In the 2019 NFL Draft, we saw six offensive tackles taken in the first round, which is the highest number since 2011. This year’s class could be just as good as five players enter the 2020 season with first-round grades on my board. The class is led by Oregon’s Penei Sewell who has the potential to be the number one pick in the draft. The top senior in the class is Walker Little of Stanford. Even though Little missed all but the first game of the season last year, he has the overall skills to be a top-10 pick. The sleepers in this year’s class include an SEC player being overlooked in Myron Cunningham, and one of the best players in the FCS in Dillon Radunz. Along with taking an in-depth look at this year’s class this week’s Inside the War Room takes a look at a couple of Notre Dame defenders whose stocks are on the rise, a quarterback that is a medical risk, and much more.
TOP FIVE SENIOR OFFENSIVE TACKLES
WALKER LITTLE, STANFORD
Stanford’s Walker Little is one of the most talented seniors in this year’s draft and has all the tools to be one of the top left tackles in the NFL. The area he is the most impressive in is his run blocking. As a run blocker he shows impressive strength and does a great job of driving his defender off the line of scrimmage. He plays with the mean streak that allows him to finish off his defender as well. When it comes to pass protection, he shows the potential to dominate in this area, although he does need to refine his game some. One of the areas I would like to see him improve is that at times he allows his feet to stick in place. This allows the defender to get the best of him. The biggest concern with him though is he suffered a season-ending knee injury in the first game of the 2019 season.
ALEX LEATHERWOOD, ALABAMA
The senior offensive tackle that had the best season last year is Alabama’s, Alex Leatherwood. Leatherwood was named to the AFCA All-American team and was one of the main reasons why Alabama ranked second in the nation in scoring in 2019. On the season he only gave up two sacks and graded out at 99% on his blocking assignments. As a player Leatherwood is a proven run blocker who shows a good initial punch. In pass protection he plays with great technique and his long frame six-foot-six allows him to keep defenders at bay. Teams will also like the versatility he has shown at Alabama, having played guard in 2018 and left tackle in 2019. The reason he could fall to the end of the first round though is he is a limited athlete. He lacks the explosion out of his stance that scouts like to see, and might not have the quick feet needed to play left tackle in the NFL.
ALARIC JACKSON, IOWA
Despite having a down season last year due to a knee injury, Iowa offensive tackle Alaric Jackson still carries a first-round draft grade going into the season. One of the reasons the NFL is so high on him is his tremendous first step. His first step allows him to latch onto a defender quickly and his strength allows him to manhandle the defender after that. He shows nice mobility as well, as he can get to the second level or get out in front on screen passes. An area Jackson needs to improve on is his balance, due to the fact can get knocked off his feet from time to time. I also would like to see more consistency from him as he looks like a top-10 pick on some plays, but on others looks like just an average Big 10 offensive lineman.
THAYER MUNFORD, OHIO STATE
If you are looking for a true left tackle Ohio State’s Thayer Munford might be your guy. Munford has the feet to play this position in the NFL as he does a great job of sliding in pass protection and has the long arm needed for this spot. He is also a fit for the left tackle position since he is better in pass protection than he is as a run blocker. As a run blocker, he shows only average strength and lacks the mauler mentality you like to see from an offensive lineman. He also tends to lunge some when run blocking, which causes him to miss his block at times.
LIAM EICHENBERG, NOTRE DAME
One of the most impressive pass-blocking offensive lines last year was Notre Dame’s, and the leader of this offensive line is Liam Eichenberg. Eichenberg has started at left tackle for the Irish for two seasons and has only allowed three sacks over this time period. In 2019, he ranked first on the team in pass-blocking (85.6) and run-blocking (78.8) grades according to Pro Football Focus. As a prospect, Eichenberg shows the quick feet and overall athletic ability to play left tackle at the next level. He also is one of the more fundamentally sound players at his position as he shows great hand use and overall footwork. While he may not have the upside of a guy like Thayer Munford, I could see Eichenberg being a late first-round pick who becomes a solid left tackle in the NFL.
COLE VAN LANEN, OT, WISCONSIN
Wisconsin offensive tackle Cole Van Lanen significantly raised his stock last year, as it was his first year starting for the Badgers. Van Lanen was one of the major reasons Wisconsin finished second in the Big Ten in rushing yards, as his overall power and ability to stay on blocks opened numerous running lanes. He also held his own in pass protection displaying nice feet and the awareness to handle any defensive stunts thrown at him. If he can post another strong season as a senior he could hear his name called on the second day of the draft.
