2010 NFL Draft Rankings: Offensive Tackles
Last weekend, I threw my wide receivers and tight ends together in the same rankings list, eschewing some accuracy in the rankings for the ability to structure a list the best reflects the value system of most NFL teams. I’m holding true to the same principle this week, which of course means that I’ll be separating offensive tackles from their more “interior” brethren. The left tackle, over the last ten years, has been paid similarly to a team’s top receiving target, but in the last three to four years, the right tackles are getting their piece of the pie. At this point, the only differences between the average salaries of RTs and LTs are identical to the differences between rush ends/backers, and strong side ends/backers: both positions are critical, but the best players go against the best players, and the best players make more money than the next tier.
So in short: tackles are here, guards/centers come early next week, with linebackers to follow later next week. Then in the days leading up to the draft: DBs, DL, and QBs.
Class Strength: Strong
There are about 15 future LT or RT starters in this class, or just a bit under 25% of future starters at the tackle position in this league. I don’t really know how long an NFL “generation” lasts, but if we estimate 6-8 years, this is a pretty darn strong class.
[picapp align=”right” wrap=”true” link=”term=russell+okung&iid=3332832″ src=”f/2/0/b/1f.JPG?adImageId=12249422&imageId=3332832″ width=”234″ height=”168″ /]1. Russell Okung, Oklahoma State I like him better than D’Brickashaw Ferguson, Eugene Monroe, and Jamaal Brown coming out of college, I like him about the same as Jake Long, and just a little bit less than Joe Thomas coming out. There are five players in this draft class that I feel are elite talents, one of which is Dez Bryant, who can’t hold an elite grade because of serious concerns about how hard/efficiently he is capable of working on perfecting his craft while lacking explosive athleticism. The remaining four are: RB CJ Spiller, DT Ndamakong Suh, DT Gerald McCoy, and Okung. If you give Sam Bradford to the Rams in your mock and defend it as positional need, then the next two or three teams need to end up with some combination of the elite players (if the Redskins pass on Spiller/McCoy/Suh for Trent Williams, it’s justifiable). There’s talk, however, that the Redskins would pass over Okung for Trent Williams, and while Williams is perhaps the Ryan Clady to Okung’s Joe Thomas, it wouldn’t kill you to read last week’s FNQB to find out why this isn’t good for Washington fans.
Not to argue that Washington gives a crap about their fans, per se.
[picapp align=”right” wrap=”true” link=”term=trent+williams&iid=2142214″ src=”1/7/8/d/6f.JPG?adImageId=12249472&imageId=2142214″ width=”234″ height=”168″ /]2. Trent Williams, Oklahoma Williams isn’t the dominating force in both the run and pass games that Okung is, but I would argue that he’s as good as Chris Samuels was coming out of college. He needs the zone blocking system to be competent in the run game, and to an extent, he will need to be protected against elite pass rushers (at left tackle) by a steady does of play action to make rushers second guess their footwork. With those caveats, Williams is the proverbial ten-year NFL starter on the offensive line, and he’s not a reach at all as soon as Okung is off the board. If Okung goes no. 2, Williams is a value at no. 3. If Okung goes no. 5, Williams becomes a value at no. 5. And so on, and so forth.
[picapp align=”right” wrap=”true” link=”term=anthony+davis&iid=2117057″ src=”2/5/0/5/d5.JPG?adImageId=12249520&imageId=2117057″ width=”234″ height=”168″ /]3. Anthony Davis, Rutgers
If you want the counter-point to what I’m about to assert, take a look at Wes Bunting’s excellent comparison/contrasting between Anthony Davis and Charles Brown. Nothing I’m about to argue suggests anything he says is wrong, possible exception to his conclusion. I downgraded Andre Smith on my board last year for laziness and a projection that he would have to play on the right side, if not inside, not dissimilar to the path Leonard Davis took nearly a decade ago. When I analyze Davis, I don’t have the same fears. Sure, on 20% of passing plays, his footwork downright sucks: reeks of laziness. But on the other 70% or 80% of plays, Davis’ footwork, in my opinion, projects quite well to LT in the NFL. I think he projects as an above average LT, though some developmental time wouldn’t hurt. I think he’s capable of moving inside, but I would leave him and let him work through some of his issues that show up on his college film. The biggest difference between him and George Foster is that he’s two years younger coming out, and he has plenty of opportunities to grow into a role, where as Foster at age 24 was cornered into being a RT in the NFL in only his second year–because they had to get him on the field.
