Football / Sports

Tackle options limited beyond Big 3 in NFL draft

If teams don't take an offensive tackle early in the draft -- namely Auburn's Greg Robinson, Texas A&M's Jake Matthews or Michigan's Taylor Lewan -- their chances of finding an immediate starter at the position dwindle noticeably. Because once you get past Notre Dame's Zack Martin, the quality drops.

Martin, who some observers actually consider the top guard option in the draft as well, started 50 games at left tackle and two at right tackle for the Fighting Irish.

But he may be better suited for the guard position in the pros, because of his frame and the fact that he doesn't have ideal arm length for a pro tackle (32 7/8inches). He worked at offensive guard during Senior Bowl practices.

The next group of tackles, who project as late first- to second-round picks, consists of Alabama's Cyrus Kouandjio, Nevada's Joel Bitonio and Virginia's Morgan Moses.

Kouandjio, 6-7, 322, spent much of his childhood playing soccer but said he got tired of it around middle school.

"I just got frustrated because they always put me in at goalie or just took me out of the game because I kept hitting kids accidentally," he said. "I was just trying to get the ball."

In American football, collisions are encouraged at Kouandjio's position, and those years playing soccer helped his footwork. He was a two-year starter at left tackle for the Crimson Tide, earning all-American honors in 2013.

But he had a tough time against Oklahoma speed rusher Eric Striker in the Sugar Bowl, followed by a subpar performance at the NFL Scouting Combine. There have been knee issues that reportedly caused some teams to fail him at the combine.

Moses made 30 of his 42 starts at right tackle in college, but played left tackle last season. There have been concerns about keeping his weight under control and his work ethic, but he has ideal size for the position (6-6, 314) and a big wingspan (35 3/8 inch arms).

In 38 college starts, Bitonio displayed tenacity, toughness, and athleticism. A bit undersized (6-4, 302), he may be better suited for guard in the NFL.

And not to be forgotten is Brandon Thomas of Clemson. At 6-3, 317 pounds, there were scouts at the Senior Bowl who thought he would be better suited for a guard in the NFL than a tackle. Thomas looked like at least a second-round pick, but then suffered a knee injury during a private workout with New Orleans that will sideline him for the 2014 season. How far he falls in the draft because of the injury remains to be seen.

(c)2014 St. Louis Post-Dispatch

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