Next up in our look at the top prospects at each position for the upcoming 2016 NFL Draft is the Top 10 OT prospects. Tackles are always among the premium positions of greatest value, and this year ought to be no different, especially with a number of quality prospects who should be taken in the opening round. The top overall pick in 2016 might even come from this tackle class. The offensive tackle position always has a number of players who played outside in college that could end up being a better fit shifting inside to guard or even to center. It’s hard to be sure who those will be, and varies from team to team. Some guys who we’ll be listing as guards this year will be: Cody Whitehair (Kansas State), Spencer Drango (Baylor) & Vadal Alexander (LSU), among others. Sr = Senior, Jr = Junior, So = Sophomore. An “r” prefix indicates a redshirt year (sat out for a year without playing, usually their first year of college).
1) Laremy Tunsil, Ole Miss, Jr. 6ft 5, 305 lbs
2015/16 Bowl: AllState Sugar Bowl Grade: 1st Round
With the Tennessee Titans now officially on the clock for the top pick in the draft, a name they are sure to consider first overall, should they stay at that spot, will be Tunsil. They took a tackle in Taylor Lewan a couple years ago, but adding Tunsil as well should see their franchise QB well protected for years to come. The Rebels left tackle will be a coveted prospect at the top of the draft despite his final year in college not going anywhere close to plan. Just prior to the start of the 2015 season, an NCAA investigation looked into claims by his step-father that he had accepted improper benefits. After initially being held out of the opening games of the season for precautionary reasons, Tunsil was indeed suspended for the first seven games of the season, cutting his final college year in half. While very unfortunate, there was no chance of the incident having much of an effect on his draft stock, as he is just too talented. Tunsil returned to the starting line-up against Texas A&M and was thrown straight into the fire up against a future high first round pick himself in Aggies pass rusher Myles Garrett. If anyone had forgotten, Tunsil quickly reminded exactly why he’s such an exciting talent. It was if he’d never been gone. While he had to sit out on the sidelines periodically due to being a little short on conditioning, when he was on the field, he was flawless. Garrett made plays during the game, but not when faced with Tunsil, who shut him down when they matched up one on one, despite it normally taking double teams to quiet the Aggies pass rusher. Conversely, Auburn’s Carl Lawson gave Tunsil problems during their individual battle, beating the tackle on a couple occasions with quick rush moves and subsequently forcing him into a couple false start penalties in what was a difficult outing. Overall though, Tunsil’s shortened 2015 season cemented his place as a true long term franchise tackle prospect. He brings all the desired measurables with size, length, power and outstandingly quick and fluid movement. His technique and coordination are polished to accompany his physical presence in both pass protection and as a run blocker, and his control and balance are consistent. Tunsil is a special talent, one worthy of the top overall pick in the draft.
2) Shon Coleman, Auburn, rJr. 6ft 6, 313 lbs
2015/16 Bowl: Birmingham Bowl Grade: 1st Round
Don’t be surprised to see Coleman’s name rise in the lead up to the draft, as he is worthy of not just a top 10 pick, but even a top 5 selection. And if he doesn’t, well frankly he should have! At this very early stage in the process, Coleman sits as the #4 prospect overall on the RealSport NFL Draft Board. A big-time recruit out of high school, Coleman has had to come through a lot to get to this stage in his life as a soon-to-be professional football player. Shortly after joining the Tigers, Coleman was diagnosed with leukaemia, and took a couple years out from the game to recover for the illness which he thankfully succeeded in beating. He took another year out from actually playing in games in 2012 to work himself back in to football shape before finally returning to the field in 2013 as Greg Robinson’s backup. Coleman took over the starting left tackle job the following season, where he has now been a full time starter on the blindside for two years. With the time off, and due to turn 25 years old next November, Coleman made the decision to skip his senior year and head to the NFL now, and he’s certainly earned it. The seriousness of the disease he overcame will surely mean extra attention with his pre-draft medicals, but hopefully that won’t need to be a factor to concern the team who picks him going forward. On the field, Coleman has excelled in his two seasons as a starter. He has the potential to be as good as the man above him on this list, but is much more raw and unpolished at this stage, which is no surprise given his 3 years out of the game. The occasional lapse in pass protection does see him give up a few sacks, and his body position and balance are inconsistent, at times looking immovable, and other times being a bit too easily brushed aside when he gets a little sloppy in his form. Coleman does tend to lunge a bit, bending at the waist and not bending his knees, which is particularly noticeable in his run blocking. There’s certainly some coaching required, but the upside is tremendous. Despite the technical flaws, Coleman makes up for it with his ideal size including long arms, superb athleticism, and his natural strength. He is a powerful drive blocker in the run game which negates or at least minimises some of the technical issues. His long limbs allow him to mirror well and keep in touch with speed rushers, and he anchors well to maintain pocket integrity at the point of attack. Coleman offers all the traits looked for in a long-term left tackle at the next level, so don’t be surprised if he goes earlier than expected.
