Left tackle is a position that has plagued the Carolina Panthers ever since the retirement of Jordan Gross back in 2014. Fans have been banging the table for drafted talent to be brought in ever since, and the belief was that we would have to use a high first round draft pick to reasonably acquire one. In a spurt of unusual luck, the first round fell very favorably for the Carolina Panthers, allowing them to address their other pressing need in the pass rush by taking Brian Burns at No. 16 overall while at the same time leaving quite a few legitimate left tackles available at the end of the first round.
After Florida right tackle Jawaan Taylor was taken early in the second round, Marty Hurney smelled a run on offensive tackles coming. He ended up packaging his own second round pick, as well as the No. 77 overall pick to move up and acquire Greg Little, left tackle from Ole Miss. Going into the draft, this would have been seen as a steal, and I’m here to tell you that regardless of the price paid for the move, it still is. Little has a very good chance to anchor the left side of the Panthers offensive line for a long time, and should that come to fruition, it will have been a bargain that even your frugal aunt who maniacally clips coupons would have to bow to.
After diving into some of his game film and combine results, here are the impressions I have of him as a prospect.
Athleticism and intangibles: Good
Greg Little didn’t test extremely well in his underwear at the combine, but his functional strength and athleticism appear up to standard in live action. He has the ideal frame for an NFL caliber left tackle, and he knows how to use it to gain an advantage on would be rushers. While he hasn’t parlayed that into dominance in the run game, he is extremely refined in pass protection, the most important part of a left tackles game. Ultimately, having the body needed can’t be coached, but a prospect can always get stronger and have his technique refined, so this places Little in a good spot entering his pro career.
Technical skill: Elite
Little probably could have had a decent college career on his natural gifts alone, but what pushed him into first round consideration is his advanced technique. He has a pro-level knowledge of how to optimally use his hands to control defenders, and the ability to switch quickly on the fly and adapt to a rusher. He consistently gets his hands on the chest plate and uses his long arms to lock opponents in, in fact, he was never called for holding the entire 2018 season.
Beyond hand placement, he maintains a wide and powerful base throughout any given down, and sinks his hips when initiating contact to stymie his opponent. Speaking of contact, Little is not shy to go and get his man, often thwarting their first move before they are finished making it, and once he gets his hands on you... well. “You’re done, son.”
Finally, and maybe most importantly, Little appears to have a complete understanding of his assignment depending on what the defense does. He never seems to get caught off guard by stunts, late blitzes, or odd alignments. His composure is excellent, and he can be relied upon to play well even when the team is not.
Run blocking: Below average
The run game is where Little’s average athleticism manifests itself. He seems a step slow on getting to his man on reach blocks, and would almost certainly be beaten to a spot by Christian McCaffrey should he be required to pull across formation. While he does usually get his hands on a man on more in-line blocks, he doesn’t seem adept at translating that same lower body power that makes him an excellent pass protector into powerful leg drive to move a defender backwards. As Billy pointed out in his pre-draft scouting report, Ole Miss ran an air raid variant last season, which could be a reason for some of this. Greater emphasis at the pro level on running the football, and pro-level strength training could help him improve, but right now, he isn’t where you’d want him to be.
Pass blocking: Elite
Now that we have talked about his shortcomings, it is important to reinforce the fact that you draft a left tackle primarily to protect your quarterback against hard hits that they can’t see coming when they drop back to pass. In this area, I believe that Little might be the best in the draft.
I havent watched all 993 pass blocking snaps for Greg Little, but I am willing to trust that I’d come up with a similar number. A 2.6% pressure rate is absurdly low, but I would believe it after watching the games that I did. Little was at his most impressive in the 2018 bout against No. 1 Alabama, where he pitches a shutout despite his team getting absolutely obliterated.
The reason he is so good at it is everything that I already discussed in the technique section; he plays smart, executes his fundamentals, and has the functional strength to make it all happen against anyone.
Based on what I’ve seen, I think Greg Little was a great pick in the second round of the 2019 NFL Draft, regardless of having to give up the No. 77 pick to get him. He looks like a pro-ready left tackle to me, and that cost is peanuts if he indeed becomes a solid left tackle for the Panthers. In the end, I can guarantee all of you that if we still had the No. 77 pick, it would have been used to take Will Grier instead of using the No. 100 pick on him. Not trading up almost certainly means that we miss out on Greg Little, and maybe any other left tackle prospect with the chance to help us this season. Ultimately, the Panthers filled their two greatest needs with players that can potentially help right away, when in reality it was just expected they’d get one.