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:
Chris Faulk - LSU - 6-5, 331 lb
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 that said, however, with proper coaching and a solid work ethic, I believe that he could start at right tackle for most teams. There are hints of athleticism that you could see from his games in 2011, when he made All-SEC. I'll be interested to see who's willing to take a chance on him, and in what round they're willing to do so. If he makes it to the ranks of college free agency, I believe that a lot of teams would love to see him on their practice squads for a couple of years before bringing him into competition for a starting slot..
Eric Fisher - Central Michigan - 6-7, 306 lb
Fisher is a coaches’ delight. He has the height and weight that you look for in an NFL tackle: his arms are 34.5 inches long (a wide wingspan is something you hope for in a tackle), and he has remarkably advanced technique. Central Michigan’s offensive line coach, Mike Cummings, is doing something right.
I love the way that he mirrors a defender. He has a natural deep knee bend and excellent technique all the way around. I'm particularly impressed with his run blocking. When he makes a drive block, that defender stays blocked. He finishes consistently on both run and pass blocking. I think that Fisher will go very high in the draft - he’s one of the best OTs in a deep draft for them.
He has good height, a muscular weight, a good bubble, and still has room to add more strength weight. His kickslide is excellent and his drive blocking is powerful and effective. He has a very good mean streak and you have to like how he finishes. He’s also got a build that you could put another 12-15 lb or so onto and still not lose any quickness.
From the games that I saw, his weakness is in getting his hands up quickly enough from his three-point stance. That’s probably going to be a pretty easy fix, because he fires out of that stance very fast - he just has to get his ‘fit’ into his man a little better without lunging.
To do so, they may just need to do something as simple as to develop him in the meatball drill - you have the tackle complete a series of maneuvers while pretending to roll a meatball between his hands, forcing him to keep his hands in front of him. I’ve read presentations from a variety of professional line coaches who’ve used this with very good results.
The need to learn to use his hands and feet simultaneously is emphasized when he’s at the second level. It’s much harder for him to control linebackers in the open field when he sometimes fails to get his hands up and into them as he’s moving. Again - it’s just a coaching issue. It’s consistent both at the line and at the second level.
I got to see him play a few times, after which I expected him to be one of the top three tackles picked next month. Every college tackle has some things to improve on; Fisher has far less than most.
D.J. Fluker - Alabama - 6-5, 339 lb
I see Fluker as a tremendous physical talent. If you watched any film of his pro day, you saw a player with a tremendously strong bubble, excellent depth in his kickstep, elite flexibility, and extraordinary power. There were several occasions during games in 2012 when I noticed him making mental mistakes, but I think that he can be coached beyond that level. He has an impressive mean streak in his game and he’s also credited with being a leader on the field and in the locker room.
His weaknesses included a lack of recovery speed and an unfortunate habit of not getting his hands firmly into his man, as well as some problems with his balance. He has to learn a second option to adjust into if his first technique fails. He tends to reach and overextend more than he needs to, rather than stepping properly to get his body firmly into his man and establish a good ‘fit' on the attacker. When he does, he can lose his center and get off-balance. He needs some conditioning work as well. His pass protection is much weaker than his run game, where he can use his natural size and power to clear the way for a running back.
These issues should not frighten anyone away; they are simply problems to be coached. His personal life was very traumatic during his early college years and that might have contributed to this situation - he’s only human, and everyone can succumb to stress. He’s also not quite as athletic as many current NFL tackles, which showed in the Pro Day footage (as well as in his game film).
I'm seeing a lack of enough time with a good coach, despite the overall excellence of the Alabama line. I think it would be wise to try and play Fluker at right tackle for at least two seasons before considering trying him at left tackle. Despite his extraordinary physical gifts, he still has a lot of learning to do. While he’s very powerful, he’s not as athletic as you’d hope, yet he’s mastered his fundamentals well. In a very deep draft class for offensive tackles, I think he has the potential to be a very solid RT if he can develop that skillset both physically and mentally. If not, he has the skills needed to be an excellent guard, so picking him has a built-in safety net. He could be a bruiser in a left or right guard role.
We'll pick up the discussion next time with another trio of prospects, including one who will undoubtedly be long gone before Denver picks, and who may even be the first-overall selection next month.