Pre-Season 2016 NFL Draft Watch: Offensive Line
Entering the season, arguably the top offensive tackle is Notre Dame’s Ronnie Stanley. The senior tackle has very few flaws in his game, and his strongest trait is his awareness in both the run and pass game. Unlike many college linemen, Stanley does not struggle with picking up complex blitzes or finding defenders on the second level. His movement skills in space are outstanding, and he excels in pass blocking. Perhaps Stanley could improve on his toughness by finishing blocks a bit better, but that is a nit-picky criticism of his game.
LSU’s Vadal Alexander will make the transition to tackle this year but likely has a long-term future at guard. Alexander’s value is in the run game―he can effortlessly move his 6’6” body to the second level and block incoming linebackers or defensive backs. He is solid in pass protection; although, he does not recover well when he is beaten on the initial block.
Another premier run blocker in this draft is USC’s Max Tuerk. A 6’6” offensive lineman, Tuerk looks like a tight end and does an excellent job at both swinging out on outside runs as well as moving downfield to reach the second, and third levels. He is also outstanding in pass protection; he seldom gets beat and when he does, he recovers very well.
One player who is just on the fringe of being a top tier prospect is Michigan State tackle Jack Conklin. Unlike many of the offensive linemen listed here, Conklin does not have great movement skills and can struggle with speed on the edge. However, in his match-up against highly touted defensive end Shawn Oakman last year, Conklin showed excellent ability in sustaining his blocks in both the pass and run game. Conklin is also very tough and plays through the whistle.
Mid Round & Sleepers
Ole Miss offensive tackle Larmey Tunsil is widely considered to be a top tackle prospect entering the 2015 season. However, after watching some of his game, its clear that he has some obvious flaws. Most apparent is his awareness, particularly in the run game. Tunsil’s mobility is certainly a plus, but once he moves up the field, he looks very confused as to what to do. With some refinement in his game, he can certainly be a first round pick.
At guard, Oklahoma’s Nia Kasitati is a name worth keeping an eye on. The Sooner is extremely well-rounded for his position. As a run blocker, Kasitati shows solid awareness along with good mobility and good push to create running lanes. In the passing game, Kasitati looks respectable as a pass blocker. His lateral mobility is not great, but he gets a good burst off the snap to compensate for his lateral movement deficiency.
Christian Westerman, a guard from Arizona State, is incredibly strong, as evidenced by his workout videos. His strength certainly shows on the field, more so in his pass blocking than his run blocking. However, Westerman might be too muscular because he does not look quick or mobile.
Other names to watch: Tyler Johnston, OT, Oregon; Le’Raven Clark, OT, Texas Tech; Taylor Decker, OT, Ohio State; Kyle Murphy, OT, Stanford; Brandon Shell, OT, South Carolina; Landon Turner, OG, North Carolina, Kyle Friend, C, Temple.
Best of the Rest
Baylor offensive tackle Spencer Drango’s is a good pass blocker. His awareness and technique are above average, although he does not recover well if he is beaten off the snap. Drango really struggles in the run game in both locating the defender and actually making effective blocks.
Notre Dame guard Nick Martin’s awareness really stands out when watching him play. He seldom takes on the wrong man. Martin is a slightly better run blocker and looks really good when asked to pull out on sweep or toss runs. In pass protection, Martin does not have a ton of quickness and does not recover well, but does do an adequate job at keeping defenders away from the quarterback.
Texas A&M Germain Ifedi might be the next Aggie offensive lineman to be drafted in the first round, a streak that dates back to 2012. Should Ifedi achieve that goal, he has lots of work to do. He is a natural mover, with maybe the quickest slide step of any tackle in the draft. On the other hand, Ifedi shows little technique and awareness, especially in the run game. He also does not appear to have much of an edge in terms of finishing his blocks or playing to the whistle.
Ifedi’s teammate, center Mike Matthews, appears to be the complete opposite. Matthews' game is much more refined both mentally and physically, while also demonstrating the toughness that Ifedi may be lacking. However, Matthews is not a great athlete and really can struggle in the run game, failing to generate much push.
Other players to watch: Cody Whitehair, OG, Kansas State; Pat Elfein ], OG, Ohio State; Matt Hegarty, C, Notre Dame; Kyle Fuller, C, Baylor.