As the 2013 NFL Scouting Combine nears an end, here's a look at my top offensive tackle prospects for the Chicago Bears.
#1 Luke Joeckel, Texas A&M – Joeckel is not only the best OT of this year’s Draft, he’s arguably the best overall prospect period. Joeckel was one of the premier pass protectors in college football this past season. He has the quick feet to get deep in his drops to either stop speed rushers in their tracks or push them completely out of the play. He has the athleticism and nimble feet to mirror just about any edge rusher you throw at him.
Joeckel has the ability to develop into a Joe Thomas caliber franchise tackle and will be way out of reach for the Bears.
#2 Eric Fisher, Central Michigan – If Joeckel is 1A then Fisher is 1B. There’s not much separating the two, and some experts have argued that Fisher is the best OT prospect in this Draft. Before the Senior Bowl and Combine, Fisher was rated by most draft publications as a top-15 pick. After the Senior Bowl and Combine, he has been talked up as a top-five pick. When you see tape of Fisher, combined with his strong performances in the Senior Bowl and Combine, it’s hard to argue with that opinion.
#3 Lane Johnson, Oklahoma – Johnson has drawn comparisons to New England Patriots’ LT Nate Solder. Like Johnson, Solder was a raw athlete coming into the Combine. Johnson is a little more polish than Solder was coming out of college, and when you combine that with his athleticism (played TE and DE before moving to OT), Johnson is developing into a hot commodity for teams in need of a potential franchise LT.
There’s a lot of mixed opinion on where Johnson could land. Some have him as a top-20 pick while others think he will go in the top-10. If he’s available for the Bears, assuming they bypass OT in Free Agency, he would be a no-brainer.
#4 Terron Armstead, Arkansas-Pine Bluff – Armstead has risen on a lot of mock draft publication boards with his performance at the Senior Bowl and Combine. His performance has forced a lot of people covering the Draft (including myself) to go back and look at film of the small school OT. I came away very impressed with Armstead’s athleticism and technique. He has the quick feet to mirror edge rushers and get deep in his drops against speed rushers. He uses his hands very well and has the strength to hold up against bull rushers.
I have a first-round grade on Armstead, and he's not that far away from overtaking Lane Johnson as the third best LT prospect in the Draft.
#5 D.J. Fluker, Alabama – Fluker is one of my favorite prospects; he has the ability to play multiple positions along the offensive line. Since Bears’ offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer has come out and said the team will run variations of both zone and power blocking schemes, Fluker will definitely be in play for the Bears at pick No. 20.
#6 Kyle Long, Oregon – Long definitely has potential to play on the outside at either LT or RT. Worst case scenario you can kick him inside at LG, a position he played at Oregon.
#7 Menelik Watson, Florida State – Watson has LT potential, but he will need to work on his pass protection before becoming a starter.
#8 Brennan Williams, North Carolina – Williams is one of the better RT prospects in this Draft and has the potential to be a starter in his first year. His run blocking is superior to his pass blocking but not to the point where he’s a liability in pass protection.
#9 Jordan Mills, Louisiana Tech – Mills is not ready to step in day one and contribute at either OT position, but he’s a project you could develop behind a veteran.
#10 Oday Aboushi, Virginia – Undersized to play LT and doesn’t have the bulk to play RT. Aboushi could kick inside at OG at the next level.
Safe Choice: Lane Johnson
Compared to the top two tackle prospects in this Draft, Johnson is a high risk/high reward player. Compared to the rest of the field, however, Johnson could be looked at as a safe choice for the Bears if he were to fall to pick No. 20. If you are looking for that athlete at LT to combat against some of the League’s most athletic pass rushers, Johnson is the guy.
Johnson displays quick feet to help him get deep into his drops against speed rushers. He’s a great athlete at the position with room to grow as far as technique and physique is concern. With the Bears, Johnson would likely be the ideal starter at LT, with J’Marcus Webb taking over at RT.
Worst case scenario for Johnson is that he fails to show that he can play LT at the next level, but then you can insert him at RT and see how it works out.
High Risk/High Reward: Terron Armstead
Armstead followed up his strong Senior Bowl performance with a great Combine showing. It first started with the 40 times, as Armstead ran an unofficial 4.65. The official time wasn’t too far off at 4.71. Armstead impressed in the drills also, displaying great athleticism at the position. The performance made me go back and study him a bit more, and I came away very impressed. He has all the tools to be a franchise caliber LT.
So what’s the high risk with Armstead? The two most glaring concerns are that he comes from a small school and that he needs to bulk up in order to be more effective in run blocking at the next level. He looks great on the game film, but one cannot ignore the level of competition he was playing against. The strong Senior Bowl performance was a step in the right direction in proving he can be very effective against next level competition, but we need to see more.
Armstead should get strong consideration from the Bears at No. 20, as he has the potential to be a franchise level LT.
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