I don’t care if the Texans recently added Matt Kalil. That’s dandy.
I don't care if the Texans are reportedly in talks with veteran left tackle Donald Penn. That’s swell.
The only thing any Texans fan should care about is who the Texans can draft with the 23rd pick in the 2019 NFL Draft. That person needs to be able to protect Deshaun Watson for the foreseeable future. Ideally, the Texans would not have to move up in the draft to secure the player of their choice. If Brian Gaine and Bill O’Brien (a/k/a the two headed monster Bill O’Gaine) do decide to wait it out, hold onto their draft picks, and let the draft come to them, there ma be a stash of quality left tackles awaiting them.
I originally wanted to compare Dalton Risner to Yodny Cajuste, seeing that they were almost identical in body type. Both Risner and Cajuste are 6’5” and 312 pounds with 34-inch arms and hands that were almost identical as well (Risner’s are 1⁄4 inch bigger at 10 1⁄4). But upon watching their tape, I thought that there were more components to Risner’s game that make for good conversation when comparing to Ole Miss left tackle Greg Little.
The quick and dirty version is that Risner is a plug-and-play right tackle in the NFL whose run blocking will elevate the rushing attack of any team, and he can hold his own against powerful pass rush. Greg Little has the look of an ideal left tackle, has faced high-level pass rushers throughout his career, and with some polishing can become a star.
For Dalton Risner and the slew of Big 12 linemen that are entering the 2019 NFL Draft, the first knock against them is that they rarely faced top flight pass rushers compared to SEC and Big Ten linemen. Risner does have the distinction of having faced one of the premier rushers in this draft class in Montez Sweat. From watching the film of these two athletes battling it out, many parts of Risner’s game are revealed.
The first big trait to note is in Risner’s run blocking prowess is how he habitually shields the defender from the hole rather than driving him off the line of scrimmage. Like two bears grappling in the forest, Risner and Sweat would come to a standstill at the line of scrimmage while the running back darted in and out of holes during multiple interior rush plays. On this play, Risner (#71) is at right tackle and creates a hole by forcing DE Montez Sweat upfield and pivoting his feet so that he gets completely between Green and the intended hole.
Although this works in the Kansas State scheme, I think the Texans need a guy who can drive players off the ball and create a new line of scrimmage two yards into the defensive side of the field.
According to NFL Outsiders, Houston Texans running backs were stuffed at or behind the line of scrimmage for 20.4% of rushes. If a fifth of our running plays are equivalent to an incomplete pass or a short sack, running the ball as often as the Texans do seems like a lost cause. That’s why I think the Texans need a warrior to push the pile. Risner possesses the aggression necessary to be a right tackle, but he has to learn the art of driving people off the ball.
Risner is known as a run blocker first and foremost, but I really do like his tape as a pass blocker on the right side. Against Texas and Charles Omenihu, Dalton did a good job in the rare pass plays to provide protection for the QB. Omenihu is projected to be a second or third round selection in the upcoming NFL draft, and Risner did a great job of shooting his hands to draw first contact throughout the game.
Risner’s technique is to jab with his upper body before the defender can make a move. He works to slow down a rusher by locking in on this chest and controlling his upper body. Scouts would really like to see him drop his hips and lower his center of gravity to complement his upper body abilities. He does have a tendency to lunge at his defenders, but overall he has a good sense of distance and keeps his hands active in pass blocking.
Now to Greg Little. Little seems to be one of the biggest fallers in the draft process due to an incomplete NFL Combine and poor footwork in his film analysis. In Todd McShay’s Mock Draft 1.0, Little was mocked to the Carolina Panthers at No. 14. In McShay’s 2.0 version, Little fell to No. 18, and the latest version does not even include the left tackle in the first round.
