Scouting Combine Offensive Tackles: Jones and Two Blockers with NFL DNA
Part 2 of our three-part preview of the offensive tackles includes Houston’s Josh Jones, the son of an NFL lineman, the grandson of a former Packers lineman and a native of Jamaica.
Yasir Durant, Missouri (6-7, 330): A junior-college transfer, Durant was a three-year starter at left tackle for the Tigers, where he made 34 starts during that span. He was part of some prolific offenses in 2017 and 2018. Mizzou led the nation in fewest tackles for loss allowed in 2017 and was sixth in 2018. He was SEC offensive lineman of the week for his work against Ole Miss.
Durant showed his athleticism during the team’s annual Fat Man 7-on-7 events. “If we were picking players for a pick-up basketball game, he would be an early pick because he’s bigger and taller than everybody,” his high school coach told the Columbia Missourian. “But (Durant) wasn’t jumping all over the place … He’s not your typical great athlete when you say hop on the vertical jump, the broad jump, the 40 and all that stuff. But his agility and his quickness is pretty good, especially when you’re going against guys coming off the edge. He is always locking on to them.” His ticked-off mom got him to try football as he entered his freshman year of high school. “We had a really big fight, and I was telling him, like, ‘What else are you going to do in life? Look how big you are. You were born to do this,’” Sherelle told Rivals. She used the same line when he initially rejected the idea to go to junior college.
Charlie Heck, North Carolina (6-8, 315): Heck was a three-year starter, including at left tackle for his senior season. He was second-team all-ACC and, according to the coaches, was responsible for allowing just one-third of a sack.
Heck’s dad, Andy, was an All-American offensive lineman at Notre Dame and 12-year NFL veteran who just completed his seventh season as the Chiefs’ O-line coach. A brother, Jon, was a four-year starting right tackle for UNC. Despite the family genetics, Heck wasn’t on recruiting radars after playing tight end in high school. As he told GoHeels.com: "When I first got to Carolina, the roster online said I was No. 83 and I was like, 'All right, I'm playing tight end.' But I show up, (get) No. 67, go to meetings (and am told), 'Here are your knee braces.' So (I went) straight to O-line." Despite the deep football roots, he didn’t play football until he was older. "You've only got so many hits in your body, and if I had a feeling that Jon or Charlie were going to be big guys that wanted to play football, there will be plenty of time for that," Andy Heck told Sporting News. "Charlie played soccer. He played basketball. It was, 'Let's do things that get you out there moving your feet. Let's do things that get you out there competing in a team environment.'"
Justin Herron, Wake Forest (6-5, 290): Herron set a program record with 51 starts and was a team captain as a senior. He missed almost all of the 2018 season with a torn ACL and was all-ACC in academics in 2019.
"I learned that bad things happen but that it's more important how you respond to it," Herron told the school Web site. "No matter what hand you're dealt, you have to have a positive outlook on everything you do. Knowing that I'm coming back has allowed me to attack it every day. It has helped me become a better player, teammate, teacher and student. It has taught me to enjoy the game better. Initially it was hard, not because of prospects of the NFL, but it was hard because I wouldn't have the opportunity to play with Phil, Ryan, or Patrick again.” Those are members of the team’s Beef Boys offensive line. “It’s a great feeling. There are some really great players that have played here. And it’s an honor to be a record-holder here,” Herron told Greensboro.com about the starts record. “I didn’t even think I was going to be here for five years, I thought I was going to come in and play as a freshman. That’s what a freshman thinks.”
Austin Jackson, USC* (6-6, 310): Jackson was a two-year starter at left tackle and a first-team all-conference pick in 2019.
Jackson did more than protect the quarterback’s blind side. He protected his sister. Before the 2019 season, he donated bone marrow in hopes of healing her from a lifelong illness. Autumn Jackson was diagnosed at birth with a rare blood disorder called diamond-blackfan anemia. People with this condition do not make enough red blood cells to carry oxygen to other cells in their body. “My brother is my best friend. Up until he went off to college, I was with him all the time,” she said. The donation caused him to miss summer workouts but was a small sacrifice. Doctors took a large needle and inserted it into his hipbone via his lower back to extract the marrow in a three-hour procedure. “They say the best match is someone in the family,” Austin said. “Then you have to go through 12 different blood tests. They hope to match in about seven or eight out of 12 tests to be a good donor. But luckily, I was a 12 out of 12.”
His grandfather, Melvin Jackson, played offensive tackle at USC. He was part of the Trojans’ 1974 national championship team and was the team’s lineman of the year in 1975. He was a 12th-round pick by the Packers in 1976 who started 34 games in five NFL seasons.
Josh Jones, Houston (6-7, 310): Jones was a four-year starter at left tackle for the Cougars. He started 45 games overall and was a second-team all-conference choice as a senior. At the Senior Bowl, he was selected the North team’s offensive lineman of the week by the South’s defensive linemen. PFF’s scoring of the one-on-ones back up that award. “I just get the job done,” Jones said of his pass protection. “This year I let up four pressures… and a half a sack. I’m dominant at it. I take pride in it. If I give up a pressure, if I’m even close to (giving up) a sack, I’m kicking myself in the butt. It’s just pride. I feel like every O-lineman has that pride.”
