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Andre Dillard
AP
Evaluations

NFL Draft Tackle Rankings

by Thor Nystrom

The spider web of each prospect's test results from the NFL Combine comes courtesy of MockDraftable. SPARQ composite scores are provided by Zach Whitman. All players’ ages are calculated as of September 2019.

This is the sixth installment of my NFL Draft deep-dive scouting series, following quarterbacksrunning backstight endswide receiversguards and centers. Next up: interior defensive linemen.

1. Andre Dillard (Washington State) | 6’5/315

SPARQ percentile: 96.9

Comp: Shades of Terron Armstead and Joe Staley (Danny Kelly)


andre dillard combine

Like G1 Chris Lindstrom, Andre Dillard was an overlooked three-star OT recruit who, at 6’4/240, was closer to TE size than OL size.* Dillard’s only two FBS offers came from nearby schools (Idaho was the other — the Vandals dropped down to the FCS level last year; if Wazzu hadn’t offered Dillard a scholarship, we’d be talking about an FCS prospect right now).

*Interestingly, C1 Garrett Bradbury was a TE recruit who also weighed less than 250 pounds coming into college. College football coaches of America: You’ve found your market inefficiency! Go canvas the nation’s high school fields like Billy Beane looking for tall, broad-shouldered 240-pounders lacking in foot speed but not overall athleticism who the recruiting services haven’t noticed. As Dillard himself explained about his own recruitment: “I was this tall, skinny kid, but they saw the shoulders and the arm length and the leg length, and I guess [Wazzu] knew they could work with me.”).

It’s hard to blame the recruiting services for missing on Dillard.* He didn’t even start playing football until the eighth grade, preferring basketball. Those first two years, through ninth grade, Dillard said he was “kind of a wuss” who “sucked really bad” at football. “I was terrible,” he said.

*And don’t hold that against Dillard — his lack of prep pedigree isn’t a negative. Recruiting rankings tell you nothing about offensive line prospects in particular. As Bruce Feldman wrote, the 15 offensive linemen voted into the 2018 Pro Bowl had an average recruiting ranking of 2.4 stars and there were as many zero-stars as four- and five-star recruits combined —zero five-stars, four four-stars, and four zero-stars).

Dillard played left tackle exclusively in high school. And it was clear — even at 240 pounds — that that’s exactly what he’d be in college. ESPN’s scouting report on Dillard called him a “tough customer with outstanding finishing habits; displays the nasty determination we like to see when evaluating offensive linemen.” 

The weakness section reads as high comedy four years later: “Needs to gain experience in pass protection; plays a little too high however we see the balance and agility required to handle quickness and recover when in trouble; his arm length is an asset however all aspects of hand use will need refinement.”

Needs to gain experience in pass protection? How about four years under Mike Leach? Check!

Dillard started bulking up when he got on campus (“They just told me to literally eat everything all the time,” he said). The Wazzu coaching staff nicknamed him Starvin’ Marvin. Dillard reached 265 as a true freshman and then 280 by his redshirt freshman season. In sum, he spent four years practicing under Air Raid Yoda, the eccentrically brilliant Leach, who you can think of as the Doc Brown to Kliff Kingsbury’s Marty McFly.*

*The BACK TO THE FUTURE franchise revolves around Doc Brown’s invention but is told through Marty McFly’s POV. Doc Brown is a minor character inside a movie that can’t exist without him, the genius responsible for everything who’s rarely seen himself. The Arizona Cardinals watched Back to the Future and immediately offered Marty McFly a lucrative four-year contract as Doc Brown wiles away in obscurity on The Palhouse, having long since solved offensive football in his lab and now keeping himself entertained only by going on extemporaneous asides in press conferences about subjects like mascots and fabric softeners).

The pass pro reps Dillard received in practice alone in four years of apprenticeship under Leach boggle the mind. Dillard also has three years with live rounds under his belt as Wazzu’s starting blindside protector, serving two years with Luke Falk under center before the Cougs transitioned to the grad transfer Gardner Minshew.

Coming into this season, Dillard was a good-but-not-great Pac-12 left tackle who’d coughed up nine sacks over two years, still more athlete than football player. Last fall, with Minshew installed under center, Dillard became a complete football player. He allowed only one sack and ranked No. 6 in this draft class in Pro Football Focus’ pass-blocking efficiency metric. Talk about making the leap!