JEREMIAH OWUSU-KORAMOAH, OLB, NOTRE DAME
Owusu-Koramoah saw significant playing time for the first time last year, after only playing in two games his first two years on campus. In his one year of starting for the Irish, he became a defensive leader and finished the season on the team leader in tackles for loss with 13 and also finished second on the team in tackles with 70. To go along with these impressive numbers he also had 5.5 sacks and four pass breakups. These stats highlight how versatile of a player he is, as he can be used to both get after the passer or in coverage. This versatility will also help the junior’s draft stock as he lacks the size to be a traditional linebacker, coming in at only 215 pounds. The team that drafts him will probably look at him as more of a hybrid safety-linebacker who can be moved around on defense depending on the situation.
KJ COSTELLO, QB, MISSISSIPPI STATE
No 2020 senior prospect might be helped more by a change of scenery than former Stanford QB KJ Costello. Going into the 2019 season, Costello was regarded as one of the better quarterbacks in college football after completing 65% of his passes and throwing for 29 touchdowns as a sophomore. Unfortunately, his game fell off a cliff in 2019 as he saw action in only five games and saw his quarterback rating drop by 34 points. Costello will get a fresh start next season though under passing game guru Mike Leach. If Costello can stay healthy there is a strong likelihood he will lead the SEC in passing yards next season and see his draft stock improve in the meantime.
DAELIN HAYES, DE, NOTRE DAME
Notre Dame defensive end Daelin Hayes has had a somewhat underachieving career for the Irish so far, as he has never had more than 31 tackles in a season. That could change this season though as the Irish lost both starting defensive ends Khalid Kareem and Julian Okwara to graduation. If Hayes can capitalize on more playing time he will fly up the draft board, since he is one of the best athletes in the defensive end class. One area he must improve on is his hand use and getting off blocks in order to live up to his potential.
COY CRONK, OT, IOWA
Going into the 2019 season Cronk was getting plenty of NFL interest and was even named to the Senior Bowl watch list. Unfortunately, that interest came to an end in the fourth game of the season when Cronk went down with a season-ending ankle injury. One plus of this injury is that it allowed him to take a redshirt year and return to school in 2020. However, Cronk will not be spending that year where he spent the first four years of his career, as he decided to transfer from Indiana to Iowa as a graduate transfer.
TARIQ CASTRO-FIELDS, CB, PENN STATE
Castro-Fields is someone who had an up and down season last year. Going into the season he was one of the highest-graded cornerbacks in the Big Ten, as he didn’t allow a single touchdown pass against him, and led the conference in lowest passer rating allowed according to Pro Football Focus. He started the year off strong as well, looking like he could be a potential top 60 pick in the draft. However, during the season he suffered an undisclosed injury that caused him to lose confidence and his level of play fell. Now that he is fully healthy he is going to need to regain his old level of play, as the Nittany Lions are counting on him to replace John Reid as the team’s number one cornerback.
ROBERT HAINSEY, OT, NOTRE DAME
Hainsey had a great start to the 2019 season, not allowing a sack the entire season. Unfortunately, Hainsey’s season was cut short though as he suffered an ankle injury that cost him the last five games of the season. If he can bounce back from this injury, he should be able to earn a mid-round draft grade, as he has several things working in his favor including fundamentally sound play, his production in pass protection, and the power to be a strong run blocker.
CHARLIE BREWER, QB, BAYLOR
One thing that will surely scare teams away from Baylor quarterback Charlie Brewer is his history of concussions. He has suffered four concussions during his career including two concussions in the last two games of the 2019 season. It is also scary that Brewer had to spend a week in a dark room after his concussion during the Big 12 title game and could barely even remember the game. If this problem continues next season, it might be best for Brewer to retire so that he can have some resemblance of a normal life when he hangs up the cleats.
— While still raw, Illinois offensive tackle Alex Palczewski impresses me with his potential. He is one of the more athletic right tackles in the Big Ten and would be a good fit for a zone-blocking team due to this athletic ability. To go along with his athletic ability he has the size NFL ball clubs like coming in at 6-6 and 300 pounds. One more positive with this prospect is that he has played both guard and tackle in college. I do think he could become a significantly better offensive lineman if he is able to refine his game though. One area he needs to work on is his overall technique as he tends to overset at times and also plays with too wide of a base. He also could add some more strength since he currently has trouble with the bull-rush and getting much of a push in the run game.
— The only senior quarterback who I currently project as a first-round pick is Florida’s, Kyle Trask. Trask is a player who shows all the physical skills to be a starting quarterback in the NFL, starting with his ability to throw any pass. He has the arm strength to easily throw the corner route and also the touch to make it an easy catch on any check-down route. Another trait teams will love about him is his prototypical size coming in at 6-5 and 239 pounds. He is not a statue in the pocket either, which you often see with players his size. On the downside, he does need to work on his footwork. Some of the issues he was with his footwork include, throwing off balance at times or with his feet being in awkward positions. His lack of ideal footwork is one of the main reasons why his accuracy suffers at times. He also needs to work on being more comfortable when facing pressure, due to the fact that he tends to throw the ball up for grabs or generally panics in these situations.
