The NFL Combine is fast-approaching and the Philadelphia Eagles will get a chance to get a close look at several prospects at a key position. When it comes to left tackle, the Eagles can’t afford to kick the can for much longer. It’s a glaring need for obvious reasons.
The Eagles’ need to make a decision on Jason Peters and he has his own decision to make regarding possible retirement. Halapoulivaati Vaitai regressed in 2018 and was never coming from a starting caliber baseline to begin with. It’s way too early to gauge Jordan Mailata’s future or to ask him to become a full-time starter.
Luckily, the offensive tackle class boasts not only top talent but depth throughout. With that in mind, here are my preliminary, pre-Combine rankings of the top tackles in the 2019 NFL Draft class.
Important Context You’ve Already Scrolled Past:
- Height/weight listings are from (probably unreliable) school listings unless otherwise noted.
- Players listed have at least 3 games of film study done.
- Final Grade results from a formula that takes into account universal factors (play strength, mental processing, etc.) and position-specific traits (zone/gap blocking, pass pro, use of hands, etc.)
- Grading not final. More film may be required & athleticism score includes elements of athletic testing.
- One notable omission is Alabama State’s Tytus Howard. More tape study is required on my end.
1. JONAH WILLIAMS – Alabama (6’5”, 301)
The NFL Combine is going to be huge for Williams. There’s a divide with how the league views him. Roughly half the league views him as an interior offensive lineman, including some that believe he’s a center. He can assuage length concerns with solid measurables in Indianapolis. If not, he may fall farther than expected.
That last glimpse evaluators had of Williams was in the National Championship game, which may leave a bitter taste. Williams struggled against the length and polished hands of Clemson’s Clelin Ferrell. For those insisting Williams has to kick inside, that’s the game they’ll show the room to make their case.
For now, I view Williams as a tackle. I reserve the right to modify that opinion if he comes well in under the threshold as it will cause most teams to view him as a guard (or even center). I’m of the Howard Mudd mindset that as long as they either have foot quickness or length to get to the spot and engage, but that’s not a widely held philosophy.
In college, Williams has been able to make up for length deficiencies with the best mental processing in the class. He’s a heady player with fantastic play speed and a superb understanding of angles and leverage points. Williams isn’t a classic mauler in the run game but moves bodies consistently and has a plus hit rate at the second level. He’s always under control with a firm grasp on the situation. Coaches will love his football intelligence and work ethic.
Summary: Immediate starter at tackle first, with the ability to kick inside. Pro Bowl potential at either spot.
Grade: 81.9 (Early 1st Round)
2. CODY FORD – Oklahoma (6’4”, 338)
The first things that stand out about Ford are his quick feet and nasty demeanor. Watching him pull, as he often did at Oklahoma, is a joy to watch. Nimble athlete with the ability to win in space and mirror pass rushers. Quick reactionary skills to identify and shut down stunts, working well to pass off and pick up with his right guard Dru Samia in those instances.
Oklahoma RT Cody Ford -— Michael Kist (@MichaelKistNFL) December 22, 2018
Back-to-back reps; a club throw & a .. defender prevented a teabag otherwise this gets a 10 out of 10 - pic.twitter.com/rhEdGAdoWe
Ford has some of the best tape you’ll find from this class and is a big reason quarterback Kyler Murray had plush living in the pocket. Ford doesn’t just win, he beats you up and goes beyond the whistle to execute a big finish. Played at right tackle but has versatility as a swing tackle with guard experience and should go in first ten selections of the NFL Draft.
Summary: Immediate upgrade at starter at up to four spots.
Grade: 79.4 (Early/Mid 1st Round)
3. JAWAAN TAYLOR – Florida (6’5”, 328)
Taylor falls just below Ford because he’s less of a finished product, but all the tools are there. He’ll enter the league as a dominant run blocker with a mean streak.
