The NFL isn’t afraid to draft offensive tackles with intriguing physical tools but in need of major technical development higher in the draft.
In last year's draft, developmental offensive tackles like Brandon Parker, Geron Christian, Joseph Noteboom and Alexa Cappa where all top-100 selections. Brian O’Neill was taken in the second round and Kolton Miller heard his name called No. 15 overall. In 2017, David Sharpe, Julie’n Davenport and Zach Banner were taken in the fourth round. The examples go on and on.
I like this year’s crop of offensive tackles and there are several worthy of selections in the first three rounds. With that said, Washington State’s Andre Dillard and Ole Miss’ Greg Little are two of the more polarizing offensive tackle prospects in the class and are destined to be fairly high selections. Dillard and Little both have a strong foundation of tools to develop from, but expecting them to start early in their career is too rich.
In Dillard’s case, this dude has rare mobility. His feet are nimble, smooth and exactly what the NFL is looking for to mirror speedy pass rushers up the arc and protect the quarterback’s blindside. He is springy and controlled when sliding his feet. His athletic ability leads to a good deal of success blocking on the move in space that enable him to connect with back seven defenders and secure blocks.
The challenge ahead for Dillard is adapting to techniques in the NFL he was never asked to do at Washington State. Preparing players for the NFL is just not something Cougars’ Head Coach Mike Leach cares about.
“I pay no attention whatsoever to developing them for the next level,” Leach told Titans Wire. “That’s somebody else’s job. Why would I care? We coach them the best that we can. We worry about putting them in the best positions they can be put in here at our school to accomplish the things that we need to accomplish.I do think it goes hand in hand, though. I think if they’re in a good place and they get the proper coaching, then the better their chances are at the next level. We’re not gonna sit here and monkey around and worry about the next level. There’s no point in me sitting around trying to guess what they want at the next level. That would be a bunch of foolishness.”
In the run game, Dillard wasn’t tasked with firing off the ball, fitting his hands, unlocking his hips and accelerating his feet to create movement. His job was to serve as a positional blocker and seal lanes. In pass protection, his set points in the NFL will be completely different than at Washington State. While I have no concerns that he can adapt, but it’s an entirely new concept that will take time acclimating to. The new techniques for Dillard require his frame to be used differently and his functional strength will be challenged in ways it wasn’t previously. Dillard’s strength and position coach have their work cut out for them at the next level to unlock his ceiling.
In the case of Little, he was a five-star recruit that became a starter very early in his Rebel's career. Little was an effective blocker as a senior and a First-Team All-SEC selection. With that said, his results were much better than his process and I have concerns about how he will adapt to the NFL.
Most of my concerns with Little stem from balance and body control which is often difficult for offensive lineman to overcome in the NFL. While it’s good for lineman to set a wide base, Little’s borders on too wide at times and inhibits his ability to redirect and anchor. His weight gets too far forward, leading to folding at the waist and over-extending. His body control on the move disappoints and his overall consistency to play with proper bend leaves much to be desired.
I like Little’s foot quickness, but his inconsistent balance robs himself of mobility. I like his natural power but playing with poor leverage steals functional strength. An investment in Little is believing in his blend of size, length and athletic ability and betting on yourself to develop him.
I am not saying Little and Dillard aren’t going to be producing NFL starters, but they are destined to be drafted higher than they should. I wouldn’t expect immediate returns on either investment.