radunz does not lack FBS athleticism or game. He is such an easy mover at that left tackle spot for the Bison. He really jumps out of his stance on lateral blocking schemes, where he would be a great fit for an outside zone-oriented offense, because he can really widen the edge or reach-block outside defenders. You see him open up huge lanes on angle blocks against D-tackles, where he attacks that near hip and turns those guys that way. Yet, he can also pin linebackers inside and get his ball-carrier out to the edge that way. NDSU moved Radunz to guard and over as the swing right tackle, with teammate Cordell Volson next to him as part of an unbalanced line, to get the run game going with those two leading the way, where Radunz was a true road-grader for the Bison. With his mauling mentality and the fact he can still bulk up his frame, he could turn himself into an even more imposing run-blocker at the next level, while already being familiar with tons of pro-style schemes as part of a ground-oriented Bison offense.

Radunz’s movement skills as a pass-protector are also highly impressive. He flies out of his stance in his kick slide and takes away the easy angle right away. I love how active and well-coordinated his feet are, plus he has shown the ability to re-position the hands and recover with natural athleticism. Radunz can really mirror athletic rushers beautifully, where he doesn’t overreact to sudden movements, being able to sit in that chair and shuffle his feet. Other than one hit on Trey Lance, Radunz pretty much neutralized Northern Iowa’s Elerson Smith in 2019, who was a first-team All-FCS defensive end. Coming into Senior Bowl week, my biggest question for him if he was able to anchor against Power-Five edge defenders, but he showed no issues dealing with speed-to-power conversions and displayed outstanding technique overall. Old friend Elerson Smith gave plenty of tackles problems with his quickness, but on the couple of reps Radunz had against him, he did what he already did in their last regular season meeting – he shut him down. I thought he was the best and most consistent OT of the week down in Mobile. And that is something I have to weigh more heavily with him, because I already he could do it against FCS competition, allowing just one total hit on the quarterback in 2019 plus their one game last season (just over 1000 total snaps).

With that being said, Radunz does get caught crossing his legs at times when engaging with guys coming around the edge and if that tendency shows up in the pros again, those guys will send him flying. That is also the case when trying to react to counter moves, where the way he shifts his weight can hurt his overall balance. You also see him kind of get caught in-between assignments at times, when the defense brings down an extra defender late. With only 33-inch arms, his length is below-average for the tackle spot, which has some scouts projecting him to play guard, and some people have talked about concerns about his practice habits.

I can’t speak on the last bit I just mentioned, because I have only watched the ball and the all-star type setting at the Senior Bowl is certainly different, which he actually thrived in. With such a heavy dose of the run game and hard play-action off it, once again the amount true dropback pass sets was highly limited for Radunz and we will have to see how it could affect him, in terms of pass-rushers being able to read his sets and string moves together over the course of full games. I really don’t see a lot of concerns however and would feel pretty comfortable grabbing him in the latter parts of the first round.

 

 

 

8. Alex Leatherwood, Alabama

6’5”, 315 pounds; JR

Once the number one tackle and a top five overall recruit in the nation, Leatherwood saw action in seven games his freshman season. These last three years he has started all 41 games – one year at right guard and then the last two at left tackle – and built up one of the most impressive resumes of any college offensive lineman. After being named second-team All-SEC as a sophomore, he was recognized as first-team all-conference these last two years and a unanimous All-American selection this past season, to go with winning his second national championship

Physically, Leatherwood has exactly the measurements you are looking for, with a thick and sturdy base and a ridiculous 85 ½-inch wingspan. In the run game, he creates a lot of vertical movement on down- or combo-blocks against three-techniques and he consistently widens the B-gap on the front-side of zone run plays, while locking out the edge defender. He actually has a lot of flexibility in his upper body, which enables him to hit his aiming points even when defenders try to dip underneath him. From the backside of those wide zone runs, he really pulls that far foot across, to gain ground laterally and almost steps behind his guard, to take over blocks. When the B-gap is free, he makes up a lot of ground horizontally, to open up big cutback lanes behind the backer. At the point of attack, when the end-man is kicked out, he fluidly transitions off those combos on the D-tackle and does a great job of walling off linebackers, once the block on the down-lineman is secured or he identifies a bigger threat to come off to when on the move. He has also displayed the ability of pinning guys inside on toss and sweep play on several occasions.

