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NFL Draft

Keep A Close Eye On Washington OT Jaxson Kirkland

  • The Draft Network
  • July 9, 2021
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Over the past decade, the University of Washington has created a reputation as a program that consistently churns out defensive backs. With names that include Desmond Trufant, Marcus Peters, and most recently Elijah Molden and Keith Taylor, the defensive talent that the Huskies have produced continues to be impressive. 

This upcoming season may be a bit different though as there’s a bit of a youth movement in the secondary, but cornerback Trent McDuffie already has quite a bit of buzz in the scouting community. The prospect that I have been most impressed with through summer scouting though has been offensive tackle Jaxson Kirkland.

The Husky bloodlines run deep with him as his father, Dean, was an offensive lineman for the program (1988-1990) who went on to become an 11th-round selection by the Buffalo Bills in the 1991 NFL Draft. The genes have trickled down as Kirkland has been a staple of the team's offensive front since the conclusion of his redshirt season in 2017.

Since the start of the 2018 season, Kirkland has started in 29 consecutive games—25 coming at right guard. Prior to his redshirt junior season, Kirkland was moved to left tackle. Playing in all four of the team's contests a season ago, he made a seamless transition to his new position.

Kaleb McGary is the program's most recent offensive tackle to wind up as a first-round selection in 2019, but Kirkland has more tools at the position and offers a bigger variety of packages in multiple areas. 

The Good: Offensive tackles and scheme fits are two words that are attached at the hip every draft season. The two basic categories that they are broken down into are zone or man/gap/power schemes. Man/gap/power schemes focus more on winning by putting a body on a body, while zone is predominantly determined off of winning with angles or beating defenders to certain spots. 

In this case, Kirkland is tailor-made for a zone-blocking scheme. Possessing high-end athleticism, it’s often shown with the springiness out of his stance and just how well of a mover he is when asked to operate outside of his normal parameters.

https://youtu.be/ABEASzu61TA

Kirkland shows a lot of life coming out of his stance. There are hardly ever any instances where he false steps or is off balance out of the starting blocks. Having an electric first step, he’s a smooth operator when jolting out of his stance. Gaining plenty of ground as he begins the post-snap process, he keeps his hands up, active, and ready to punch and move as a pass protector. 

The pass protection portion of his game is his redeeming quality and the one that he hangs his hat on the most. Well advanced as a pass protector, he displays adequate hand usage and can punch and reset in an instance. Playing the game with balance and from a stable position, he can adjust when necessary or when forced to use his anchor.  

The Improvable: Throughout his time at Washington, Kirkland’s weight has fluctuated because of the positional demands each season. During his first two seasons, his body weight hovered around 325 pounds while he was playing right guard. Playing there for 25 games, he transitioned outside to left tackle where he also lost a considerable amount of weight in order to deal with the athletic demands of playing that spot.

The weight loss made it evident that he has a linear build. The loss also resulted in him losing strength, most notably in his lower half. As a run blocker, there are many reps where he’s attempting to run his feet on contact, but it results in a stalemate where he fails to generate movement. Gaining strength could happen over time as Kirkland builds his body back up and gains weight to return to the neighborhood of what he once weighed. 

Having a skyscraper-like build, he also plays as such. Throughout the four-game sample size of his third season and first at offensive tackle, his pad level swells too often. Happening frequently on zone blocking concepts, his accuracy at the second level suffers.

https://youtu.be/8EH9LCLxF9g

Because he plays with such a high pad level, his miscalculations on the second level stand out more than normal. Approaching linebackers and other second-level threats with patience and lower posture could improve his accuracy with latching and driving on certain schemes that require him to move on to the next level. 

Overall, Kirkland was one of the biggest surprises of any prospect that I have studied thus far through summer scouting. We are now in the portion of the summer where we are performing cross-checks across areas of some of the more notable-name players across the country. Kirkland was a prospect brought up by Drae Harris, who is our area scout that handles the Pac-12. 

Even though Kirkland is a bit light at the position, he’s previously shown to be capable of ballooning his weight back up into the 315-pound range. As a zone scheme offensive tackle, that is likely the range that his weight will need to remain in while still keeping his movement skills intact. Having only played four games at the position, the sample size is small, but the body of work and portfolio that he put together during a shortened 2020 season caught the eyes of many.

With games against Michigan (Sept. 11) and Oregon (Nov. 6), we will get to see Kirkland against two of the best pass rushers in the country in Kayvon Thibodeaux and Aidan Hutchinson. Those two matchups will be labeled as resume games and the first that evaluators look at when building his resume as a draft prospect.

When talking about the mold of athletic offensive tackles, Kirkland is along the same lines and cut from a similar cloth as Brian O’Neill and Samuel Cosmi, but the upside may be even greater because of what he’s already shown despite only being a four-game starter at the position.

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