He followed that up by destroying the pre-Draft process. Testing in the 96th percentile at 6’5/315 with years of left tackle experience and thousands of pass pro reps under his belt, Dillard is just south of an elite left tackle prospect. He falls just short, for me, because of a few unanswerable questions in his profile.

For instance, Dillard showed himself to be a good run blocker in college and I have no reason to believe he’s going to struggle in this phase in the pros. He’s on the light side, and he’s no bulldozer, but Dillard gets bang for his buck on pop via athleticism, and through contact he’s in picture-perfect seal-off position, with his earhole under your armpit. 

It’s mighty hard to shuck him from there without sacrificing a feasible pursuit lane because of Dillard’s athleticism. Your only option is power, and that takes more time, time that you might not have — you don’t have to block forever, you know. 

But Wazzu, of course, didn’t run much — and when they did, they were doing so as a change-of-pace offensive play, as always with 3-4 feet splits between offensive linemen (Dillard did fine at the Senior Bowl when the splits were chopped in half). Due to circumstance alone, it’s more difficult to assess Dillard’s overall skill in this area than it is with other linemen. Either way, I’m not concerned about his run blocking, especially if he lands with a zone team like the Vikings.

But do pass pro evals get cleaner? Dillard is a freak mover, he’s got a game plan, and his Malcolm Gladwell 10,000-hours of pass pro reps show. He leverages his strengths by using them in concert. A true bodyguard, Dillard’s name was always visible to Falk and Minshew as he ran edge rushers on rainbow routes around the pocket or anchored and grappled with bull rushers. Dillard doesn’t get bullied — the “nasty determination” from his prep scouting report is still in there, even though his game is undoubtedly built around movement.

Andre Dillard may not be Jonah Williams’ equal as a player right this second. But he’s really darn close, he’s a no-doubt left tackle, and his ceiling is higher due to elite athleticism. Entering a league skewing more pass-happy spread by the year, Dillard is a top-10 overall prospect. I don’t know what else you could ask for. He was made huge and freaky athletic by a higher power and then refined in Doc Brown’s lab for four years for one reason — to protect quarterbacks.


2. Jonah Williams (Alabama) | 6’4/302

Age: 21.8

SPARQ percentile: 17.7

Comp: On the Jake Matthews/Joe Thomas continuum (Dane Brugler/Lance Zierlein)


jonah williams combine

Jonah Williams idolizes Joe Thomas. Patterns his game after him. Makes sense. Similar dimensions. Both fall under the 34-inch arm length threshold. Thomas became one of the best left tackles in NFL history by figuring out ways to compensate for a lack of length. Jonah studied him closely. The two have trained together. Joe Thomas loves Jonah Williams.

But let’s be very clear: The Jonah/Joe thing is not an apples-to-apples player comp. Don’t conflate the two. In the words of Senior Bowl director Jim Nagy: “Williams is a good player and he’ll start in the league a long time. Thomas is a lock first-ballot HOF’er. The tape isn’t even close.” Well okay then!

Let’s drop Jonah somewhere in the middle of that Jake Matthews/Joe Thomas continuum. Matthews, who went 1.6 to the Falcons in the 2014 NFL Draft, has started 79 of 80 career games and made his first Pro Bowl in 2018.

Speaking of durability, Jonah Williams started every game at Alabama. A five-star recruit and the No. 2 OT in the 2016 class per the 247Sports Composite Rankings, Williams won the starting right tackle job in a runaway out of camp and earned Freshman All-American honors. He took over for Cam Robinson at LT the next year and won Third-Team All-American honors on the title team. 

In 2018, Jonah was a unanimous First-Team All-American in a prolific offense.* In all, he allowed only 2.5 sacks and eight pressures over 831 collegiate pass pro snaps. His Alabama bio states that Williams had a 98.6-percent success rate on blocking assignments in college. That’s such a Nick Saban thing to include in the bio. I love it.

*Side note I hate to mention because it could be misappropriated by OG Jonah Williams Truthers: because Tua Tagovailoa is left-handed, Jonah only started one year on the blindside in college).