As a pass-protector, Leatherwood may not be super light-footed, but he is not easy to get around or through, He is very consistent with his sets and the timing of his kick-slides, while not overreacting to rushers trying to give him some kind of wiggle, really keeping his eyes locked on their hips. He consistently lands that inside hand underneath the man to wide their angle and about half of his pass-sets it seems like he is just riding the edge rusher past the loop, where his ability to flip the hips is pretty darn good. Plus, Leatherwood has the firm base to sustain bull-rushes and is like a wall to run into for blitzers, where he is very patient at picking up any delayed rushers. Thanks to his length, he can almost touch the guard’s shoulder with that inside hand while the rush is still developing and he is really fluid with the he way he transitions to the D-tackle on twists, with quick eyes to find the man. Leatherwood also does a nice job of selling play-action with that first step, without compromising the position of his base. He and Jedrick Wills on the right side completely neutralized those two great defensive ends for Michigan in the 2020 Citrus Bowl. He allowed only nine pressures and no sacks in 2019. Last season he was responsible for the same amount of pressures, even through three of them resulted in sacks and four more in hits on the QB.

However, Leatherwood doesn’t blow you away with his athleticism and lacks that mean streak Wills had at right tackle a year ago. He basically pass-sets on the backside of inside zone plays with an RPO element and opens the inside door, as you see edge defenders shoot that B-gap on those kind of plays way too often. When he gets into space, he tries to catch bodies more than engaging with them actively. And I think he will have more holds called against him at the next level for the way he twists defenders. The real concern for Leatherwood however is that he doesn’t nearly display the foot speed you usually see from elite pass-protecting tackles. He had a so-so Senior Bowl week, where he insisted on just playing left tackle, but had problems handling quick guys around the edge, even though he did finally have a good day three. You also see guys beat him with quick swim moves at times when he leans too much forward.

This is an interesting situation to follow. Leatherwood might be better suited to play guard at the next speed, where that lack of foot speed to match speed around the edge isn’t as apparent, but I think he has made it very clear that he wants to stay out at tackle. So evaluating him as that, I think he is almost in a tier of his own, in terms being the next name after numbers four to seven. There is plenty to like with Leatherwood, but also some flaws. Either way, I think he can definitely be a solid starter at both spots.

 

 

 

9. Liam Eichenberg, Notre Dame

6’6“, 305 pounds; RS SR

After a redshirt year as a top 100 overall recruit, Eichenberg played in five games as a backup in 2017 and then started all 13 games each his sophomore and junior year. Last season he finally got the accolades to back up his strong play, for a Notre Dame program that won as many games over that stretch as they did since the early 90’s, earning first-team All-ACC honors (his only year as part of the conference) and being named a consensus All-American.

Eichenberg comes off the ball with good pad-level in the run game and you see him put some extra weight on that down-hand at times. His play strength and mobility gets illustrated best in the zone run game, where he does a nice job of landing that outside hand in the middle (or even inside part) of the edge defender’s chest, to establish proper position and protect the B-gap. On the backside, he really opens 90 degrees with the play-side foot and he has some beautiful snaps, where he cross-faces interior linemen and then brings his butt around all the way so it faces the sideline, but he also excels at cutting off those guys and actually getting them off their feet. When the B-gap is uncovered, he creates some good cutback lanes with the way he attaches and lifts up the hip of the D-tackle engaged with the guard and keeps going that way, to progress to the backer, once he feels the down-lineman is in appropriate position. Eichenberg was also used quite a bit as a puller up the hole on GT power plays and he routinely walls or cuts off angles for linebackers when he climbs straight up to them, continuing to push guys until the echo of the whistle.

The heralded tackle prospect jumps out of his stance in pass-sets and has that punch loaded up, which he lands pretty effectively to widen the rush angle and stand up his man. He does a really good job of keeping those shoulders square on vertical pass sets and seems to always have that post-leg ready to shut down any quick inside moves, like up-and-unders or spins. Eichenberg displays patient feet and he rarely oversets to the outside, while excelling at picking up slanters on twists and working in concert with the guard next to him. After being responsible for three sacks his first season as a starter, hasn’t allowed a sack since week five of 2018 and only four QB hits since then, with one of them coming last season. Those numbers are second to none over that stretch. He is also very crafty with the way he releases on screen passes and how he sets up draw plays. And when he has nobody right in front of him as he gets into space, he is actively looking for work.

Eichenberg shows some questionable balance in the run game, where he struggles to actually sustain blocks and slips off too many defenders, having his weight shifted too far over his toes. In pass-pro, he is almost the full 6’6” tall after that first kick, he doesn’t have great anchor strength to counter power and because he leans forward so much, it makes him vulnerable to push-pulls maneuvers or just having his jersey jerked to the side, to up a direct path to the quarterback. I would like to see him land his paws inside the chest of defenders and maintain better contact altogether. Unlike most of the guys on this list, you just never really see Eichenberg physically impose himself on defenders I feel like.

