Home > Draft, NFL > 2012 NFL Draft Rankings: the Offensive Tackles

2012 NFL Draft Rankings: the Offensive Tackles

The last four left offensive tackles on super bowl winning teams: David Diehl (NYG), Max Starks (Pittsburgh), Jermon Bushrod (New Orleans), and Chad Clifton (GB).  That’s not exactly a list of the best tackles in the NFL.  So what gives?

Left tackles still get paid like elite players?  Are teams overpaying their elite tackles?  I don’t think so.  Let’s be honest: looking at only super bowl winners is a horrible way to evaluate the quality and importance of an offensive tackle.  It’s still a critical position in the NFL.  But top left tackles who have the skill set to get out in the running game and shut down elite ends in pass protection are so very rare that they are underrated for that reason.

Elite left tackles are a short list.  You have Jake Long of the Dolphins (drafted first overall), Joe Thomas of the Browns (drafted third overall), D’Brickashaw Ferguson (fourth overall), Ryan Clady of the Broncos (twelfth overall), Jason Peters of the Eagles (undrafted, but traded for a first round pick), who is out for the year, and then maybe someday Trent Williams (fourth overall), Eugene Monroe (eighth overall), Tyron Smith (ninth overall), and Russell Okung (sixth overall).  It’s still a very short list.  The byproduct of these guys being incredibly rare is that teams have learned to  create elite offensive efficiency based around other skill sets.

And while I wouldn’t recommend trading your elite franchise quarterback for the potential of a franchise tackle, anyone with franchise tackle ability is gone by the tenth overall selection in the draft.  That’s not always true of quarterbacks.  You can get an elite quarterback who slides on draft day (Aaron Rodgers, Ben Roethlisberger).  You can’t do the same with offensive tackles.

There’s only one guy in this class who can be an elite LT like the group that is listed above.

1. Matt Kalil, USC, Top Ten Grade

Kalil is not exactly a surefire prospect, and although he will join the Williams, Okung, Monroe, Smith class upon his selection on draft day, he’s got some core strength issues that will prevent him from being an elite player (and likely a pro bowler) in his first pro season.  I would not select Kalil before and of the elite skill talent in this draft (Luck, Richardson, Griffin), except that if you’re the Vikings, what choice do you really have?  You have a $50 million investment in Adrian Peterson.  Luck and Griffin will be gone.  You need a top WR, but if Kalil is a bit of a reach at no. 3, aren’t Justin Blackmon (or even hometown hero Michael Floyd) a longer stretch?  Morris Claiborne has issues that make him only about as appealing as Kalil.

I’m not particularly high on Kalil heading into draft weekend, but there’s no question that once he’s off the board, there’s no other players in this draft with elite tackle ability.  And while teams have proven that you can win with mere adequacy at the tackle position, that’s true of every position.  Even quarterback.

The Vikings are probably going to come to the conclusion that Kalil is the best guy for their team.  They’ll still be a year away (at least), and that’s not good news for Les Frazier, who really needs a strong campaign to get a stranglehold on the head coaching position with the Vikings, but in the long term: you can get Christian Ponder in every draft.  But you need to be picking really high to get Matt Kalil.

2. Mike Adams, Ohio State, First round grade

Adams is likely to fall out of the first round apparently because the character/medical returns on him have taken him off a couple of draft boards.  Here’s the problem: when we talk about Mike Adams, Reilly Reiff, and Jonathan Martin, we’re now discussing some guys who are going to fall all the way to a team that has a need, or doesn’t want to pay left tackle money for a right tackle.  Because with how slow to develop the market has been for free agent offensive tackles, teams were able to solve those problems by naming their own price.  And with Adams, there’s a ton of teams picking in the middle of the first round who could use him, but why pick him when they can scout Martin or Bobby Massie and get them in the second round if Adams isn’t there?

It is possible (though not likely) that Reiff and Adams will both be selected at the bottom end of the first round.

3. Reilly Reiff, Iowa, second round grade
4. Jonathan Martin, Stanford, second round grade
5. Bobby Massie, Mississippi, second round grade
6. Mitchell Schwartz, California, third round grade

Grouped together because there is likely to be a run on offensive line help at some point on the second day.  While there’s a decent likelihood that Reiff gets taken at the bottom half of round one to play RT for someone, the only other guy out of this group that has a shot to go on Day 1 is Massie.  But I think Massie will be around well after Reiff goes.

