Next Big Thing At Tackle
By Cody Roche
Offensive tackle has become the second-biggest priority for offenses across the league. Every draft, we see multiple tackles taken in the first round; in 2013, we saw four taken in the top 10. Protecting a franchise’s quarterback is not a new need. But what is somewhat new is that we are seeing a growing trend of gigantic tackles exhibiting freakish athleticism.
Last year’s fourth overall pick, Lane Johnson, started his collegiate career as a quarterback, then moved to tight end before finally transforming into an offensive tackle. The 6-foot-6, 310-pound Johnson ran a 4.7-second 40-yard dash and helped change the Eagles offensive line, which was absolutely porous in 2012, into one of the best units this past season.
Johnson, at No. 4, was the third tackle taken, after Eric Fisher (6-7, 306) and Luke Joeckel (6-6, 306), both of whom possessed elite athleticism. All three players started at right tackle as rookies, which is an odd position for top-five picks to wind up. But the Chiefs, Jaguars and Eagles all felt that the futures of these prospects were too promising to pass on.
The tackle position has always featured the biggest players but as of late it seems that these giants are not just tall, fat men who are stonewalling defenders; now, they resemble super-sized tight ends. As effective as Hall of Fame left tackles like Jonathan Ogden and Walter Jones were, the new models being selected have much lower body fat percentages and are much quicker.
We’ve seen a trend of offensive tackles being asked to put on weight as opposed to lose it, which was the standard for decades at the position. Tyron Smith and Matt Kalil were asked to bulk up in order to be more effective. Smith came into the league at 6-5, 307; he's now up to 318 and is one of the top tackles in the league. Kalil was 6-7, 306 coming out of college. Now, he's listed at 308 and still needs to put on weight as he has run into issues with being overpowered. The quickness he shows in being able to kick out and slide gives the Vikings hope that he will turn into a premiere tackle like Smith -- once he learns how to maximize his frame.
This new breed of absurdly athletic tackle continues into this draft. With the potential of five tackles being taken in the first round, all players fit the mold: insanely agile despite being over 300 pounds. The heaviest out of the five, Auburn's, Greg Robinson, weighs 330 pounds and also ended up being the fastest offensive lineman at the Combine, where he ran a 4.92. Another prospect, Alabama's Cyrus Kouandjio, is 6-7, 320, and looks more like a basketball player who hit the gym as opposed to an old school NFL lineman. Kouandjio may also go in the first round and will add momentum to this move toward these nimble giants taking over the position.
Throughout every position, we are seeing an emphasis put on athleticism. But nowhere else is it as apparent as it is with the offensive tackles. The fact that these players are moving as quickly as they do despite maintaining the same size as the players drafted in the past is a testament to the growth of the game, as well as to the advancements in modern training. The fact that players like Greg Robinson exist only shows that the game will continue to evolve. It doesn’t seem like it will be too far in the future when we will see 330-pound players run 4.5 40s.