Most of the talk coming out of the NFL Scouting Combine is the status of top-end quarterback prospects leading up to the annual draft in Las Vegas in April.
That’s nice on the surface. However, it’s equally as important for rebuilding squads to find potential franchise left tackles.
In today’s quarterback-driven and pass-first league, a lack of pass protection has continued to prove to be a major issue. Digging deeper, listen to Sportsanut’s podcast NFL Reckless Speculation which hits Apple, Google, and everywhere else you listen to podcasts every Monday and Thursday. If you love the NFL and the mock draft, you’ll love the show.
Here’s the idea: No matter who you have under center, pass protection must hold up. Even mobile quarterbacks such as Russell Wilson have been impacted by bad offensive line play.
To an extent, it’s still about the trenches on both sides of the ball. The Kansas City Chiefs and San Francisco 49ers made it to the Super Bowl this past season primarily due to domination in the trenches.
Sure Patrick Mahomes got most of the press in Kansas City. But if it wasn’t for solid offensive line play, that would not have been the case.
The teams: There’s a number of squads selecting in the top 10 that need major upgrades at left tackle. That’s not even in question.
- New York Giants: Selecting No. 4 overall, our latest mock has New York going with a stud receiver to team up with young quarterback Daniel Jones. However, left tackle is just as important a need. Former free-agent signee Nate Solder just is not the long-term solution.
- Miami Dolphins: The Fins sent franchise left tackle Laremy Tunsil packing in a trade ahead of the 2019 season. It was an absolute shock. Now eyeing a potential franchise quarterback this year, Miami needs to circle back to this position. Left tackle should be in play at five if the Dolphins can’t trade up for a quarterback.
- Carolina Panthers: Wouldn’t it be ironic if Carolina finally exhausted a high pick on a left tackle the same year it moves on from Cam Newton? This has been a major issue for the team over the past several seasons. Daryl Williams and Dennis Daley simply are not the answers.
- Arizona Cardinals: This team’s decision to sign injury-plagued left tackle D.J. Humphries to a three-year, $43.8 million extension threw a lot of people off guard. Humphries missed over half of Arizona’s games in 2017 and 2018 before playing in all 16 outings last season. Even with him aboard, the team must look to protect the edges on the other side for Kyler Murray.
- Cleveland Browns: This one goes without saying. In fact, most experts out there believe that Cleveland will go left tackle at No. 10 overall. That’s only magnified with current left tackle Greg Robinson on his way out of town following some major legal issues. Cleveland needs a left tackle to protect struggling young signal caller Baker Mayfield.
There you have it. At least half of the teams picking in the top 10 are in need of young left tackles. That should lead to a major run at this position early in the 2020 NFL Draft.
There’s good news here, too.
NFL Draft prospects: the 2020 NFL Draft is absolutely loaded at left tackle. In fact, we have four tackles going within the first-11 picks. Let’s focus on them here.
- Andrew Thomas: Having protected Jake Fromm’s blindside the past few years against elite SEC competition for Georgia, Thomas is a plug-and-play left tackle who could end up being a Day 1 Pro Bowler.
- Tristan Wirfs: The pedigree coming out of Iowa and playing in a pro-style offense is going to help the 322-pound Wirfs ascend NFL Draft boards moving forward. It does not hurt that he’s already seen as a potential Day 1 starting guard with the ability to move outside once he adjusts to the speed of the NFL game.
- Austin Jackson: This former USC standout is a bit more of a project. That’s why his floor is likely towards the end of the first round. Despite this, the athleticism and talent is there for this dude to become an elite force. Like others, Jackson could start out at right tackle before moving to the other side of the line.
- Jedrick Willis: Much like Thomas, Willis’ ability to dominate the trenches for Alabama in the SEC will not go unnoticed. The issue here is that he was only tasked with playing right tackle at Bama. Could that be an issue when it comes to Willis’ ceiling?
Teams need to value offensive tackles in today’s NFL. It’s not a surprise that the Chiefs and 49ers have three former first-round picks manning the outside.
San Francisco took out the Green Bay Packers in the NFC Championship Game. Green Bay boasts two high-round picks in that of Bryan Bulaga and David Bakhtiari at tackle.
Heck, the AFC runner-up Tennessee Titans have two former top-10 picks in that of Taylor Lewan and Jack Conklin protecting Ryan Tannehill’s blindide.
It’s all about exhausting assets at this position. Teams selecting in the top 10 should know that very well. No matter who you have under center, pass protection is crucial.
We’re expecting these teams to finally realize that come April, leading to a run of tackles in the bottom half of the top 10. Bank on it.