This year’s senior class at offensive tackle is an unbalanced group. At the top you have Jake Matthews seen by many as a top-3 talent and even Taylor Lewan will be a first-round pick. But things get a little crazy after that with numerous tackles from around the country scrambled amongst rankings. Here are my top-five senior offensive tackle prospects.
5. Seantrel Henderson, Miami (Florida)
From a physical standpoint, Henderson might be the best offensive tackle prospect in the entire class and absolutely worthy of a top-15 selection.
At 6’8’ and 345 pounds, he is a monster of a man and you can see why he was a five-star recruit just a few years ago. Henderson hasn’t played much the past two years for the Hurricanes in part because of a suspension this year for violation of team rules and being overweight in 2012.
These will be two big questions facing Henderson throughout the draft process with his work ethic a major point of questioning. When you do watch Henderson’s games over the past two years it isn’t difficult to see how gifted he is. Not just his size and strength, but how easily he moves in pass protection and getting to the second level.
Henderson doesn’t have great awareness, he will at times be slow off the snap and not deliver his punch in time. But part of this could be a lack of playing time and just not being extremely familiar with the snap count and the plays.
If he can put it all together and stay out of trouble, spend time in the weight room and stay in shape, he will be a starter for the team that drafts him and could be one of the steals of the draft.
The Senior Bowl will give Henderson a chance to show he is in shape, answer questions about his maturity and dominate during the week to push his draft stock back up the board.
4. Taylor Lewan, Michigan
Lewan was a projected top-15 pick before the 2013 NFL Draft but made the decision to return to Michigan for his senior season and potentially increase his stock in hopes of becoming the best offensive tackle in the 2014 class.
Unfortunately, his senior season hasn’t exactly gone the way he probably hoped and now he might be looking at falling towards the end of the first round. Lewan has talent, he has shown this year and in 2012 that he is a good athlete who can get to the second level quickly and establish blocks.
He offers an ideal frame at 6’8’ and 308 pounds, but his feet can’t catch up with his body and can get lose his balance allowing the pass rusher to slip past him or power through him.
Where Lewan really struggles to show consistency is with his hand placement. They just wander at times throughout the game and you will see him grabbing an opponent by the facemask or holding on to his jersey when he gets beat.
When things start to go bad, Lewan starts to zone out and lose his focus in making sure he gets low and is driving his hands to the right spot. There is some talent with Lewan but his draft stock right now is more on name value than talent.
3. Ja’Wuan James, Tennessee
At the third spot I have a player who I have become very familiar with over the years, as someone who has watched the Volunteers often, Ja’Wuan James has been on my screen on many occasions.
While James may not be getting a lot of attention now, he will have a chance to prove himself when he arrives at the Senior Bowl. James still struggles with his technique and especially showing consistent effort.
While the Volunteers’ have shuffled coaches in and out the door, James’ problems still fall substantially on him. One game you will see him get low and drive through his block, delivering a powerful punch to the defensive lineman and pushing him back.
But then there will be stretches where he gets too high, and tries to grab at the defender while his feet aren’t planted. He loses his anchor and quickly is beat his man, who shoves him aside and gets to the quarterback or into the backfield.
The big thing for James at the Senior Bowl will be running at full speed on every play. He took plays off in college, not setting his feet and just trying to grab his opponent by the shoulders. If James can show more effort consistently and work with coaches, his size and athleticism will be maximized and he could start at either right or left tackle in the NFL.
2. Billy Turner, North Dakota State
It may seem awfully high to have an FCS offensive tackle prospect this high and while you certainly can question the level of competition he has battled against, there is simply no denying his physical ability.
At 6’6” and 315 pounds Turner consistently shows the physical side of his game, shoving pass rushers around down the field and flipping them on to the turf.
Turner’s best right now in run-blocking when he can take his mean, aggressive style and punch the man in front of him, getting his hands inside and powering through to create space for his running back. Turner also is a nice athlete for someone with his size, while his footwork needs improvement he moves pretty quickly.
From a technique standpoint, Turner still needs a lot of work especially in pass protection where he needs to be more consistent with his pad level and establishing leverage off the snap.
A team will take some risk by taking him but if it pays off you are talking about one of the premier tackles in this draft.
1. Jake Matthews, Texas A&M
Matthews is without a doubt not just the best senior offensive tackle prospect but also the unquestioned top player at his position in this class.
Matthews played right tackle for the Aggies while current Jacksonville Jaguars tackle Luke Joeckel manned the left side. Once Joeckel left, Matthews took over and showed immediately why he is the best in this class.
He does a lot of things very well but the thing coaches will love most about Matthews is that he is a technician. Everything from his stance to his footwork, hand placement and awareness, he possesses it all and excels. He will start immediately for his new team at left tackle and provide elite protection for the next decade.