First-round-bound offensive tackles like Iowa's Brandon Scherff and LSU's La'el Collins were solid against elite college competition, but who will adapt most smoothly once their names are called in the 2015 NFL draft?
Drafting an elite offensive tackle is often lauded as one of the most sound decisions any NFL team can make. It's easy to project star potential onto power-conference tackles who regularly faced the best competition in the nation in college, but it doesn't always work out that way—especially in the early years of those players' careers.
The Rams took Auburn's Greg Robinson with the second overall pick in 2014, but they are still vacillating on whether his future lies at tackle or guard. Texas A&M's Jake Matthews was hailed as perhaps the most NFL-ready prospect at the position when the Falcons took him with the sixth pick. In his rookie campaign, Matthews allowed seven sacks, nine quarterback hits and 35 quarterback hurries, according to Pro Football Focus. Only four tackles allowed more total pressures in the NFL last season, and one of them was Dolphins rookie Ju'Wuan James, who was taken with the 19th pick. After a strong preseason, James took his lumps in the regular season, allowing six sacks, 12 hits and 40 hurries.
Each of these players could be great in time, but the transition from college to the pros is rarely accomplished overnight, as a closer look at every draft class of tackles will tell you. NFL defenses are increasingly multiple and full of more athletic personnel, while offenses are more complex as well.
Few (if any) of the tackles listed below will look like the locks they seemed to be in college once they hit the NFL. And just as certainly, a few of these players will overcome their early difficulties to become the bedrock of the franchises that select them. No matter what, allow some time for the 10 talents in our tackle rankings to show their true value.
1. Brandon Scherff, Iowa: Iowa offensive linemen have been thought to be among the safest and most pro-ready prospects for years, and that's a testament to head coach Kirk Ferentz's acumen. Of course, "pro-ready" can also mean "low ceiling," and Scherff shows both sides of the equation. On the plus side, the 6'5", 319-pound Scherff checks all the boxes: He's a weight-room freak who brings all that strength to the field, he's very agile outside and to the second level, and he gets all the little things. And there aren't many concerns about him off the field—he was a four-year member of the school's Leadership Group. But Scherff needs to be more consistent in maintaining his blocks through the play, and his kick-step in pass protection is a work in progress. The weaknesses have some thinking he would be a better guard in the NFL, but I see him as a power tackle with a few things to improve upon and the potential to be a healthy version of Jake Long.
Projection: Top-15 pick
2. La'el Collins, LSU: Most LSU players need time to work their way into consistent playing time because the Tigers have so much talent, but Collins played seven games at left guard as a true freshman, became the starter at right guard the next season and switched to the starting left tackle position for the 2013 season. Perhaps the most impressive thing about Collins is that he's often the toughest guy on the field against some pretty imposing competition. At 6'4" and 305 pounds, he uses a quick burst off the snap and extreme leverage to push defenders around on a regular basis. He may be the best pure run-blocker in this draft class, regardless of position. Where Collins struggles is in his short-area quickness. He's inconsistent maintaining his blocks, he'll get out of position and lunge around, and he's vulnerable to quick inside and outside moves. Like Scherff, he's going to be projected by some as a guard convert in the NFL, and in Collins's case, it could be a great fit. If not, he's best suited for a run-first power offense.
Projection: Mid-first round
3. Andrus Peat, Stanford: Through the Jim Harbaugh and David Shaw eras, Stanford linemen have been highly regarded for their combination of athleticism and intelligence—with Jonathan Martin's low ceiling in the NFL a notable exception. Peat brings a level of athleticism that Martin never had. The 2014 Morris Trophy winner started at left tackle for the Cardinal throughout 2013 and 2014, using his 6'7", 313-pound frame to alternate between mauling opponents and dancing them out of the way. Peat is a very aware athlete who will block with authority at the line and second level, and he's got the potential to be a top-level NFL pass-blocker. He needs to play lower and nastier, and he would benefit from being less reactive at times.
