Going into the draft season Panthers' Fans have been digesting statistics, measurables, and game footage of a plethora of college prospects set to enter the NFL this coming season. However, one position has been largely ignored; the Offensive Tackles. Anyhow, there have been rumors floating around the Panthers' Camp that the Panthers may seek to address the situation at tackle via the draft.
Currently, The Panthers have former Pro Bowler Jordan Gross (31) at LT, the oft injured Jeff Otah (25) at RT, whilst Garry Williams (25), Byron Bell (23), and Lee Ziemba (22) provide depth as reserves. Gross is climbing towards the twilight of his career, Otah, while flashing his dominance when playing, has had trouble battling injuries over the duration of his career, and Bell explicated his youth and inexperience last season after being thrust into the starting role at RT. Meanwhile, Williams and Ziemba are question marks rolling into next year; Williams returning from a season ending injury, and Ziemba being a younger player, without much experience under his belt. Notwithstanding, The Panthers could play the 2012 Season with the current pieces at hand, but the longterm prosperity of the Panthers' Tackles is in doubt. Moreover, one of the keys to maintaining the success of the offense is giving Cam as much protection as possible in the pocket. As such the Panthers could be searching for a Tackle of the Future in the upcoming draft.
As we enter the 2012 Draft there are multiple Offensive Tackles who warrant high draft grades, including Matt Kalil, Riley Reiff, Jonathan Martin, Mike Adams, Zebrie Sanders, and Mitchell Schwartz. Kalil is almost a lock to be selected before the Panthers are on the clock, however, Reiff and Martin could be options for the Panthers in the first round, while Sanders, Schwartz, and Bobby Massie may be available in the 2nd Round. Poring over various Youtube videos, I tried to find tape of various prospects in a game against one of their speediest opponents. My rationale being, in the NFL, these tackles will be facing elite athletes every Sunday during their careers. Subsequently, I delivered a grade in relation to how the tackle fared against a speedier opponent.
Riley Reiff: Opponent, Frank Alexander/ RJ Washington, Oklahoma 2011
Riley Reiff vs Oklahoma 2011 (via JMPasq)
In this game, Reiff mainly faced off against Frank Alexander (6'4 255 lbs.) and RJ Washington (6'3 248 lbs.). For the most part, Reiff was overmatched against the speedier Alexander and Washington, surrendering multiple Sacks and TFL's. Reiff's techique was sloppy, and the Oklahoma DE's were able to manipulate him and beat him on several occasions. Also of note, Reiff was undisciplined in the run game. Occasionally, Reiff could be seen holding his opponent. However, Reiff was athletic enough to mirror the moves of his mark. Reiff is billed as a LT.
Final Grade: C-
Mitchell Schwartz: Opponent, Jackson Jeffcoat, Texas 2011
Mitchell Schwartz vs Texas 2011 (via JmpasqDraftjedi)
Schwartz is faced off against Jackson Jeffcoat (6'5 253 lbs.), a premier pass rusher as a sophomore, and a likely first round pick next year. Schwartz handles Jeffcoat well when matched up against him, keeping him outside of the pocket for the majority of his snaps. Schwartz utilizes good technique in neutralizing Jeffcoat, pushing the smaller, quicker Jeffcoat out of the pocket, and using his size to keep Jeffcoat away from the Quarterback, giving his QB a few extra seconds in the pocket. However, this tape is kind of hard to evaluate, as the rest of Schwartz's compatriots could not handle the Texas D-Line, and as such, the tape does not flatter the offensive line of California. Schwartz was solid in run blocking against LB's and DT's. Schwartz was a bit overwhelmed by the zone blitzes that Texas administered.
Overall Grade: B+
Nate Potter: Opponent, Reuben Faloughi/ Jarvis Jones, Georgia 2011
Nate Potter NFL Draft Analysis - Georgia (2011 Season) (via TMBDraft)
Potter had a mixed game going up against the formidable Georgia Defense in the Georgia Dome. Matched up against Reuben Faloughi (6'5 255 lbs.), as well as Jarvis Jones (6'3 241 lbs.) Potter had a variegated evening. Primarily matched up against Faloughi, Potter was able to keep the Georgia DE/OLB out of Kellen Moore's face, however, there were times when Faloughi's athleticism got the best of Potter, and the pocket collapsed. Potter is quick on his feet, and his long arms were able to keep Faloughi at arms reach for the majority of his snaps. However, when Jones lined up on Potter's side, he wreaked havoc in the backfield, racing past Potter in pursuit of the ball. Jones is a veritable beast, racking 13.5 Sacks and 19.5 TFL's last season, vaulting himself into consideration as a top ten pick in 2013. Potter was decent in run blocking, and his footwork was sublime, fitting of a LT in the NFL.
Overall Grade: B-
Zebrie Sanders: Opponent, Anthony Chickillo/ Oliver Vernon, Miami 2011
Zebrie Sanders vs Miami 2011 (via JmpasqDraftjedi)
This one was a doozy. Sanders was primarily matched up against Anthony Chickillo (6'4 258 lbs.) and Oliver Vernon (6'2 261 lbs.). In the game, Sanders was beaten by speed moves on the edge by the speedier DE's. Sanders is too slow to matchup with faster pass rushers. Many times, Sanders can be seen holding his opponent, or making odd choices with his blocks. Sanders' footwork is not up to par with an early round selection, but his technique is solid. In the game against Miami, Sanders had his best success against Chickillo, a true freshman, keeping him outside of the pocket for the majority of their snaps. Sanders projects as a RT in the NFL, not being athletic enough to do battle with a speed rusher. This past season Sanders was forced into the LT role after Andrew Datko's injury. In run blocking, Sanders shined moving his man off of the line and opening lanes for his RB/QB, however, too often, Sanders would make undisciplined decisions. As a bonus I included this dandy from Sanders' game against Florida from 2009.
Florida State lineman Zebrie Sanders sleeping during game. (via aashah1986)
Final Grade: D+
In conclusion, the deciding factor as to how an Offensive Tackle Prospect will succeed in the NFL is how they handle the different duties of an offensive lineman, one of those being defending the QB from a 9 Technique/Speed Rusher. Heading into the 2012 NFL Draft, The Panthers could target an offensive tackle in order to strengthen the depth and talent of the OT's for the Panthers, either stepping in at RT from Day 1, or being groomed to replace Jordan Gross. The Tackle position may not be an immediate pressing need like the Secondary, or the Defensive Line, but in the near future, the Panthers will need to add an Offensive Tackle to the fold.