Here are some pre-season thoughts on an impressive crop of senior offensive tackles.
Kenarious Gates, Georgia
Though he may resemble former Georgia tackle Cordy Glenn, Kenarious Gates just isn’t on that level. Scratching the surface, Gates has a very thick build but appears quite sloppy at 326 lb. Athletically he actually has much lighter feet than expected. Lack of flexibility is a problem for him though. He’s more of a waist-bender than a knee-bender and struggles to maintain a consistent balance point because of it. Gates also lacks explosiveness off the ball. His hips have little snap in them and he struggles to cover ground with his first step. He gets into trouble leverage-wise because of this slow first step. To make matters worse, he’s quite undisciplined. He seems to have little chemistry with his left guard, often seemingly off on his own tangent. He lets defenders through his inside gap far too often. As a run blocker, he also struggles with angles trying to get down to the second level. He can get himself into trouble lunging into blocks, which goes back to the balance issue. Last but not least, his lack of nastiness to finish blocks is maddening. He has a bad habit of letting up early. It’s not all bad though. Gates’ ability to control defenders with precise hand placement and a strong upper body is quite impressive. He handles power rushes without problem due to a wide base and strong lower half. Finally, he has a massive frame that doesn’t come around often. He’s athletic enough to make an impact pulling around the corner or making blocks in space as well. When it comes to Gates’ NFL outlook, it’s tough to see him sticking at the tackle position. The good thing is that he has experience at the guard position for Georgia, making two starts there as a junior and various other snaps in multiple games. Improving the technical side of his game and cleaning up his frame would go a long ways towards helping his draft stock.
Ryan Groy, Wisconsin
It’s no surprise to see another Wisconsin offensive lineman listed among the draft’s top prospects. Groy enters his senior season with 20 career starts under his belt across multiple positions, including left tackle, left guard, and center. The technique Groy employs is what makes him an intriguing prospect. He has a flexible body type and plays with impressive knee bend to sit in his stance. He’s also a blocker with a high football IQ and understanding of the blocking scheme. He shows well in combo blocks and is always leveraging defenders away from the ball. He can do this because he has sudden feet. When he needs to gain ground laterally with a big first step, he can do so to get across the face of defenders. He dials it down and mirrors targets at the second level with proper angles as well. Groy makes a positive impact in a variety of ways including downfield as a run blocker, in space as a puller or screen blocker, and at the line of scrimmage. There is much promise to his skillset, but there are also question marks. He seems to have a lack of necessary length for the perimeter, letting defenders get their hands into his frame too often. He struggles to handle the spin move of pass rushers as a result. Groy also lacks the mean demeanor or raw strength to be a mauler or a finisher of blocks up front. He’s almost even a bit of a finesse blocker at times. The final question pertains to which position he’s best suited for. His frame type and lack of length may keep him from sticking at the tackle position at the next level. He may be best suited for the center position if he shows an ability to handle calls at the line of scrimmage. Groy comes from a long line of heralded blockers for the Badgers and there’s no doubt he can contribute at the NFL level. There are a few inconsistencies and limitations in his me that cause concern though. A full season spent at only position as a senior could lead to better overall performance from him.
Seantrel Henderson, Miami
Henderson was as ballyhooed a high school offensive line recruit as there has been in recent memory. His career through three seasons at Miami has been a bit of an enigma though, considering he had as many starts as a true freshman (9) as he had in both his sophomore and junior seasons combined. Even so, when Henderson has been on the field he’s been Miami’s best blocker by a long shot. The first thing that stands out about Henderson is his massive frame at 6’8” 345 lb. Predictably, his length is a major asset as well. As a pass blocker he uses his length to keep rushers away from his frame and is able to more effectively mirror them. His feet are incredibly quick when you consider his size, and his range against speed rushers is terrific. As a run blocker he shows up most effectively in space and at the second level, where he gets to defenders quickly and is a big obstacle for them to get around. When it comes to the size and athleticism part of the game, Henderson is top notch. It’s the technical side of things where questions will be asked. He’s too sloppy with his feet in the first place. He has a tendency to lunge into blocks and comes off his balance point, which exposes him. Henderson isn’t a natural knee bender either and plays high as a result. Finally, his hand placement is scattershot. From snap to snap, you’re just not sure what you’ll get from Henderson as far as technique. When you consider his size, strength, and athleticism it’s easy to see why this side of his game hasn’t developed. He hasn’t needed it to be successful at the high school or college level. His skillset and overall game still has a ton of promise though. Henderson appears to understand inside-out leverage and has the lateral movement skills to get play-side of defenders. He has no troubles with stunts and isn’t indecisive against blitz packages. The most appealing thing about him will be the physical tools in the end. To really ignite his draft stock as a senior, he must show the necessary technical development to prove he’s more than just natural ability. If he can do that, there’s no reason he can’t be a first round pick.
James Hurst, North Carolina
Heading into his fourth season as the starter on the blind side, James Hurst has developed into one of the best tackle prospects in the country. Hurst sets himself apart with technique, footwork, and balance. It also doesn’t hurt to have a (listed) 6’7” 305 lb. frame. Question marks about his athletic ability do exist though. As a pass blocker, he uses his length to negate rushers’ ability to get into his frame and gain control. He also resets his feet very quickly on contact, never losing his balance point. This gives him a strong anchor despite playing with relatively high pad level related to his height. His handling of the speed rush is no problem either. He shows patience to let a rusher show his hand before rooting him off his arc repeatedly. He’s able to mirror effectively while kicksliding instead of overextending when rushers threaten the edge. Going back to his impeccable balance, he’s then able to handle attempted combination rushes or conversions of speed to power. As a run blocker, Hurst is effective with the potential to be something more. He frequently wins on leveraging defenders with a quick first lateral step to get play-side. He struggles to create much movement up front though, often losing the battle of pad level at the point of attack. His hips are notably stiff, and it shows when he needs to sink them and drive block. Around the corner and as a second level blocker, Hurst is too inconsistent. He’s efficient with his movement but certainly not a game-changing space blocker. He’s prone to taking poor angles a bit too often and allowing linebackers to flow to the football too freely. His lack of natural ability is a limit when asked to move laterally or make blocks downfield in the running game. Continuing to add strength and bulk to his frame could go a long ways toward making him an effective power blocker up front though. Hurst makes up for most of what he lacks with a consistently high motor to sustain blocks and impressive acumen for the Tar Heels’ blocking scheme. Because of his technical ability, Hurst could become a highly regarded left tackle prospect if able to clean up other areas of his game as a senior.