The ACC hasn’t produced a first-round offensive tackle since 2011 (Anthony Costanzo, Boston College) and an early look at the 2019 crop does not suggest that streak is coming to an end. Given the numerous quality pass rushers in the conference, a considerable challenge lies ahead for the ACC’s offensive linemen, especially at tackle.
Who are the ACC’s best offensive tackles entering the season? Let’s examine my top five.
1. Tyree St. Louis, Senior, Miami (6'5, 312)
St. Louis enters his final season at Miami amid a streak of 21 consecutive starts and is the offensive tackle in the ACC that has the most NFL upside. Flipping from right tackle to the left side as a senior sets the scene for St. Louis to prove he is the ACC’s top offensive tackle and improve his draft stock.
At 6-foot-5 and 312 pounds, St. Louis looks the part with a stocky frame and long arms. He offers impressive footspeed for a man of his size and there is a noticeable spring in his step when starting his pass set. St. Louis is an intelligent blocker that diagnoses stunts and blitzes from the defense well and has the reactive athleticism to shut them down. He flashes an effective punch and battles to establish his hand fits, and he has a stout anchor capable of absorbing power. If he gets beat, it’s not because he lacks strength.
The primary areas for St. Louis to show improvements in as a senior are pass set angles, playing with better bend and using his length to keep opponents at the end of his reach. While St. Louis has the foot quickness to keep pace around the arc, he robs himself of quickness with inconsistent angles out of his kick-slide. Furthermore, his tendency to bend at the waist and not his knees creates leverage and pacing issues when he is hip to hip with opponents.
While St. Louis isn’t a finished product, he does stand out in a weak crop of offensive tackles in the ACC. He has the traits needed to emerge if it all comes together.
2. Mitch Hyatt, Senior, Clemson (6'5, 305)
From his 5-star rating as a recruit and immediately becoming the Tigers’ starting left tackle to All-ACC honors in his first three seasons in college and winning the ACC Jacobs Blocking Trophy as the conference’s top offensive lineman, Hyatt is putting together the resume of a high draft pick. With that said, he has a long way to go on the field for that to be a reality.
Hyatt’s issues as a blocker stem from technical issues with his hands and a lack of overall play strength. As a pass blocker, Hyatt is too frequently late with his punch, opening the door for pass rushers to soften angles and get after the quarterback. That, when combined with his soft anchor, consistently compromises the width of the pocket. His punch lacks pop and he lacks the grip strength to sustain blocks.
When run blocking, Hyatt has a tendency to duck his head at the point of attack, which causes him to overextend and fail to see his opponent. His lack of play strength mitigates his ability to create space on the ground: Hyatt is regularly stacked at the line of scrimmage.
When considering the positive aspects of Hyatt, his experience stands out. He’s a three-year starter and has a chance to become Clemson’s first ever four-time All-Conference selection. He also does well to initially frame pass rushers out of his kick-slide.
A defining season is ahead for Hyatt to prove he has the desired NFL traits to match the stellar resume he’s already built.
3. Justin Herron, Senior, Wake Forest (6-5, 290)
A third-team All-ACC selection in 2017, Herron enters his senior campaign in his fourth season as a starter along the Deacon’s offensive line. After showing steady improvement throughout his career, Herron is on the NFL’s radar with a critical season ahead of him.
Herron has the length needed to win outside in the NFL and he effectively uses it to elongate his opponent's path to the quarterback. He punches with fairly consistent timing and does well to get his hands placed in pass protection. He flashes the ability to frame pass rushers initially and did not allow a sack in 2017.
As a run blocker, Herron has modest power at the point of attack, but his inability to consistently fit his hands and accelerate his feet makes it difficult for him to create space. Overall, his body control is below average as a result of a narrow base and folding at the waist, though he is capable of bowing his back and dropping his anchor to absorb power. Herron has positive moments in space, connecting with moving targets and arriving on time.
While Herron isn’t an overly exciting prospect, he does have a foundation of traits to build upon that could make him appealing next April.
4. Cody Conway, Senior, Syracuse (6'6, 300)
Not since 2013 (Justin Pugh) has a Syracuse offensive lineman been drafted, but Conway has a chance to be the Orange’s next blocker in the NFL. Entering his third year as an ACC left tackle, Conway has held his own -- for the most part -- against premiere pass rushers.
The ACC features a murderer's row of pass rushers and Conway’s best ability is how well he pass blocks. He does well to initially frame rushers while remaining patient and under control. He rarely folds at the waist and has good balance and the ability to recover if his opponent manages to soften the outside edge track. Conway has an effective punch that is thrown with good timing and placement as he works to keep pass rushers at bay. He has proven to be effective in space when tasked with lead blocking on the perimeter or into a gap and climbing to the second level.
As a run blocker, Conway has modest play strength and girth, which limit his ability to drive block and create space. He is effective at working blocking angles and functioning as a technician in zone concepts.
While Conway won’t be confused as a big-bodied road-grader, his technique and pass blocking upside meshes well with today’s NFL. He has a chance to emerge as a senior.
5. Alex Bookser, Senior, Pittsburgh (6'6, 310)
Bookser has bounced back and forth between right guard and right tackle but is projected to play outside at tackle for his final season at Pittsburgh. For a Panthers offensive line that lost three starters to either graduation or the NFL, Bookser has been called upon to become the veteran leader and anchor of the unit.
There are some appealing components to Booker’s game -- mainly his play strength, which allows him to absorb contact and occasionally redirect rushers. He has a stout anchor and doesn’t give ground when he is square to his opponent. Secondly, his experience at multiple positions offers the versatility NFL teams look for when rounding out a position group.
For Bookser to prove himself as a draft-worthy prospect, showcasing improvements athletically is critical. Bookser has notably tight hips and heavy feet that make it difficult for him to keep up with edge rushers around the arc. While his length is an asset, his lack of footspeed and fluidity present a challenge. He must operate with better leverage and body control to stay more consistently square to his opponents and maximize his play strength.
Bookser does come with some baggage in the form of a DUI arrest in May of 2017, so remaining clean off the field is vital for him moving forward. In a weak conference of offensive tackles, Bookser has a chance to take a step forward in 2018 if he can improve.
Keep an eye on:
Aaron Monteiro, Boston College
Christian Harris, Duke
Tyler Jones, NC State
Yosuah Nijman, Virginia Tech