BBD Staff Writer: Joe Marino
The 2013 NFL draft proved that offensive tackle is considered one of the league’s premier positions, as three offensive tackles were selected among the first four selections. The top offensive tackle in this year’s senior class, Texas A&M’s Jake Matthews, may be even better than last year’s offensive tackles.
The team who draft Matthews will likely not have to worry about their left tackle spot for a long time. Overall, the senior class of offensive tackles for the 2014 NFL draft has good depth, with many players who have starter upside.
1. Jake Matthews, Texas A&M (6’5’’, 305 lbs)
Jake Matthews, son of Pro Football Hall of Fame offensive lineman Bruce Matthews, has been a starter on the Texas A&M offensive line since roughly halfway through his freshman season. He has developed steadily and was both a first-team All-SEC and third-team AP All-American selection in his junior year. A favorite for All-American and other honors and awards this season, he is primed to cap off his collegiate career as a highly decorated player.
You see an exceptional all-around player when you watch Matthews on tape. From a technical standpoint, Matthews plays with good pad level, great hand placement and good knee bend. He is a smooth, natural pass blocker who looks effortless. As a run blocker, Matthews has become a good finisher and a true technician. He plays with good pad level and is truly a plug-and-play type prospect.
Matthews is a low-risk player who can solidify and anchor a team’s offensive line for years to come. I expect Matthews to be drafted early in the first round.
2. Taylor Lewan, Michigan (6’8’’, 308 lbs)
With 44 consecutive starts heading into the 10th game of his senior season, Taylor Lewan has been a steady, consistent player on the Michigan offensive line.
The strength of Lewan’s game is his ability to get movement in the run game. He is a powerful player who can naturally drive block. He is a true mauler as a run blocker and finishes blocks very effectively.
Lewan looks to dominate his opponent on every down. He is very good at getting to the second level and sealing off linebackers, and at pulling outside to make blocks on the boundary.
Lewan is a very solid pass-blocker as well. He has a very good kick-step and anchors well. He has a strong ability to re-anchor and defend counter moves from pass rushers. He uses his long arms to his advantage, and can be trusted to protect the quarterback’s blind side. Michigan typically leaves him blocking on his own without double-team help, and Lewan holds his own.
Lewan’s feet are good but not great, and can be slow, which makes it difficult for him to redirect and move laterally. He has a very wide base in his pass-blocking set, which can get him into trouble. He does not consistently win hand placement battles, particularly when pass blocking.
While Lewan is not quite as clean of a prospect as Matthews, he is still an excellent player who belongs among the first 20 selections of the draft.
3. Seantrel Henderson, Miami (6’8’’, 345 lbs)
Henderson has dealt with a number of off-the-field issues, including three suspensions, in his collegiate career that have led to him being unable to live up to the hype surrounding him early in his career out of high school.
Henderson is a mauler in the run game who can generate significant movement. He is extremely powerful and when he gets his arms extended, he dominates. If I was a runner who needs a yard, I would choose to run behind Henderson, who is a dominant run-blocker.
At 6’8’’, Henderson has great length, which helps him tremendously as a pass blocker. Despite his length, Henderson struggles to consistently utilize it when pass blocking, and defenders are able to get around him as a result, although this part of his game has improved throughout his senior season.
He has a very wide base in his stance, which can get him in trouble in a variety of ways. In general, he has a hard time anchoring with the width he leaves between his feet, which leads to him having trouble redirecting defenders and getting easily beat to the inside. He is an apparent waist-bender, which further gives him issues as he attempts to redirect defenders.
If Henderson can learn to utilize his length to overcome his footwork issues, he could be a nice find for a team.
4. Ja’Wuan James, Tennessee (6’6’’, 318lbs)
James became Tennessee’s starting right tackle as a true freshman and has started every game since. He is one of the more underrated prospects in the 2014 draft class.
James’ athletic ability and movement skills stand out in his game. He looks the part of an NFL tackle with his athleticism and ideal frame and length, and he has the game to match.
James is a smooth pass protector with great feet. He moves well laterally and stays in front of his opponents naturally.
James has great burst off the ball as a run-blocker and can generate good push. He can also get to the second level and boundary to make blocks on smaller, quicker players, another testament to his athletic ability.
Heading into his 11th game of his senior season, James has 50 starts under his belt, and he has played excellent in those starts. James checks out very well in every area and be a first-round selection in this year’s draft.
5. Zack Martin, Notre Dame (6’4’’, 308lbs)
Martin, who has been named Notre Dame’s offensive lineman of the year each of the past three seasons, has started 49 consecutive games as the Fighting Irish’s left tackle.
Martin is an extremely intelligent blocker. When pass blocking, he has a tremendous feel for where pressure and blitzes will be coming from, and he has great awareness. He anchors well and can pass protect well despite not having great length. Martin has a good kick slide and solid lateral movement skills.
Martin is more of a technician than a mauler. He is better suited for a zone scheme than a power scheme. He wisely gets his head between the opposing defender and the ballcarrier, and runs his feet well. While one may not label him as having a mean streak, he competes well and consistently gets his job done.
Martin’s lack of ideal length may lead to him being projected as a guard, but I am far from convinced he cannot play tackle at the next level. Don’t sleep on Martin, a very good football player.
See page 2 for the senior offensive tackles ranked 6-15.
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Tags: 2014 NFL Draft, Billy Turner, Cornelius Lucas, Dakota Dozier, Donald Hawkins, Furman, Georgia, Ja'Wuan James, Jack Mewhort, Jake Matthews, James Hurst, Kansas State, Kenarious Gates, Miami, Michael Schofield, Michigan, Morgan Moses, North Carolina, North Dakota State, Notre Dame, Offensive Linemen, Offensive Tackles, Ohio State, Positional Rankings, Prospect Rankings, Rankings, Seantrel Henderson, Taylor Lewan, Tennessee, Texas, Texas A&M, Vanderbilt, Wesley Johnson, Zack Martin