JACKSONVILLE – This perhaps isn't a great year for offensive linemen.
That's the view of some analysts when it comes to the 2021 NFL Draft. But it's at the very least a good year – and the '21 line class features a couple of intriguing characteristics.
One is depth. And another is versatility.
"That's the one underrated part of this draft … the offensive line – both at the interior position and at left and right tackle," longtime ESPN NFL Draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. said.
The '21 draft's top lineman, as is the case in many drafts, is a left tackle. For many analysts, that's Penei Sewell of Oregon – who opted out of the 2020 season because of COVID-19 but who remains a consensus Top 5-to-15 selection.
Other tackles projected in the Top 20: Christian Darrisaw of Virginia Tech, Alijah Vera-Tucker of Southern California and Rashawn Slater of Northwestern. While Sewell is considered an NFL left tackle, many analysts believe Darrisaw can play right or left tackle or guard – with Slater and Vera-Tucker projected at either tackle or guard.
"There are a lot of guys who are left tackles who may end up being right tackles or guards," Kiper said. "There are a lot of guys who maybe played that spot but may not end up at that position once they're in the NFL."
Alex Leatherwood of Alabama and Teven Jenkins of Oklahoma State – projected first-or-second-round selections – are also projected as both left and right tackles.
"There are a lot of talented offensive tackles – a lot of guys who can play left or right, but who also have the ability to play other positions," NFL Media and Jaguars Media analyst Bucky Brooks said. "I think that's good. It speaks to versatility. It gives the offensive line coach the ability to put the best five on the field, figure out where they need to play and away we go."
While NFL Media analyst Daniel Jeremiah said the class lacks the usual number of front-line interior linemen, he called the first five offensive tackles "really good players." Kiper said the offensive tackle position has "tremendous depth."
"The top guys are polished, they're big and they move people off the ball," NFL Media analyst Bucky Brooks said. "Because they are physical at the point of attack, you can play them in pretty much any offense. That's the thing that stands out to me: A lot of these guys are not scheme-specific. They can play in any scheme and have success."
HANDICAPPING THE JAGUARS
This is an intriguing position for the Jaguars entering this draft. Head Coach Urban Meyer and the team's decision-makers like the line position, and the team figures to start a veteran core of returners – left tackle Cam Robinson, left guard Andrew Norwell, center Brandon Linder, right guard A.J. Cann and right tackle Jawaan Taylor – that will enter its third season starting together next season. But drafting an offensive lineman early makes sense because Robinson is on a one-year contract as a franchise-tag player and Cann is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent after the season. Analysts believe multiple front-line linemen could be available at No. 25 – or perhaps No. 33. That makes offensive lineman an area to watch late on Day 1 or early Day 2.
PROJECTED FIRST-ROUND OFFENSIVE LINEMEN
Penei Sewell, Oregon; Christian Darrisaw, Virginia Tech; Rashawn Slater, Northwestern; Alijah Vera-Tucker, Southern California; Teven Jenkins, Oklahoma State; Jalen Mayfield, Michigan; Alex Leatherwood, Alabama.
BROOKS BREAKS DOWN THE CLASS
The '21 draft features an impressive collection of offensive linemen, particularly at tackle. The bookends in the class are "plug-and-play" types with the combination of size, length and agility to neutralize edge pass rushes while creating space in the running game. Sewell, Slater, Vera-Tucker and Darrisaw are the class' crown jewels, but scouts also view Jenkins and Mayfield as impact players. Alabama's Landon Dickerson, Oklahoma's Creed Humphrey, and Ohio State's Wyatt Davis are the cream of the crop as interior blockers, with Leatherwood and Tennessee's Trey Smith also worthy of inclusion.
James Hudson, Cincinnati. The former Michigan transfer has all the tools to develop into an elite player at the position. His balance, body control and agility enable him to dance with athletic pass rushers on the edges. He combines his impressive agility with the requisite strength and power to stalemate bull rushers attempting to execute power maneuvers at the point of attack. Hudson's combination of skills still need refining, but his natural ability gives him a chance to be a blue-chip player.
Penei Sewell, Oregon. Sewell has the potential to be an all-time great as a dancing bear with light feet and explosive power, and he displays the unique ability to move defenders off the ball with his brute strength while also flashing the agility and athleticism to utilize finesse when needed. The combination of size, talent and skill flashed by the 20-year old prospect is rare – but it is a reason scouts rave about Sewell's upside as an edge blocker.
POSITION RANKING: 3 of 10
CHANCES JAGUARS TAKE AN OFFENSIVE LINEMAN IN ROUND 1
OL ON THE JAGUARS ROSTER
Cam Robinson, left tackle; Andrew Norwell, left guard; Brandon Linder, center; A.J. Cann, right guard; Jawaan Taylor, right tackle; Tyler Shatley, guard/center; Will Richardson Jr., tackle; Ben Bartch, guard; KC McDermott, center/guard; Austen Pleasants, tackle; Tre'Vour Wallace-Simms, tackle; Derwin Gray, tackle; Garrett McGhin, tackle.
ESPN analyst Todd McShay: "The offensive tackle class is pretty strong. This tackle class is pretty deep. I'm not saying they're going to be the best in the league, but they [Sewell, Slater and Vera-Tucker] are all plug-and-play starters right away. And I think they're going to be really good pros. They're probably three of the safest picks in the first round. These guys are ready to play in the NFL."