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2014 Draft Preview: Offensive Tackle

Posted Apr 28, 2014

Offensive tackle probably ranks just below wide receiver in terms of positions with the most blue-chip talent in this year’s draft.

Three of the first four picks in last year’s draft were offensive tackles, which was a first for that position and something not likely to be duplicated in 2014. But the truth is that the top players at that position this year just might be better, even though they likely won’t get drafted as early.

Eric Fisher, Luke Joeckel and Lane Johnson were the top three offensive tackles selected in 2013, and it’s debatable whether any of them would get drafted ahead of this year’s top three — Greg Robinson, Jake Matthews and Taylor Lewan. Those three are considered likely top-10 picks and they could be joined as first-round selections by two or three other offensive tackles. In fact, offensive tackle probably ranks just below wide receiver in terms of positions with the most blue-chip talent in this year’s draft.

Since taking an offensive tackle in four consecutive drafts (2003-06), the Dolphins have selected only three in the past seven years — and that total includes 2013 third-round selection Dallas Thomas, who played both guard and tackle at the University of Tennessee. Overall, the Dolphins have selected six pure offensive tackles in the first round — Jake Long (2008), Billy Milner (1995), Richmond Webb (1990), Jon Giesler (1979), Darryl Carlton (1975) and Doug Crusan (1968) — along with two others they designated as playing guard/tackle, Roy Foster (1980) and Vernon Carey (2004).

BREAKING DOWN THE TOP OFFENSIVE TACKLE PROSPECTS (In Alphabetical Order)

A native of Cameroon who moved to the United States at the age of 5, Cyrus Kouandjio was considered one of the top offensive lineman recruits when he arrived at the University of Alabama in 2011. After his true freshman season was cut short by a knee injury, Kouandjio moved into the starting lineup in 2012 on an offensive line that included three 2013 NFL draft picks, including first-round selections Chance Warmack and D.J. Fluker. Kouandjio is considered on a par with both Warmack and Fluker, although some red flags were raised after a mediocre performance in the Sugar Bowl, the worst showing of any player at the combine in the 40-yard dash (5.59), and an NFL Network report that “several teams failed him on his physical” because of a knee condition — although renowned physician Dr. James Andrews later disputed that report.

After he started at left tackle for the University of Michigan the past three years and wore number 77, it’s difficult to look at Taylor Lewan and not think of former Dolphins first-round pick Jake Long. Like Long, Lewan was projected as a clear first-round pick had he decided to enter the draft as an underclassman, but both decided to return to Michigan for their senior seasons. Lewan was a defensive lineman in high school until he switched to offense for his senior year, and because of that he’s still considered somewhat of a work in progress. But Lewan, a three-time All-Big Ten selection, clearly has the size and the physical attributes to become a star in the NFL. He’s also got the nasty disposition a lot of teams like in their offensive linemen; actually, one of the knocks on Lewan is that he sometimes can be over-aggressive.

Zack Martin started a school-record 52 games at Notre Dame over the past four years, with 50 of those starts coming at left tackle. That said, there’s a strong possibility that whoever ends up taking him in the draft will slide him inside to guard because Martin’s physical dimensions (including relatively short arms) make him better suited for that role. Regardless, Martin represents one of the safest picks in this year’s draft because of his consistency in college, his superb technique and a great set of intangibles that includes being a two-time captain at Notre Dame. In his last collegiate game, Martin produced quite an achievement as he earned MVP honors in the Pinstripe Bowl after Notre Dame beat Rutgers. It reportedly was the first time since 1959 that any offensive lineman had earned MVP honors in a bowl game.

Jake Matthews likely would have joined college teammate Luke Joeckel as a first-round pick in 2013 had he decided to enter the draft as an underclassman, but instead he decided to go back for his senior season and took over Joeckel’s spot at left tackle. Matthews did nothing last season to hurt his draft stock, which really shouldn’t have been a surprise given his pedigree. As the son of 19-year NFL veteran and Hall of Famer Bruce Matthews, Jake is a near-flawless technician who actually could play just about anywhere on the offensive line. Matthews isn’t considered as good an athlete as Joeckel, whose rookie season in Jacksonville was cut short by an injury, but he’s a better run blocker. Matthews also isn’t the most athletic tackle in this year’s draft, but his combination of technique and intangibles make him perhaps the most NFL-ready.

Auburn boasted the top rushing attack in college football last season, and one of the big reasons for its success was the work of left tackle Greg Robinson. In his second season as a starter, Robinson earned third-team All-American honors. Most analysts feel that was just the start for Robinson, who never lined up on offense until his junior year of high school and was a guard until he got to Auburn. What has made Robinson one of the premier prospects in the draft at any position is his tremendous athletic ability to go along with prototypical physical dimensions that include long arms. Robinson still has to polish the rough spots in his game, most notably in pass protection, but his tremendous upside has brought his name into the conversation when it comes to the first overall pick in the 2014 draft.

THE BEST OF THE REST (In Alphabetical Order)

Ja’Wuan James
6-6, 310
Tennessee

Jack Mewhort
6-6, 310
Ohio State

Morgan Moses
6-6, 315
Virginia

Antonio Richardson
6-6, 335
Tennessee

Billy Turner
6-5, 315
North Dakota State

BREAKING DOWN THE OFFENSIVE TACKLE CLASS

Other small-school prospects to watch: Matt Feiler, Bloomsburg; Laurent Duvernay-Tardif, McGill (Canada); Matt Hall, Bellhaven

NFL bloodlines: Boston College’s Matt Patchan is the son of 1988 Philadelphia Eagles third-round pick Matt Patchan … Texas A&M’s Jake Matthews is the son of Hall of Fame offensive lineman Bruce Matthews.

Long shot to watch: Cornelius “Luke” Lucas was a lightly regarded recruit out of New Orleans when he arrived at Kansas State and it wasn’t until his junior season that he became a starter and began making an impact. A two-time All-Big 12 selection, Lucas’ size alone (6-8, 315) makes him an intriguing prospect.
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