[picapp align=”right” wrap=”true” link=”term=charles+brown&iid=6686586″ src=”e/c/0/6/Washington_State_v_9809.jpg?adImageId=12249543&imageId=6686586″ width=”234″ height=”172″ /]4. Charles Brown, USC I am also high on Charles Brown, and would advocate for him to go as high as No. 13 in the draft, which is right about where I think Davis’ value is. But Brown, I don’t believe, is good enough to handle the elite pass rushers by himself. That’s why I think he fits in best for the 49ers or Seahawks as a right tackle, the first right tackle off the board. Brown doesn’t have considerable upside growth: he’ll improve as all players do in his first few seasons, but if he can’t play LT this season, he’s not going to be able to block the pass rushers of the future. So when valuing him against Anthony Davis, I’d go with Brown if you 1) already had a young, franchise tackle, or 2) you need to get him in the lineup this year. Otherwise, I’d take the 20 year old over the 22 year old.
[picapp align=”right” wrap=”true” link=”term=bulaga&iid=2513657″ src=”5/c/6/5/12.JPG?adImageId=12249559&imageId=2513657″ width=”234″ height=”173″ /]5. Brian Bulaga, Iowa Read the Charles Brown grade, repeat. A lot of people think Bulaga is better than Brown, this ranking would be considered the minority opinion, but it’s also widely believed that Bulaga projects to LT — a role I think he can fill in a pinch — but he’s neither quick enough to handle elite corner rushers, nor explosive enough to move 3-4 ends off the ball. Ultimately, that seems to put him in the category of future right tackle, but if a team wanted to experiment with him at LT for a year or two, he probably won’t embarrass himself. Bulaga comes out of Iowa more polished in three years on the job than Okung is after four years, and he’s young enough to be a 12-year NFL starter, not to mention he can probably slide inside to guard for the duration of his mid thirties. If draft picks were forced to sign lifelong deals, Bulaga would be no. 2 in this draft. If you only get five or six years from him (and everyone else), now he’s the fourth or fifth best.
[picapp align=”right” wrap=”true” link=”term=ducasse&iid=8288833″ src=”d/e/d/6/2010_NFL_Combine_ac48.jpg?adImageId=12249590&imageId=8288833″ width=”234″ height=”168″ /]6. Vladimir Ducasse, UMass Physically, Ducasse is more than able to play either tackle position, but how good he can be at the professional level really depends on who takes him in this draft and coaches him this summer and fall. It’s because of that coaching issue that I wouldn’t take Ducasse in the first 40 picks, because a hold out could seriously limit his career. His talent, however, is unquestionably first round caliber. I think his first season will be spent as a utility tackle, and by his second year (2011 or whenever we have NFL football next), he can be a starting RT or LT for a team in need.
[picapp align=”right” wrap=”true” link=”term=bruce+campbell&iid=8124221″ src=”6/c/8/7/2010_NFL_Combine_6e89.jpg?adImageId=12249615&imageId=8124221″ width=”234″ height=”156″ /]7. Bruce Campbell, Maryland Campbell’s main issue is run-blocking: he’s not good at it, and run blocking ability for offensive lineman generally shows up on tape and translates quite standard to the next level. He’s the most physically talented player at the position in the draft, and he’s young enough to grow into any role, and he projects as a franchise left tackle as a pass protector. So what’s the issue? Pass protection grades is still a relatively unrefined scouting necessity, and thusly, it’s not certain that Campbell can block at the NFL level at all. If he can’t handle both speed rushers, and power rushers at the LT position, he doesn’t have a whole lot of value or staying power. Moving him over to RT can save him, but he’s a liability in the run game there, no matter how good his pass protection is, so for him to achieve value, he has to be a franchise LT. I would trade for fellow Terp Jared Gaither before I spent a comparable pick on Campbell, but still, he’s a gamble that could pay off big.
[picapp align=”right” wrap=”true” link=”term=saffold&iid=7635794″ src=”a/5/3/6/NCAA_Football_EastWest_80e9.jpg?adImageId=12249638&imageId=7635794″ width=”234″ height=”168″ /]8. Rodger Saffold, Indiana Saffold’s stock is pushing up towards the back end of the first round, because a lot of teams think he can play left tackle. I don’t know if he can or he can’t, and apparently, a lot of teams are more certain of their plans for him than my last statement would have led you to believe they are, but I see kind of a versatile left guard type who can slide out to tackle until someone better comes along. If Saffold is the “someone better”, that’s a problem. His versatility on the OL is a major strength, as he can conceivably start at four positions on the OL, and relatively soon. He played against some tough defensive players in the Big-Ten, and he looked good against them on film, but I ultimately think the presumption that he will end up inside one day is correct. That makes him a mid-second to early-third type value.
[picapp align=”right” wrap=”true” link=”term=jason+fox+miami&iid=2120242″ src=”d/2/b/1/Miami_Hurricanes_v_f6ca.jpg?adImageId=12249683&imageId=2120242″ width=”234″ height=”156″ /]9. Jason Fox, Miami (Fl.) Fox is a very good pass protecting, run blocking combo, who has the agility to be a franchise LT, if not the bill of health to pass the physicals of all 32 teams. When you consider he has a 3rd-5th round projection from most draft analysts, that range seems like a reasonable risk to take for a guy who projects as the NFL’s next Marc Columbo. It’s not a matter of if he can be successful, it’s how long will it take for him to string together enough playing time to earn that big money deal. I like him at the back end of the second round, and by the middle of the third round, I think Jason Fox is a really good pickup.
