In a perfect world, I wouldn’t be doing this. In a perfect world, the Texans would have played Juli’en Davenport at left tackle all season in 2018, and he would have turned all that offseason weight tossing into mediocre/competent left tackle play over the course of 17 weeks. Martinas Rankin would have started and excelled at right tackle after eventually taking over for Seantrel Henderson. Houston would have been able to overcome the interior blocking issues that come from Senio Kelemete’s sloppy hands and second level misses and Nick Martin’s frustrating run blocking. Then the answer would be simple. The cornerback group would be the position with the greatest need on Houston’s roster. Without a doubt, a cornerback would be selected in the first round of the 2019 NFL Draft.
As you know, what I wrote above didn’t happen. Deshaun Watson was sacked 65 times in 2018. He was stuck riding the bus from Houston to Jacksonville after his purple lungs were deemed too hazardous for the sky. After Henderson snapped his ankle in the season opener in New England, the Texans moved Davenport to right tackle, where he was horrendous, and put Rankin at left tackle after he missed his rookie year training camp; not surprisingly, Rankin too was horrendous. Things eventually fell into place a little bit as the season progressed. Davenport moved back to left tackle, where he allowed six sacks in twelve games after he allowed five in three games at right tackle. Kendall Lamm replaced Rankin, who allowed five sacks in three games at left tackle. It was better, but in 2018, 32 of Watson’s 65 sacks can be attributed directly to blown blocks by his offensive line.
At a minimum, the Texans needed to add competition to their offensive line this offseason. With better management of its current players and continued development of the youngsters, it should be a better group in 2019 by default. This is what Houston attempted to do in free agency. They added Matt Kalil, who has been crappy since his rookie season, re-signed Seantrel Henderson who hasn’t played in three years and wasn’t even passable when he did play, and they lost starting right tackle Lamm. It was an attempt to make things better, but the offensive line is still so far and away from being a position group the team can feel good about. The Texans have no choice but to address this position in the upcoming NFL Draft.
The good news is there are players available who can immediately improve this position. There are right tackles who can come in and start right away. There are left tackles who can compete with Davenport and Kalil at left tackle right away. It really just depends on how early Houston wants to go for it. That question won’t be answered for another three weeks, but the talent available can be addressed and discussed right now.
This is a start of a series of posts. It’ll be a ranking of the ‘top 15’ tackles entering the 2019 NFL Draft, from the bottom to the top. In no particular order, here are the consensus top 15 tackles and their measurables.
Now let’s talk about each of them.
N/A: Tytus Howard (Left/Right Tackle—Alabama State)
Howard is an Alabama State graduate, which means there is more video of the Yucca Man or the New Jersey Devil than there is of him. He moved well as an offensive tackle and didn’t look football strong against Auburn, but with his team trailing by an enormous amount, he didn’t make enough blocks to be able to get a feel for him. He moved to right tackle in the Senior Bowl. His entire game was scraped down to four and a half minutes of play.
Against grotesque Reece’s Pieces orange, Howard didn’t show any struggle moving to right after playing left in college. His kick slide and anchor were great in this game. He showed more strength here in this four and a half minutes than in his entire game playing against Auburn.
At the NFL Combine, Howard weighed 322 pounds and ran the 40 in 5.05 seconds. This workout, and a Senior Bowl performance that the bucket hat scouts loved, will lead to him probably getting snatched up somewhere in the third to fourth round. For me, sitting in front of a rainy window, he’s interesting. I just don’t have enough information to feel one way about him or the other. The potential is here. The size and athleticism is here. The video and performance against Power 5 talent isn’t.
N/A: Max Scharping (Left Tackle—Northern Illinois)
A wheel of cheese that needs to be cut up and molded.
There’s more evidence of Scharping’s play out there in the world than Howard, but Scharping is interesting in the same way Howard is. He has a test tube offensive tackle body. Scharping is 6’6” and 327 pounds. At the Combine he benched 225 lbs. 27 times, which is 5-7 more reps than the majority of the tackles. He jumped and moved as quick as everyone else did.
The problem with the tape is Scharping doesn’t make enough blocks. The ball is out quickly. In the run game, he was tasked with turning the defensive end to create ‘B’ run lanes; he wasn’t asked to make reach blocks or create vertical movement. All he was against Utah and San Diego State was a big guy, a monstrous frame that was merely in the way.
That being said, there is one main concern: His hands. Scharping isn’t a puncher. He’s a grabber and shover. He loses and falls off blocks because he’s catching instead of strangling the block. It doesn’t matter how many times a player can push 225 up or how long his arms are if he doesn’t know how to utilize them. Xavier Su’a-Filo and Kolton Miller are prime examples of offensive linemen whose hands prevented them from being competent NFL players.
Scharping suffers from a similar fate. At left tackle, he snaps out of his stance and tracks the smaller end well. However, he turns to the end, doesn’t punch, and just puts his hands on the defensive end. This is a high school prom, not a pass set. NFL defensive ends will see this turn and bullrush right through it.
Scharping’s base is the other problem with his pass set. Scharping is tall and stuck leaning over to block smaller defensive linemen. The leaning stems from his base. His feet are too narrow. He brings his feet together and turns to keep the defensive end from driving baseline instead of taking an angular kick-slide and taking on the defensive end head on. Narrow bases are shredded to the bone in the NFL.
