Here are our previous columns on tackle prospects:
- Part 1: Chris Faulk, Eric Fisher, D.J. Fluker
- Part 2: Reid Fragel, Ryan Jensen, Luke Joeckel
- Part 3: Oday Aboushi, Terron Armstead, David Bakhtiari
Today we'll discuss another trio of prospects: Lane Johnson of Oklahoma, Xavier Nixon out of Florida, and Justin Pugh from Syracuse.
Lane Johnson - Oklahoma - 6-6, 303 lb
Johnson is another in the seemingly endless stream of tight ends who have converted to tackle. Unlike many, though, he started his football career as a quarterback and stayed there through high school, before moving to defensive end, then tight end, and finally right tackle, a position which he was forced into during the spring of 2011 due to injuries on the Sooners line.
He’s gained some good muscle weight along the way, and coupled with his athleticism, those traits have placed him among the top five tackle prospects in the 2013 Draft.
Johnson worked at both left and right tackle during practices at the Senior Bowl. Much as he did in the regular season, he showed a decided nasty streak in the run game. To be honest, I didn't see a lot of weaknesses in his game last year; he handled players with ease most of the time.
I had seen him during several games during the year and I watched all of the Oklahoma State contest. I didn't go farther than that simply because I saw the same thing each time: he's a top prospect who uses his pad level well. He's got a good punch and excellent balance, a smooth kickslide, is highly athletic, and he’s getting strong.
He'll need to get stronger, but they all do. Well, maybe not Alabama's Chance Warmack. The shoulders and arms on that man are frightening.
Xavier Nixon - Florida - 6-6, 321 lb
According to NFL.com, Nixon's play is marred by “mental lapses, an inability to maintain weight, and generally inconsistent play," which "will likely keep him waiting until the late rounds to be drafted.”
That’s about what I saw as well. I started out with film of Florida’s game against Georgia. Nixon would play well on a few plays, then stand still as his man shed him with nothing but a hand touch as he passed, as if to say, “Thanks, dog.” He seemed confused at times on his assignments.
One thing that he did not do was finish plays; I saw his man being involved in the outcome too many times. It was the same against Texas A&M, and it really didn’t change over four games. Eventually, I spent most of that time watching other players.
I believe in the importance of a player's character, and I believe it shows on the football field. I'm not talking about whether a person is a good person; I mean whether they have the mentality to be a professional football player. That assumes a certain level of aggression, and a refusal to give up.
Players like Champ Bailey don't fail to finish on a play. Youngsters like Derek Wolfe don’t, either. Nixon did it repeatedly, so on to the next player. Perhaps he’ll discover that side of himself down the road.
Justin Pugh - Syracuse - 6-4, 307 lb
Pugh’s draft season performance has sealed a thought for me - to succeed in the NFL, he should move inside rather than play tackle. His short arms don’t matter much if a man has a big wingspan via height, a wider shoulder and chest, or very strong arms and very fast feet, but that’s just not the case with Justin.
At 6-4, which is on the short end for a tackle, and with just 32-inch arms, moving to a zone blocking scheme as a guard would take advantage of his many positives. While I don't consider arm length a be-all, end-all indicator, it affects his game.
He has the right mentality for a guard - he’s tough and willing, he gets low coming off the snap well, and that would be extremely valuable on the interior. I watched him blow a defender straight backwards for a touchdown against Pittsburgh more than once. Part of me immediately wanted that man on my team, but there’s more film to suggest that guard is going to be where he flourishes.
I got to watch a couple of Syracuse games last year, and each time, I took a while to focus on Pugh's performance. I didn't see an NFL-capable tackle - he just lacks the length. I saw the guy who’s made top-five Senior OT lists at times, but not consistently enough. Some people still see him as more of a left tackle. He’s certainly position-versatile in degree - I just don’t see that level of degree.
One notices the short arms mostly when he tries to get his hands into people. I saw that he struggles to grasp and hold on - defenders disengaged too easily. If he lacks the length, he’ll need to improve his footwork to get a ‘fit’ into defenders.
He has some trouble adjusting to sudden changes in direction. His footwork gets sloppier as he gets into the second level and he starts to lunge, and he isn’t able to consistently get his hands into his targets there. He gets to the second level well, but then loses his assignment too often. A move to guard would reduce his reps in space.
I think Pugh is a quality player and future starter, but I just wasn't as impressed with him as a potential pro tackle; he lacks the length to reach and grasp. I'd like to see him succeed, and I believe that moving to guard on the next level would do that for him. He also needs to be in a quality program: core strength is something that can be taught, and his looks to need work. He’ll also have to maximize his hand and arm power - they can be short, but they can’t be weak.