3) Ronnie Stanley, Notre Dame, rJr. 6ft 6, 315 lbs
2015/16 Bowl: BattleFrog Fiesta Bowl Grade: 1st Round
Stanley arguably failed to meet expectations this year. Several pass rushers gave him plenty of trouble in pass protection as he looked much more vulnerable this year than last. In addition, he’s having to contend with multiple reports and rumours appearing that question his work ethic both in practice and in games, that he doesn’t put in the effort required to improve his game. There’s no question though that as with Coleman, in terms purely of traits and measurables looked for in a starting offensive tackle in the NFL, Stanley has it all. As impressive as the first two on this list are with their movement, Stanley’s athleticism is eye-opening, and immediately stands out from his film as rare. That speed and athletic ability are matched by his long, rangy frame. His long arms and legs are coordinated within a smooth, fluid kick slide that easily keeps up with speed off the edge and to mirror. His ability to work in space both off the edge of the O-line, and as a blocker on the second level are very impressive. However, as mentioned before, he still has his struggles as a pass protector. Smart and versatile rushers can find ways through him too often, leaving him scrambling and holding. If his opponent can get into his chest, Stanley fails to set his anchor, instead going backwards far too easily into the lap of his QB. He is solid looking when he wins early off the snap, but doesn’t show much in the way of being able to recover and reset should he not. After starting all 13 games at right tackle in 2013, Stanley took over from Zach Martin as Notre Dame’s left tackle each of the past two seasons. He strongly considered leaving after his redshirt sophomore season to enter the 2015 draft, but wisely chose to stay at least another year to gain more experience, a good thing given that there is still work to be done to get the most out of his natural physical gifts. Another who could go in the top 10, should the team that grabs him feel confident that he’s going to put in the necessary work required.
4) Denver Kirkland, Arkansas, Jr. 6ft 5, 340 lbs
2015/16 Bowl: AutoZone Liberty Bowl Grade: 1st Round
A mammoth of a man, for many Kirkland is looked at as an ideal candidate to move back inside to guard for the pros. Kirkland did play his first two years in the interior before switching to left tackle for his junior year in 2015, where he surprised with his nimble footwork and smooth kick slide despite his large frame. The effectiveness he showed on the edge and in space suggests that some may have under-estimated him in terms of being able to continue outside, perhaps at right tackle, and I’m giving him the benefit of the doubt that his eventual long term position can be at tackle, even if he does indeed start out early on as a guard. Either way, this is a lineman built for pro football. Kirkland is arguably the top lineman in this year’s draft class in terms of run blocking, where he is devastatingly destructive, flattening potential tacklers and opening up huge holes for his backs to run through. The Razorbacks are known for their ground game, both in terms of producing talented runners but also the big men up front that block for them. Expect plenty of highlight reel pancake blocks from Kirkland that will make him one of the most entertaining offensive linemen to watch in the league. He is more than just a big bodied run blocker however. Kirkland is smart and discipline, allowing only 1 sack and 3 penalties in each of his 2013 and 2014 seasons. While his lower body technique is impressive, the upper body is less so. He gets away with it a bit due to his overwhelming size and strength, but does tend to lunge and bend too much. That is more or less the only minor issue on an otherwise solid prospect with a high floor to be a good player for many years to come in the NFL.
