Just a few weeks remain until the 2012 season kicks off, with practices beginning the first full week of August. In preparation, I will share preseason positional breakdowns of the top seniors I have evaluated at each position, along with short rankings of non-senior prospects and a small list of other players at the position I will be evaluating next. I guess this can be called a series, since a new position will (hopefully) go up a few times per week leading up to kickoff.
I have withheld my evaluations on non-seniors for multiple reasons. I understand these draft-eligible prospects usually generate the most attention, but I feel prospects in their final season deserve our attention right now. We have no clue which juniors will forego their final year of eligibility in January and enter the Draft. And although juniors may make up the top layer of the prospects at certain positions, the senior class generates the depth and even diamonds in the rough.
Today we start at offensive tackle, which I have separated into two sections. I feel there is a significant difference when evaluating a potential mainstay on the left side compared to a prospect whose best fit is at right tackle. Keep in mind that in the last decade, offensive linemen trail only quarterbacks in positions drafted in the top-five selections. Feel free to send any feedback to my Twitter account or.
Left Tackle ability:
1. Tennessee’s Dallas Thomas (6’5/305) - Despite moving inside to guard for the 2012 season to make way for sophomore Antonio Richardson, Thomas exhibited outstanding lower body movement and mirroring skills as a starting left tackle last year. Sure, his upper body gets jolted when facing stiff contact and his initial punch could be quicker, but Thomas has the knee bend to absorb, position, and redirect that translates very well to an outside blocking island. He is not stiff and rarely bends at the waist, so with added mass and strength I bet Thomas makes the move back to tackle in the NFL.
2. Central Michigan’s Eric Fisher (6’6/305) - Many do not consider him a prominent name at the position right now, but Fisher is the type that will impress in postseason all star games against the “higher level” competition. Fisher is used to shooting off from a three-point stance and halts pass rushers that take an inside line with a stiff armbar, then continues his drop to easily mirror looping defenders. His footwork may not appear overly athletic, but I never saw Fisher bend at the waist or get himself in trouble by overextending. Why? Because the Chippewa understands the importance of length and latching on in order to absorb contact. He could improve by lowering his pad level and understanding his responsibility versus blitzing defenses, but Fisher boasts an ideal frame to work with and can really get to the second level to seal or block on screens.
3. Boston College’s John Wetzel (6’7/305) - Wetzel is a very intelligent blocker and gets to his correct position or responsibility at all costs. The Golden Eagle prefers not to sustain blocks, instead using his length and press power to push defenders back, which forces him to adjust to movements frequently, but up to this point the method has been fairly successful. I do worry if Wetzel is too stiff in the lower body, specifically tightness in his hips because he frequently has to turn his shoulders to the pass rusher very early, instead of meeting them at the end of his drop. When in trouble, Wetzel bends at the waist, which causes over extension so improved balance would really alter his game.
4. Florida’s Xavier Nixon (6’5/292) - Nixon was the first true freshman to start at left tackle for the Gators since 1992, but he has yet to find consistency with his weight or success since. From his frame, one would think Nixon is a solid athlete, but his movements in space show the opposite. I do like his low posture and cut block ability, which is necessary in Florida’s quick hitting package. However, I do not see him forcing impact on first contact, instead he plays with a reactionary style. Flashes are there, specifically when Nixon sits back in his stance, but too often his slow feet lead to overextension.
Right or Swing Tackles:
1. Wisconsin’s Ricky Wagner (6’6/320) - Possessing a thick lower body that is useful in sustaining movement in the running game, Wagner is a great fit in Wisconsin’s ground focused offense. He starts with high posture, and although I would not call his footwork overly athletic, Wagner is a savvy player that sets up his blocks with positioning and finishes with strength. The Badger’s game is built around sustaining blocks with extension, so active hands to gain the blocking advantage are vital. Still, Wagner’s knees are bit too stiff for my liking to keep him on the left side and despite showing somewhat agile movements in his first few steps I think he is better served at right tackle in the NFL with a chance to spell on the left. Right now he does not absorb with his lower body enough, instead choosing to redirect with strength which causes difficulties when matched up with pass rushers that possess a strong counter burst around the edge.
2. UNC’s Brennan Williams (6’6/315) - Williams is lean enough to potentially move to left tackle, but his lack of experience on the blind side and inconsistent agility versus edge rushers that can bend worries me. In the running game, Williams’ first step to position and seal is quick allowing him to consistently box out backside runners. The difficulties come when pass blocking, specifically against quick inside rushers that beat him due to a lack of reaction speed, power rushers that continue to move him back because of a lack of one step anchor, and the aforementioned bending edge rushers. In all cases Williams has shown flashes to prohibit pressure, so consistency is the next goal. Multiple times he looked as if he was beaten, but at the last moment Williams turned his hips to seal the defender.
3. Kent State’s Brian Winters (6’5/298) - Winters is another prospect that has the potential to make it full time on the left side but will likely fill that swing tackle role at the next level. Currently, his upper body is a bit thin but Winters plays with a nasty attitude and is always sniffing out contact. However, he needs to play with more composure as his hunger for contact leads to an unbalanced base or wide hands. Once Winters latches on to a defensive lineman he looks to punish by aggressively moving them out of the hole. It is tough to not like his gritty style, but Winters would benefit from some posture and positioning composure.
4. Virginia’s Oday Aboushi (6’6/310) - A large amount of Aboushi’s issues derive from his inability to stay on his feet. To start, the Cavalier is hunched in his stance and once he uncoils, Aboushi’s first movements are just too slow. In the run game he can really move people, specifically when crashing down, but bending outside rushers are his kryptonite. Aboushi flashes patience against spins and twists, looking for the right time to unload on a punch, but the lack of quick reactions are troubling. Movement skills to mirror are just not there. Turn on his matchup versus FSU’s Brandon Jenkins and the mismatch is apparent.
5. LSU’s Alex Hurst (6’6/340) - Despite being blessed with a massive frame, Hurst does not complete the package since he fails to consistently generate movement in the running game. Instead of showing strength to move in one on one situations, Hurst is an occupier and redirector with length to keep distance. Balance is an issue, since Hurst appears to play top heavy which causes overextension in his movements. The lack of mirroring skills and plodding footwork are troublesome when pass blocking.
Preseason Junior Tackles:
1. Texas A&M’s Luke Joeckel (6’6/310)
2. Michigan’s Taylor Lewan (6’7/302)
3. Texas A&M’s Jake Matthews (6’5/305)
4. Alabama’s D.J. Fluker (6’6/335)
5. Syracuse’s Justin Pugh (6’5/292)
6. LSU’s Chris Faulk (6’5/325)
Senior Tackle Prospects On Deck:
Colorado State’s Joe Caprioglio
Boston College’s Emmett Cleary
Virginia Tech’s Nick Becton
Tennessee State’s Roger Gaine
Valdosta Sate’s Ryan Schraeder