The left tackle position is one of the four core positions in the NFL. It’s arguably the second-most important position behind quarterback.
A great tackle is not always the most athletic or physical player, but is generally very intelligent, outsmarting their defenders. Strength is a plus, but footwork and the ability to get a good drop step off the snap is even more important.
There are two main types of tackles: maulers and finesse blockers. Maulers are run blocking machines who are generally stronger, get great push in the run game and keep their hands inside and their defenders close. Finesse blockers are known for their quick feet, excellent drop step off the snap and are fantastic in mirroring their defender, staying with even the quicker defenders, but having the quickness to recover if beaten by a power rusher.
Here are the rankings for the top offensive tackle prospects in the 2011 NFL Draft.
1. Derek Sherrod: Mississippi State, 6’5" 305 lb.
The Mississippi State product is one of the most well rounded tackles in the nation. He’s got quick feet and gets a good push in the running game. His athleticism allows him to shut down many of the quick pass rushers in the SEC, and he does a good job punching defensive ends and maintaining separation. Sherrod could easily be the first tackle off of the board, although he could afford to bulk up a slight bit and gain strength, but that’s just nitpicking.
Projection: First round
2. Anthony Castonzo: Boston College, 6’7" 308 lb.
Castonzo is one of the most athletic tackles in the draft. A four-year starter, Castonzo has developed into a dominating tackle in pass protection. His athleticism helps him deal with even the quickest of rushers. He lacks push in the run game as his strength is quite average, but that can be improved with an NFL strength and conditioning program. He looks to be one of the top offensive tackles off the board in April.
Projection: First Round
3. Riley Reiff: Iowa**, 6’6" 305 lb.
Despite Reiff being a redshirt sophomore, there’s a good chance he comes out this year, considering he’s already 22 years old.
Reiff is one of the most fluid offensive tackles in pass protection, and some consider him to be the best. Like Castonzo, he doesn’t do the greatest job in the rushing department, and he’s more of a finesse blocker, rather than a mauler. He’s got long arms, and he has excellent balance. A team like Indianapolis could target him in the late first round to shore up that left tackle spot they’ve been struggling with.
4. Nate Solder: Colorado, 6’9" 312 lb.
Solder is quite the physical specimen. He stands tall at 6’9, and is very strong, getting great push in the run game. His quick feet allow him to stay in front of his opponent in pass protection, and his long arms allow him to punch the defender with ease. The former tight end has started in every game since 2008 since bulking up and moving to left tackle. Solder is rising up draft boards quickly.
Projection: First to Second Round
5. Gabe Carimi: Wisconsin, 6’7" 325 lb.
Carimi is a top three offensive tackle on most draft boards, but he’s falling a bit on mine. The more I watch him, the more I see that his future may be at right tackle in the NFL. He’s a mauling tackle who paves the way for running backs, and does a great job capping the end, allowing the runner to cut off of his back.
He’s not the most athletic tackle and he struggles against speed rushers. He doesn’t do a good job of punching the defender off the snap, and tends to get to close, forcing himself to get his arms behind the defender potentially causing a holding call.
6. DeMarcus Love: Arkansas, 6’5" 315 lb.
Love is more of a dominant run blocker rather than a finesse tackle in pass protection. He’s great in getting to the second level. He has a lot of upside, however, in the passing game if he can adjust his footwork. He’s very agile for his size, and has long arms to punch his defender. He’s better against quicker pass rushers, but he tends to get bullied against powerful bull rushes. He’s very versatile after playing both tackle positions, and even some guard.
7. Matt Reynolds: BYU*, 6’6" 320 lb.
Reynolds’ best bet is to stay in school for another season and work on his pass protection. In the run game, he’s very solid. He stays square and drives his defender back into the second level. He’s not the most athletic player, and his footwork needs quite a bit of work. In the passing game, he struggles to get a good jump off the line and really struggles against quick edge rushers as he stands up too tall off the snap. His kick slide could use a bit of work, and he needs to learn to bend his knees more.
8. Jason Pinkston: Pittsburgh, 6’4" 305 lb.
Pinkston does a nice job in the running game, and has helped Pittsburgh in the running game over the last two seasons. He’s struggled a bit in pass protection in 2010, but part of that is due to the inexperience of Tito Sunseri, who has a knack for holding onto the ball too long. Pinkston isn’t as athletic as you’d like to see, and his height is a small concern. His best fit is at right tackle or left guard in the NFL.
9. Nate Potter: Boise State*, 6’6" 293 lb.
Potter is an intelligent and athletic left tackle. He has very quick feet and punches defenders off the ball well off the snap. His exceptional footwork keeps him in front of his defender majority of the time, using his long arms to prevent them from making a freeing move. He lacks the strength to make a big impact in the run game, but could be a great fit for a zone blocking scheme at the next level.