— While Illinois State offensive tackle Drew Himmelman is getting most of the hype for being the top offensive tackle in the FCS, I have to go with North Dakota State’s Dillon Radunz as the top FCS offensive lineman. When watching Radunz I am impressed with his run blocking skills. He has the mindset for this duty as he shows great aggression and always blocks to the whistle. He shows the strength to dominate in the run game at the FCS level as well. Even though Radunz plays left tackle for the Bison, his best position in the NFL will likely be the right tackle. The main reason for this is his lack of footspeed which could hurt him against speed rushers. Radunz is already starting to pick up NFL interest, already being mentioned as someone the Senior Bowl is looking at.
— Look for Trey Sermon to blow up this year now that he has transferred to Ohio State. Sermon will be a great fit in the Buckeyes power offense which focuses more on running downhill than the offense Sermon was in at Oklahoma last year. This should be a natural fit for him as he displays terrific power as a runner and runs through the first contact on a regular basis. To go along with the powerful running style he has a nice vision, which allows him to make a quick cut and get through the hole. He also displays great athletic ability for a guy his size and can make defenders miss in the open field. It would not be the least bit surprising if Sermon rushes for close to 1,500 yards this season, and is one of the main reasons Ohio State wins the National Championships this year.
— An SEC offensive tackle being overlooked is Myron Cunningham of Arkansas. In just his first season for the Razorbacks, Cunningham started 10 of 11 games and established himself as the leader of the offensive line. The area that excites me the most about this prospect is his skills as a pass blocker. Last season, he only gave up one sack on the year. He also held his own against the top teams he faced in the SEC, as he posted his best pass blocking grade of the year 87.8 against Alabama, according to Pro Football Focus. The traits that make him stand out in this area to include his incredibly nimble feet and his flexibility. He does need to improve as a run blocker though, as he only has average power. This is likely due to the fact he is undersized coming in at only 293 pounds. However, he does have the physique to add weight to his six-foot-seven frame. I currently grade Cunningham as a late-round draft prospect, but that could change if he puts on some weight and becomes a better run blocker.
SENIOR OVERALL OFFENSIVE TACKLE RANKINGS
Preseason First-Round Grade: Walker Little, Alex Leatherwood, Alaric Jackson
Top Small School Prospect: Dillon Radunz
Most Underrated: Alex Palczewski
Most Overrated: Ben Petrula
Biggest Risk: Walker Little
Underclassmen to Watch: Penei Sewell, Samuel Cosmi
1. Walker Little, Stanford
2. Alex Leatherwood, Alabama
3. Alaric Jackson, Iowa
4. Thayer Munford, Ohio State
5. Liam Eichenberg, Notre Dame
6. Alex Palczewski, Illinois
7. Cole Van Lanen, Wisconsin
8. Will Fries, Penn State
9. Ben Petrula, Boston College
10, Tommy Doyle, Miami of Ohio
11. Myron Cunningham, Arkansas
12. Dillon Radunz, North Dakota State
13. Stone Forsythe, Florida
14. Landon Young, Kentucky
15. Spencer Brown, UNI
16. Brenden Jaimes, Nebraska
17. Robert Hainsey, Notre Dame
18. Sam Schlueter, Minnesota
19. Coy Cronk, Iowa
20. Austin Deculus, LSU
21. Drew Himmelman, Illinois State
22. Cordell Volson, North Dakota State
23. Jaylon Moore, Western Michigan
24. Tanner Owen, Northwest Missouri State
25. Kenneth Kirby, Norfolk State
26. Brian Foley, Holy Cross
27. Austin Sherrill, Keiser
NEWS AND NOTES
— Former Northern Illinois DT Jack Heflin has transferred to Iowa. — Clemson WR Justyn Ross will undergo surgery for a stinger. — Look for some teams to consider moving Boston College OT Ben Petrula inside to G. — Former Western Kentucky TE Kyle Foutenbary has transferred to Northern Iowa. — Cam Newton’s younger brother Caylin Newton has transferred from Howard to Auburn.
Please note there will not be an Inside the War Room next week, as I am getting married on Saturday. In the meantime please check out the previous week’s articles.
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- Inside the War Room: All-Underrated Offensive Team - June 21, 2020
- Inside the War Room: Offensive Guard Preview - June 14, 2020
- Inside the War Room: Offensive Tackle Preview - May 25, 2020