Welcome to the 11th installment of the BGA: 2016 NFL Draft series. As we head to the draft, I'll be sharing thoughts and observations about draft prospects for each position group. In our previous installment, we looked at this year's cornerback prospects, and we now move on to look at offensive tackles.
I'll be discussing whether the Jets are likely to have a need at these positions and reviewing some of the top prospects along with some players that might be options later on.
These articles are not necessarily meant to be exhaustive, so if you wish to bring some other prospects into the discussion, please do so in the comments section below.
Jets Needs: Offensive Tackles
This section would have been completely different a few weeks ago. However, the tackle position came into focus over the last week with the retirement of long-time starting left tackle D'Brickashaw Ferguson and the trade for injury-prone former all-pro Ryan Clady to replace him.
Despite this move, the Jets are still likely to be in the market for at least one tackle from this year's class. Clady is a short-term solution, and the Jets could also try to upgrade at the right tackle position following Breno Giacomini's uneven 2015 campaign.
While nearly all of their younger linemen have experience at tackle, most of them realistically project to guard at the NFL level. Maybe someone like Brent Qvale could eventually start at tackle for the Jets, but it's more realistic that they find a future starter in this draft.
2016 Draft: Offensive Tackles
Laremy Tunsil from Mississippi has long been considered the best tackle in this class, and that's despite being suspended and arrested last season, which is a testament to his talent level. Tunsil was widely tipped to be the first pick until Thursday's trade saw the quarterback-needy Los Angeles Rams acquiring that pick from Tennessee. Tunsil is a terrific pass protector who responds well to counter-moves. As a run blocker, he's excellent is space, but perhaps not as good at the point of attack, so could be better suited to a zone-based scheme.
Behind Tunsil, there's a trio of tackles who are widely regarded as probable first-round picks. Each brings different things to the table. Ronnie Stanley from Notre Dame is a potential top-10 pick, whereas opinion is divided on whether Jack Conklin from Michigan State or Taylor Decker from Ohio State will be available when the Jets pick at 20. Interestingly, just two inches and four pounds separate these four, as they all measure up as what would be described as a prototypical tackle.
Stanley is regarded as one of the best blindside pass protectors in this class, having shut down Clemson's Shaq Lawson in what was probably his toughest matchup of the season. Stanley mirrors pass rushers as well as anyone in this year's class, although he could serve to add some strength. As a result, he's perhaps not as dominant as teams would like in the running game. Here, he drives his man well out of the play with the help of an initial double team, but this was the kind of play he didn't demonstrate enough of in college.
Conklin is a good run blocker who displays strength at the point of attack. Scouts are divided on whether he's shown enough athleticism to prove he could handle a role at left tackle, but he looks slow at times and can be susceptible to counter-moves in pass protection. However, his strong base will serve him well against the NFL's modern breed of speed-to-power rushers. Here, Conklin sets the edge for an easy touchdown by swatting the defensive end aside almost effortlessly.
Decker is one of the strongest run blockers at the point of attack in this draft, but not so adept at locking onto a block in space. Still, he moves well and occupies defenders if not completely taking them out of the play. I'm less confident about his potential to play left tackle because he has some improvements to make in pass protection. Decker makes a lot of solid blocks at the point of attack, but what's notable about this one is how easily he dominated Jihad Ward, a mid-round prospect.
Germain Ifedi from Texas A&M is an interesting player that was linked to the Jets when ESPN's Mel Kiper recently mocked him to them at 20. He's the first in a long line of tackle prospects this year that are raw technically, but possess desirable measurables or athletic traits. Ifedi has length and power, but will struggle against athletic edge rushers at the next level and might end up being forced to go inside. He's bigger than most of the top prospects at 324 pounds, and had issues with penalties in 2015.
