NFL1000: Free Agency Rankings for the 2017 Left Tackle Market

NFL1000 ScoutsFeatured ColumnistFebruary 13, 2017

NFL1000: Free Agency Rankings for the 2017 Left Tackle Market

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    Welcome to Bleacher Report's NFL1000 free agency preview, a series where we'll use the power of the 17-man NFL1000 scouting department to bring you in-depth analysis of every NFL free agent this offseason. In this installment, lead scout Doug Farrar and Offensive Tackle scout Duke Manyweather dive into this year's Left Tackle class.  

    No matter how the NFL has changed schematically over the last decade, left tackles (for a left-handed quarterback, we’ll say right tackles; the blindside protector in either case) have retained their importance. Especially in a league where the passing game has taken over, it’s arguable that the second-most important offensive player on any team after the quarterback himself is the guy who gets paid to keep him upright while pass-rushers come at him from all angles.

    One reason for the position’s continued importance is that defensive lines are far more advanced than they’ve ever been. No longer do blockers have to deal with a base front 80 percent of the time and the occasional green-dog blitz. Now, with nickel defenses as the base concept, hybrid fronts come at offensive linemen in as many flavors as you can imagine. Left tackles may be dealing with a 240-pound speed rusher on one down, and a 300-pound tackle roving outside on a stunt the very next play.

    Moreover, elite blindside protectors are among the rarest athletes in any sport. How many men on the planet weigh 300 pounds, can run a 4.6 40-yard dash, and have the footwork and agility of a point guard? The best left tackles do, and that’s why they’ll always be at a premium.

    This year’s free-agent class of left tackles isn’t a big one, but there’s a big name at the top, and at least one sleeper who could be a star starter in 2017 and beyond.

    Previous Installments:

    NFL1000 Free Agent Quarterback Rankings
    NFL1000 Free Agent Tight End Rankings
    NFL1000 Free Agent Fullback Rankings
    NFL1000 Free Agent Kicker/Punter Rankings

    All advanced statistics courtesy of Pro Football Focus.

6. Tony Hills

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    NFL1000 Scores 

    Incomplete: Tony Hills did not play enough in 2016 to receive full grading. 

    NFL1000 LT scout Duke Manyweather: 

    Tony Hills saw action in 3 games in 2016 as a backup, registering only 52 total snaps, per ProFootballFocus, which was not enough to earn a 2016 NFL1000 season grade or ranking.

    Hills was a fourth-round pick in the 2008 NFL Draft, where the Pittsburgh Steelers selected him 130th overall out of Texas. Hills was released by Pittsburgh prior to the 2010 season and went on to have stops in Denver (2011); Indianapolis (2012); Buffalo and Oakland (2013); Miami and Dallas (2014); Carolina and Baltimore (2015), before catching on in New Orleans midway through the 2015 season.

    Hills possesses good length and is thick through the upper and lower body. He has good athletic ability, which is evident when watching the type of range and change of direction he has in pass protection. He has decent overall play strength, but when Hills gets in trouble in pass protection, it is because of a lack of patience and inconsistent weight distribution when needing to anchor. He displays adequate power and explosion at the point of attack in the run game, but struggles to consistently seal the edge on outside runs or cut off the backside when the run goes away.

    Overall, Hills inconsistencies in technique and production make him a fit as a backup who has the ability to be a spot-starter.

                

    Doug's Quick Take: Hills allowed a sack, a quarterback hit and a quarterback hurry on just 37 pass-blocking snaps in 2016. Not great numbers, and he projects as a player in need of a lot of development. Backup swing tackle at best. 

    Potential Suitors: New Orleans Saints, Carolina Panthers

         

5. Bradley Sowell

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    NFL1000 Scores 

    Pass Pro: 14.5/25
    Run Block: 16/25
    Power: 13.2/20
    Agility: 13.7/20
    Positional Value: 8/10
    Overall: 65.4/100
    2016 NFL1000 Offensive Tackle Rank: 40/40

    NFL1000 LT scout Duke Manyweather: 

    It was a complete surprise to see Bradley Sowell as the starting left tackle for the Seattle Seahawks after being out of football in 2014 and taking only 33 snaps in 2015. Sowell started 10 games total (six at left tackle and four at right tackle). Sowell lacks the lower body strength and power to create movement off the point of attack and sustain blocks in the run game.