This grabbing gives defensive players the ability to pursue the play. They are never fully blocked. There’s hope and light seeping into the cave. The defender can always pop back or run left or right and escape unhindered. Here, Scharping doesn’t punch. He just extends. His quarterback flows left after being unable to find anyone open right away. The defensive end is able to break outside the pocket and soak him up for the sack.
A correct punch and grasping of the chest removes the ability to escape. The defender is stuck and glued to the tackle. From there, it’s just mirroring—slight right and left movements to keep the vehicle between the yellow lines. Without it, no defender is extinguished. No ball carrier is safe.
The lack of punch and hands don’t leap out and tear our your eyes because Scharping didn’t allow those horrendous missed blocks that are so easy to point to. Sports Info Solutions credited him with only 10 missed blocks last season. He’s an enormous body and too difficult to run through at the college level. On this block, Scharping picks up the blitzing linebacker. His pass set is pretty, his pad level is correct, and his base is shoulder width. Yet there isn’t a punch here. He catches the blitzing linebacker and allows him to come all the way into his chest. The San Diego State linebacker is engulfed. Za’Darius Smith wouldn’t be.
I need to watch more video to nail down the hand troubles. Two games isn’t enough. Yet, based on what I’ve seen, Scharping can best be described as a body, not as an offensive lineman. Hands are too integral in offensive line play, and his are too sloppy to warrant selecting him in the middle of the draft. Maybe he’ll eventual become more than this if he’s drafted by a team who can mold and develop offensive linemen, but from the limited play I’ve seen, I’d stay away. Two more games against MACtion probably won’t sway my sunken thoughts.
13.) David Edwards (Right Tackle—Wisconsin)
A weak right tackle on a great offensive line.
There’s a minimum amount of athleticism and strength required to play professional football. Without it, no matter how technically sound a player is or how well he knows how to play the game, he’ll be splattered on the field. There’s an enormous difference between a player needing to get stronger to reach his potential and a player who doesn’t have the minimum strength required to play the game.
Edwards needs to do more than get stronger. He needs to add plates to the bar to even have the minimum amount of strength needed to play professional football. At Wisconsin, he was just barely strong enough to start for the Badgers.
Edwards did move well. He had correct hand placement and proper pad level. He could cut off defensive ends, get in the way of defenders out in space, and meet speed rushing defensive ends at the point of attack. Edwards couldn’t deal with any power rushes, though. Any time a defender opted to attack his chest, they’d travel through a portal and materialize in the backfield.
This pass set summarizes Edwards’ game. With the defensive end tight and playing his outside shoulder, Edwards isn’t required to take a deep set. We see slight shuffling and waiting. When he makes contact, he isn’t sitting in a chair and striking. He’s leaning over his feet and putting all of his weight into the punch to try and generate power. The punch is a slap. The defender pops him in the chest, knocks his punch up and into the air, and drives him all the way into the quarterback. Luckily for Edwards, the cornerback bites through the belt on the double move and he’s able to ride the bull just long enough to prevent disaster.
Unfortunately, Edwards completed every drill at the NFL Combine except for the bench press. There isn’t a tangible number to point to. There’s just the tape, and the tape shows a player who lacks the functional strength needed to play professional football.
12.) Derwin Gray (Left Tackle—Maryland)
A strange creature out of place in this world.
Gray is one of strangest offensive tackles I’ve ever watched. He’s 6’4”, 320 pounds, and he’s built more like a guard than a tackle. He played in an outside zone scheme in Maryland and was stuck attempting to make blocks he shouldn’t be making. His pass set was a leap, and then quick and choppy. As shuffling as it was, it did work some. With a powerful squatting body, Gray could win blocks simply by being strong.
In the run game, he was miserable on the backside, and he couldn’t block the second level at all. His first step wasn’t deep enough. His second step wasn’t quick enough. Gray couldn’t reach the inside shoulder and cut off the backside defensive end or tackle. The outside zone wasn’t split in two halves. There wasn’t cutback opportunities. Gray’s mistakes didn’t lead to home runs being caught at the warning track. They led to the running back taking a bat to the dome.
His pass set is a fun one. It’s a quick hop out of the stance, followed by rapid shuffling. It worked out better than it should have. Gray wasn’t beat by speed rushers as much as he should have been. This is what it looks like when a guy gets the most out of his ability. 320 pounds is difficult to get through after meeting the tackle at the point of attack. On this pass set, Gray leaps out, brings a dud punch, but he’s able to recover, bring his hands inside, and mirror to protect the quarterback. There’s some strength here.
The downside to this there are lots of moving parts to Gray’s pass set. All the scurrying and overextending to prevent getting beat wide does leave him susceptible to inside and power moves. Defensive ends can time their punch to the tune of an uplifted foot. The hurrying leaves Gray with high pad level. Here, the Iowa defensive end punches Gray in the chest and out of the way before swimming over him with a free path to the quarterback.
Hopefully, Gray’s future NFL team doesn’t try him out at left tackle in an outside zone scheme. It would be a disaster. What Gray did in college won’t translate to the next level. He does have the strength and waistline to play guard, though. His pass blocking should be playable enough on the inside. If he becomes more flexible, learns how to block the second level and the interior, there’s the possibility of him sticking on a NFL roster.
Part II will post soon.