The 2013 NFL Draft saw several talented offensive linemen selected in the first round. It was the first time since Jake Long (Dolphins, 2008) that an offensive tackle was selected with the No.1 pick overall (Eric Fisher, Chiefs). In fact, offensive tackles were both the first AND second overall picks (Luke Joeckel, Jaguars, 1.02).
The amazing part of last year’s offensive tackle domination of round one is that there’s a chance the 2014 NFL Draft will have two players at the position graded HIGHER than Eric Fisher, yet it’s a virtual lock that neither will be the first selection come next May. With the 2014 NFL Draft class showcasing names like JaDeveon Clowney (DE, South Carolina) and Teddy Bridgewater (QB, Louisville), it’s likely that the best an offensive tackle can do is No.3 overall.
That’s still not too shabby.
I’ve been spending the last couple of weeks breaking down film of this year’s likely offensive tackle class. I haven’t limited my study to seniors; I’ve been reviewing film of draft-eligible juniors as well. At the end of the day, the 2014 NFL Draft could have as many as four tackles that are issued first-round grades by FRG scouting, with the top two (as of press time) being Taylor Lewan (Michigan) and Jake Matthews (Texas A&M).
That shouldn’t come as a surprise to many. Taylor Lewan was already in the discussion as one of the best offensive line prospects in the Country last season. His decision to return to school came as a bit of a surprise (now possibly a regret as he would’ve challenged to be the first player selected.) Jake Matthews benefited from all the exposure received by his teammate, Luke Joeckel, as the more scouts watched film on Joeckel, the more it became apparent that Matthews might just be the better longterm prospect.
There’s no debate. These guys are good. They’re going to be first-round picks. But who’s better?
Every scout knows that the tape doesn’t lie. I decided to evaluate Lewan and Matthews with the intention of comparing and contrasting the two; A tale of the tape, of sorts.
Now, it goes without saying that there is a LOT of football to be played. There’s a chance that a player like Cyrus Kouandjio (Alabama) could declare for the 2014 NFL Draft and have an improved 2013 season of film. His upside is undeniable, and he could leapfrog both Lewan and Matthews.
But for the purpose of discussion and debate, let’s take a look at Lewan vs. Matthews in the early battle for the king of the offensive tackle ring.[table “31” not found /]
[table “32” not found /]
So, who’s the “winner?”
After taking a thorough look at both players, it’s obvious to me that their ultimate draft position (who goes higher) will depend on which teams are selecting where. Taylor Lewan is going to be more appealing to the smash mouth, run-first teams. Jake Matthews will be a godsend for a team that likes to sling the rock . That said, and since the point of this piece was to determine who has a higher grade RIGHT NOW, I’d lean slightly in favor of Taylor Lewan simply because of his overall strength and ability to dominate in the run game. Even if he is just an adequate pass protector in the NFL, he is going to add a level of toughness to a unit that is hard to find.
It can’t be said enough that the 2013 tape is going to be a huge variable in both Lewan and Matthews’ evaluations. Lewan has some room to improve in pass protection, whereas Matthews has to show that he can handle sliding over to the left side. This battle will go down to the wire, and it will be a lot of fun watching it play out.