From a technical perspective, the Joe Thomas comp more or less jives. Both are high-level black belt Brazilian jiujitsu technicians. Williams’ athletic profile is poor, but you wouldn’t know it from watching him. He’s just so damn smooth, with not a flinch of wasted motion. He’s also extremely sturdy, the kind of guy who could have been a deckhand, always walking perfectly balanced without aid even as the deck sways in choppy waters.

Williams also compensates for a lack of movement skills with next-level gridiron smarts. You know in The Terminator when you get to look out of The Terminator’s POV and see it analyzing everything? That’s Jonah. We’re talking full-spectrum vision on a cyborg blocking machine. The kid has a legendary work ethic. And yes, that built him physically and technically into what he is and all that good stuff.

But watching him play, you also wonder if he hit this sort of event horizon where he’d watched so much tape, and taken so many reps, and visualized the outcomes of so many plays, and watched so many coaching videos on YouTube, that, at some point, like a mystic, he became self-actualized. And at that point, Jonah wasn’t “diagnosing” anymore. 

Because diagnosing implies two actions, examination and identification. You tell the doctor what’s wrong, he tells you what illness you have. He’s processing what you’re saying, and then he’s remembering what he learned, and then he’s telling you what you have. At some point in Jonah Williams’ journey, examination and identification became the same thing. He just knew.

For other linemen, diagnosing means seeing, extrapolating, deciding, acting. Jonah does. He is not strangling his consciousness by straining for answers, he trusts it implicitly and acts in real time. He’s The Terminator. There isn’t a lick of emotion on the gridiron. It’s a job.

There is a thought that Jonah Williams can’t hang at left tackle. He’s physically unimposing, he’s not a great athlete, and he’s got sub-threshold arm length, which in essence means that he’s got a smaller net than other tackles when fishing, smaller margin for error. A reporter asked Williams about arm length.

Classic.

If you want to make Jonah an All-Pro guard or center, great. But I find it very hard to digest the argument that Jonah Williams would not be a good NFL left tackle. Have you seen some of the uncoordinated stiffs playing left tackle in the NFL? 

You’re telling me that a kid who understands football and line play like Mozart understood the piano and music writing is going to fail at composing a compelling symphony because more instruments are involved? Let’s definitely not ship him to Canton tomorrow. I agree that size and athletic dimensions cap the ceiling. But let’s be honest here. Jonah Williams isn’t failing at any offensive line position. Stop with that.


3. Jawaan Taylor (Florida) | 6’5/310

Age: 21.8

SPARQ percentile: N/A

Comp: Trent Williams (Chris Trepasso)


jawaan taylor combine graph

During our run through the offensive line prospects in this series, we’ve talked about so many kids who were overlooked out of high school because they weighed less than 250 pounds. Taylor, ahem, didn’t have that issue.

A 380-pound three-star recruit in the 2016 class, Taylor drew offers from all over the country, even though he was only ranked as the 247Sport Composite’s No. 941 overall recruit. Even those who doubted Taylor had to concede that he had an enormous ceiling. 

ESPN, which ranked Taylor the No. 110 recruit in the state of Florida. summed up his scouting report with this: “Massive physical presence that with continued development can be an effective interior player in more of a power run game scheme. If he watches his size and even potentially better maximizes that size, that bar of effectiveness as a player could rise, even quite a bit.”

If he hadn’t decided to stay local at Florida, Jawaan could have spent the past three years competing for national titles at Clemson, Ohio State or Georgia. Instead he chose Florida, who went with a tough love approach. The Gators told Taylor he needed to lose weight before they’d offer a scholarship. Taylor took that to heart — he was down to 347 by the time he signed his LOI.

He quickly learned that losses off the field could lead to to gains on it. Taylor started in the SEC as a true freshman en route to Freshman All-American honors. His sophomore year wasn’t as strong, and I questioned some of the hype I saw Taylor getting last summer. 

But in 2018, Taylor made enormous developmental leap and flashed his ceiling. He was a bulldozing DE-eraser in the run game who could more than hold his own in pass pro on the right side due to quick feet. Taylor humbled big-name edge rushers. On the field, he’s an electric fence — when you touch him, you shudder and stop.

And because of his nimble feet, Taylor also is an issue for linebackers in the run game. He gets on top of them quickly, gets his hands on them, and removes them from the area. Florida weaponized Taylor’s athleticism this past year, calling for him to pull on certain run plays and sprint to the perimeter on quick receiver screens on others. When he’s bearing down on a target, Taylor moves more like a linebacker than an offensive tackle — quick, purposeful and in-control.