Little has all of the accolades and body size the NFL idealizes in their left tackle. He was one of the top prospects in the country coming out of high school (after playing with Kyler Murray and Bobby Evans at Allen HS in the Dallas area). Little immediately produced for the Rebels as a Freshman All-American and finished his career as an First Team All-SEC lineman. At 6’5”, 315 pounds, he has one of the wider bases and longer arms than many of the other tackles in this draft class. Even if he had a poor Combine, Little’s tape does not lie: He has the tools to play at the next level.
If the the first thing you think of when analyzing an SEC offensive linemen is “I want to see his tape against Alabama. Show me how he fared against NFL-level talent”, you need to re-adjust your thought process. The Ole Miss-Alabama game ended in a 62-7 massacre; Ole Miss threw their game plan out the window after the third drive.
Instead, let’s watch Little’s Texas A&M film. The Aggies had a solid defensive line and really knew how to penetrate the Ole Miss offensive front. In the play below, Little (#74) is the left tackle playing against a five-technique defensive end. This play epitomizes what a NFL team will be getting with Little.
Low center of gravity. Smart use of hands. Deep hips. Low base. A good first punch. A technical lock out of the pass rusher. It all combines to do the trick.
Ole Miss never really asked much of its offensive line this past season in terms of holding blocks. From watching this game, the Alabama game, and the Auburn game, it becomes apparent that continuing blocks was not necessary as the Rebels utilized their arsenal of receivers and run-pass options (RPOs) to put up points.
Here is my favorite play of the day: 2nd and 6, with the Ole Miss Rebels trying to drive into Texas A&M territory. Little is playing left tackle and is facing 6’3”, 300 pound Justin Madubuike’s bull rush.
Little does a magnificent job of keeping his hands and weight composed when Madubuike blasts straight into him. What is impressive about this play for Little is his ability to re-gather himself to stay in front of the pass rusher while not losing contact with him. Usually when attempting to re-gather themselves, young offensive linemen release their hands and drop back further into the pocket to save face. Little is so massive that he can handle NFL level size and not tumble over.
The two main knocks against Little are his footwork and balance. After his well-oiled kick-slide, things dissolve into a frenzy of recovering and readjusting his stance. There is a difference between active feet and hurried feet. Active feet, a trait most beloved by NFL scouts, means that the player is constantly readjusting his footing to increase balance and power. Little’s hurried feet are working harder to save and restore a block rather than maintaining the current positioning.
I’ll give you one good play from the Ole Miss-Alabama game to satisfy your interest if I haven’t already convinced you.
Little has all the talent necessary to be a stud left tackle in the league. Compared to Risner, Little is a better pass blocker, but he’s less versatile than Risner. Little is a left tackle through and through; Risner can play all over the offensive line. That versatility is major plus if you want to be wearing Deep Steel Blue and Battle Red in the NFL.
Yes, one is a left tackle and one is a right tackle, but their approach to their position helps identify traits that the Texans might be seeking in the upcoming draft. Little’s mentality is to absorb opposing defenders in the pass game and shove them into the melee in the run game. Risner’s approach is to isolate and punish his opponent on both run and pass plays.
If the Texans were to draft Little, their first task would be to align his feet, hips, and hands to all work in coordination. He is too disjointed in his technique. If Little can put it all together, we’ve got a starting left tackle for the next decade. With Martinas Rankin moving to left guard, it would be fun to see an Ole Miss left tackle working with a Mississippi State left guard.
If the Texans were to draft Risner, they would stick him at his more comfortable right tackle position and tell him to brawl his heart out. They would also need to shore up his footing for more efficient movement. Risner’s current draft value as a late first - early second round pick puts him in a precarious position, as the Texans may have to make a move back out of the first or jump higher into the second to have a chance to select him without reaching too early.
Who knows? Maybe both Little and Risner are available with the 54th and 55th picks, and Houston can lock up our starting tackles in the second round. If you could tell me that the Texans would get a corner like Deandre Baker in the first round and then Dalton Risner and Greg Little in the second round, I would be ecstatic.
Later this week, I’ll compare Kaleb McGary and Cody Ford, two tough right tackles that have first/second round grades on them as well.