With the 2016 NFL draft just about a week away, it’s time for all 32 NFL 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 why they’re slotted as such. As we move through the top five, we’ll be doing more comprehensive single player reports, and we continue with the best offensive lineman—and offensive player—in this draft class.
3. Laremy Tunsil, OT, Ole Miss
Height: 6' 5" Weight: 310
Bio: The value of the truly great left tackle has been set in stone for years, buttressed by the simple fact that they don’t come along that often. Most blind-side protectors, even those with first-round talent, have obvious flaws that the player may or may not be able to correct. Teams are happy to adapt if the player is close, but they’re always hoping for more, especially given the high bust rate among highly-drafted line prospects in recent years. Spread offenses, technique issues, incomplete teaching and coaching and several other factors have led to schematic disconnects, hence why the player with more is more valuable than ever at that position.
Laremy Tunsil is a portal to “more.” A five-star recruit in high school, he chose Ole Miss over Georgia and Alabama and earned the starting job just three games into his freshman campaign. He came back even stronger in 2014 despite missing two games with a partially torn bicep and suffering a dislocated ankle and broken leg in Ole Miss’s Peach Bowl loss to TCU.
After he rehabbed his injuries through the 2015 preseason, more bad news came: Tunsil was charged with domestic assault against his stepfather last June (he was allegedly protecting his mother), and he was suspended for the first seven games of season for taking impermissible benefits and failing to be forthcoming with NCAA investigators. But when he returned against Texas A&M, Tunsil looked as if he hadn’t missed a beat, and that continued through the rest of his truncated junior season. Despite never starting a full season for Ole Miss, Tunsil made the call to declare for the 2016 draft in January.
Tunsil likely thought his tape was good enough to get drafted, and he’s right. Last season, he gave up zero sacks, zero hits and five quarterback hurries in 235 pass-blocking snaps, and the only charted sack he allowed in his college career came back during his freshman season. Over the last three seasons, he kept his quarterbacks clean more consistently than any other high-level tackle.
“I think I have the great feet, the great frame. I just think I’m the best. You’ve got to have that swagger about yourself,” Tunsil said at the combine. “You’ve got to be confident.”
Laremy Tunsil is every bit as good as he says he is, with a skill set that projects seamlessly to the NFL level. This is a player who can buck the recent trend of draft busts among high-priced blockers just as seamlessly as he took collegiate edge-rushers out of the picture.
Strengths: Tunsil has the best kick-step of any tackle in this class, bar none. Dances quickly backward and creates a natural arc with excellent body coordination, and will mirror edge rushers through that arc with quick feet and an upper body that consistently keeps to the target. He adjusts well to counters and power moves, as well as to rushers trying to sneak through the back of the pocket. Has no issue setting wider for 9-tech rushers. Keeps his hands and head on a swivel. He’s very tough to beat laterally and will punch and armbar opponents to keep them out of the circle. Clears his lower body seamlessly in his dropbacks so he can physically dominate from the legs up. Maintains a wide base to keep his leverage even when he’s bent back. Powerful run blocker who gets his hands on a defender’s chest and can walk him around the field. Throws a shuddering punch at the point of attack, forcing defenders to recover.
Pinches to the tackle on inside zone run plays with authority and brings an attitude when he’s down-blocking. Gets to the second level very quickly and zeroes in on targets in space; will maintain contact through the play and keeps defenders from slipping off when he drives them back. Reads the action well pre-snap, with demonstrated examples of his ability to go where the play goes. Gets downfield quickly and smoothly to block on screens and maintains his technique and power on the move. Edge-rushers who come at him with nothing but speed won’t get very far. Creates leverage consistently out of two- and three-point stances. Very active player at all times—avoids getting stuck where he can be beaten. Dominated multiple edge-rushers with top-level talent; his Sugar Bowl game where he shut down Oklahoma State’s Emmanuel Ogbah was especially impressive.
Weaknesses: Will occasionally hesitate and over-diagnose at the snap, letting quicker rushers through—though he does have the recovery speed to make up for it. Might be better-suited to a heavy passing attack; would need to add a bit of bulk to run power as a base offense. At times, will over-extend and run past the play design, especially when he’s tasked to be a second-level blocker. Limited snap time due to injuries and suspension could be a concern.
Conclusion: Of all the players in this draft class, Tunsil’s game is the hardest to ding. He’s the most technically correct and consistent player—regardless of position—that I’ve seen this year. That doesn’t mean that he’s a low-ceiling guy, either—with a few technique refinements and a bit more root strength, he has the potential to be even more dominant. There’s no question that he’s a Day 1 starter in the NFL wherever he goes, and unless there’s some sort of weird transitional issue that doesn’t show up on tape, he could have a stack of Pro Bowl trips in his future.
Pro Comparison: Tyron Smith, Cowboys (first round, 2011, USC)