By Lance Zierlein
March 21, 2013
|Luke Joeckel||Texas A&M||1st|
|Eric Fisher||Central Michigan||1st|
|Terron Armstead||Arkansas Pine-Bluff||2nd|
|Menelik Watson||Florida St.||2nd/3rd|
|Jordan Mills||La. Tech||4th|
* Can also play guard
I'm okay with analysts flipping back and forth between Luke Joeckel and Eric Fisher as the top tackle in this draft, but I'm giving the slight edge to Joeckel who is superior with his technique and who has competed against better competition as a 3-year starter. Fisher is the better athlete of the two and both feel fairly safe as starting left tackles on the next level. Joeckel still has a baby-faced appearance and will likely add another 10-15 pounds of natural weight on his frame.
Lane Johnson is still raw, but you can really see him coming on already. Johnson is a former QB, TE and DE and he is one of the most athletic big tackles that I've ever seen. His kick slide is lightning fast and his long arms give him the potential to be an absolute wall in pass protection.
The one thing that concerns me with Johnson is that he doesn't bring his feet with him upon contact in the running game and there are times when linemen never quite pick that up. With that said, it isn't enough of a concern to keep him out of the top 12.
I'm on record as saying that I don't think DJ Fluker is a 1st round tackle. So why do I have a 1st round grade on him? I think he's a first round player, but I think it is as a tackle. I am moving him into the tackle category because I know he will be drafted as a tackle, but if he ends up being a full-time tackle, I would give him a 2nd or 3rd round grade.
As a guard, he's easily a first due to his massive frame and power. Fluker knows how to finish a block, but pure speed guys will give him severe trouble off the edge as long as he's playing tackle.
David Bakhtiari is one of my favorite tackles in the draft. Bakhtiari is a long-limbed tackle, high cut tackle who can get up to the second level quickly and has the functional strength you are looking for as a pass protecting tackle. I think he can play either tackle spot and what I really like about him is that he's nasty and finishes his blocks. The disposition, length and athleticism are exactly what I am looking for in a tackle.
One area of concern is whether or not he can move guys as a run blocker in the NFL and I also think he has some issues with hitting moving targets when he gets to the second level with his run blocking.
We all know about Torren Armstead's ridiculously fast 40 time, but forget all that. What is really impressive about Armstead is his ability to use short, quick, choppy steps in pass protection and still eat up the ground necessary to catch up with edge rushers. He doesn't have to use the kick-slide like others do.
The problem for Armstead and for NFL teams is that he doesn't play football like a top 3 round tackle. Teams have to project what Armstead will look like after more coach but against much better competition. With tackles, you have to take some shots on potential and athleticism from time to time. The Texans did it with a very raw Duane Brown and it paid off in a huge way.
Menelik Watson is the toughest tackle to project in this draft for me. His tape screams 3rd round. You can't watch his games and say that you are watching a first rounder. With that said, the job of NFL scouts and GMs is to project what a guy could be. Watson hasn't played football for very long as he was a college basketball player and grew up in England so he lacks the experience that most of the other tackles have in this year's draft.
My issue is that I'm not quite convinced that Watson deserves to be projected to the upper-tier of where his potential lies. Watson plays faster than his timed drills at the combine, but he lacks balance and almost looks like he's on skates at time. While Watson has a higher floor than a guy like Kyle Long, his floor is too low to be considered in the 1st round in my opinion.
Dallas Thomas isn't always pretty to watch and they could end up evaluated in very different ways. Thomas doesn't bend as well as you might like, but he's fairly solid in pass protection. He has played tackle and guard and I'm not sure which position he'll end up at since he's not too bad with pass protection and tackles are more valuable than guard.
Kyle Long may very well start as a tackle, but he could end up down at guard. Long is tough and offers potential versatility as a swing tackle or a starting guard, but I feel like there are some limitations to his game and I'm not sure that he'll be anything more than an average starter in the league. I've spoken with at least one team who has a 5th round grade on Long, but I know there are others who like him much more than that.
Jordan Mills certainly didn't wow anyone with his very marginal testing numbers at the combine, but when you turn the film on, you see a tackle who moves fairly well and who is solid with his technique. Mills' biggest concern could very well be his strength. He has to prove that he can be strong enough to play tackle in the league. Unfortunately, due to his below average combine, Mills probably won't be drafted until after the 4th round, but I think he's better than that and he could offer good value in the late 4th to late 5th.