We all know that the Detroit Lions need an upgrade at the tackle positions. Let’s review:
Jeff Backus has lost a step over the years, but is also playing through a debilitating pectoral injury that has adversely affected his strength. Can we ever expect Backus to return to the performance level that he played at in 2010?
Backus’ protégé, Jason Fox, is a second-year player who can’t stay healthy. He was shelved for most of the 2010 campaign with an ACL, and now is rehabbing a foot injury. In the few snaps that Fox has played, he has looked adequate, at best. This year, we need to see Fox in the lineup in order to accurately assess his value going forward.
Ideally, Fox would get the starting nod at LT and Backus would move inside to the RG position where he can mentor RT Gosder Cherilus. Backus’ pectoral injury casts doubt on this happening now, or in the future.
On the right side, Gosder Cherilus is in his fourth year as a pro. In other words, we are seeing Cherilus’ ceiling and it’s pretty low. Cherilus’ run blocking is indicative of a Lions O-line that ranks near the bottom in the NFL in running offense and run blocking.
Corey Hilliard is barely adequate as a swingman depth player on both sides of the line, but looks more comfortable on the right side. Hilliard isn’t the answer, but does provide serviceable depth.
Do any of the tackles available in the 2012 NFL draft represent an immediate upgrade in talent? This offensive tackle draft class is uncharacteristically thin in NFL-ready candidates, but deep in developmental talent that will have impact in 2013 and beyond.
Kalil is a red shirt Junior who is a consensus top five pick, and could go as high as third overall in the 2012 draft.
Kalil is an elite pass blocker who exhibits perfect technique against speed and power pass rushers alike on the blind side. He has a powerful kick-step, taking the preferred short, quick steps that allows him to use his speed to nullify the edge rush.
Kalil is a polished hand fighter who delivers a strong punch on initial contact with a defender. He’s also very adept at the cut block, taking defenders off their feet.
When Kalil gets to a defenders outside shoulder, he sets a quick, strong anchor and stonewall’s the defender into irrelevance.
Kalil can fall prey to inside moves after initial contact, but recovers fast enough to keep the QB clean because he uses a technique of attack—reset—attack quicker than any tackle since Jake Long. He also has great blitz recognition, often engaging two rushers on a play with little visible effort.
As a run blocker, Kalil has an explosive first step, great balance and a low center of gravity. Sustaining blocks seems to be a soft area in Kalil‘s game. This probably accounts for the fact that USC doesn’t run over left tackle too often.
The only knock I have on Kalil is that he’s ineffective in the second level, missing blocks, or taking time off in the secondary. I’d also like to see more passion from him, but being cool under pressure as a pass blocker is fine by me.
When you look at Kalil, you can easily draw some comparisons to the more polished veteran left tackles playing in the NFL today. He’s that ready, and it’s no wonder that his draft stock has gone stratospheric.
Kalil sets the benchmark for this draft class of offensive tackles in every respect. Comparisons will inevitably be drawn, and should be.
Jonathan Martin, No. 55 celebrating a win over USC
Martin is another redshirt junior who is expected to be a mid-first-round selection. Protecting Cardinals QB Andrew Luck’s blind side has brought the spotlight on Martin and he hasn‘t disappointed.
Martin lacks Kalil’s technical superiority, but brings fire and brimstone to every snap. If you want your O-line to have a nasty-streak identity, look no further than Martin the mauler to be your flag bearer.
In pass protection, Martin exhibits proper footwork up to the point of initial contact, where he has a tendency to stride when mirroring a speed-rushing defender. This is in compensation for his lack of elite speed.
Martin is a bit of a reacher as the pass rush develops, but recovers quickly enough to sustain contact. He has great blitz recognition and adjusts accordingly.
In run blocking, Martin is not a road-grader by any definition, but uses his lower body strength and explosion off the snap to gain enough leverage to be effective.
The Cardinals routinely move LT Martin to RT on short-yardage run plays to good effect. They consistently run over him for that tough yard.
Martin’s high motor makes for effective blocking in the second level, where he dominates.
In the NFL, Martin needs to improve his upper body strength, arm strength and the use of his hands. This will be evident in Martin’s portfolio of skills as an NFL rookie to even the casual observer.
I believe that Martin’s second NFL season will be a breakout year, and he will have a long, productive career.
Martin’s high football IQ, character and work ethic are additional intangible assets, along with that tenacious mean streak. Martin will establish himself as a team leader immediately.
Adams will be under intense scrutiny in 2011. He’s shown some character flaws (tattoo-gate) and has had some minor disciplinary issues. Watching Adams, I get the sense that he might be the most technically improved tackle in the class over the past year.
Adams, warts and all, looks like a top second-round investment, who will start in the NFL as a rookie.
Adams has incredible lower body strength and balance. Perhaps the best in this tackle class. In pass blocking, Adams mirrors pass-rushers well, and has great kick-step-slide footwork technique.
However, Adams is a bit of a flailer with his arms when hand fighting. Adams is prone to reaching, where defenders can easily take him off balance. Adams has, at best, an average punch on initial contact, and his lack of speed often prevents him from getting to a pass-rusher’s outside shoulder and setting a powerful anchor.
Drive blocking is Adams’ forte. He’s very explosive off the snap. Blocking downhill, Adams’ weak upper body and arms are amply compensated for by his lower body strength, leverage and balance. He blows defenders off the line of scrimmage.
