In modern football, there are few positions outside of quarterback that are more important than offensive tackle. As defenses load up on EDGE rushers to attack opposing quarterbacks from both sides of the line, it’s imperative to have a left and right tackle capable of holding up in pass protection. As such, there’s always plenty of focus coming into the Draft on the top tackles and this year presents an interesting group.
There is not a tackle in this year’s class like, say, a Penei Sewell who looks like an absolute lock to be a perennial All-Pro and will be going in the first few picks, but there’s a cluster of first-round tackles that all figure to go off the board starting towards the end of the top 10. There are things to like about all of them — for me, there’s four guys all operating in a similar tier — but also questions for each to answer. A lot of the tackle selection process will come down to personal preference this year, but there’s plenty of talent available and someone that fits just about every kind of offense.
The Top Dog: Broderick Jones, Georgia
As mentioned, there’s not a top-5 prospect in this year’s tackle group, and as such I’ll bank on the biggest upside guy for the No. 1 spot on my board. Jones has been Georgia’s starting left tackle for the past 19 games, and I’m not sure if you’ve heard, Georgia has won national titles with him holding down that spot. Jones has the tape (albeit less than two full seasons as the starter), he has the grades, and at the Combine, he brought the measureables. Jones came into Indianapolis at 6’5, 311 pounds with 34.75 inch arms and proceeded to run a 4.97 in the 40 (1.74 10-yard split) and jump 30 inches in the vertical and 9′ in the broad jump.
He is the best combination of size and athleticism there is in this Draft, and I don’t worry too much about his relative lack of experience, because he simply was waiting his turn behind other NFL players at Georgia. There’s unquestionably technique things to tighten up for him, but you can’t teach his physical attributes and he’s already played at an incredibly high level for the best college program in the country and performed in the biggest games against top tier competition.
The Next Best: Darnell Wright, Tennessee, Paris Johnson Jr., Ohio State, and Peter Skoronski, Northwestern
Like I said up top, there’s a number of tackles that you’ll find people noting as their favorites in this class. Skoronski is the consensus top-rated guy after three excellent starting seasons at Northwestern, but he also might not be a tackle at the next level coming in with short arms (32.25 inches) that has some scouts concerned about his future as an anchor on the left side. As such, he gets dinged because he might get moved inside and that is simply a slightly lesser value than a tackle, but he’s going to have a long, productive career even if that’s at guard and he’s probably the safest bet of any of these guys.
Johnson has a gigantic frame at 6’6, 313 pounds and honestly has room to add some more strength. He was very good this year moving to the left side of the Ohio State line, a group that gave C.J. Stroud so much time that scouts tend to wonder if Stroud has enough playmaking ability outside the pocket because he wasn’t often asked to do so. That’s a credit to the work Johnson and company put forth. He, like Jones, is also still young enough and raw enough to make an offensive line coach believe they can keep building on his technique and mold him into a star on the left side.
Darnell Wright really enjoyed playing under Josh Heupel and was a big reason why Hendon Hooker and the Vols offense broke out the way it did in 2022 as he moved back to right tackle for Tennessee. His performance against Will Anderson and Alabama in the Vols’ biggest win of the season is some of the most impressive film any tackle put out there this year. At 6’5, 333 pounds, he is a big fella but isn’t a statue out there — 5.01 in the 40 at the Combine. I think a right tackle who can hold up as he did in pass pro is almost as vital at this point as a great left tackle, because so many teams employ two great EDGE rushers and also will move around attack a weak spot on the right if it exists. As such, I don’t think Wright should be dinged much for not being a blindside guy, and he should be off the board by the late first round.
Boom Or Bust: Blake Freeland, BYU
Freeland put on a show at the Combine, running a 4.98 (1.68 10-yard split) in the 40 at 6’8, 302 pounds, with a 37-inch vertical and a 10′ broad jump. Those are insane athletic numbers, and someone is going to be enamored by them and take the young man on Day 2, believing that an NFL strength and nutrition program can beef out his frame and build his strength up to match his freakish athleticism. If that happens, he could be a stud at the next level because his length with that kind of athleticism is rare. That said, he’s not the strongest tackle and they don’t play in a T-shirt and shorts in the NFL, so that Combine performance won’t mean much if he can’t make that leap to add the functional strength needed to hold up against NFL rushers.
Day 3 Swing: Warren McClendon Jr., Georgia
Did I mention that Georgia was really good? Well, McClendon’s started the last three years in Athens and while he doesn’t have the elite measureables of his counterpart in Jones in this Draft, he’s just a really good football player. He can play guard or tackle, which is helpful versatility for a late round guy to have, and at 6’4, 306 pounds he’s not exactly tiny, just not a guy ideal size or athleticism. Still, give me someone who was a starter on an elite line and made it work in spite of some of those physical limitations, because that’s a guy who knows how to play football and is going to make everyone else better because of his smarts and work ethic.