Jones considered entering the draft last year but elected to come back for his final season. That meant increased leadership opportunities. “You have to make sure you’re always working, because guys are always looking,” Jones said. “Make sure you do the right thing, make sure they see you doing the right thing, so they can do the right thing.” In high school, he was an accomplished basketball player but he got more recruiting attention in football.
Colton McKivitz, West Virginia (6-7, 312): McKivitz started 47 games, including 12 times at left tackle as a senior, when was second-team All-American and the Big 12’s co-offensive lineman of the year. According to the school, he gave up only one sack and was penalized once for a false start. Previously, he started at right tackle.
“He has made himself a better player,” offensive line coach Matt Moore told the Herald Dispatch. “Every [NFL] guy who comes in here to watch him I tell them, ‘Don’t talk to me about him until you watch him play this year. Then I’ll talk to you,’” said WVU offensive line coach and offensive co-coordinator Matt Moore. “Everybody who’s come through here from an NFL scout standpoint, they’re pleased with what he’s doing.” McKivitz considered entering the NFL Draft last year; he made the right choice by returning to school. “The biggest part that has improved the most is the physicality point of it,” he told Rivals. “The biggest reason I wanted to come back was to get stronger and use that year in the weight room to be a more dominant player and in the games so far it’s showed.” At Union High School, the native of Jacobsburg, Ohio, was all-state in football and basketball. He didn’t start playing football until his sophomore year in high school. “Every so often, you have to take a few moments and kind of reminisce and think about where you came from,” McKivitz told TimesLeaderOnline.com. “For me, I guess it came down to hard work and then being able to capitalize on the opportunities that came from it.”
Lucas Niang, TCU (6-7, 328): Niang missed the second half of his senior season with a hip injury that required surgery. He started for most of his final three seasons at right tackle. On 1,027 pass-blocking snaps in his career, Niang has allowed only 32 pressures, according to PFF. In his career, he allowed one sack and was flagged twice for holding.
Niang considered entering the draft last year but opted to return for his senior season. His goal was to be the first overall pick of the 2020 draft. “Man, I’ve got to prove that I’m the best. I look at myself as the No. 1 overall pick and I guess I haven’t shown the world that. My pass-blocking is fine. I need to definitely dominant in the run, maybe incorporate some NFL technique in my game. I want to show that I can do whatever is needed of me, whatever is asked. A lot of people ask me, ‘Can I play left tackle?’ I played left tackle my whole life until college, so that’s a dumb question.” He didn’t turn 17 until just before his senior year in high school, when his path to the NFL already looked clear. “He’s found that the world is his oyster,” New Canaan (Conn.) coach Lou Marinelli said.
Matt Peart, Connecticut (6-7, 303): Peart was a four-year starter with 48 career starts at both tackle spots. Lining up at right tackle as a senior, he was first-team all-AAC and first-team all-New England.
Peart was born in Kingston, Jamaica, and moved to the Bronx when he was 4. Football wasn’t part of his plans. “I started taking football seriously my junior year. My high school coach, Joe O'Leary, saw me in the dining hall and said, ‘Hey, kid, what are you playing?’ I was actually going to do dance to get more flexible for basketball. He ended up saying, 'No, you're playing football.' That was pretty much the crux of it. I played football.” At UConn, he played with two head coaches and five offensive coordinators. He could have transferred before his final season but elected to stay at UConn. “I decided to stay because UConn was the major D-I program that took a shot on me. I want to pay dividends back to UConn. They took a shot at me, so I’m going to do everything I can for them.” He was selected for this year’s Senior Bowl. “If you put in perspective everything I've been through, it just shows that my love for football is real. It’s like coming up every single day, grinding and being the same guy every single day. Every single down, I want to give 100 percent effort no matter what it is."
Danny Pinter, Ball State (6-4, 300): Pinter started 11 games at tight end as a freshman and sophomore before making the move to tackle. During his final two seasons, he started 24 games at right tackle. As a senior, he helped the Cardinals rush for 200-plus yards in seven of eight conference games and even scored a touchdown against Central Michigan. “I just blurred out,” Pinter told his hometown South Bend Tribune. “We practice that play a lot. We’ve done it for a couple years. I knew it was in the playbook the last couple weeks, so it didn’t surprise me when it was called.”
His move to the offensive line started with a broken foot sustained as a sophomore. “Ball State was my only D-I offer and it came two weeks before Signing Day because one of their tight ends had quit,” he said at the NFLPA all-star game. “I was committed to a D-II school before. In addition, I came in as a tight end and played it for three years, being a starter as well. The next year, my coaches asked me to transition to tackle and I added 50 pounds to do so. I also will have earned a master’s degree by the end of the spring. I’m very thankful for my time and experience at Ball State.” He’s a four-time member of the MAC academic team and the school’s first all-conference lineman since 2013. Pinter earned his bachelor’s degree in just three-and-a-half years, graduating in December 2018 with a 3.72 GPA in Ball State’s business administration program. He was nominated for the Senior CLASS Award. His passion for football started as a fourth-grader, when he watched a Packers-Bears game at Lambeau Field.