The NFL draft process has gifted the NFL some highly talented trench players throughout the past several seasons. Standout players such as Penei Sewell, Tristan Wirfs, and Rashawn Slater are recent graduates to the NFL and all have collectively hit the ground running with their early-career performances. Add in offensive tackles such as Andrew Thomas, Jedrick Wills, Christian Darrisaw, and Sam Cosmi and it’s been a great period to draft offensive linemen high for reinforcements in the trenches.
But as we enter the start of the 2023 college football season and the beginning of the final chapter for the next wave of NFL draft prospects, we’re looking at a wide-open competition to be around the top of the offensive line chart this spring.
Most outlets, including us here at The Draft Network, largely consider Northwestern’s Peter Skoronski as a top name in the class—and rightfully so. He’s a technician in many ways, which helps him play effectively amid more seemingly modest physical gifts than his contemporaries. Ohio State’s Paris Johnson Jr. and Dawand Jones garner attention for their physical skills. Broderick Jones has physical gifts but little resume to back his standing at this point. Miami tackle Zion Nelson is entering into yet another season where pundits are hoping to see him make a jump and put everything together.
Needless to say, there are questions.
And with those questions persisting, consider this my plea to not forget Maryland OT Jaelyn Duncan in your discourse for candidates to make a leap and become the top tackle prospect.
Duncan is tenured as a starting offensive tackle for the Terps. He checks in at 6-foot-6 and 320 pounds with 27 career starts under his belt. A local product, Duncan redshirted in 2018 and proceeded to claim a starting role quickly afterward. And based on the film review of his play toward the end of the 2021 college football season, Duncan can very clearly play at a high level.
His resume performance is likely the showcase against the Michigan Wolverines last season, which featured a showdown between him and both of the Wolverines’ highly touted pass rushers: David Ojabo and Aidan Hutchinson. Hutchinson went on to be drafted No. 2 overall, whereas Ojabo fell out of the first round only on account of an Achilles injury suffered during his pro day in the spring. And, to Duncan’s credit, the performance and consistency against both rushers typically leaned in Duncan’s favor.
Duncan used angular sets to close the gap against Ojabo and easily anchored against his speed rushes off the edge. Hutchinson was able to test Duncan more frequently with a bigger variety of moves—there was more than one occasion that Hutchinson converted speed to power and collapsed Duncan to reduce an angle to duck inside and across the tackle’s face for pressure. And yet, even on those reps, there are a few easily implemented adjustments that Duncan could have made (and hopefully worked on this offseason) to improve his ability to offset that power rush or secure his fit tighter. In all, he had a strong performance nonetheless.
The Terps’ offense faltered down the stretch after a 4-0 start, but you couldn’t blame Duncan for his 1/11th contribution. And, projecting Duncan’s season forward, you can see the opportunity to make a statement on the horizon. Duncan’s season doesn’t currently offer a lot of resistance for high-level pass rushers. Some of the more established standouts include:
There will certainly be new arrivals and standouts this season as more play is put on film, but Duncan’s schedule does not currently project to be a murder’s row of pass rushers or anything of the sort. And with that in mind, it would stand to believe that he’s got a lot of good reps on his film coming his way. If he does? Don’t be surprised to see his name listed as a top tackle on a lot of big boards.