10. Joseph Barksdale: LSU, 6’6" 318 lb.
While Barksdale is a solid pass protector, his best feature comes in the run game. He’s excellent in getting to the second level, using his athleticism in space in the running game. It’s hard to really get a feeling for his ability in pass protection with a scrambling quarterback at the helm lately. But he’s a good right tackle prospect with left side potential with enough work. His footwork is a bit sloppy in pass protection.
11. Andrew Datko: Florida State*, 6’6" 303 lb.
The Florida State left tackle is a very good prospect at the next level but is a bit raw. He’s got excellent strength and has good athleticism. He could be groomed as a solid left tackle at the next level and is versatile enough to play both positions. He’s a very smart tackle with very good balance and can get very good push in the running game.
12. Marcus Gilbert: Florida, 6’5" 320 lb.
Gilbert has been forced into playing a bit of left tackle when Xavier Nixon missed some time early in the season. Gilbert’s best quality is in the run game as he gets a good push, and is excellent snapping off the line. His footwork in pass protection is very questionable and he may have to move to right guard in the NFL if a team doesn’t feel he can handle the tackle spot. Projection: Fourth
13) Mike Adams: Ohio State*, 6’8" 305 lb.
Adams is a big, mauling tackle who could benefit at right tackle in the NFL. His footwork in the passing game is a bit sloppy, but his has long arms that he extends very well. He will most likely stay at Ohio State for his senior year in hopes of a senior FBS Championship.
14. Clint Boling: Georgia, 6’5", 315 lb.
Boling is a versatile lineman with solid footwork. He struggles off the snap with his dropstep in pass protection, but uses his hands well. His best bet may be to switch to guard in the NFL. He does a nice job getting underneath his opponents pads, however.
15. Darius Morris: Temple, 6’4", 321 lb.
Morris is a pure right tackle, and maybe even right guard at the next level. He has above average strength, but lacks athleticism in pass protection. He has good potential, but really needs to work on his footwork at the next level to become a better threat in the passing game. Projection: Fifth
16. James Brewer: Indiana, 6’8", 335 lb.
Brewer is a raw offensive tackle which could bolster an NFL team’s running game at the next level. He’s not very athletic, but he has good strength and gets a good push. His pass protection is suspect as he is slow and often plays too stiff. He needs to prove that he can stay healthy. Projection: Fifth
17. Tray Allen: Texas, 6’4", 305 lb.
Allen is an underachiever who is best slotted to play right guard in the NFL. He gets a good push in the running game, but his very suspect in pass protection. He’s not very athletic and can be slow off the snap at tackle.
18. Blake DeChristopher: Virginia Tech* 6’5", 309 lb.
DeChristopher is a tackle prospect with a big frame. He needs work with his footing and hand positioning, often getting beat around the edge, despite his athleticism. He does a nice job getting the second level in the run game.
19. Derek Newton: Arkansas State, 6’5" 305 lb.
Newton is a slightly more athletic tackle with above average footwork. He lacks the strength to keep up with bull rushers, but gets a good dropstep off the snap to mirror quick edge rushers. He could use work in the run game, but is more of a finesse pass blocker.
20. James Carpenter: Alabama, 6’5", 300 lb.
James Carpenter took over for Andre Smith in 2009, and has done a reasonable job bolstering the run game. Carpenter has above average strength and has good leverage in the passing game but is just average in both aspects.
21. Lee Ziemba: Auburn, 6’8" 319 lb.
22. Johnny Culbreath: South Carolina State, 6’6" 310 lb.
23) Chris Hairston- Clemson- 6’7", 325 lb.
24) Kyle Hix: Texas, 6’7" 325 lb.
25) Jarriel King: South Carolina, 6’5" 320 lb.
26) Rob McGill: Louisiana Tech, 6’6" 310 lb.
27) Josh Davis: Georgia, 6’6" 308 lb.
28) Cody Habben: Washington, 6’6" 290 lb.
29) Cory Brandon: Oklahoma, 6’7" 321 lb.
30) Richard Lapham: Boston College, 6’8" 321 lb.
31) Jah Reid: Central Florida, 6’7" 325 lb.
32) D.J. Scott: East Carolina, 6’6" 320 lb.
33) Kenny Wiggins: Fresno State, 6’7" 315 lb.
34) Bo Thran: Oregon, 6’5" 285 lb.
35) Curt Porter: Jacksonville State, 6’7" 295 lb.
36) Willie Smith: East Carolina, 6’6" 290 lb.
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