[picapp align=”right” wrap=”true” link=”term=kyle+calloway&iid=8288805″ src=”a/8/a/a/2010_NFL_Combine_831c.jpg?adImageId=12249704&imageId=8288805″ width=”234″ height=”168″ /]10. Kyle Calloway, Iowa Brian Bulaga may project as the next right tackle to come out of Iowa as a polished product, but Calloway actually was the right tackle on this Iowa team. At this point in the OT rankings, I am describing the kind of players who are strictly RT types, which means you wouldn’t bother to try them across the field at LT or waste time moving them inside. Either they go in, deliver the goods at the RT position, and you give them a contract extension to be a cornerstone of the offensive line (see: Ryan Harris, DEN), or they can’t hold a position in the starting lineup, and so their time with the team ends after just a few years. The first round RT types project very well to RT, and there is hardly any doubt about their long term viability, while the 3rd round types just project, and offer no guarantees except their prospects.
[picapp align=”right” wrap=”true” link=”term=sam+young&iid=8289015″ src=”1/f/f/8/USC_v_Notre_a099.jpg?adImageId=12249723&imageId=8289015″ width=”234″ height=”193″ /]11. Sam Young, Notre Dame I’m a lot higher on Young than pretty much anyone else, as he was a five star recruit in 2006 to Notre Dame out of Florida who just never really met his potential at ND, and leaves a ton of questions about whether or not the guy can block anyone. I think though, as soon as Calloway is gone, there are no RT types in the draft better than Young remaining. You have options as to take a developmental player to fill a need, or to take a guard and kick him out to tackle, or you could take Young, try to correct some flaws he has against most speed rushers, and turn him into a quality NFL starter. Aversion to this is going to cause him to fall: Calloway is far more polished, and the strict RT is hardly in demand on most NFL rosters, but Young is built like a pass protector, might as well try to make him one.
[picapp align=”right” wrap=”true” link=”term=mike+tepper+cal&iid=6843700″ src=”8/c/d/8/Mike_Tepper_a0cf.JPG?adImageId=12249758&imageId=6843700″ width=”234″ height=”156″ /]12. Mike Tepper, Cal Tepper is a much older prospect, who was in the 2004 recruiting class, redshirted that season, then got a medical redshirt when he missed 2005 with a broken leg sustained in a car accident. He projects not dissimilar to either Calloway or Young, and he seems to be more polished than Young, but you also have a guy who is two years older, and will be close to 30 by the time his rookie contract expires. He can be had cheap in this draft.
[picapp align=”right” wrap=”true” link=”term=jared+veldheer&iid=8288885″ src=”9/3/c/b/2010_NFL_Combine_5212.jpg?adImageId=12249768&imageId=8288885″ width=”234″ height=”168″ /]13. Jared Veldheer, Hillsdale Veldheer is very tough to project, coming out of GLIAC also-ran Hillsdale College as a four year starter. Veldheer is pretty athletic by the standards of this offensive tackle class, but not supremely so. I got to see him play live a few times (but only once with awareness that he might someday be a NFL draft prospect), and he was clearly not going to get beaten often by the standards of Division-II rushers. That will get you a look at the next level, but being a fundamentally sound player at the D-II level, and being one at the NFL level just isn’t something that will directly translate, and that makes projecting Veldheer incredibly difficult. If a team thinks he can be their LT, he will go in the top three rounds. If they see him as a RT or an interior lineman, he will probably go fourth round or later.
[picapp align=”right” wrap=”true” link=”term=capers+west&iid=8288814″ src=”2/5/8/4/2010_NFL_Combine_c2b9.jpg?adImageId=12249850&imageId=8288814″ width=”234″ height=”168″ /]14. Selfish Capers, West Virginia Capers is a fairly unexciting mid-round OT prospect out of WVU who projects as a uninspiring starter at either the LT or RT positions. The frame is good, his strength is good, and his motor as an offensive player is excellent. If Veldheer is a high upside player who is difficult to project, Capers is much easier to project. Best case scenario: he will be Eric Winston of the Texans. Worse case scenario, he’s a utility lineman. He shouldn’t go too much later than between pick 100-120.
[picapp align=”right” wrap=”true” link=”term=ed+wang&iid=3307706″ src=”0/c/c/1/ACC_Championship_d47a.jpg?adImageId=12249882&imageId=3307706″ width=”234″ height=”176″ /]15. Ed Wang, Virginia Tech A high intensity player who might be a fringe starter in the NFL. The projections I’ve seen on Wang have him anywhere between the 4th and 7th rounds, and I tend to rank him towards the higher end of that. Whether he can stay at tackle is a legitimate question, and probably depends on the offensive scheme he lands him. With a player like Wang, some good coaching in his first two years, and a sound situation can go a very long way.