Scouting the 2013 Draft: Offensive Tackles, Part 5

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.

Dallas Thomas - Tennessee 6-5, 306 lb

I’ve liked Dallas Thomas ever since he first started at left tackle as a sophomore in 2010. He started there his junior year as well, but he was moved to left guard for his senior campaign. He took the chance to show that he also has the skill set for the interior. He has the attitude for either position - mean without being undisciplined.

He’s a little on the smaller side for an NFL tackle, standing 6-5” and weighing ‘only’ 306 lb, but a year in a quality NFL strength program should put another ten-plus pounds onto his frame.  He’s played at least six pounds heavier at Tennessee without any loss of footspeed or balance, so another ten shouldn’t be a problem, and he might be able to put on more. He’s nicely proportional, with powerful legs that anchor well, a good bubble, and strong shoulders.

He shows consistently good footwork - I like to watch him pull and trap. He noticeably likes putting the hammer on someone. Thomas gets to the second level well enough, but I have noticed that he doesn’t always either expect a certain target or find one quickly enough. He shows good hand use and excellent physical flexibility, though -  he also consistently demonstrates a nice pad level that’s rare at the college level, and he fires out into defenders without difficulty. He plays with the requisite ill temper for the position and finishes his blocks well - he doesn’t stop until the whistle blows.

I don’t know the reason for his move to guard for his senior season, but it gave him a chance to show teams that he can work both inside and out (he also took some snaps at left guard his junior year). He isn’t quite the multifunctional player that Alabama center Barrett Jones is, but he’s probably better than Jones as a tackle and as effective as a guard - he just hasn’t played center.  He took on his interior play as an opportunity to show both his good moves and his bad intentions, and he did it well.

Thomas dropped off the fan/draftnik radar due to his torn labrum, for which he had surgery on February 7, but scouts are very aware of him. He won’t be fully recovered for 4-6 more months and will have to get stronger at that point - that could affect some teams’ plans for him. However, on a purely skill-oriented basis, I think that he’s as good (or better) a candidate as, say, Justin Pugh.

Menelik Watson - Florida State - 6-5, 310 lb

Menelik was said to be the name of the son of King Solomon and Makeda, the Queen of Sheba. That Menelik would become the first Solomonic King of Ethiopia. Fittingly enough, this player could end up as one of the elite - the royalty, if you will - offensive tackles in a few years' time.

Watson grew up in Manchester, England, and saw sports as his way to get out of the cycle of poverty. He was very athletic from a young age. His ever-growing physical body outgrew his first choice, soccer (the quickness of his footwork has some roots there), then tried life as the captain of a traveling basketball team.

Despite Ryan Clady’s offseason experience, NFL offensive linemen are often encouraged to use basketball in the offseason to improve their footwork. Watson didn’t know yet that this was a harbinger of things to come. He had a brief interest in boxing, but then he went to a Florida State Seminoles game and fell in love with football.

He entered Saddleback Community College without having ever taken a rep in the game of football, and there he fulfilled his academic requirements and played right tackle before spending the 2012 year playing for Florida State.

His coach at Saddleback got into the ear of FSU line coach Rick Trickett, until Trickett watched some of Watson’s film.

"He did things you couldn't coach," Trickett says now, some 16 months after initially meeting Watson..."He just has instincts."

If you’ve ever watched any game film of offensive linemen, I’d recommend that you watch some of Menelik's. He’s a little older than the ideal, and he lacks experience (just as was the case with Philip Blake last year), having played only one year of Division I football. He’s leaving school to support his family, even though his technique is still very raw. He lunges at times rather than move his feet and hands together, which harms his balance; he doesn’t know how to handle some situations, and understandably lacks the experience you’d want to see.

But he’s an unreal athlete with unusual flexibility and strength, and he’s someone who knows what it means to maintain his body in professional game shape. He has an NFL body and NFL talent. When I watched his film, I saw an understandable combination of errors and excellence. I quickly had no doubt that excellence was winning. As Trickett said - some things you can’t coach. The rest, Watson is learning quickly:

If you look at the 1:06 mark, you can see how well Watson moves his feet against the pass rush, effortlessly sliding from a combination block with the guard, to handling the outside rusher. Let the tape run through the play at the 1:16 mark, and you’ll see Menelik moving to the second level and pancaking his target so thoroughly that the defender’s helmet flies off. There’s a fumble next that didn’t involve him, but on the following running play, he gets to the second level with ease - but then he fails to get his helmet between the defender and the running back, so the defender runs free.

Overall, he gets to the second level as well as anyone; at the 1:58 mark, he takes out the safety before the RB can get there. He’s very fast in short areas, has a wide base in pass pro, and moves his feet quickly and smoothly. He can anchor extremely well, and when he gets his hands into a defender, that guy stays blocked. I came away very impressed after watching his film; he won’t lack for suitors later this month.

These are the kinds of issues that you’d accept when you take him - he’s incredibly talented and hasn’t had enough time to fully mature in the game yet, but his upside is as high as any OT I’ve watched this year in a deep class. Teams who are short a right tackle will look long and hard at him. I didn’t see anything that suggested that he won’t be able to move to LT over time.

Learn to laugh at yourself. You will be ceaselessly amused. - Sri Gary Olsen

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