Draft 2020: Offensive Tackle
I thought about this a lot. The Offensive Line contains players with a variety of different skill sets. To lump the Tackles with the Guards or Centres, doesn’t really give us a fair look at the vast amount of talent that this year’s crop possess. So we’ve split them up, within the same post. Let’s start with the best group of Tackles I can remember.
Tristan Wirfs – Iowa
This year’s Tackle class is crazy talented at the top end. There is an argument for any of the top 4-6 Tackles being first off the board, which is realistically at 4th Overall.
With premiere Tackles each possessing top 10 traits, it comes down to personal preference to decide who I want to talk about first. With my personal favourite being Tristan Wirfs.
Tristan Wirfs is a Right Tackle that can play on the Left, which despite there being less difference than ever between the 2 positions, could still be a deciding factor where he gets drafted.
The overwhelming feeling when I watched Wirfs play, is that there is a strange serenity to what he brings to the position. Yes he’s powerful, yes he pushes defenders back, but it’s always smooth.
Perhaps the lack of violence is an issue, some coaches would prefer the maulers, the guys that play to the edge of the rules, with Wirfs, the power is definitely there though, it’s just combined with solid technique. The fact is he just doesn’t ever really get out of control. He relies on his strength, agility and ability to read the game to win.
As a result, he never seems to be too out of position. When you watch him, he seems to have an answer for most edge play, rarely being put out of position by fakes, stunts and counters.
I need to round this off by saying that Wirfs is a physical freak, whether its the crazy combine scores, or the ability to block for a run downfield, Wirfs physicality is clear as day.
Tristan Wirfs is my personal favourite Tackle in the draft, but I understand why GMs might consider any of the other insanely talented Tackles ahead of him. I also understand that some teams will see Wirfs as a Guard, which could potentially hinder where he goes in the draft. That being said, Wirfs is a top 10 talent that should be ready to come in and play immediately.
Jedrick Wills Jr – Alabama
If it’s a vicious Tackle you’re after, then say no more. Here is Jedrick Wills. Whereas the appeal of Wirfs is his fluid motion and serenity under pressure, Jedrick Wills plays with a great deal of violence.
According to PFF he only allowed pressures on 4% of plays in 2 straight years, showing insane consistency with an ability to embarrass pass rushers that don’t take him seriously.
In the run game he forces defensive linemen back, however sometimes there seems to be more of a concern with moving d-linemen than creating a gap for the back. However this is a bit like saying that I’m cold in my convertible Aston Martin (I don’t have one btw). The fact is, he has the ability to move defenders back and with a bit more refinement gap creation should just kinda come with that.
The violence comes with the one problem that Wirfs covers with his calmer temperament, sometimes defensive trickery can get the better of him (I mean it’s rare, but it does happen). Not an un-coachable trait however.
To keep the car analogies going (I’ve been playing a lot of Forza Horizon 4) Wills is an American Muscle Car whereas Wirfs is a Tesla.
Mekhi Becton – Louisville
And Mekhi Becton is a monster truck. Big, quick, destructive, but maybe don’t drive it the shops.
Mekhi Becton is the most insane player I’ve watched this year. He reminds me of when you see NFL players back in their high school days and they’re a foot taller and wider than their class mates.
Becton isn’t just a huge Tackle, he’s quick too. The combine will be what everyone will refer to in terms of his speed, but this does seem to translate to the game.
This is a weird thing to say, but Becton demonstrating his power kinda works against him. Becton seems intent on getting the punch in quickly, causing the defensive end to reset and take a different angle. When he punches he seems to push them into a different zip code, but I can’t help feeling he’d be more affective if he simply put his palm on the defenders helmet whilst the defender tried to carry on running. Obviously this is kind of a joke, but Becton can become an outstanding talent if he can just push the player rather than punching them.
There is some of the craziest raw talent I’ve seen here and the right Offensive Line Coach can make the world of difference, so if Becton lands in the right place with the right Coach, we’ll be talking about him for a long time.
One last point. As I write this, it would appear that a drugs test was held back at the Combine which could be a concern. Maybe not for the actual drugs test, but more for potentially making poor decisions in the lead up to an event where they know they’ll get tested. I couldn’t say one way or another right now, because I don’t know the whole story, but there is a chance that it could affect his draft positioning, particularly considering how much talent there is at Tackle.
Andrew Thomas – Georgia
Then there’s Andrew Thomas, who might move up draft boards on teams that are specifically in need of a Left Tackle. Thomas has taken on a selection of some of the better pass rushers and generally won.
Where as Becton is a brick wall that has Edge Rushers bouncing off him, Thomas is more like quicksand, with an ability to stop them in their tracks, but not let them bounce off him and make a play. Against speed rushers, he can get wide and force them outside.
There isn’t the smooth movements of Wirfs here, but there is the keen senses to put himself in the right places at the right times. He’s not as violent as Jedrick Wills, but he does have a similar push. In short he does most things really well.
If Andrew Thomas is the guy left on the board as the 4th Tackle, then it won’t mean a team is settling, far from it. Andrew Thomas has the potential to be a starter day 1 at Left Tackle and a good one at that. In fact PFF have him as their no. 1 Tackle. I’ve purposely not rated players on these lists because so much comes down to team preference. No list would be harder to rank than this Tackle list. Everyone to this point could go above anyone else and there would be a good chance it would be a solid pick.
