By Marc Sluis, Staff Writer
While they don’t always get the credit they deserve, offensive linemen are vital to a team’s success as they protect the franchise’s prized possession, the QB. The Jets run to two consecutive AFC title games was built on a strong defense and a big, physical offensive line.
The O-line for the current J-E-T-S isn’t quite as strong as it was and clearly the RT spot has been a major cause for concern. Even though Austin Howard has stepped up admirably, the Jets front office will surely look to solidify the position and there is a great chance they will draft someone to play RT in 2013.
1. Luke Joeckel TEXAS A&M
Strengths: Joeckel is very athletic for his size and his smooth footwork allows him to backpedal effortlessly in pass blocking situations. He has the long arms and necessary strength to get his hands on defenders and keeps leverage very well.
Weaknesses: He isn’t at the level of elite prospects like Jake Long or Matt Kalil yet, and could be a little more powerful in the run game.
The Take Home: Using his standout athleticism he stays step for step with potent pass rushers and keeps his QB’s blind side clear. He did a great job against a formidable pass rusher in Jackson Jeffcoat and mirrored his quick movements effectively. He also has solid abilities as a run blocker and generates good push with the long arms to control and redirect defenders. With a little added muscle and mass to his frame he could become a top run blocking LT in addition to his already stellar pass blocking potential.
He’s not at the level of truly elite LT prospects like Long, Kallil or Joe Thomas, but don’t count out the possibility of him getting there. Seeing how easily he moves around instead of scrambling or appearing stiff is a great sign of his overall level of athleticism. Pair that with his foot speed and agility and you have the ingredients that are necessary in a great LT capable of handling the freakishly athletic pass rushers in the NFL. He should be a top pick in the 2013 Draft and potentially the first offensive lineman off the board.
2. Barrett Jones ALABAMA
Strengths: He has a comprehensive skill-set with tremendous experience at multiple positions. He shows good balance and technique with enough athleticism.
Weaknesses: He isn’t a standout in any one particular trait, a jack of all trades but master or at the least not dominant in one.
The Take Home: Jones has been productive at almost every offensive line position for a great Alabama unit. He played guard his freshman and sophomore years and transitioned to LT last year being productive at every spot. This fall he will start at center. Jones can get beat on the edge by fast ends who get outside quickly, forcing Jones to scramble in recovery. When he anticipates well and quickly starts his momentum going out wide with a quick first step, his natural footwork and balance allows him to stay in front of rushers.
His unmatched experience and versatility he will give some NFL team great depth across the offensive line and an NFL ready option. With the fact that pro teams routinely dress just 7 offensive linemen that versatility can’t be overstated.
3. Tyler Lewan MICHIGAN
Strengths: Lewan has the frame, nasty demeanor and athleticism of a top LT prospect. His movement is very smooth and has good foot speed and coordination.
Weaknesses: He has a history of drawing a lot of flags and lacks polish from a technique standpoint.
The Take Home: He wears Jake Long’s jersey number but is not nearly as dominant as the former #1 overall selection. Lewan has all the natural abilities, like his long frame and coordination, that can’t be taught but there are things he does need to pick up from the Michigan coaching staff to ensure a smooth transition to the pro game.
Lewan was the recipient of the infamous punch by William Gholston, doing a good job of frustrating the massive Spartan. The physical traits are there and he should improve further with more playing time. He gets the nod over others because of his natural ability to play the all important LT spot.
4. Chance Warmack ALABAMA
Strengths: Warmack is big and powerful, especially in his lower half and can dominate the line of scrimmage with his physicality.
Weaknesses: Like most interior lineman he isn’t able to get moving quickly or change directions with ease.
The Take Home: The big bodied Warmack has been a very consistent and powerful run blocker for one of the nation’s best running attacks. He isn’t completely comfortable in space but as an OG he does his job and gets his hands on defenders with the ability to control them and generate push with a strong lower body.