Projection: Mid- to late-first round
4. T.J. Clemmings, Pitt: Clemmings played defensive end for the Panthers before switching to starting right tackle for the 2013 and 2014 campaigns. As a newcomer to the offensive side of the ball, he's going to need more finishing work, but the buzz around this 6'5", 309-pound prospect is legit. Clemmings has very quick feet, he understands leverage (gets under his opponents' pads with impressive consistency), and once he gets his second foot on the ground in pass protection, it's game over for defenders. He has the wingspan and upper-body strength to simply envelop people. The issues he'll bring to the NFL are common among less experienced players. Clemmings isn't consistent in pass protection, he can be fooled by stunts and twists, and he's much better in pass-blocking out of a two-point stance because it allows quicker reaction. But the NFL team that puts in the work with him could be rewarded over time with the best overall tackle in this class.
Projection: Mid- to late-first round
5. Jake Fisher, Oregon: There's no questioning Fisher's toughness and adaptability. He had been the Ducks' starting right tackle for two straight years coming into the 2014 season, but an injury to left tackle Tyler Johnstone forced Fisher to the left side. It was a role he adapted to well, despite dealing with injuries of his own. He's a plug-and-play guy at right tackle, but it wouldn't be entirely surprising if the left tackle designation stuck at the next level. Fisher is a good athlete with the ability to keep defenders at arm's length in pass protection, and he kicks out to the seam and the second level quickly. He's not a mauler per se, but he does have an excellent base of technique that would go well with a quicker offense that features multiple concepts.
Projection: Early second round
6. Ereck Flowers, Miami: Those NFL teams looking for a big man who can win on the move will certainly find Flowers appealing—he's 6'6", 329 pounds, and he can hoof it to the second level. He uses his wide wingspan and sheer girth to attack defenders, and that's a very effective strategy. Where Flowers will take hits in the evaluation process is in his technique. He doesn't show up well at all in pass protection, and there are times when he appears to be a tick late off the snap. Speed rushers may eat him for lunch in the NFL. Flowers is going to be scheme-limited as a result, but there are enough teams who value power in their outside blockers to make him a legitimate starting prospect.
Projection: Mid-second round
7. D.J. Humphries, Florida: Humphries would likely be higher on this list if not for the knee and ankle injuries that limited him in college, but as they say, durability is a skill. And it's a shame, because in a vacuum, Humphries has just about everything you'd like to see in a prototypical left tackle. He's got the size, the agility and, at times, the nasty finishing demeanor. He has been dinged for an off-and-on motor, but we don't know how much of that has been due to injury. Humphries has a "buyer beware" sticker on him, but he's worth a chip on the second day of the draft.
Projection: Mid- to late-second round
8. Cedric Ogbuehi, Texas A&M: The Aggies got Ogbuehi in the same 2010 recruiting haul that brought Luke Joeckel and Matthews to College Station—not a bad offensive line group at all. After Joeckel and Matthews left for the NFL, Ogbuehi kicked to left tackle in 2014 and showed not only the strength and power that made him an excellent guard, but also the great feet and athleticism required at the left tackle position. Like Humphries, Ogbuehi has had some pretty serious injury issues, including a torn ACL he suffered in the Liberty Bowl. And like Humphries, he's got most of the attributes you'd want outside of that. He could stand to play with better leverage, but he fits the profile as well as anyone in this group.
Projection: Mid- to late-second round
9. Ty Sambrailo, Colorado State: Before he started taking on enemy defenders on the football field, Sambrailo was a freestyle skiing champion in his age group, able to impress with flips and other tricks. He's not quite that adept on the field, but Sambrailo does display quickness and athleticism, notably in a pass-pro kick-step that's good enough and can be coached up. He's a smart player with a clear mean streak when he needs to finish in the run game. However, he doesn't have the root strength to win physical battles when he's not aligned in his base, and he can be pushed around by bigger, more practiced opponents. He's not an ideal second-level blocker, and he's had some off-field incidents that will require some vetting. Sambrailo may be best as a guard or a right tackle at the next level.
Projection: Third round
10. Daryl Williams, Oklahoma: At 6'5" and 327 pounds, Williams looks and plays like the right tackle you'd find if you looked the term up in the dictionary—he's got a wide and powerful base, he's quicker off the snap than you may think, and he's got decent technique. What will most likely prevent him from becoming the sixth Sooners offensive lineman taken in the first round in the Bob Stoops era is his occasional bouts with balance (he lunges at speed rushers too often) and footwork that doesn't always line up with his power. With more coaching and a clearly defined role, he does have exciting potential as a power blocker in the NFL.
Projection: Third round