Josh Jones – Houston
Closing out the top 5 is Josh Jones, who could sneak into the mixer with the above names. Josh Jones is a little more of a project, but he has some excellent traits that could see him picked up in the first round.
Jones is relatively raw prospect, with a little work still to be done, but his physical traits give him the makings of a solid tackle. Jones has great hands and does a great job of absorbing big hits from the defensive line.
I think there are some concerns with disguised blitzes and stunts, where he gets left in no-mans land occasionally, but wouldn’t have been helped by surrounding talent.
Raw prospects on the Offensive Line come with a degree of risk, but with the right coaching they tend to be pushed in the right direction. I’m of the opinion that coaching and continuity are the most important things to impact a solid Offensive Line. So a lot of what might make Josh Jones every bit the pick the above players could be will come down to where he lands.
I’d be very surprised if he’s still there on day 2, but am hopeful he lands at the right team.
Austin Jackson – USC
One of the most fun watches I’ve had, was Austin Jackson vs AJ Epenesa. The reports read that Jackson gets whooped repeatedly, which might be a little unfair though. If I was being polite about it, I’d say I don’t think it helps his draft stock, but it certainly helped Epenesa’s.
Jackson’s tape against players that will be drafted in the first couple of days doesn’t look wonderful, but there is the makings of a solid Tackle. If he can learn to put a bit of pop into his play then he could be an interesting prospect. There seems to be a lot of buzz around Jackson moving up into the first, which I generally believe is possible. He has the physical traits that teams are looking for and generally the tape is pretty good, but the warning signs could be a concern for potential Jackson suitors.
If there is a clear top 5 Jackson is probably leading the next group… However I have to think that if this was last year’s draft we’d probably be talking about him as one of the best prospects.
Ezra Cleveland – Boise State
Another Tackle in that second group is Ezra Cleveland, who has received a fair amount of buzz, mostly from… well, Cleveland. Yes the Cleveland Browns already miss having their names on jerseys.
On a more serious note, I think Cleveland (the player) is closer to being a plug and play Left Tackle than Jackson. One of the things I really like about him is how wide he can get. Edge Rushers didn’t have a great deal of luck trying to bend round the outside, his tape looks great against the speed rushers.
Potentially there is some concern about his ability to take on the stronger rushers who move inside. Cleveland has intentional late hands that can adjust to what the rusher is trying to do, but relies on strength to make plays. This could be a concern in the NFL where the quality of rushers could cause problems for how he plays his game.
I like Ezra Cleveland a fair amount and wouldn’t write off him coming off the board in the first round.
Robert Hunt – Louisiana
Robert Hunt made it here the hard way, but given the chance, he’s been impressive. Hunt is a big guy that will most likely push inside to guard, despite only allowing 2 pressures on 196 pass block attempts at Right Tackle per PFF. Hunt attacks defenders and using strength and size to bully anyone in front of him and actively looks for a fight. Also takes on double teams, which is unusual to watch, but plays into the idea that he could move to Guard.
The issue that will keep Hunt low down on teams draft boards will be the lack of competition for him with the Ragin’ Cajuns. Hunt can only play against what’s in front of him, but the sheer volume of run plays he was blocking on, will only further the idea that he should be playing guard.
There are some concerns with some with his positioning against some of the more savvy edge guys too. It worked in Louisiana, but might struggle against some of the better pass rushers in the league.
Robert Hunt is a legitimate talent, who would have gone to the Senior Bowl if not for a groin injury. Hunt heads into the draft with a chance to be a first round pick, but it might not be at Tackle. I’d be surprised if teams didn’t fall in love with his, size, strength and production. Also do yourself a favour and look up his story. Hard not to hope this guy does well.
Ben Bartsch – St Johns
I can’t not talk about Ben Bartsch. Bartsch put on 75lbs between 2017 and 2019, which saw a change of position from Tight end to Offensive Tackle. When Ben Bartsch gets it right, he really nails it, but there are a few plays where he looks a little lost. Bartsch however did himself some favours by putting in an exceptional turn in the Senior Bowl against potential high end defensive draft prospects. With limited experience at Left Tackle, teams could fall in love with Bartsch’s ability to pick up a difficult position quickly. Despite being a potential project player, there’s a lot to love about Ben Bartsch.
Matt Peart – Connecticut
Peart seems to have magnetic hands. Exceptional at locking in defenders and not letting them get away. There is a ‘however’ here though. Realistically he needs to get a little stronger, far too many plays where despite having control of the defender, he’s moved backwards. Occasionally lacks a little awareness too. All that being said, Peart is a solid pick that could be a great future prospect. Also he’s not the drummer from Rush.
Isaiah Wilson – Georgia
Wilson checks in at 350lbs and is clearly another huge guy at Right Tackle. Whilst I think Wilson should fit into a team that needs help at on the Right side, I’d be slightly concerned that he’s not using his weight and strength with the leverage he needs to win consistently. Would love to see him teamed up with a decent Offensive Line Coach who can get the most from a player with those physical attributes.
Lucas Niang – TCU
Lucas is an aggressive Tackle that is happy to take on Defenders, with insane upper body strength, which sees him winning hand fights. However he struggles with positioning, which could see him have leverage problems. Lucas currently not making the most of his build, which a team will need to look at if they take him on.
This is one of the deepest Tackle classes I can remember. The last 5-6 guys on this list would be in the running to be some of the top Tackles in the draft last year. It’s a good year to get a starting Tackle that can come in and start straight away.
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