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2021 NFL Draft: the offensive tackle awards

Running through the superlatives of the 2021 offensive tackle draft class.

NCAA Football: Texas at Oklahoma State Brett Rojo-USA TODAY Sports

One of the best parts of NFL Draft season is working through all of the superlatives.

Every year, “generational prospect” gets thrown around for a couple of players. Even more frustrating is how often a prospect is referred to as having, “the best of insert specific skill/trait here in this class.” It is helpful to read through an analyst’s scouting reports and find out who they think is the best at specific skills or traits.

When you are gauging prospects from a specific team’s standpoint, you have to start by looking at what the team values at that position and begin your draft crushes there.

Starting this week, I will run through some of the positions that look like high positions of need for the Kansas City Chiefs and go through some common superlatives for their position.

In this week’s post, we are going to look at the offensive tackle position and address five award-winners for those superlatives. As an added bonus, I’ll name a prospect likely be drafted on day three (rounds 4-7) that also excels in the same category. That late in the draft, one specific skill or trait can get you drafted.

Offensive tackle awards

Best “mobility”

We went with “mobility” rather than “athleticism” because the latter is too often associated with purely testing numbers, and I won’t fight over which word is preferred.

The key is that “mobility” isn’t gauging who runs the fastest, jumps the highest or turns their hips the best, but rather combs every aspect of movement: the prospect’s ability to contort and control his body through a variety of different positions and planes of motion.

Penei Sewell | Oregon

The reason Penei Sewell takes this over everyone else is that he has the whole package.

He’s explosive both linearly and laterally, has the top-end speed to cover a ton of ground, the flexibility to twist and avoid contact and is able to dip or lean and make meaningful contact outside of his frame. He is a freak of nature in terms of his mobility.

Sewell’s ability to get out in space — as he shows in the clip above — is already top-tier. Even with having to avoid contact off the line of scrimmage, Sewell is getting out to the second level as quickly as just about anyone else. Once he’s out in space, he has the lateral agility and body control to maintain his speed but remains balanced enough to frame up contact on players in the open field. He doesn’t just show the range to get all over the field but also has the ability to make contact within and outside the frame of his body.

The final nail in the coffin for Sewell and this award is his ability to contort his body within a phonebooth. Even if a player gets outside of his body, he is able to lean out over his hips and still make contact without getting off balance. His upper body and lower body work together, but they don’t always have to be perfectly in-line for him to be effective.

Day three player: Josh Ball | Marshall

Best “tactician”

For the best “tactician,” we are looking for a tackle that showcases the best hand and foot technique (not necessarily the fastest feet or most powerful hands but the player with the best technique).

Rashawn Slater | Northwestern

Rashawn Slater takes this award over Liam Eichenberg for the simple reason that Slater is more versatile in the technique he utilizes on a regular basis. Starting with his hands, Slater is able to two-hand punch, outside-arm strike, inside-arm scoop, chop, trap, snatch and feint his way to beating a pass rusher on any given rep. The fact that he can come out and play technically sound with an aggressive set, counter-strike or patient technique makes him hard to figure out as a pass rusher.

In the above clip, we see how quickly his hands can fire out and how accurate they can be as he takes complete wrist control of a quicker, more athletic pass rusher (twice!). It helps that Slater has a ton of power in his punch and the grip strength to match, so when he is able to land his hands on a pass rusher, the play can end there.

Slater has the foot technique to match with vertical sets, angle sets and quick sets. Much like his hand work, he constantly puts pass rushers on their heels, as it’s difficult to predict how he will respond to their move. His placement is consistent, he remains balanced on his post-foot and is able to easily redirect in any direction with proper weight distribution.

Day three player: Brady Christensen | BYU

Best “power”

Self-explanatory, best “power” references the ability to deliver the strongest blow in a variety of settings. Whether a punch in a pass set, the ability to move bodies in the trenches, applying torque to a defender to turn them against their will, etc. — any form of applying a significant force against another player.

Teven Jenkins | Oklahoma State

This one was the closest battle yet, between the eventual winner Teven Jenkins and Christian Darrisaw. What gave Jenkins the final edge was his desire and ability to put 100% into every single engagement on the field, something Darrisaw simply didn’t show interest in.

Jenkins wants to end every single rush laying on top of a defender on the sideline and he’s equally as likely to end up there as he is losing the point of contact.

The very first play in the clip has Jenkins stand-up a top-50 draft pick on the edge while working laterally and then drive him up-field and into the bench. His ability to not only stop the momentum of the player but also reverse and control it 20-plus yards from start to finish is amazing. Every single rep of run blocking or pass protection has Jenkins looking to put as much force into the opponent as possible.

His ability to slap guys and force them 3 yards upfield or turn them before slamming them to the ground without even taking a step is borderline unnatural.

Day three player: Alaric Jackson | Iowa

Most “versatile”

Whether positional “versatility” or schematic “versatility,” this award is going to the player who can perform the best in most situations.

Alijah Vera-Tucker | USC

The versatility battle is between Alex Leatherwood and eventual winner Alijah Vera-Tucker.

Both players have performed incredibly well at both offensive guard and offensive tackle and could likely play both positions at the next level, but Vera-Tucker got the win because of his ability to be scheme versatile at the next level.

In the clip above, you’ll see him playing left guard. If you watched USC this past season, you would have found him playing left tackle. The ability to put out good film at both positions put him in the early contention for this award, but it’s the scheme versatility that got him the final nod.

Vera-Tucker has the lateral agility and fluidity in his hips to make long reach blocks, pull around the horn and climb vertically to the second level uncovered or off of combo-blockers. He’s not going to be limited in a zone-blocking scheme or a power scheme thanks to the core strength and hip mobility both on the move and when engaged. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Vera-Tucker start at tackle or guard in the NFL regardless of scheme.

Day three player: Jaylon Moore | Western Michigan

“Big meanie” award

The tackle who is the “meanest,” dirtiest and most likely to finish every block regardless of the situation.

James Hudson | Cincinnati

James Hudson isn’t your prototypical “big meanie” of a player in the aspect that he has a rather lean build and isn’t going to run straight through a defender. He doesn’t often put both hands into a defensive end's chest and run them downfield, then into the ground but instead utilizes torque and his motor to beat defenders consistently.

In pass protection, Hudson loves to pull out the trap technique — in which he pulls a pass rusher’s hands down and pulls them into the turf. When he locks up with defenders, he likes to showcase his core strength and apply torque until he can sling them into the turn.

While he may not run completely through a linebacker on the second level, he’s always looking to turn them slightly and apply consistent pressure to their shoulder until they either just go down or get pushed across the field.

Day three player: D’Ante Smith | East Carolina

Next week, we’ll dip into the world of linebacker awards.

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