Offense tackle has always been a premier position on any football team, with left tackle being one of the most important positions in any given draft. Not long ago there were almost always three to four tackles selected in the top 15 annually.
In 2015 and 2016, two tackles went in the top 10 and five were selected in the first round. Last season, that changed, as no tackles were selected in the top 10 and only two — Garett Bolles, No 20 overall to the Denver Broncos, and Ryan Ramczyk, 32nd overall to the New Orleans Saints —went in the first round.
This year, there could very well be five or six offensive linemen selected in the opening round, but it might be limited to two or three tackles. The trend isn’t because the tackle position is less important — it’s because the talent level of this year's OT prospects is not as good as in recent years.
I don’t have an answer as to why, but I am sure that the influx of spread offenses in college has something to do with it. Tackles entering the draft now just don’t have the skill set that we are used to seeing. The cycle will most likely change in years to come, but clubs right now are struggling to find plug-and-play edge protectors.
With that in mind, these four prospects are likely to be the first tackles selected in the draft:
Mike McGlinchey – Notre Dame
McGlinchey is not the unanimous choice as the best tackle — in fact, far from it. If we asked a group of five or six scouts to name the top four or five tackles in this draft, we would get five or six different answers. Still, I suspect that McGlinchey would be first or second on most ballots.
McGlinchey has ideal tackle size (6-foot-8 and 309 pounds with 34” arms). He was a three-year starter at Notre Dame, playing right tackle in 2015 and then left tackle the last two seasons. He is a very durable player, never missing a start during his career. If there is a problem with his play, it’s that he is probably better off playing on the right side. As a sophomore in 2015, he graded out very well on the right side. When playing left tackle the next two seasons, he got far too many false start penalties (mostly in 2016) and would occasionally have some trouble blocking wide speed.
McGlinchey is plenty tough and has excellent play strength. He is an outstanding run blocker who gets to the second level without any problem. If he has a weakness, it’s confidence when up against a speed rusher. Personally, I feel that a club can get by with him on the left side, but I also feel that McGlinchey can be a Pro Bowl-caliber performer on the right side. The club that selects him will make that determination once they get him in the building.
Connor Williams – Texas
Just looking at the tape, Williams should challenge for the draft's top OT billing. He plays with toughness and strength, as well as athleticism. He has very good feet, balance and lateral agility. His hand use is also very good.
It's Williams' measureables that might be a problem. He measured 6-foot-5 and 296 pounds at the combine with 33” arms. At 296, he is a little light for an NFL tackle, and his 33” arm length is just at the minimum standard for the position.
The other knock on Williams is that, after sustaining a knee injury during the season, there are some who felt he could have come back and played at least in the Texas Bowl game.
Looking at Williams' frame, he should be able to get to and hold 310-plus pounds once he gets into the NFL. He is easily athletic enough to play on the left side — and play well. I see him coming in and starting right away and being able to play productively as a rookie. Three years down the road, he could be the best tackle to come from this draft.
Tyrell Crosby – Oregon
Once we get past the top two tackles, there will be debate as to which guys come next. Going into the combine, Oklahoma’s Orlando Brown would have been in consideration, but his workout was so poor that he may not get selected before the third round.
After watching the tape, my pick is Oregon’s Tyrell Crosby. He is another player who has experience at both right and left tackle. He only played in two games in 2016 because of a foot injury, so he still has some inexperience as far as playing time.
Crosby measured in at 6-foot-4 ½ and 309 pounds at the combine, 10 pounds lighter than his Senior Bowl playing weight of 319. In Mobile, his arms measured at 34 3/8”, and in Indianapolis that number improved to 35¼".
Crosby played very well for the Ducks, showing strength and power as a run blocker by consistently getting movement, and mirroring, cutting off wide speed and anchoring in pass protection. The tape shows he plays with good bend, but Crosby was a little straight legged at the Senior Bowl.
Crosby will get drafted high — probably not the first round — but he will most likely get selected in Round Two. Once in the NFL, he should be able to play tackle or guard. It wouldn’t surprise me if he starts out at guard and then gets moved out to tackle after gaining experience.
Brian O’Neill – Pittsburgh
Some may want to put UCLA’s Kolton Miller at this spot, and while he may be a worthy candidate, I still see a raw and physically underdeveloped prospect. Miller is very tall, but he has a narrow frame and still needs to add strength and bulk. From an athletic point of view, though, he is just what we look for.
O’Neill is a former tight end who was moved to tackle his redshirt freshman year. At nearly 6-foot-7 with 34 1/8” arms, he has the height and length we look for at tackle. He weighed in at 297 at the combine, so O'Neill needs to add 10-15 pounds, which shouldn't be a problem at all with his frame.
O'Neill ran the 40 in 4.82, as well as posting a 7.14-second 3-cone drill — which is rare for a big guy. He is a strong, powerful and aggressive blocker, consistently looking to finish in the run game and mirroring very well in pass protection. On the down side, O'Neill needs to improve his anchor. But relative to his OT peers in this class, O’Neil may have the highest ceiling, and because of that he will be drafted high.