5) Jack Conklin, Michigan State, rJr. 6ft 6, 318 lbs
2015/16 Bowl: Goodyear Cotton Bowl Grade: 1st Round
How Conklin ended up so poorly recruited is a mystery that plenty of coaches are hugely regretting. Rather than go to the one school who made him an offer (Div.2 Wayne State), Conklin instead chose to walk on at Michigan State. After initially redshirting, he became a full time starter his redshirt freshman season including 10 games at left tackle, where he has remained ever since. In 38 career games, Conklin has allowed just 4 sacks, a hugely impressive stat, and speaks to his superb ability in pass protection, and given the number of quality defenders that have lined up against him over the last three years in both the Big 10 conference and beyond becomes an even more impressive feat. The Spartans’ left tackle has superb size and strength with an excellent short set anchor; once he establishes contact with his opposing rusher, that generally equals game over right there. Given his big build and strength, it’s no surprise that he is a hugely effective run blocker, backing up the use of his size with aggression to always finish. Conklin is about as steady as they come, consistent with every snap. Unlike many of the others in this year’s class, Conklin lacks quick movements and overall athleticism that make him a little more vulnerable to speed rushes. The average quickness he offers perhaps limits his ceiling to a very functional player who is unlikely to develop into one of the top tackles in the league at any stage. It’s also possible depending on who drafts him that he’s looked at as someone to shift inside to guard. Either way, Conklin is sure to be a relatively safe selection. Coaches will love his hard working attitude that is evident in his play each and every snap, a blue collar attitude and mentality, to use the cliché.
6) Jason Spriggs, Indiana, Sr. 6ft 6, 305 lbs
2015/16 Bowl: New Era Pinstripe Bowl Grade: 1st-2nd Round
Spriggs played as a tight end early on his career before shifting to the offensive line during high school. Over his 46 starts with Indiana, including immediately taking on the left tackle spot as a true freshman where he has practically been a fixture ever since, he has added strength and experience at the position while keeping the speed and athleticism from his tight end days. Though he’s added weight, he’s still fairly lean for his long frame and really needs to continue to work hard in an NFL strength and conditioning program to build up his core strength to compliment his movement abilities. The payoff could be huge with some patience though as the upside with Spriggs is very high. He has been playing at a superb level in a talented Big 10 conference, only giving up a total of 4 sacks in the past two seasons. In addition, he has been a key part of a hugely successful run game for the Hoosiers with Tevin Coleman topping 2,000 yards a couple seasons ago, and Jordan Howard (a running back whose name is one to know this year) continuing right where Coleman left off. Spriggs was huge in Indiana’s Bowl game versus Duke this post-season, despite it ultimately ending in a crushing overtime defeat. Spriggs kept his QB clean all game, allowing no sacks, and was a huge factor in stand-in running back Devine Redding putting up 227 yards on the ground, who frequently found success behind the left side of the line. With a bit of time, plus some added power and muscle, Spriggs could end up being looked back on as one of the better value picks from the early parts of the 2016 draft class, even if it ends up taking a year or two for him to emerge.
7) Taylor Decker, Ohio State, Sr. 6ft 7, 315 lbs
2015/16 Bowl: BattleFrog Fiesta Bowl Grade: 2nd Round
After starting as a sophomore at right tackle in 2013, Decker has played at the left tackle spot the past two seasons, giving him 3 years of starting experience at a top program, including playing a role in the run to the National Championship in 2014. He has an imposing and well-proportioned tall frame that the league is looking for. The parts of Decker’s game that really stands out are his excellent agility for such a rangy guy, and how comfortable and composed he looks, never getting flustered. Despite that, he is prone to being beaten too often and too easily by tricky quick-twitch pass rushers. He doesn’t often give up sacks, but it could be argued that part of that is that he has always played with mobile quarterbacks such as Braxton Miller and J.T. Barrett whose ability to escape and avoid those pressures has somewhat disguised this flaw to a certain extent. It’s quite possible that Decker will end up getting exposed as an NFL player in this area. His height can also work against him a bit at times by playing a bit too high, losing the leverage battle. In addition, as a run blocker, Decker doesn’t tend to get very physical and aggressive in his block attempts. Decker’s game just seems a bit lacking all round, not really excelling in any area with too many questions to warrant a first round grade. His NFL size, agility, and big game experience are certainly big positives though.