The hope is he’ll develop into a premier pass protector as well. The tape suggests it’s not that much of a projection, as he more than held his own against top edge rusher Brian Burns of Florida State. He has the length, width, strength, and feet to hold up early and some technical and pad level refinement will complete the package.
A three-year starter at right tackle that has taken snaps at left tackle, Taylor’s improvement in 2018 has led to a ballooning stock that could see him selected in the top 10. That steady improvement will impress evaluators looking for coachable players with desirable tools and upside.
Summary: Immediate starter at right tackle with swing potential.
Grade: 79.1 (Early/Mid 1st Round)
4. YODNY CAJUSTE – West Virginia (6’5”, 308)
I’ve written plenty on Cajuste, who I regard highly. His game is far from perfect and medical checks will be important (knee sprain 2015, torn ACL 2016), but he’s got all the makings of a rock solid bookend. His length is his best asset and once he’s gets his hands on you it’s game over.
WVU LT Yodny Cajuste - Stays patient w/his hands which allows him to trap the incoming long arm & finish - pic.twitter.com/tSkpBa2Khm— Michael Kist (@MichaelKistNFL) February 9, 2019
Recalibrating his punch, along with the balance issues that come with it, will go a long way in stabilizing his game. Cajuste will make an impact in the run game, where he overwhelms defensive lineman and locates well at the second level.
Summary: Sooner-than-later starter at left tackle.
Grade: 72.1 (Early/Mid 2nd Round)
5. GREG LITTLE – Ole Miss (6’6”, 325)
Little will get drafted higher than his polish demands but there’s a lot to like about his skill set. Feet and length allow him to get to the spot in his pass sets and has heavy hands when he lands them with accuracy and proper timing.
The biggest area of opportunity for Little’s improvement will be in the run game. Working laterally is a chore, but he has the flexibility and athleticism to improve his quickness. Needs to be more patient when tracking second level defenders to increase his hit rate. Might need somebody to slap him before each game like John Henderson because he lacks a certain nasty to his game.
Summary: Eventual starter at left tackle with immediate spot starter ability.
Grade: 70.0 (Mid/Late 2nd Round)
Rounding Out the Rest of the Group…
- Washington State’s Andre Dillard just missed out but still received a mid/late 2nd round grade. Mike Leach’s offense is fun but makes it extremely tough to evaluate linemen. Still learning to use his hands and length but it was an area of improvement in 2018. Finesse in his game can lead to him failing to generate a push in the run game. Despite the flaws, Dillard is a smart and self-aware prospect that will take to good coaching and his build lends itself to make contributions as a guard if needed.
- USC’s Chuma Edoga raised eyebrows at the Senior Bowl with superb athleticism and overall performance. There are inconsistencies in his game, but the more troubling aspect to Edoga will be under scrutiny at the Combine. His interviews will be important, as the word is evaluators are concerned about his character. If he lands with a coach that can get through to him, Edoga’s high ceiling will be within reach and worth an early investment.
- Charlotte’s Nate Davis projects best to guard after starting there for three years. He will likely be featured with the interior offensive lineman, but I just got done with his right tackle tape from 2018 and I’m still buzzing. His impressive tape against higher level competition like Tennessee will be good for his stock.
Charlotte RT Nate Davis may have to switch to guard but that's okay, he's got 3 years of experience there & he can damn sure get after it in the run game - pic.twitter.com/Pnfww3iFlw— Michael Kist (@MichaelKistNFL) February 15, 2019
- Washington’s Kaleb McGary is going to struggle against speed rushers but he’s steady enough otherwise and is a people mover in the run game. Long-time starter with high football character and the right demeanor.
- Wisconsin’s David Edwards has been hyped as an athletic prospect, but his tape left a sour taste. His games against Michigan and BYU were particularly troubling and his balance issues are too much for me to gloss over.
- Oklahoma’s Bobby Evans served on the opposite side of Cody Ford and while he can get after it in the run game, there’s too many instances of quick losses as a pass protector.