2014 NFL draft position rankings: Jake Matthews, Greg Robinson headline tackle group
There were five offensive tackles taken in Round 1 last year, matching defensive end for the most picks from any single position group on the draft's opening day.
This time around, quarterbacks have stolen the spotlight -- Blake Bortles, Teddy Bridgewater and Johnny Manziel are all possible options in the top five. Wide receivers could storm the castle, too, with Sammy Watkins and Mike Evans leading a cornucopia of potential Round 1 talent. Edge-rushers again will be in demand, the safety spot is top-heavy and at least three or four cornerbacks may be off the board early.
Still, for all that, Day 1 may belong to the offensive tackles again. A trio of OTs have the look of top-10 talent, with several others not far off their heels. If nothing else, there figures to be a run at this position somewhere before Round 3 wraps on Friday.
1. Jake Matthews, Texas A&M: Depending on where Johnny Manziel winds up, the offensive line on his next team may not be able to protect him as well as the one on his former team did. Two seasons ago, Manziel had Luke Joeckel (2013 No. 2 overall pick) at LT and Matthews on the right; this past year, it was Matthews on Manziel's blindside with another future draft pick, Cedric Ogbuehi, at right tackle.
Manziel's ability to clear the pocket and create can cover up some blocking deficiencies. Only, at least in Matthews' case, there rarely were any.
The son of Hall of Famer Bruce Matthews and cousin of Green Bay's Clay Matthews, Jake Matthews ought to carve out his own niche in the NFL. He's a technician as a blocker, from his footwork to his hand position. And speaking of that footwork, don't be surprised if teams utilize him often in the screen game or by running wide to his side of the field.
The lone argument against Matthews as the top tackle is that Greg Robinson may have more long-term upside.
"Being considered a polished player, someone who’s done a lot and played well in my life, I’ll take that as a [compliment]," Matthews said at the combine. "I definitely wouldn’t say I’m at my peak –- a lot more I can learn, a lot more I can get better at."
Draft projection: Top 10
2. Greg Robinson, Auburn: Rare is the occasion that a 332-pound man sprinting in bike shorts turns into must-see viewing. Yet, that's what happened at the combine as Robinson blew down the Lucas Oil Stadium turf with a 4.92 time in his 40-yard dash.
Therein lies most of the appeal with Robinson. Despite his hulking since (6-foot-5), he still can be classified as an athlete, which is a bit of a rarity along the O-line. The combination of power and quickness will have NFL scouts viewing him as a franchise left tackle -- someone who can be dropped in as a starter at training camp and left there for a decade.
Can Robinson progress quickly enough as a pass-blocker to be a dominant rookie? Auburn was a very run-heavy offense, leaving minimal evidence that Robinson can hold his own when his quarterback drops to throw.
"I understand about the run blocking because I worked on a lot. I’ve also worked the pass," he said. "It was limited. I feel I’m decent enough, and I will prove myself and I will prove myself if there’s anybody doubting that I can’t pass block."
Draft projection: Top 10
3. Taylor Lewan, Michigan: Lewan likely would have been a top-10 pick following the 2012 season but decided instead to return to Michigan. The road was rockier as a senior -- the Wolverines were a mess on offense and Lewan recently was hit with multiple charges stemming from an incident that occurred after his team lost to Ohio State.
Assuming teams can get past the off-field issue, Lewan will warrant an early selection. Among the heaviest criticism lofted Lewan's way in college was that he sometimes skirted the rules to play a feisty game. NFL teams will not mind that tenacity, though, especially since it comes as a package deal with Lewan's excellent agility from the left tackle spot.
Draft projection: mid-Round 1
4. Zack Martin, Notre Dame: A 52-game starter for the Irish, Martin repeatedly proved himself to be a dependable blocker outside. That statement holds true in both the run and pass game, though Martin's quickness could turn him into more of an NFL force in the former.
Is a move to guard in Martin's future? Many NFL minds think so, even though he never played there at Notre Dame. An element at play in the decision: wingspan. Martin measured in at 32 7/8 inches for arm length at the combine, more than two inches shorter than Robinson, for example. It may not sound like much, but when an edge rusher is trying to turn the corner, those extra couple inches can make or break a tackle.
Draft projection: late Round 1
5. Cyrus Kouandjio, Alabama: The notion of a prospect's "stock" is an overplayed one in draft parlance. Here, however, the term applies. Few players in this class have seen their stock tumble quite like Kouandjio, once viewed as the possible top OT. With the draft little more than a month away, he's fighting to hold off those below him at the position following a brutal combine and shaky medical reports about his knee. When Kouandjio is on, few tackles can match his massive power. He just needs to be on more often.
Draft projection: Round 2
6. Morgan Moses, Virginia: There is little debate that Morgan improved as his final season with the Cavaliers progressed. He does carry ideal size (6-6, 314) and argued at the combine that he can play any position along the line. That weight transfers into power for Moses when he can get his hands on opposing defenders.
The reason teams might hesitate falls in line with the Kouandjio scouting report, sans injury: Moses runs a little hot and cold on the field, even looking disinterested from time to time.
Draft projection: Round 2-3
7. Joel Bitonio, Nevada: Another college tackle who, like Martin, probably has a brighter future as an interior blocker. Despite being a top athlete among linemen this year (4.97 40, 32-inch vertical, 4.44 three-cone), Bitonio may not have the strength required to lock down an edge in the NFL. During Nevada's recent pro day, Bitonio put in some work at center, in addition to guard and tackle.
Draft projection: Round 3
8. Billy Turner, North Dakota State: Flew somewhat under the radar because of the minimal exposure he received playing in North Dakota. But Turner is a well-known commodity by this point -- and at 6-5, 315 with the ability to power through defenders, he could intrigue a team on Day 2 of the draft. Turner will require some time to improve his technique, whether he stays at tackle or bumps to guard. The end result could be special.
Draft projection: Round 3-4
9. Jack Mewhort, Ohio State: In case you haven't picked up on it through the first eight guys here, the buzzword for this position group is "versatility". Mewhort, the Buckeyes' left tackle, may fit more snugly in the NFL as a right tackle and could be a swing guard/center for a team hoping to bulk up its depth chart. He does not have the quickness of others ahead of him here, nor can he bury defenders consistently. What Mewhort will give a team is a very steady lineman with a running motor.
Draft projection: Round 3-4
10. Antonio Richardson, Tennessee: Opinions vary rather wildly on Richardson, who needed knee surgery after the 2012 season and recently told The Tennessean that he played in '13 at "about 65 percent."
If that is an accurate assessment, it certainly would help explain why Richardson had so many stretches last season where he simply looked overwhelmed. Standing 6-6 and 336 pounds, Richardson does offer more than enough at tackle to warrant a pick somewhere in the middle rounds. How high he winds up being taken will depend on whether or not teams believe him about the injury causing a shaky 2013. Draft projection: Round 3-4