Tanner Hawkinson Scouting Report: NFL Outlook for Kansas OT
Fifth Round: 156th Pick
Tanner Hawkinson has played a lot of different positions during his football career, but one thing that's obvious is that he is still learning how to play offensive tackle.
A former tight end, Hawkinson is an athlete. He is one of the fastest offensive line prospects in the 2013 NFL draft. Hawkinson's 5.07 40-time at the NFL combine was good enough to place him fifth among offensive linemen. On the other side of the spectrum, though, his pathetic 13 reps on the bench press at Kansas' pro day would have been by far the worst in Indy.
Where does Hawkinson stack up against the competition regarding future NFL success?
We always start with the feet, because the feet are the single most critical aspect to observe when evaluating offensive line talent. The good news is that Hawkinson has good feet. He doesn't necessarily always use them well, but his feet are light and his movements are quick.
He doesn't get them tangled up and shows a lot of natural athleticism at times, getting himself out of sticky situations like the ones we'll outline below—situations that could have been largely avoided by utilizing proper technique.
Motor, Toughness and Power
Hawkinson is always getting shoved backwards. The 13 bench reps really show up upon engagement with defenders, and he'll need to continue filling out and adding strength to have any sort of sustainability at the NFL level.
Hawkinson's lack of power at this point in his career is a huge question mark. It's hard not to like his motor, however. He doesn't take plays off, seems to give his all and rarely seems gassed. He plays until the whistle and seems like a hard-worker.
Quickness, Agility and Balance
The quickness and agility pieces are in place. Hawkinson has a quick reaction to the snap and generally plays fast. With that said, these inherent "strengths" aid greatly in one of his biggest problems as an offensive tackle, his functional balance, which we'll get to in the pass-blocking breakdown. He gets moving too quick, gets ahead of himself and generally scrambles to recover.
Hawkinson absorbs contact at the point of attack, often getting shoved back initially or deflecting the engagement to arm fighting. He can get hunched over and "lean" into down blocks instead of attacking them. It's never good to see an offensive tackle take his initial step—his critical power step—backwards on a run play.
Hawkinson is trying to get an anchor foot down to plant and burst off of in executing the down block, but in setting himself up in a retreating position, he leaves the inside wide open.
This may seem like a simple oversight or small bit of laziness—and admittedly, Hawkinson did end up fulfilling his responsibility on the play, but only barely. But college players such as Datone Jones or Star Lotulelei would have completely exploited the window provided by this misstep, and rest assured that seasoned NFL veterans would as well.
While a key part of Hawkinson's game is using his length and agility to counter bends, dip and twists, he is generally doing so from a mode of recovery and reaction rather than the imposing of his own will.
This is a bad first step and a bad initial move. Hawkinson is setting himself up for trouble. Instead of making a fluid kick-slide staying on the balls of his feet, he plants his right heel and wastes precious motion before kicking out with his left leg. This is bad for two reasons:
1) You can't block, catch, throw, run, cut or change direction from your heels. No football play dictates a body's weight being extended over the balls of the feet—or, even worse, through the back of the heels—unless you are a receiver adjusting to a badly thrown ball's trajectory or diving forward.
2) It's a kick-slide. It's not a shift weight, kick, then slide. But this is exactly what Hawkinson does in the screenshot below. Motion is being wasted, and the speed coming to his outside can't be given this sort of advantage.
After two kick-slides, Hawkinson resets his feet. This is the moment in a pass-rush confrontation where the tackle is preparing for engagement with an edge-rusher. Hawksinson resets really well here and regains nice positioning. His hips have not opened up to the outside and exposed his inside shoulder to be ripped through on a conversion move from the rusher. He is coiled through his upper body and on the balls of his feet.
What happens next is a train wreck. This play resulted in a completion, and all is well that ends well, but this series of movements shows a good bit about where Hawkinson's "floor" as a pass-blocker lies.
Hawkinson absorbed contact here like a termite-infested slab of particle board. Crumbling. Look at this:
Somehow, Hawkinson both overextended forwards and on his heels at the same time—again, wasting motion and putting himself in a tough position, all in one split-second move.
The end will naturally notice the tackle's backward momentum and punch. Whether a bull rush or a conversion to the inside is coming, there's going usually be some sort of initial punch of stab.
No. 2 decides to continue with the bull rush to the outside half of Hawkinson as he retreats.
By the time Hawkinson has been pushed into the quarterback, No. 2's hand is at the end of the QB's delivery. Way too close for comfort.
Hawkinson needs work, and he will not be joining an NFL team as a projected immediate contributor.
We have seen, with the rise in stock of a player like Lane Johnson, that teams can covet more raw, athletic tackles who can be groomed into the role as they grow into their bodies. But there are many differences between Johnson and Hawkinson.
Johnson plays with a mean streak, power and love for contact that Hawkinson lacks. Johnson has refined his kick-slide and footwork to take full advantage of his physical tools as a pass-blocker, while Hawkinson seems to rely on his to bail him out.
Believe it or not, I may actually like Hawkinson better than most seem to. While I have heard some analysts opine he should not be drafted, I think Tanner Hawkinson is worth every bit of a sixth- or seventh-round pick. He's a tackle with definite, proven ability to get to the second level that translates to a zone-blocking scheme, and he can already do a good job countering athletic inside pass rush moves.
He needs about two years in an NFL weight program and a lot of work on his fundamentals, but it would be impossible to write off a player who flashes such athleticism at a critical position before seeing how he reacts to professional coaching.
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