Here are our previous columns on tackle prospects:
We'll limited today’s batch to two players because each has an unusual aspect to his story. Dallas Thomas of Tennessee is talented and position-versatile, but he’s been off the radar with a torn labrum which prevented him from participating in combine drills and tests.
FSU prospect Menelik Watson’s journey is a remarkable story, and he’s showing the potential to be just as remarkable a player.
Here are our previous columns on tackle prospects:
Today we'll discuss another trio of prospects: Lane Johnson of Oklahoma, Xavier Nixon out of Florida, and Justin Pugh from Syracuse.
Today, let's look at redshirt junior Kwame Geathers and senior John Jenkins, two linemen who helped the 2012 Georgia Bulldogs rank 18th in the country in points allowed. They’re similar in build, but they’re very different players.
Kwame comes from an NFL family - his father, Robert Sr. was drafted by the Bills, and uncle James ‘Jumpy’ Geathers concluded his 13-year NFL career with a one-season stint in Denver in 1996. He has two brothers, Robert Jr., currently playing for the Bengals, and Clifton, who plays for the Colts.
Who you play next to can make a difference in your stats and in the final ranking that a player achieves, and Geathers greatly benefited from playing next to the more far polished Jenkins. Kwame is 6-5 and 342 lb, while Jenkins is 6-4 and now reportedly weighs a manageable 325-330 lb., after having tipped the scales at 346 lbs. at combine.
As noted on NFL.com on March 29, Mike Mayock sees six tackle prospects as standing out from the rest. I didn’t disagree on any of them:
Picking up where we last left off, today’s fare includes a talented converted tight end, a small school player who didn’t get a Combine invite (but probably should have), and one of the elite tackles in this year’s draft. Let’s dig right in:
Fragel has slipped under the radar so far in pre-draft coverage. Ohio State lost both of its tackles after the 2011 season, and Fragel was converted from tight end to offensive tackle to help pick up the slack. He took to the change nicely, although he is still raw in his footwork and technique, as you would expect. That’s okay - he played right tackle during the 2012 season and showed a lot of promise as an OT.
For a guy with only a single year at the position, he looked very good. His height is a mixed blessing - he’ll have to work to keep his pad level low, but he’s got a wide wingspan. He’ll still have to put on more muscle weight for the NFL.
When you talk about nose tackles and nose guards, it’s easy to get confused. Traditionally, the guy in the middle in an odd-front defensive line was called the nose guard. The nose in an even-front line is generally called the nose tackle. You’ll still run into those terms when you read materials from coaching seminars and such.
Denver’s scheme is very much a hybrid, so it won’t matter much what you call this player. Either way, the Broncos currently lack someone there who looks like a long term starter in the role of a run-stopping, blocker-absorbing, three-down player who has the ability to collapse the pocket and even pressure the QB, optimally.
Justin Bannan confounded a lot of people in 2012 by outplaying Brodrick Bunkley’s production of the previous season, and at considerably less cost. Both of them are basic two-down linemen - guys who can absorb double teams, stop the run, and leave the field on most passing downs. That’s great - but with the league-wide move to more no-huddle offenses, I believe that Denver will need a three-down NT at some point.
Continuing with our discussion of offensive tackles, today we have one player who didn’t even make it onto the field for the 2012 season, and two of the top tackles in this year’s draft. Let’s get right into it:
Many NFL fans aren't familiar with Chris Faulk, but there’s good reason: going into his junior year, he suffered a knee injury last August, but he decided to declare for the draft after last season regardless of his age, level of experience, and the handicap of not having played during the 2012 season.
You can see why he might make that decision. Not only is Faulk huge, but he shows some nice footwork and seems to have some athleticism that you don’t always see in a man of his size. He showed a noticeable lack of technique when playing the left tackle slot as a sophomore, though. He is as raw as you would expect from a player with only two seasons of college ball under his belt, no matter how big that belt might be. Both his footwork and his hand technique are in need of work. He hasn't shown that he really understands how to get into a defender and keep them away from the quarterback, or drive him downfield in the run game.
With Ryan Clady locked up on a franchise tag and Orlando Franklin having taken a giant step upward last season, why spend time, money, or a draft choice on an offensive tackle?
Denver has a backup blocking TE/OT in RFA Chris Clark, who’s a decent lineman on run plays but who is not capable of handling any prolonged starting snaps. Since Clady’s cost may have to again be dealt with next season, Denver is still short one viable OT - the guy who can cover if Franklin or Clady go down. There are options on the roster, but it’s not a stretch to say that with Clady potentially playing on a one-year franchise tender and Franklin still being talked about as a guard, bringing in a top OT might be wise.
How would that work? I think it’s pretty simple. If Denver does move Franklin, it’s likely to be at the position he usually played in college - left guard. They didn’t pay right guard Louis Vasquez, with his pass protection skills, to sit out. With Zane Beadles making the Pro Bowl as an alternate (and earning it), though, how would that work? Here’s an option:
San Diego has countered Denver's signing of Louis Vasquez with an offensive line signing of their own - former Eagles tackle King Dunlap. Since I watched very little of the Eagles this past season, I did a quick and dirty check of PFF's ratings on each player. Here's what I found:
Vasquez was on the field for 1,057 snaps in 2012. His combined rating was +12.8. That includes a +8.6 rating on his pass blocking, and a -2.0 on his run blocking. He was charged with two sacks and 22 total pressures, but did not commit a single penalty.
Everyone knew that when Peyton Freaking Manning decided to spend his last seasons in Denver, the blocking scheme was going to be a big priority. Manning’s lightning assessments of the defense and his quick release makes that job easier for the O-line, but the Broncos also took a step towards improving his safety and his target environment by luring to the team former two-time All-Mountain West Conference selection from Colorado State University, tight end Joel Dreessen.
Pro Football Focus has made positive mentions of Dreessen a few times since the end of the season. Since some of the information is in their premium section, I thought I’d cover it for you. In short, Dreessen was the #10 TE in the league in terms of pass blocking snaps for the three seasons prior to joining Denver (2009-2011). On 260 pass protection snaps over those three years, he gave up only eight total pressures for a 97.31 Pass Blocking Efficiency, good for fifth among all TEs.