Jason Spriggs from Indiana has also been linked to the Jets because they brought him in for an official visit. Spriggs is really athletic, but is regarded as raw in terms of his technique. What I found from watching film on Spriggs is that he was often effective in spite of less-than-perfect technique. He will need to refine that because NFL players are expected to be able to take advantage of him more often. An example here shows him doing an excellent job of setting the edge, although he got stood up and driven back a few yards before re-anchoring, forcing the running back wider and giving the defenders in pursuit at the second level a better chance at stopping him down the field. It also gave his man more time to try and get off the block, but he did a creditable job of staying on it without holding.
Le'Raven Clark is another tackle that looks the part before the ball is snapped. However, unlike Spriggs, Clark tends to be a player that looks great when he puts it all together but gets badly beaten when his technique lets him down.
When he gets it right, Clark really reminds me of Branden Albert, so that's the kind of potential he has if he could just improve his technical consistency. Albert and Clark are about the same size and have similar measurables, although Clark has even longer arms at 36 inches. The other question is whether he has the agility to be a solid tackle at the NFL level. That's questionable based on his film, and he, perhaps suspiciously, opted not to do the shuttle drills at his pro day or the combine. Here's one of the plays in which he looked good.
Auburn's Shon Coleman is another player who is extremely raw in pass protection. He's actually very solid as a run blocker, but there are other questions surrounding him, namely the fact he's already 24 and that he missed his pro day with a knee issue. Coleman showed good discipline in 2015, with only two penalties.
LSU's Jerald Hawkins is a player whose stock seems to be falling. He was a key part of the running attack behind which Leonard Fournette put up huge numbers and hadn't given up a sack entering Week 10. However, he gave up four sacks over the next two weeks and, as discussed when looking at La'el Collins last year, the pass protection assignments at LSU are arguably not that difficult anyway. Hawkins had a poor combine and the film seems to indicate that Fournette did a lot of the hard work himself. Still, he does have some ability in the running game as he shows here.
Stanford's Kyle Murphy is a unique prospect in this year's class, as -- other than the first-round prospects -- he seems to be the only draftable prospect who is technically sound. While he doesn't have the ceiling of many of these more raw prospects, Murphy could be ready to contribute sooner. Then again, he perhaps needs to work on his strength.
A few more names to watch out for in the later rounds include Joe Haeg from North Dakota State, Keith Lumpkin from Rutgers, Willie Beavers from Western Michigan and Norman Price from Southern Miss.
Haeg is notable because he was the blindside protector for top quarterback prospect Carson Wentz. However, he likely benefited from the fact that Wentz was reportedly almost flawless in terms of setting the protections according to his coaches. Also, scouts say he has some bad habits that will lead to him getting schooled early on due to the big jump in level.
Lumpkin is a massive (6-foot-8, 320 pounds) potential late-round pick that the Jets would bring in as a local prospect. He showed some promise as a run blocker in 2014, but didn't fare as well last season.
Price is another tackle that the Jets have supposedly shown interest in. The most interesting thing about Beavers and Price is that, despite being projected late round picks, they were the two worst guards in this entire class, according to PFF grades.
What's most interesting about Price is that he wasn't even the best tackle on his team. Left tackle Rashod Hill was much better than him during the season and earned second team all-conference honors, yet Price is the one with all the draft buzz. Hill seems to be dominant at the point of attack, better in space and more reliable in pass protection, but Price's slightly superior athletic numbers seem to be drawing teams to him instead. There's no contest based on the film, but perhaps scouts feel Price has the higher ceiling. It will be interesting to see who goes on to have the better career. I tried to pick a clip that best illustrates Hill making his block but the play failing as a result of Price failing to do so.
Finally, I should reiterate that many of this year's top tackles are expected to project to guard at the next level due to either short arms or athletic deficiencies. These include Cody Whitehair, Spencer Drango, Joe Thuney, Vadal Alexander and Joe Dahl (who actually is probably more likely to move to center). I discussed those in more detail when I analyzed the interior linemen.
Next week: In the last of my positional reviews, I'll be looking at potential special teams contributors.