So Eichenberg to me just isn’t as impressive on tape as any of the names I have in front of him. There aren’t many of those “wow” snaps, where he just blows somebody off the ball or completely stuns somebody trying to bull-rush him. However, when you look at his incredible success rate as a pass-protector and how well Notre Dame ran the ball, with him making a minimum of mistakes, you can’t really argue with that. If I had to sum it up, I would saw there aren’t a ton of really great snaps, but very little bad ones. And that’s mostly what you are looking for up front.

 

 

10. James Hudson III, Cincinnati

6’4” ½, 300 pounds; RS JR

Starting his career at Michigan as a top 250 overall defensive tackle recruit, Hudson redshirted his first year on campus and transitioned to the offensive side of the ball. He appeared in three games of his debut season, but decided to transfer to Cincinnati at the end of it. There he had to sit out another season due to NCAA rules and started the only game he was eligible to play. Last season in his first year as a starter however, he made first-team All-AAC and showed enough talent to enter the draft already.

When you look at Hudson physically, he may be on the smaller side in terms of weight and 33-inch arms aren’t overly impressive, but those 11-inch hands are just massive. They allow him to excel at torquing the pads of defenders and opening lanes that way. Hudson is one of the most impressive athletes in this draft regardless of position and the Bearcats coaches really made use of that. The mobility he has to get to second level defenders in the snap of a finger is absolutely stunning and linebackers almost appear shocked at times with how quickly he has them walled off or sealed on the backside, plus he can deal with guys who try to get avoid him with sudden movement. He is one of the very few offensive linemen that consistently gave Tulsa’s All-American linebacker Zaven Collins issues with his quickness to get in the defender’s grill. I love watching Hudson get on the move as a puller, where he executes wrap-arounds with ease and almost outraces the guard on GT power at times, or when he gets out in front of sweep plays. Even more impressive is the way he flies around the field in the screen game and how simple he makes it look to put hands on smaller defenders in wide open spaces. Hudson also does a nice job of inviting rushers upfield on draw plays, where he actually does a pretty nice pass-set straight back and then rides the defender upfield.

Looking at Hudson in the pass game, there are things he needs to work on when executing vertical kick-slides, but just know he has enough foot speed to deal even with wide nine rushers despite that. He is consistently first to land his hands in pass-pro and he has a really strong grip with those massive paws, which enables him to control reps from that point on. When rushers attack too aggressively upfield, he will ride them past the arc, or he can knock them off track when they try to use hesitation moves back to the outside. Hudson has the quickness in his lower body to deal with sudden defenders in that area and the fluidity in the hips to smoothly transition on twists. And when rushers do get into his chest with a long-arm maneuver, he is pretty nifty with the way he knocks down their reach and makes them land on their chest at times. Last season he didn’t surrender a single sack or hit on the quarterback (six hurries overall). The game I would reference to, when talking about Hudson’s potential as a pass-protector is actually the last one he ever played, when Cincinnati was so close to pulling off the upset over Georgia and finish the season with a perfect record. I will also mention it with UGA rusher Azeez Ojulari for racking up three sacks, but they all came in the second half, when Hudson was out of the game, after the only pressure he had surrendered came on a twist, where he and the guard couldn’t switch responsibilities quickly enough. I also was very impressed with what I saw from Hudson during Senior Bowl week. I’ll get to some of the issues that reoccurred for him there, but while he made himself very tall because of the way he galloped out of his size, I saw a kick-set that he can actually carry to the NFL, while his athleticism, foot quickness and recovery ability were highly encouraging.

With that being said, there are certainly things he needs to clean up about his vertical pass-sets and until what I saw down in Mobile, I would have said he almost needs to completely overhaul them, for it to be sustainable at the next level. I would think getting lower overall as he starts getting more depth in kicks should not present a big problem, because he has the mobility in his lower body to do so, but his punch is still too wide and high, plus he tends to lunge or almost kind of jump out to rushers, which makes him vulnerable to quick up-and-unders and just shifts his way too much to the edge. While his inside foot gets off the ground too much and therefore he can’t really post against those inside moves consistently, plus he has to learn how to make his cleats eat more grass, to be able to anchor down, especially against guys who can convert to power. In the run game, I would say he is more of a positional blocker, rather than overwhelm anybody at the point of attack. And he has only played 760 career snaps, which shows in his inconsistency with getting off the ball, exploding out of his stance one snap and then being way late on the very next at times.

