It’s unquestionable that a quarterback is the most important person to an offense and a football team, but who is second?
Some would tell you a defensive end who can crash the backfield, or a shutdown cornerback who can eliminate one half of the field in coverage. For me, it’s an offensive tackle.
The left tackle position gained fame in the 1980s as coaches tried to stop power rushers like Lawrence Taylor, and the value of the “blindside” protector soared.
Based on the rankings of ProFootballFocus, four of the top eight tackles in the NFL this season were drafted in the first round, with four of the top six left tackles—the position we just called the second-most important in football—were drafted in Round 1.
The Pro Bowl voting may be heavily flawed, but four of the six tackles selected to the 2012 Pro Bowl were drafted in Round 1.
The left tackle position will always be a more glamorous spot, especially in the draft, but those overlooking the importance of the right tackle in the NFL today will be surprised to know that the 2011 NFL draft featured three right tackles drafted in Round 1 (Tyron Smith, Nate Solder, Gabe Carimi).
In today’s NFL, don’t forget about the right tackle. The right side is making a comeback, and it would be no surprise to see at least one right tackle drafted in the top five picks this year. If so, it will be USC’s Matt Kalil.
Kalil is a left tackle at USC, but he has the potential to move to the right side. Kalil has shown excellent ability at making a drop step and getting out in front of the pass-rush from either side. His rare athleticism at the position makes him my No. 1 tackle and a top-five player.
But Kalil isn't the only offensive tackle who will be looked at early on. The first round of the 2012 NFL draft will feature no less than five offensive tackles drafted. Kalil, Riley Reiff (Iowa), Jonathan Martin (Stanford), Cordy Glenn (Georgia) and Mike Adams (Ohio State) should all hear their names called before the 20th pick in the draft is announced.
The hype in the 2012 draft surrounds Andrew Luck, but take him out of the crowd, and this is a very weak class with little top talent. There is no elite receiver, no game-changing defensive ends. Teams looking to build through the draft will key on talented, can't-miss players like Matt Kalil as their cornerstone pick in this draft.
Let's take a look at the top five offensive tackles in this class and what they bring to the table.
5. Mike Adams, Ohio State
Mike Adams has the build and body lean of an elite left tackle. He's big enough to handle power rushers but has good agility and surprising quickness in space.
He's able to come out of a two- or three-point stance and kick out to pick up pass-rushers on the corner. Adams comes to the NFL ready to start at left tackle, but he also has the size and strength to make a move to right tackle.
Adams missed five games this season due to suspension after receiving tattoos in exchange for autographs. This may be seen as a character concern in some NFL locker rooms.
Adams' footwork can be inconsistent—too often he'll set his feet too soon and get beat with a strong counter-move. This is something that NFL coaches can correct if Adams responds to coaching.
4. Cordy Glenn, Georgia
Cordy Glenn has shown the versatility to play guard and tackle at the next level. At 6'5" and 350 lbs, Glenn has a massive frame coupled with surprising agility and quickness off the ball. He shows a good kick-step from the tackle position and has shown this season he can play in space.
Glenn is a very patient blocker who doesn't overextend. He is a powerful drive blocker off the line of scrimmage from both guard and tackle.
Glenn can be inconsistent in his quickness out of his stance. As a taller player, he struggles to maintain his pad height and will get too high at times. He gets off the ball late too often, which could be either a technical or a concentration issue.
3. Jonathan Martin, Stanford
Jonathan Martin is as solid as they come at left tackle. He has good feet and lateral agility to wall off defensive ends and the quickness to jump out in space and take on an outside pass-rush.
Martin plays with a wide base and has shown he can anchor the edge against either the pass-rush or in the run game.
Tall and lean, Martin has the look of a tight end on film. He has the length to reach defenders at the second level and in space. Martin plays with a mean streak that will help him transition to the pounding of the NFL.
For all his good qualities, Martin will most likely test as an average athlete. He has struggled with upper-body strength and consistency sustaining blocks in the past, although he has looked slightly better in 2011.
Martin hasn't shown the strength to lock on and drive block, but he does do a nice job keeping his feet moving.
2. Riley Reiff, Iowa
Riley Reiff is a big, athletic offensive tackle who passes the eyeball test on the left side. He's long, lean and solid without much loose fat. Reiff has elite lateral agility and quickness, showing good foot-speed and balance when working to get out in space against edge rushers.
He is strong enough to drop his weight and become a power blocker in the run game. His hip flexibility, arm length and feet are all upper-level.
Reiff was arrested in 2008 but has since avoided trouble. He is very sound but doesn't always show elite quickness off the ball and could stand to add strength to help with inside power rushers.
He may see a move to the right side, especially if drafted into a zone scheme.
1. Matt Kalil, USC
Matt Kalil is an elite athlete with the quickness, balance and lateral agility to step in as a left tackle right away at the next level.
Kalil has ideal size and strength, with good length and quickness for the position. He switched to left tackle in 2010 and became an immediate impact player. He has experience on both the left and right side.
Kalil is quick and agile, showing the balance and flexibility of an elite prospect. He is an accomplished pass protector coming from a pro-style offense.
Kalil has every trait of an elite tackle and should be an immediate upper-level starter in the NFL. He would have ranked as my No. 1 offensive tackle last year had he been eligible.
He's just a two-year starter at left tackle, so there is still learning to be done. Kalil doesn't show a ton of burst off the snap, but so far this hasn't been an issue for him in blocking.
He may need to add strength at the NFL level, depending on the scheme he's drafted into. Can be stiff in his movement, especially in space and when getting out in front of the run game.