Finding the Fit: Offensive Tackle
Last year, the Falcons looked at replacing veteran Todd Weiner with a guy that could potentially work as a swing tackle. They wound up with Garrett Reynolds.
He didn’t contribute a lot as a rookie, but showed some ability to play both inside and outside, and could push for more playing time this summer.
But the Falcons should be back at it again this draft. Sam Baker is a solid left tackle, that if he can ever stay healthy, could develop into one of the better guys in the league. He won’t remind anyone of Walter Jones, but certainly can be as good if not a better player than Matt Light.
Tyson Clabo was the Falcons most consistent blocker over the course of the first half of the season, but his second half was not quite as solid. I think a big part of that was the injury to Harvey Dahl that messed up the continuity. But Clabo isn’t the most athletic option for a right tackle, and many believe that he is better suited with a return to guard, where he played mostly in 2006.
So ideally, the Falcons could find a blocker that could push Clabo for his starting position, but also be a good backup to Baker as well.
1. Athleticism – If the guy is going to be an upgrade over Clabo, he’s going to need to be athletic. And if the guy is to have any chance of playing left tackle as well, then he is going to need to be athletic. You don’t need to be a good enough athlete to win Dancing With the Stars, but a guy that can move his feet and matchup with 260-pound right ends and 275-pound left ends is necessary.
2. Strength/Run Blocking – The dichotomy of the left tackle and right tackle isn’t as pronounced as it was years ago. But nonetheless, being strong and being able to push the pile still is a better asset to have as a right tackle. The Falcons run best to the right side, so if a guy is going to be able to play there, he needs to be able to move the pile.
3. Mean Streak – One the hallmarks of the sort of attitude that Paul Boudreau has brought to the Falcons is his insistence on his guys being mean. That is embodied in right guard Harvey Dahl, but players like Baker and Clabo aren’t far away.
The best fit in the draft is Iowa’s Bryan Bulaga. But he seems like a lock to be a Top 15 pick. If he did somehow slip to where the Falcons pick, he would make obvious sense. He is a natural left tackle, but has the size, strength, and run blocking potential to be a top right tackle.
Selvish Capers is a good athlete, plays right tackle at West Virginia, and uses his long arms to be an effective run blocker. But he needs to get stronger, has sloppy technique at times, and he lacks mean streak. He’s a player in the mold of Ephraim Salaam, in that he can push for time at right tackle, but also possesses the skillset to be an effective left tackle.
Bulaga’s teammate Kyle Calloway is a player similar to Clabo. He ideally fits in a zone-blocking scheme, and is athletically limited on the outside. But he uses his size very, is a solid run blocker, and possesses a lot of mean streak. He can play either inside or outside.
Texas’s Adam Ulatoski is a similar player that projects well as a right tackle in a zone-blocking scheme. He played left tackle at TExas, and has a lot of mean streak. But he doesn’t have great feet, athleticism, and isn’t the most powerful run blocker on the scene.
Rodger Saffold (Indiana) is a player that is moving up boards. He played left tackle at Indiana, but is better suited to the right side on the next level. He’s a nice athlete with mean streak, but needs to get better in his technique and strength.
Sam Young (Notre Dame) played right tackle at Notre Dame, has a good mean streak, and has the long arms and height you like in left tackle prospects. But his technique and footwork mean he’d be limited there. He’ll need to get better and do a better job filling out his tall frame, and he could make a solid run blocker on the right side.
Kevin Haslam (Rutgers) is overshadowed by Anthony Davis, but is a nice right tackle that has decent athleticism, mean streak, and is a capable run blocker. He’s undersized and needs to get stronger, and needs to refine his technique as well.
Last but not least is LSU’s Ciron Black. He’s a massive guy that has mean streak, and can be a dominating run blocker. And although he’s athletic for his size, his footwork is iffy and he’ll be unlikely to match up with speed rushers in the pros. He played on the left at LSU, but fits best on the right side in the pros and possibly as a guard in a similar mold as Leonard Davis.
The Final Verdict
Black is probably the best prospect on the group because he can push Clabo at right tackle, has the experience of playing on the left side, and also can potentially play guard if he can’t supplant Clabo on the outside. For similar reasons, Calloway is another good option, although he can’t play left tackle.
Versatility is key because it’s not as if Clabo would lay down if he was challenged in camp. Black is expected to be a late second round or third round pick. Calloway probably won’t go until the third or fourth round.
All of the others instead would be better options as swing tackles that could be upgrades over Reynolds, but aren’t necessarily good enough where you can expect them to supplant Clabo as a starter. They could push him and possibly develop into solid starters down the road, but it doesn’t seem like a strong bet.
Of those, Ulatoski probably is the best fit simply because he grades the highest in terms of mean streak.