But he isn’t just an elite run blocker. For a player who was always seen as a boom-or-bust guard prospect, Taylor actually developed — in three short years — into one of the country’s best pass-protecting right tackles. Taylor’s game is based on a primo combination of power, contact balance and quickness, like the Jerome Bettis of tackle prospects. 

Bull-rushing the guy is out of the question. He’ll stone you in your tracks. With that off the table, he’s in the batter’s box thinking about one less pitch that a pitcher can throw. And that makes it even harder to beat him with speed (ask Brian Burns) — he can compensate because you’ll never beat him with power no matter what.

But that cuts both ways. As Taylor strove to prove people wrong about not being quick enough to handle outside speed, he began sitting on the outside heat, speed. The way to get the best of Taylor is well known. You combo moves and veer inside. He’s very concerned about not getting outraced — fake outside, cut inside when he commits. If you time it right, by the time he’s shifted his weight back, you haven’t left him much of a target to hit.

Because of that famous hole in his swing, Taylor probably needs a general overhaul in his approach to pass pro. He’s not broken, but pitchers are going to continue attacking his cold zone over and over again in the NFL until/unless it’s fixed.

Taylor’s other big issue is penalties, particularly false starts. He was flagged for 22 accepted penalties in 37 games over three years, an abysmal number. He’s an intense kid who’s like a pit bull pulling against his chain pre-snap. Taylor needs to take a chill pill.

Taylor will be a plus starter immediately at right tackle if his next coaching staff can refine his approach in the passing game. If not, he’s going to be forced inside, where Taylor projects as a potential Pro Bowl guard. There are enough questions in the profile for me to knock him beneath Dillard and Jonah. But Taylor is without question a Round 1 talent, a guy who’ll still likely succeed even if he can’t address his most glaring weakness.


4. Cody Ford (Oklahoma) | 6’4/329

Age: 22.7

SPARQ percentile: 34.0

Comp: Brandon Brooks (Charlie Campbell)


cody ford combine

I’m drafting Cody Ford as right tackle first and making him fail in camp before I consider kicking him inside. Ford is short — measuring in at 6’3 3/4 — and his arms are of average length, but he’s longer than he appears in part because he’s so dang wide. Ford’s wingspan is in the 63rd percentile of NFL tackles who’ve measured in at the NFL Combine. 

A former guard, Ford got his shot outside when Orlando Brown left for the NFL (Bobby Evans kicked to left tackle, opening up the right side). Ford dedicated himself to the transition, losing 15 pounds while working on footwork and foot speed.

Ford was always a strong pass-blocking guard. And in 2018, he proved that he could translate that aspect of his game to the outside. Ford was one of PFF’s highest-graded pass blocking tackles in the entire country. 

And while his overall run-blocking grade was good, Ford got licked on more reps than he should have. In general, he’s a springy sledgehammer with a nasty finishing streak who reaches his target in a blink, like an arrow. 

But at random times Ford lines up with two left feet and his mind on matters outside the stadium, leading to embarrassing reps that ruin plays. He’d get crossed up by a standard counter move, he’d mistime the moment of contact and absorb the worst of it, or he’d uncoil at the wrong angle and be forced to reach.

None of that is an indictment of effort. He’s built Ford Tough, with a motor doesn’t shut off. But Ford needs to lock his mind onto the game in the same way he has his body. That development would also probably take care of some of his other micro-level issues, like a propensity to play out of control or get off balance because of shoddy footwork. 

Ford didn’t test very well — and he wouldn’t be much of an athlete on a track field — but the explosive quickness seen on tape shined through on his jumps, both of which were above the 55th percentile. The game is power and quickness. 

Ford played so well outside in last year’s transcendent Oklahoma offense that he should be given a shot to see if his unique game can translate to the same position in the NFL. Like Taylor, Ford’s floor is high because if he fails at RT, his game smoothly translates inside. Because of that, I think Ford is worth a late-Round 1 investment.

Thor Nystrom

Thor Nystrom is Rotoworld’s lead CFB writer. The 2018 FSWA College Sports Writer of the Year, Nystrom’s writing has also been honored by Rolling Stone magazine and The Best American Essays series. Say hi to him on Twitter @thorku!