    He simply does not possess the consistency in his pass set, nor the bend to be able to leverage, anchor and hold up in pass protection. With the emergence of rookie George Fant at left tackle, you can only suspect Sowell’s days as a full-time starter are done and wherever he ends up signing, it will be as depth.

    Doug's Quick Take: Sowell was an abject disaster for the Seahawks in 2016, but the fault lies with a coaching staff that believed he was qualified to be a starting tackle on either side at the NFL level. Sowell has always been a magnet for high pressure totals, and he simply doesn't have the athleticism or range to play the tackle position against elite speed or power rushers. As a backup guard, he'd be okay. 

    Potential Suitors: Seattle Seahawks

         

4. Ben Ijalana

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    NFL1000 Scores 

    Pass Pro: 17.6/25
    Run Block: 18.1/25
    Power: 15/20
    Agility: 14.6/20
    Positional Value: 7/10
    Overall: 72.3/100
    2016 NFL1000 Offensive Tackle (RT) Rank: 15/38

    NFL1000 LT scout Duke Manyweather: 

    Ben Ijalana played in all 16 games for the New York Jets, registering 13 starts (six at right tackle and seven at left tackle). Ijalana displayed adequate power at the point of attack and mid-volume footwork, which made him an decent run blocker. Ijalana is limited in overall range in pass protection and just does not possess the traits needed to consistently hold up in pass protection on the edge.

    Overall, he is a depth swing-tackle who can get you out of a game if need be, but Ijalana should be added to a roster for depth and spot-starts, not as an upgrade at either tackle slot.

          

    Doug's Quick Take: Ijalana didn't get serious snaps until his third NFL season, and his response to that opportunity was to allow eight sacks, seven hits and 28 hurries in 867 snaps. That tied him for second in the NFL in sacks allowed last season. He's a decent run-blocker, but he'll have to make major mechanical fixes before he can be trusted in pass protection.

    Potential Suitors: New York Jets, New York Giants

         

3. Matt Kalil

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    NFL1000 Scores 

    Incomplete: Matt Kalil did not play enough in 2016 to receive full grading. 

    NFL1000 LT scout Duke Manyweather: 

    Despite not missing a game in his first four seasons, the best way to describe Matt Kalil’s career after five seasons is inconsistent. The Minnesota Vikings were intrigued with the elite traits Kalil possessed coming out of USC and they selected him fourth overall in 2012.

    Kalil had a solid rookie season and was named to the Pro Bowl, but sustained knee injuries that required offseason surgery. Kalil would not miss any action as a result, but his mobility and overall agility took a significant hit and he did not possess the skill set to compensate for two of the major traits that made special.

    Throughout his career, Kalil’s major issue has been inefficient footwork in both the running game and in pass protection. Kalil consistently wastes foot movement, which often leads to being out of position, especially when needing to gain hand placement. Every few plays, you see the flashes of what could be, but there just isn’t much consistency.

    Kalil only played in two games in 2016 before he was placed on injured reserve with a hip injury that required surgery and ended his season. At 27 years old, if Kalil’s medical checks out, he is worth kicking the tires on, especially if the deal is team friendly.

     

    Doug's Quick Take: At USC, Kalil was a highly athletic blocker who lacked power. It seemed at first that he would take to an NFL conditioning program and work out the kinks. But I have seen few NFL players regress as much as Kalil has over the last two full seasons. Kalil struggles mightily off the edge, he can't create an arc around the pocket consistently, and he's vulnerable to inside counters. Perhaps a new coaching staff can turn him around, as he does have talent, but he should not be projected as a starting lineman until he can reverse his alarming regression.

    Potential Suitors: Carolina Panthers, Minnesota Vikings, New York Jets

         

2. Ty Nsekhe

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    NFL1000 Scores 

    Pass Pro: 19.4/25
    Run Block: 19/25
    Power: 14.8/20
    Agility: 15/20
    Positional Value: 8/10
    Overall: 76.2/100
    2016 NFL1000 Offensive Tackle Rank: 8/40

    NFL1000 LT scout Duke Manyweather: 

    The path to the NFL doesn’t get much more obscure than Ty Nsekhe’s. He went undrafted in 2009 out of Texas State and made four stops in the Arena Football League between 2009 and 2012 before finally getting a shot with the Indianapolis Colts in 2012.