Adams never employs a cut block, but seals the edge and dominates in the second level. Adams has a great motor and plays hard to the whistle.
Adams’ obvious ability as a drive-blocking mauler might make him a better fit at right tackle, or even at guard, where his lack of foot speed will be less of a liability. Adams has that mean streak that coaches like to see in interior linemen.
Datko has played LT for the Seminoles, but looks to be a top-flight starting quality RT in the NFL. Datko recently underwent shoulder surgery that will shelve him for the remainder of his 2011 senior season.
Despite the injury, Datko should be a solid second- to third-round talent at RT.
Datko displays good fundamentals in pass blocking, and is very patient. Giving ground, Datko picks his spots to engage pass-rushers and then sets a grudging anchor. In the NFL, Datko’s lack of elite speed and range dictate a move to RT.
Datko uses his reach and hands well. He mirrors defenders well enough and has great balance, but he can be beaten by a bull-rusher who has a great inside swim move. On occasion, speed-rushers can get to Datko’s outside shoulder when exploding off a 5-tech, outside move as well.
Datko is adept at picking up inside blitzers and makes great adjustments to redirect his energy. His combination blocks are superb.
Moving to the right side will alleviate the pressure on Datko’s limited range and speed issues. More importantly, Datko can showcase his ability to lock down when fronting pass-rushers, and take better advantage of combination blocks with a tight end..
Datko’s run blocking is another reason to move him to right tackle. He’s got a great first step and powerful punch. Datko is a relentless road-grader in waiting. He engages defenders through the whistle (and beyond) as a mauler.
Datko blows defenders off the line and maintains good contact. In the second level, Datko lacks the foot speed to quickly engage linebackers and safeties, but can seal an area effectively, allowing defenders to come to him.
Datko was seldom used as a pulling tackle, and once again, his foot speed is the issue.
Sanders’ six seconds of infamy came in a 2009 game against the Florida Gators. In his 2-point stance, Sanders fell asleep prior to the snap and remained frozen there throughout the entire play until awakened by the whistle.
His narcoleptic moment aside, Zebrie Sanders will be considered a third- to fourth-round project at RT in a zone-blocking scheme.
Sanders isn’t the most athletic RT in the class, but has tremendous strength and agility.
Sanders’ pass blocking is very powerful. He delivers the strongest punch in the entire tackle class on initial contact, then locks onto pass-rushers, preventing the outside speed rush. Sanders’ biggest flaw is that he locks onto the outside of a defender’s shoulder pads consistently. This poor technique is certain to draw holding penalties in the NFL.
Sanders possesses terrific agility, allowing him to mirror well. He does have trouble picking up the blitz, and looks a bit lost on zone-blitz looks. Otherwise, Sanders is very tough to beat.
Sanders is a prototypical zone-blocker on run plays who routinely takes defenders off their feet. He has outstanding drive, and can either push or seal a defender effectively.
However, Sanders again locks onto the outside of a defender’s shoulders, instead of attacking between the shoulders where his strength and punch would be more effective.
Sanders is a bit ponderous off the snap and plays a little too upright, but gets to the second level well enough to be effective.
If Sanders can correct his poor hand position with some NFL coaching, he will live up to his promise as a solid performer.
No. 73 Nate Potter
Potter is the athletic, finesse-blocking LT on Boise State’s quick-release pass offense. In the NFL, Potter will remain at LT and should be a solid third-round selection who is ideal in a zone-blocking scheme.
Speed and finesse are the core of Potter’s skill set. He exhibits excellent footwork and range, easily mirroring oncoming pass-rushers. Potter lacks the overall strength to anchor up on pass-rushers, but will do so on plays where a three-step drop by the QB is schemed.
Potter plays technically sound, and picks up the blitz effortlessly. Potter has a very good cut-block technique in pass blocking.
In run blocking, Potter again uses finesse over strength. He gets on his blocks quickly, but prefers to redirect a defender’s inertia. In the second level, or on pulling plays, Potter engages quickly and seals well initially, but strength issues prevent him from maintaining blocks for extended periods.
Potter seldom takes a defender off his feet, but his speed, agility and technique are NFL quality.
Potter’s ceiling is high, and with some intensive strength training will develop into a starting-caliber offensive tackle on the blind side no matter the blocking scheme.
Levy Adcock engaged with No. 91
Adcock has had academic issues to deal with throughout his career. For this reason, he was lightly recruited. Adcock really has come on as a late bloomer, however, packing on 30 pounds of muscle to go along with his natural great athleticism.
Adcock has been the starting LT for the Cowboys, but the NFL will view his skill set and speed as more of a RG/RT hybrid.
While some red flags persist regarding Adcock’s work ethic and aptitude, his tenacious attitude and athleticism has his draft stock on the rise. Currently, Adcock looks like a second- to third-round talent.
Adcock, like Mike Adams, has made great strides to improve his technique in 2011. In pass blocking, Adcock is patient, giving ground and allowing the rush to come to him where he sets a solid anchor and delivers a great punch.
Adcock lacks the great footwork to mirror a defender for very long as the play develops, but stuffs any move to the inside.
Adcock is a powerful drive-blocker off the snap, but has trouble maintaining contact after his initial push. He’s an adequate pulling tackle who gets to the point of attack with great lateral speed. Adcock is excellent at disengaging at the line and blocking in the second level.
If Adcock can continue his improvement in technique, he will make for a good developmental project in the NFL. Adcock’s ceiling is high, and his success depends largely upon his aptitude, rather than his attitude.