2014 NFL Draft Prospects: Offensive Tackles
By David Seigerman
For only the fourth time in NFL history, the top pick of the draft was an offensive tackle.
For only the second time, the first two players taken were tackles.
A third went with the fourth pick (an historic first) and another went 11th. Two more college tackles were taken at Nos. 19 and 20, though they project as guards at the next level.
Opening night of the 2013 NFL Draft was the biggest night for offensive tackles since Sandra Bullock bagged the Best Actress Oscar for The Blind Side.
It’s unrealistic to expect tackles to dominate the top of the draft next year (or ever again). Which is ironic, because three of the tackles expected to be available in the 2014 NFL Draft might be even better pro prospects than Eric Fisher, Luke Joeckel and Lane Johnson. Here’s a look at 10 top tackles expected to be available for the 2014 NFL Draft:
1. Jake Matthews, Texas A&M
6-foot-5, 305 pounds
When you watch film from the 2012 season, it's easy to become confused. Matthews was the Aggies’ right tackle,yet when you see the textbook technique and the way he handles some of the best edge rushers in the SEC, you start to wonder whether you’ve been watching Luke Joeckel by mistake. Joeckel went second in the 2013 draft, and if it weren’t for the presence of Jadeveon Clowney and Teddy Bridgewater, there’s no reason to think Matthews couldn’t go that high next April. He’s almost certain to be drafted higher than his father, Bruce, who went ninth in the legendary 1983 NFL Draft and went on to a 19-year career that ended with a bust in Canton.
2. Cyrus Kouandjio, Alabama
Alabama lost three offensive linemen to the NFL: guard Chance Warmack, who went 10th in the 2013 draft; right tackle D.J. Fluker, who went 11th; and center Barrett Jones, who went in the fourth round. And the offensive lineman with potentially the greatest upside off the Tide’s 2012 title team is their left tackle. Kouandjio is a lean-looking, light-footed 310-pound bulldozer. Coming out of high school, he initially announced his intention to sign with Auburn, only to quickly change his mind and jump to the other side of the Iron Bowl. Pretty ironic, isn’t it, that a guy whose college career began with a waffle is now known for racking up pancakes.
3. Taylor Lewan, Michigan
Just as there were arguments to be made for Fisher, Joeckel and Johnson, there are plenty of people who think Lewan might be the best of the ’14 tackles. In fact, there were some who felt he was a better pro prospect than any in the Class of 2013. He’s got tremendous size and reach, is mobile and smooth. And remember how the Chiefs said a factor in their decision to Fisher with the No. 1 pick was his nastiness? Ask former Michigan State defensive end William Gholston whether Lewan has a mean streak of his own. Lewan will benefit from the new pro-style offense the Wolverines will run this year as they transition from Denard Robinson to Devin Gardner at quarterback.
4. David Yankey, Stanford
After starting 13 games at left guard during Andrew Luck’s final season at Stanford, Yankey moved to left tackle in 2012 and established himself as the premier offensive lineman in the Pac-12. He started all 14 games at left tackle, but he also saw time at three other positions along the offensive line and even lined up as a tight end last year. In those career 27 starts, Stanford has allowed only 24 sacks (though some credit for that has to go to Luck). His NFL future may be at guard, where teams could take advantage of his pulling skills.
5. Antonio Richardson, Tennessee
He’s been called “Tiny” since he was about 15 years old, but there isn’t anything about Richardson – his physique, his play or his potential – that isn’t enormous. He’s a dominating presence and is likely to be the biggest tackle available in next year’s draft. The Vols recognized his upside early enough last season that they moved Dallas Thomas – who went on to be drafted in the third round – from left tackle to guard. With a left side of Tiny and Thomas, Tennessee had five 500-yard games in 2012, including a school-record 718 yards vs. Troy.
6. Morgan Moses, Virginia
Just a bit tinier than Tiny Richardson, Moses spent the last two years as the bookend tackle to Oday Aboushi, a fifth-round pick of the Jets. This year, Moses will slide from right to left tackle, where he’ll get to showcase his pass blocking skills against the best pass rushers in the ACC.
7. James Hurst, North Carolina
The Tar Heels have a ton to replace offensively, from running back Giovani Bernard to three offensive linemen, including Jonathan Cooper, who went to Arizona with the 7th pick in the draft. One place they don’t have to worry is left tackle, where Hurst is a strong, consistent presence.
8. Austin Wentworth, Fresno State
Wentworth has started 26 straight games for the Bulldogs – six at right tackle, seven at guard and the last 13 at left tackle. That’s not the only indicator of Wentworth’s versatility. He was the cornerstone of an offensive line that protected a 4,000-yard passer and opened holes for a running back who had nine 100-yard games. He’s comfortable in all facets of Fresno State’s fast-paced, no huddle, spread offense, and he’ll garner a ton of attention from all the NFL decision makers who will notice Wentworth while scrutinizing game footage of FSU quarterback Derek Carr.
9. Zack Martin, Notre Dame
Martin is going for a rare superfecta – the fifth-year senior has a chance to be named Notre Dame’s Offensive Lineman of the Year for the fourth year in a row. He’s started 39 straight games for the Irish, primarily at left tackle, where he’s been the anchor of a line that has allowed 1.4 sacks per game over that span. Notre Dame also had seven 200-yard rushing games in 2012, the most such outings in 16 seasons.
10. Jake Olson, Central Michigan
There are other names that belong on this list ahead of Olson: Tennesse’s Ja’Wuan James, Stanford’s Cameron Fleming, maybe another 8-10 or so. But c’mon . . . after Joe Staley and Eric Fisher, if you’re playing left tackle at Central Michigan, you’ve earned the benefit of the doubt. We're not missing the boat two years in a row. In reality, Olson is probably less likely to be drafted in the first three rounds than Fisher was to be the No. 1 overall pick (at least Fisher was a third-team all-MAC selection heading into his senior season). Olson’s most notable statistic is 23 – the number of games he’s lost to injury the past three years.