And that that point, when Massie and Martin are selected, I think a run on offensive lineman is likely to push up Schwartz into the second round as well.  That will be a bit of a reach, but he’s much more likely to start for an NFL team than the next tier of players, making a second round selection justifiable.  If you are planning on waiting to the third round for your team to address offensive tackle (after the top six ‘starters’ are drafted), you’ve turned it into a probability (as opposed to a certainty) in terms of what kind of return you can get on your investment.

7. Andrew Datko, Florida State, fourth round grade
8. Brandon Mosley, Auburn, fourth round grade
9. Matt McCants, UAB, fourth round grade

I tried to group together a tier of “50/50 shots” which ended up being a mix of a poor man’s Matt Kalil (Mosley), and while there seems to be little doubt Kalil will put on the requisite strength, with Mosely it’s more an issue of “can he?” And if he can’t, then can he play tight end in the pros?  Datko can clearly play at the pro level, but that medical information got back to teams and he tanked from the second day to somewhat unlikely that he’ll be drafted.  To me, I can’t dock him all that much from his tape without seeing the medicals for myself, and teams can often lose sight of the risk reward equation on guys like Datko by concluding he *won’t* be able to stay healthy instead of filing it as a legitimate concern.

With McCants, I’m a little more confident that he can translate to the pro level as an athlete and player than Mosley, and a bit less confident he can stay at tackle.  At guard, he’s caught in the wash of a strong class.  Tackle prospects who can kick outside and have the skill and experience to play as a goalline TE are more valuable than guys who have to kick inside and backup at guard.

10. Matt Reynolds, BYU, fourth round grade
11. Marcus Zusevics, Iowa, fifth round grade
12. Zebrie Sanders, Florida State, fifth round grade
13. Nate Potter, Boise State, fifth round grade

Reynolds looked good on tape at BYU, pushing around guys about 70% of his age.  I don’t have a good concept of how his strength will translate to the NFL (it make translate fine, in which case, he’s a starting RT or RG and wins his one on ones against NFL pass rushers).  But his physicality was questioned (by professionals, who remember: are paid to raise questions), and if a 26 year old doesn’t have the quickness to handle NFL LBs, he’s certainly going to lack that quickness when he’s 30.

After and including Reynolds, these are mostly zone-based scheme guys who aren’t going to be able to answer strength questions or questions about how they finish blocks which showed up on game tape.  It’s critical to remember that in scout lingo, a guy who “may fit a zone-based scheme” is another way of stating that a scout doesn’t personally believe in the guy as a starter at the next level, but that someone else might.  In general, “zone type” lineman are a misnomer.  Every team runs a zone running game now and every lineman can be taught to take a zone step and find his blocking assignment on the move.  The truth is this: the number one way that teams protect offensive tackles who lose often on initial contact in the pass game is getting the ball out quickly.

Any of these players with questions about how to finish their blocks can make it at the next level, but will need work on technique as well as strength training to reach that point.

Then again, there is not a finished product at offensive tackle in this entire draft.

14. Rokevious Watkins, South Carolina, sixth round grage
15. Levi Adcock, Oklahoma State, sixth round grade
16. Tom Compton, South Dakota, sixth round grade

Compton, a Division II star, is more intriguing  than a lot of later round picks because (like Adcock and Watkins), he profiles as a starter eventually.  He’s got an offensive tackles’ skill set in that he can anchor and drive on the edge without help, but he doesn’t come to the NFL with the technique to succeed at the position.  What makes Compton intriguing is that such technique can be taught in an offseason and he can be ready to go as a rookie in a good system, but that it also sometimes never gets taught.  And guys like Compton get chances without developing (see: Boothe, Kevin).  And other times, D-II guys have the skill set, but they go undrafted anyway (see: Cameron Bradfield with the Jacksonville Jags last year).

17. James Brown, Troy, seventh round grade
18. Ryan Miller, Colorado, seventh round grade
19. James Carmon, Mississippi State, UDFA
20. A.J. Greene, Auburn, UDFA
Lamar Holmes, Southern Mississippi, UDFA
Marcel Jones, Nebraska, UDFA

The difference between a 7th round pick and a priority UDFA isn’t much and often comes down to the versatility to try a bunch of different roles in camp and find one to stick at.  UDFA’s get the short end of the stick in that a team will sign them with an idea of a role they need filled, and then if the undrafted player can’t fit in that area, he often doesn’t make the team.

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