    Nsekhe then bounced around with the Rams from 2012-2013, was released and signed with the Saints in 2014; was released and spent time with the Montreal Alouettes of the Canadian Football League in 2014; was then signed by the Redskins in 2015 but was released and made another stop in the Arena League with the Los Angeles Kiss in 2015 before signing with the Redskins again and spending part of 2015 and all of 2016 in Washington.

    What is intriguing about Nsekhe is that despite only having six career NFL starts, four came in 2016,  so he should draw interest in free agency.

    Nsekhe possesses many of the physical traits front offices love for left tackles to have. Filling in for perennial Pro Bowler Trent Williams as he served a suspension, Nsekhe amassed four games of impressive starting tape at left tackle.

    He also saw extensive time throughout the season at right tackle due to in-game injuries. Nsekhe registered 385 total plays in 2016 and surrendered only one quarterback sack. He did not necessarily make the impactful highlight reel blocks we are accustomed to from Williams, but the journeyman displayed tremendous strength, power and explosion that consistently created movement at the point of attack, while showing the footwork to reach and seal the edge on outside runs.

    Overall, Nsekhe is a fit in any scheme. He has been coached up by one of the best offensive line developers in the game in Bill Callahan, and his contract will not break the bank for teams looking to upgrade either tackle spot.

     

    Doug's Quick Take: NFL teams, your blocking steal of the 2017 free agency class is right here. Kudos to Washington's front office (led by the brilliant Scot McCloughan) for unearthing and developing this gem. Nsekhe is a best fit with run-heavy teams in which elite agility is not required of tackles, but he's got the potential to go just about anywhere and succeed. He's great with his hands, he turns quickly to face the defender and he's got an appealing nasty streak. Watch his Week 10 game against Minnesota's outstanding defensive line if you want to see how good he can be.

    Potential Suitors: Carolina Panthers, Minnesota Vikings, New York Jets, Cincinnati Bengals

         

1. Andrew Whitworth

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    NFL1000 Scores 

    Pass Pro: 19.1/25
    Run Block: 18.5/25
    Power: 15.5/20
    Agility: 14.8/20
    Positional Value: 8/10
    Overall: 75.9/100
    2016 NFL1000 Offensive Tackle Rank: 11/40

         

    NFL1000 LT scout Duke Manyweather: 

    Andrew Whitworth is the heavy cream that has risen to the top of a lackluster free agent left tackle crop. Whitworth started 164 games in his 11 seasons with Cincinnati, and despite being 35 years old, Whitworth has not missed a game since 2013. Whitworth has been selected to the Pro Bowl three times (2012; 2015; 2016) and was named First-Team All-Pro in 2015.

    In 2016, Whitworth displayed great range, covering a ton of ground while protecting the left side of the Bengals offensive line. Whitworth kept defenders off balance by switching up his pass sets (i.e. creating space between him and edge rushers or picking his spots to aggressively jump-set, which allowed him get his hands on defenders at the line of scrimmage). Whitworth’s savvy in pass protection played a key role in the veteran bookend surrendering only four quarterback sacks and 11 total pressures all season, per ProFootballFocus.

    As efficient as Whitworth is in pass protection, there is no dropoff in the production of his run blocking. Whitworth shows tremendous competitive toughness and physicality in the running game, he absolutely tries to maul and finish off blocks in a nasty manor. The slight dropoff I saw in Whitworth's run blocking from 2015 to 2016 was the lack of power through his base to consistently drive through stalemates.

    He does all the dirty work that at times goes unnoticed. Watching Whitworth over the years, 2016 being no exception, there is nothing that stands out as being textbook or that looks pretty, but what he does is effective and has proven to be consistent, not in only in ability but in availability as well. Overall, Whitworth is still a good left tackle in the NFL and would be a welcomed upgrade for many teams in the market for at the position.

     

    Doug's Quick Take: When I watch Whitworth play, I'm always a bit gobsmacked, because he's not especially quick to the edge, or agile when dealing with counters. But he's among the most technically proficient and perfect blockers I've ever reviewed. Few, if any tackles better understand leverage and angles, and he's always in the right place at the right time. Any team would be lucky to have Whitworth, but he'd be especially beneficial to a young line in need of on-field guidance. 

    Potential Suitors: Cincinnati Bengals, Minnesota Vikings, New York Giants