8) Germain Ifedi, Texas A&M, rJr. 6ft 5, 325 lbs
2015/16 Bowl: Music City Bowl Grade: 3rd-4th Round
Entering the 2015 season as one of the bigger names in this group and a potential high pick, Ifedi’s game regressed this year and his stock has arguably dropped quite significantly over the course of the season. Considering entering the last draft, Ifedi received a second round projection by the draft advisory committee but chose to stay. His play this year though has been more that of a mid-round prospect, not to the standard worthy of going on day 2. Ifedi showed plenty of promise early on as a redshirt freshman guard, before moving to right tackle the next year and continuing to progress. It was presumed that he would take the next step that the likes of Luke Joeckel and Jake Matthews before him, and move over to the left tackle spot this season, but ultimately ended up staying put. In studying his game a bit closer, I came away unimpressed with his technique, in particularly with a very poor looking and awkward lack of co-ordination between upper and lower body, with a stiff, jerky motion, and footwork that frequently lets him down. His excellent physical gifts with his size and strength has allowed him to get away with the technique problems at this level but it’s a bit of a question mark when projecting him to the next level that could even see him requiring to move back inside to guard again if he finds himself exposed on the edge in the pros. Given his size and natural strength, it’s quite a surprise to see him not really come across as a mauler in the run game, instead often looking quite tame in his block attempts. Another big question that has arisen that scouts have reportedly brought up has been his effort level at times this year, which has been inconsistent and lacking at times. He has played better before 2015 so a belief that he can return to earlier form might mean a team decides to still pick him early, but it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Ifedi still on the board as the third and final day of the draft begins.
9) Kyle Murphy, Stanford, Sr. 6ft 7, 302 lbs
2015/16 Bowl: Rose Bowl Grade: 4th Round
It’s personal preference, but Christian McCaffrey really ought to have won the Heisman in this writer’s opinion! Much of the success of the uniquely talented runner came through running behind the left side of his offensive line, who were fantastic all year in opening up so many of the holes McCaffrey flew through. Left guard Joshua Garrett was rewarded for that by winning the Outland Trophy this year awarded to the top interior lineman in the country. His teammate outside at left tackle though deserves plenty of credit himself for all that success. Murphy was hugely successful at creating running lanes and clearly took a lot of pride in being physical, driving, and finishing every block he made. He isn’t the most naturally strongly-built offensive lineman, who might just measure at a touch below 300 pounds, but that aggressive style and passion in his run blocking helps makes up at least partially for any questions in that respect. While not quite as impressive in pass protection as he is blocking in the run game, Murphy is still solid at keeping his QB clean as well. Having said that, his footwork does have a tendency to let him down at times, and consequently his balance too. Murphy joined the Cardinal as a highly touted prospect out of high school, but took a while to emerge as a starter and deliver on that potential. After a couple starts during his first few years and seeing minor action in certain packages, Murphy became a full time starter at right tackle in 2014, and followed that up this year with the move to left tackle, replacing the departed Andrus Peat.
10) Joe Haeg, North Dakota State, Sr. 6ft 6, 300 lbs
2015/16 Bowl: FCS National Championship Grade: 4th Round
Quarterback Carson Wentz isn’t the only future NFL player that will be drafted from the Bison this year. When you win 5 straight national titles, no matter what the level, you likely have a number of big time players at key spots, and North Dakota State have relied on a superb left tackle throughout their incredible run. Quite frankly, the FCS level has been far too easy for Haeg over his college career, dominating year in and year out. He’ll get a chance to show that he can continue to be a wall against much better opposition at this year’s Senior Bowl to which he has been invited. How he performs over that week will be massive for his stock and in determining where he ultimately gets drafted. A fourth round projection as it stands right now may be far too low if he impresses against some of the best the FBS has to offer. There’s no doubt that Haeg has the size desired in an NFL level tackle. He shows good movement, both in his kick slide, and in space on the second level. While not overly aggressive in his style, Haeg is calm and comfortable with strong use of his hands. All the success and winning he has been a part of will have built a confidence and mentality that will be very desirable to add to a roster, as will his huge amount of playing experience with 29 starts at right tackle his first two years, then another 31 straight starts at left tackle the next two years after taking over the blindside vacated by Miami Dolphins’ lineman Billy Turner. Not bad from a former walk on.