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Draft top 5: Offensive tackles

If your line needs a boost, these players might be on your wishlist. Greg Gabriel

April 08, 2014
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The 2013 NFL Draft was different than any other in recent history. The first two picks and three of the top four selections were offensive linemen. The trend continued through the rest of the round as five offensive linemen were selected in the first ten selections and a total of nine were selected before the first round was over.
This year, the quality of the offensive line is just about the same, but don’t look for the same results. With over 100 underclassmen entering this draft, the depth is much different than it was a year ago. There are also more quality players at other positions that teams have to choose from. I doubt we will see nine offensive linemen taken on the first round, but it would not be a surprise if three of the tackles below get selected in the top 10.
Drafting an offensive linemen in the first round may not be a sexy pick, but it is usually a solid strategy. Teams seldom go wrong making those selections, unless of course injury enters the equation. In many cases, top offensive linemen become the core players of a football team. If you want to win in the NFL, you need a good offensive and defensive line and a quarterback. With those positions in place, you have a chance in every game.

1) Greg Robinson – Auburn
There may be other linemen in this group who have better technique than Robinson, but I don’t see any who have the upside of Greg.
Robinson is a third-year sophomore at Auburn. He redshirted his freshman year and has been a starter the last two seasons at left tackle.
Robinson is a huge man at 6050 – 332, yet he still runs the 40 in 4.92 and has a 9’5” standing long jump. He has 35” arms but still did 32 reps of 225. He is athletic in space and an explosive run blocker who consistently gets movement. In pass protection, he can set wide to stop speed and has the feet and recovery to move back inside versus counter moves.
One of the best things about Robinson is his youth. He will be just 22 when the 2014 season begins and there is no telling how good he can be. I see a potential Pro Bowl player early in his career.

2) Jake Matthews – Texas A&M
Jake is a fourth-year senior and has been starting since the middle of his freshman year. He played right tackle from 2010 through the 2012 season and was moved to left tackle for 2013. He has excellent size at 6054 – 308 as well as very good athleticism. Looking at tape from the last two seasons, I thought that he played better on the right side than he did at left tackle. There were some games where he had some trouble with wide speed and counter moves in 2013. Part of that was just the inexperience of playing on the left side.
Matthews is a consistent run and pass blocker who has the athleticism to play in space and can be a physical run blocker. The team that drafts him will be able to line him up where ever they have a weakness and he will start from day one. Matthews has top football character and will be a credit to the organizationthat drafts him.

3) Taylor Lewan – Michigan
Lewan has a bit more experience than the first two players I talked about. Taylor is a fifth-year senior and a four-year starter at left tackle. At 6071 – 309 he has ideal size and has the frame to gain another 10 pounds. At the combine, he tested out as one of the most athletic linemen this year. He ran the 40 in 4.87, had a 9’9” long jump and a 7.39 three-cone. All great numbers for a tackle.
Lewan is a very physical player with a nasty streak to his play. He is a patient pass blocker who can set quickly, use his hands, and mirror his opponent. He also has the natural bend to anchor. In the run game, he is able to generate movement, can get to the second level, and play in space.
During the 2012 season, I was able to make back-to-back school calls at Michigan and Central Michigan. In doing so, I saw Lewan one day and Eric Fisher the next. It was my opinion that Lewan was the better player.
Lewan has had some off field issues that may hurt where he drafted, but whoever drafts him, will be getting a player who starts right away.

4) Zack Martin – Notre Dame
At 6041 – 308, Martin doesn’t have the natural size of the first three players, but he just may be the best technician. Play after play, Martin has nearly flawless hand use. Coupled with his good athleticism, it makes him one of the most consistent offensive linemen in this draft.
Like Lewan, Martin is a fifth-year senior and a four-year starter at left tackle. He has been a very durable performer and hasn’t missed a start due to injury in four years. He is a good athlete with excellent balance and is seldom off his feet. He is a consistent run and pass blocker who can get movement with his run blocks and can mirror and anchor in pass protection.
While he doesn’t have great natural size, he is strong and explosive with very good bend. He is a smart and instinctive player who can line up and play any position on the offensive line. Like the others, he will start right away and be a very productive rookie.

5) Cyrus Kouandjio – Alabama
I may get some argument with his selection. Going back to January, Kouandjio looked as if he was a lock for the fourth tackle to be drafted. After the combine, his stock began to slide. It was reported during the combine that Kouandjio may have flunked some medical exams. Whether or not that is true remains to be seen. I do know one thing. All 32 NFL teams do not look at a medical report the same way. One club could red flag a player, while another club could give the same player a good-to-go rating off of the exact same information.
Kouandjio is a third-year junior and a two-year starter at left tackle for Alabama. He played in eight games as a reserve tackle his freshman year. He injured his knee in that eighth game and had surgery. He has not missed a start the last two seasons.
In 2012, his first year as a starter, he played excellent football. Watching tape from 2012, the case could be made that he was a better player than right tackle D.J. Fluker who was a first round pick and a rookie starter for San Diego in 2013.
Kouandjio did not play as well this season. His lateral movement and recovery quickness was not as good when in pass protection but he still showed dominant run blocking ability. At 6066 – 322, Kouandjio is a huge man with excellent natural strength. While I don’t see him playing on the left side in the NFL, he can be a very good right tackle.
It is unclear where Kouandjio will get drafted. It will depend on how each of the teams looks at his medical exam. If he is given the green light, I can see him going late in the first round. Even with the knee problem. I don’t see him getting selected any later than the second round. If that ends up to be the case, some team just may have gotten a second round steal.

Follow Greg on Twitter @greggabe

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