He did a very respectable job on fellow 2013 NFL Draft prospect Bennie Logan of LSU and will be a solid addition to a pro roster. He has a compact frame with a low center of gravity that allows him to anchor effectively inside. He is being touted by ESPN’s Todd McShay as an elite OG prospect and the best he’s seen in years; so despite the fact that he isn’t at the more vital LT spot he is still highly valued and a top tier prospect.
5. Jake Matthews TEXAS A&M
Strengths: Matthews is solid in his technique and has NFL quality balance and enough athleticism and strength to be very effective in both run and pass blocking.
Weaknesses: He doesn’t have the quickest feet and isn’t an elite athlete.
The Take Home: Matthews has the frame and strength scouts look for in solid OT prospects, but it may be his NFL bloodlines and intangibles that seem to guarantee he will transition smoothly to the next level; he projects as a solid pro while not having elite athletic tools, however. He may not be spectacular athletically, but has the balance and strong base to hold his own especially on the right side. He has teamed with fellow Aggie Joeckel to make a truly dynamic pair of OT prospects.
Matthews has good strength and is very adept with cut blocks. He has the skill-set and experience that makes him a solid RT prospect. He doesn’t have the effortless foot-speed and smooth backpedal like Joeckel, but could develop enough to at least give someone depth at both tackle spots. As the son of the Hall of Fame offensive lineman Bruce Matthews he will have a great resource to guide him through what it takes to be a successful pro.
6. Ricky Wagner WISCONSIN
Strengths: Wagner is powerful with solid knee bend and use of leverage allowing him to generate a solid push against defenders.
Weaknesses: His footwork isn’t all that clean and has struggled against top competition.
The Take Home: Wagner, a former walk-on TE who has gained considerable weight and experience at LT and RT is now getting considerable attention from pro scouts. He has great strength and can push defenders back as a run blocker. He doesn’t do it consistently but when he does lock on to defenders he shows the ability to control their movement and wall them off while sustaining his block.
While I like his ability to lower his center of gravity, Dane Brugler notes that it is too often a result of bending at the waist, which is poor technique. His struggles with elite college pass rushers and tendency to get beat with initial quick moves by defenders is troubling, but he has the strength and frame as well as the program pedigree to improve and clean up his game. He has started games at both right and left tackle for the Badgers and has the potential to play either at the next level.
Due to his strong and relatively compact build but only average footwork and quickness he may be better off at RT. It will bear watching how he plays against the best competition, but he is an experienced, hard working and tough OT prospect from a Wisconsin program that just churns out NFL offensive line talent.
7. Chris Faulk LSU
Strengths: Faulk is big, bulky and very forceful with an NFL body. He generates nice push and his strength over matches opponents at times.
Weaknesses: He is not as naturally athletic as the typical LT and labors a bit in his backpedal and may be a step slow against elite edge rushers.
The Take Home: Faulk has prototypical size and strength of a pro tackle. He’s more deceptively quick than a flashy athlete and wound up on the ground a lot (maybe lack of balance) and seemed to dive prematurely to the ground when cut blocking. He did a good job for LSU at LT but his bulk makes him a candidate for playing the RT spot at the NFL level whenever he chooses to enter the draft. He is out for the entire 2012 season with a knee injury so there is a good chance he will want to come back to Baton Rouge.
8. DJ Fluker ALABAMA
Strengths: Fluker has a massive and strong frame and shows great energy. He can exploit his strength to overpower opponents in run blocking situations.
Weaknesses: He’s doesn’t quite have the foot-speed to play LT and may struggle against wide 9 defensive ends at the RT spot.
The Take Home: Fluker is a mammoth of a man and is incredibly hard to move off his line as he utilizes an incredibly strong and wide base. He isn’t as naturally light on his feet or quick enough to dominate in pass blocking, but as a RT he should provide a great push for the ground game and physicality to hold up in pass protection. Clearly he is a force in the running game and may only be considered by teams that make establishing a physical run game a priority (think New York Jets).