As the 2016 NFL draft approaches, it’s time for all 32 teams to finish the process of getting their draft boards in order and ranking players based on their own preferences. At SI, it’s time for us to do that as well. To that end, Doug Farrar has assembled his own Big Board, with his top 50 players.
The SI 50 uses tape study to define the best prospects in this class and explain why they’re slotted as such. We continue with a left tackle who is pro-ready from day one, even if he isn’t this year’s best prospect at his position.
5. Ronnie Stanley, OT, Notre Dame
Height: 6' 6" Weight: 312
Bio: A lot of people thought that Ronnie Stanley might have turned pro after his 2014 season, but he returned for his redshirt junior season and solidified his position as one of the best blockers in his class. After a true freshman campaign cut short by injuries, he became a rock on Notre Dame’s offensive line. He started every game at right tackle in ’13 and moved to the left side the next year to replace Zack Martin. Last season, he gave up three sacks, four hits and seven hurries in 458 pass-blocking snaps. From a pass-blocking perspective, he’s become as pro-ready as you’ll see. Unlike Martin, Stanley has all the tools to stay on the left edge at the NFL level.
His opponents would generally agree. USC’s Su’a Cravens, perhaps the best blitzing safety in this draft class, recently told me that nobody gave him more trouble than Stanley.
“He’s a crazy athlete,” Cravens said. “He’s going to kick-step as fast as you can run and stay square. It’s hard to open him up and try to bend that edge on him, because he’s going to grab you as soon as you come close. With a guy like that, you have to run stunts, because he’s hard to beat as a speed rusher.”
And what of the concerns about Stanley’s power, or effort level, or transition to the NFL? Stanley has a ready answer for just about anything.
“I can translate what I did in college to the NFL, and also, I’m going to improve, I’m going to keep trying to get better,” he said at the combine in February. “I never feel I’ve made it to a certain point that I don’t think I can be better. That’s something I always do is try to improve. I would say I’m always at my best at whatever I’m feeling at the time. I always refocus myself to know what’s important during that play. That’s when you need to be at your best every single play. That’s my focus.”
The few things Stanley needs to correct to make a smooth transition are fixable with time.
Strengths: Stanley is extremely quick and agile on the move. He has an outstanding kick-step which he will adjust on the fly to inside counters and changes in pursuit angles. He can mirror out to the seam, and he rarely looks lost in space, making it very difficult for edge rushers to outrun him to the pocket. Drives the first punch in pass-pro most often. Resets very well if he gets out of sorts with technique. Shifts laterally very well and will lock on from the kick when rushers take the initiative. As Cravens pointed out, Stanley does a very good job of moving his body around the arc and is tough to beat outside as a result. When rushers do slip off to the side from the arc, he can easily transition without lunging and losing power.
Gets to the second level quickly and walls off his targets with hand and foot work more than amazing strength. Operates equally well from two- and three-point stances. Uses his very long arms (35 5/8") to put defenders back on their heels and force them to adjust. Has elite zone potential with the demonstrated ability to work from one defender to the next, and to keep his head on a swivel, adjusting to line games. Smart enough to discern who’s the primary target on blitzes. Can move opponents as long as he starts low and fast; Stanley can use his legs to propel and work defenders back, though again it’s with technique as opposed to raw power. Uses his hands to turn the defender’s shoulder and create leverage advantages. Can ride a guy out of the picture with arm bars. Excellent blocker on screens because he’s fast enough to get upfield. Shows technical refinement and proficiency even in the rawer aspects of his game.
Weaknesses: Play strength can be an issue for Stanley. If he comes off the snap late or high at all, he can be pushed back outside by stronger ends and inside by tackles. Consistent technique will be of paramount importance for him in the run game as he improves his root leverage in the pros, especially in his upper body. At times, he will fail to finish blocks, allowing defenders to sneak through. Uses shoulder-shivers when he should align and engage, and he needs to lead with his hands at all times. Wall-off technique is inconsistent at the line of scrimmage; he needs to square to the target with power and establish the point of attack. Needs to be nastier and more of a finisher in the run game in general. Outside arm bar technique could lead to holding calls in the NFL by more touchy officiating crews. Kind of a tweener from a build perspective: his lower body shows power, but he isn’t always able to use it force due to how he directs the power from his upper body. Penalties can be a problem—he logged 11 last season.
Conclusion: Pass-heavy teams will love Stanley, especially those teams that use a lot of three- and five-step drops. That said, he can sustain blocks in pass pro for as long as the quarterback wants to drop back. It could easily be argued that Stanley has the most potential of any pass blocker in this draft class. Where he comes up short is his inconsistency in the run game. He’ll have the frame to bull through NFL defenders if he gets his upper body together and maintains his technique in power situations, but it’s easy to see teams like the Panthers and Seahawks looking at him as a player in transition. Not that he’ll drop to Carolina and Seattle’s half of the first round. The NFL is a passing league, and whatever his current flaws may be, Ronnie Stanley already has the look of a starting NFL left tackle.
Pro Comparison: Ryan Clady, Jets (first round, 2008, Broncos, Boise State)