Hudson is still a very raw prospect, but has a lot of desirable qualities, to make a team want to develop him into a tackle with Pro Bowl potential. He will have to really clean up his true drop-back sets and firm up his base through an NFL training program, but just the athletic tools and ability to recover, while already having had such a great first season as a starter are highly impressive. I think somebody will grab him in the middle of day two and depending on the coaching they have up front, could turn him into a star.

 


 

Just missed the cut:

 

Jackson Carman, Clemson

6’5”, 340 pounds; JR

A former top 20 overall recruit, Carman was a quality swing tackle as a freshman for Clemson’s national championship team, before he started all 15 games in 2019 and earned third-team All-ACC honors. Last season he improved that to second-team all-conference, despite Notre Dame joining them for the year with two excellent offensive tackles themselves.

This guy is a monstrous tackle prospect, who can move much better than you’d expect- Carman possesses a ton of natural power and you see him overwhelm some defenders at the point of attack, where his strikes are well-placed and often knocks guys backwards, creating plenty of movement on angle blocks. And he has that strong grip, which enables him to turn bodies and establish proper position. Even when it seems like defenders have the angle to work across his face from the backside of zone runs, Carman can torque their pads and seal them off anybody. When he is asked to climb to the second level, he is usually under good control and nobody likes getting in his way. It’s really fun to watch this guy get out in front on screens, where he actually gets moving pretty well and lets some guys fly. Carman’s wide frame and length make it really tough to get around in pass-pro, where he can push rushers past the arc when they try to get around him and they certainly won’t be able to run through the middle of him either. He puts those big paws on you and you’re not getting away from him anymore. So many times you see defenders engage with Carman in their rush and they seem like they lost their plan. On play-action, he gets defenders to commit against the run because they need to in order to hold their ground and once again, thanks to his wide chest, they can’t really see what’s happening in the backfield usually.

However, Carman carries a lot of weight in the upper body, ducks his head into contact at times and is not as natural a knee-bender as you would like to see, which leads to him landing on the turf way too often. While that was the case for everybody in 2019, Carman certainly had issues handling Chase Young in the 2020 Fiesta Bowl, in terms of forcing him to get out of the chair as a pass-protector. And that also became a problem in the Sugar Bowl at the end of last season, when Baron Browning got him to completely disregard his technique and desperately tried to run with the linebacker and push him past the quarterback. He doesn’t gain a lot of depth with his kick-slides and I would say he is rather slow-footed overall for the position, which also leads to his feet seemingly getting stuck in the made, when rushers hit him with an up-and-under moves. Those twitchy rushers, who can work in hesitation certainly can give him issues. His hands and pads also get a little too high for my taste.

I think Carman can stay at tackle in the right scheme, where he isn’t asked to do a lot of wide zone or reach-blocking and doesn’t have to get into too many vertical pass sets, but if you do expect that out of your tackles, you might want to look at Carman as a guard. He can still be a quality addition inside, because the mass, power and more limited space he has to cover could lead to a brighter future.

 

D’Ante Smith, Eastern Carolina

6’5”, 295 pounds; SR

A former three-star recruit, Smith’s collegiate career didn’t start off on the right foot, as he suffered a season-ending injury on his first ever game with the Bearcats. In year two, he started five of seven games played, before taking over full-time at left tackle from that point on. He started all 12 games each in 2018 and ’19, earning honorable mention All-AAC as a junior, but was lost one game into last season due to an undisclosed injury, focusing on his preparation for the NFL.

This is one of those guys I didn’t really know or hear much about before Senior Bowl week, but made me watch the tape soon after. He made an early statement on day one of team drills, when he took Florida State’s 320-pound D-tackle Marvin Wilson and drove him a good five yards out of the way on angle-block and really impressed me throughout his stay in Mobile, becoming more consistent with every pass-set he took and how he kept pushing defenders until the whistle in the run game. There’s a lot to like about Smith as a run-blocker. His hands strike low to gain positional advantages, he rolls those hips through contact beautifully, keeps churning those legs and does a great job of active re-placing his hands. On zone runs, he punishes edge defenders shooting upfield too hard on the front-side, and he excels at cutting off on the backside. With his agility to hinge-block three-techniques, he allows the guard next to him to pull, but he was also fun to watch as a lead-blocker himself on power runs, where he showed little issues getting hands on linebackers and ended plenty of them as pancakes. In the pass game, he keeps those hands ready to shoot and that 85-inch wingspan helps him control rushers. While he will be threatened more with speed to work backwards at the next level, Smith’s feet rarely leave the ground and allow him to react quickly. That’s how he sustains good positions over multiple moves by the pass-rusher he is working against. And what gives him the upper hand on many other guys, is the way he can use his hands individually, separate from his lower body. He delivers a good shove to get rushers past the arc and he has the sturdiness to sustain blows, as the end tries to crash the inside shoulder on E-T twists and stuff like that. Plus, he displays excellent timing and technique on cut-blocks against blitzers coming hot off the edge.

With that being said, Smith’s feet get too far away from his base and not under himself anymore, which gets him off balance and he almost trips over his own feet at times. I would like to see him pull those elbows in tighter and land punches, to actually stun rushers at times. He gets caught leaning forward to engage a lot of times, which also leads to him missing in the run game at times, when a defender comes down late and gives him a little wiggle. And not only does he overrun some guys, as he aims back to the inside, but he also tends to overextend his arms on second-level blocks, which will be punished more by well-schooled NFL linebackers, who knock them down and make him whiff.

The track record in the AAC conference, which lacks premiere pass-rushing talent isn’t great, as Smith surrendered 41 total pressures and 12 combined sacks plus hits over 2018 and ’19. However, his one game last season, he was responsible for just three pressures and no hits to the QB, and I was just so impressed with what I saw from him at the Senior Bowl, where he seemingly got rid of some of his bad tendency, after a couple of “learning reps” early. Getting him at the top of day three potentially, to play either tackle or guard could reap major benefits.

 

Brady Christensen, BYU

6’6”, 300 pounds; RS JR

Just a two-star recruit all the way back in 2015, Christensen redshirted his first year on campus, before starting all 13 games of his freshman season and already playing at a very high level. However, he has proved both years since then, starting every contest at left tackle, and was named a consensus All-American this past season. Now he decided to forgo his senior campaign and enter the NFL draft.

Christensen has been one of the best run-blockers thanks to his understanding of angles and aiming points. He really excels at grabbing underneath the pads of defenders and twist their bodies, to establish proper position. He provides great vertical movement as part of combo-blocks, where he can uproot defenders out of the B-gap and he has a good jump out of his stance when getting out to the edge as a puller on toss plays. Yet, when you try to maximize his abilities in terms of scheme fit, Christensen is a tremendous zone blocker. On the front-side of outside zone runs, he really attacks the edge of the defender, without allowing quick back-doors, and he is equally effective sealing 4- or 5-techniques on the backside, almost ripping through and putting his body in the way. When he actually has to reach guys over the guard, he lands that outside hand on the play-side shoulder of the D-tackle, while bringing his hips around. However, Christensen can also cut off the backside or wash defenders down the line, to create major cutbacks. And what really stands out with him is the way he re-places his hands and keeps those legs churning, to sustain blocks on the move. What makes him so effective as a pass-protector is his football IQ. He squares up rushers so well with good patience and stays inside their chest once he’s engaged. That first punch is so well-placed underneath the near pad, to kind of ride speed rushers past the loop, with a good feel for the depth of the pocket and when to just turn with the man. Plus, he excels at grabbing without drawing that yellow flag, so once he gets those clamps on you, it’s tough to get away from him. He shows great awareness for twists and overall counters what rushers show him extremely well throughout games. That’s why he has allowed just one sack in each of the last three years and just three more QB pressures this past season. I also like how he makes play-action on the front-side of zone fakes look exactly alike and he does a good job of breaking down in space as part of the screen game, while having enough wheels to cut off DBs.

However, Christensen does get pretty wide with his arms at times and gets caught on some inside moves, when he stops his feet momentarily or rushers get a feel for when he goes for his punch, because he doesn’t quite have the lateral agility to recover. He just doesn’t have the athletic upside those guys in my top ten do and the jump in competition could be huge for him in particular, because his technical refinement might not be enough against the elite professional athletes. Houston’s Payton Turner gave him trouble on a few snaps in their meeting last season and it won’t get any easier going forward.

Christensen brings a lot of redeeming qualities with him, when it comes to technical refinement, understanding of his job and the track record of being an elite pass-protector. There are also some physical limitations, that will come to light more, as he faces professional athletes. To me, if you put him in a zone-heavy system, he can a solid starter for a long time and at worst a high-quality swing tackle.

 


 

The next names up:

Walker Little (Stanford), Spencer Brown (Northern Iowa), Josh Ball (Marshall), Alaric Jackson (Iowa), Cole Van Lanen (Wisconsin) & Larry Borom (Missouri)

 

 

For more coverage around the NFL and college football go to my page https://www.halilsrealfootballtalk.com and my Youtube channel

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