Ranking the Best Offensive Tackles in the 2021 NFL Draft
This year’s draft class is loaded with offensive line talent. Today, we rank the best offensive tackles in the 2021 NFL Draft and assess their strengths and weaknesses, whilst judging where in the draft – from round one to UDFA – each prospect should be taken.
Written by Ben Matthews.
In partnership and with thanks to Pete Barlow of the NFL Draft Punk Podcast for his scouting insight. Pete's full scouting reports are available at the bottom of this article. Listen to the NFL Draft Punk Podcast here.
1. PENEI SEWELL, Oregon
Overall prospect ranking: 2
One of only a handful of players who could deservedly go number one overall and in a less-QB needy league, probably would be the first pick.
Sewell is a very effective downfield blocker. He is comfortable in space and is even able to mirror defensive backs in space, highlighting his special movement. Amazing to watch him operate with such speed and precision at his mammoth size.
He has the speed to not get beat by quick edge rushers and the strength to compete with any defensive end in the nation. This speed/movement combination in such a big man at 325lbs is incredible.
Was competing and dominating juniors at only 19 and will only get better. He always knows his assignment and always blocks the right man.
He only allowed one sack in his entire career at Oregon in 678 pass blocking snaps, which is unbelievable. He is great as a pass protector or a run blocker and did plenty of each in college.
The best OT and surest prospect at the position in a long time.
Not many! His only slight knock may be that he did not face the greatest competition/consistent level of pass rusher in the PAC-12. Nevertheless, Sewell put together the highest graded PFF season for an OT of all time in 2019 and the sky is the limit for the best tackle prospect to come out for a few years.
NFL Draft Projection/Grade: 1st offensive tackle taken. Top 3 overall pick.
2. CHRISTIAN DARRISAW, Virginia Tech
Overall prospect ranking: 16
In Virginia Tech’s run-heavy offense, Darrisaw’s development as a three-year starter has made him an asset in the ground game.
His ability to make reach blocks is elite, using a quick first step and flexible hips he routinely positions himself to seal running lanes.
Impressively strong hands consistently find the target and unbalance defenders allowing Darrisaw to take his defender for a walk.
His grip strength and lateral movement is sufficient to allow him to usually sustain blocks, so the defender is taken out of the play.
Teams running a zone blocking scheme will fall in the love with the ability to locate and engage targets at the second level.
There are many examples of Darrisaw leading the way downfield using his speed and heavy hands to clear the way for explosive plays.
The Hokies’ offensive scheme has not necessarily allowed Darrisaw to develop in pass pro on the same level as his run blocking.
There were still some issues in 2020 as on deeper pass sets Darrisaw can overly rely on his strong punch and stop moving his feet near the top of his arc.
Another area of improvement would be his awareness when he is uncovered, he needs to be able to recognise when help is needed elsewhere on the line.
NFL Draft Projection/Grade: Solid first round selection and just ahead of Rashawn Slater due to his superior length, athleticism, and ceiling.
3. RASHAWN SLATER, Northwestern
Overall prospect ranking: 20
Erased Chase Young in a game in 2019 with exceptional timing and hand placement, negating the length of the 2020 number two overall pick.
Slater excels in a phone box but also wins with great leverage and takes excellent angles when moving to the second level.
He displays overwhelming functional strength, terrific movement, great footwork and efficient hands meaning that there are few flaws in his game.
Experience at both left and right tackle, highlighting his versatility.
His speed is highlighted by his sub-5 second 40-yard dash at his recent pro day. A 7.48 second three-cone shuttle proves that he is a fluid athlete, a speed and mobility combination that should allow him to excel at the tackle position within the NFL.
The only real knock on Slater is whether or not he is a future guard or tackle in the NFL. At a touch over 6'3'' and 304lbs, teams may see him as a candidate to kick inside and not a true left tackle prospect.
His arm length has been confirmed as 33’’, which could be considered an arbitrary cut-off on the positive side for some, but slightly on the short side for others if he was to be compared to some of his elite peers.
NFL Draft Projection/Grade: Sure-fire quality first round pick even if his limited length dictates that his future places him at guard, but he is positionally diverse and could become a perennial All-Pro at the guard position.
4. DILLON RADUNZ, North Dakota State
Overall prospect ranking: 25
Radunz appears to have the arm length needed to negate edge rushers effectively, enabling him to keep them away from his body so that he is not easily driven backwards.
Plus athlete who diagnoses plays quickly, is always on the move looking for blocks and operates in space effectively.
Radunz has a high proficiency in various pass sets including the deeper drops. He is able to get excellent depth on his kick-slide and uses quick foot speed to mirror deep into the pass set.
Displays excellent balance when in pass protection and is rarely over his toes or caught lunging - helped by his patience with his punch timing.
In the run game, Radunz had the size and strength to dominate and routinely clears down the line, creating massive running lanes. Impressively, he does not settle for just clearing a lane, he shows good instincts to release to the second level.
He often uses the slingshot technique to take defenders out of the play and to allow him to get downfield in support as quickly as possible. Another trait that bodes well is the awareness of where to position his body to seal the running lane.
His anchor against bull rushes is a concern as the sample size of his development in this area is limited to one game in 2020 and the Senior Bowl. Punch strength against top opposition could be lacking.
He does occasionally allow defenders into his chest which could be an issue in the NFL as defenders with superior strength could easily overpower him this way.
Can occasionally play with a high pad level and needs a quicker response from time-to-time when attempting to a regain control in a rep, although there are signs of improvement in this area.
Whilst he is always looking for blocks, he does not always finish comprehensively which harks back to power concerns in his game.
Does have a habit of stopping his feet when making contact with stronger defenders so will need to keep his feet moving to help sustain blocks and to aid displacement of defenders.
NFL Draft Projection/Grade: Radunz has been a real pre-draft riser. He is not spoken about as much as some of the linemen ranked above him, but he does appear to have the talent and physical traits that should translate well to the NFL. If he can add power to his game whilst not compromising his balance, then he should emerge as an NFL starter. Should be viewed as a mid-late first round pick.
5. SAMUEL COSMI, Texas
Overall prospect ranking: 34
With one of the highest ceilings in the draft amongst O-linemen, Cosmi has experience at both left and right tackle.
He is a gifted athlete with excellent movement for such a big man.
Cosmi’s foot speed in pass protection is elite and possesses the agility to match up with speed rushers. His foot speed also helps with recovery in pass protection when he is not able to mirror, he can typically run the defender round the top of the arc.
When a defender gains control of his chest, he utilises a vicious snatch counter that typically ends with a highlight reel pancake. Shows in flashes everything you would want in a franchise left tackle.
Awareness is excellent when he climbs to the second level.
In the running game, zone blocks and reach blocks are made to look effortless and Cosmi looks comfortable with those assignments.
He is not a true people mover, but he can clear down the line. More likely to create lanes for his backs by sealing off defenders.
He is built like a tight end and caught a TD pass against Virginia Tech where he still had 12 yards to run after the catch in order to find his way to the endzone, highlighting his phenomenal speed and agility.
His run blocking is underdeveloped and does not look like a true mauler and he does not appear to have the strength of some of the bulkier tackles in the class. Could benefit to add some weight as he transitions to the NFL.
Whilst he has the physical tools that teams will value at tackle; the inconsistency of technique should worry prospective GMs. Whilst his foot speed is excellent, his footwork in pass protection needs improvement.
The depth on his kick slide is inconsistent, often non-existent and he reverts to a back-pedal far too often. When back pedalling he can carry his weight over his heels, making his lateral movement to counter inside twists much more laboured than his athleticism would suggest.
In the run game, he rarely gets push against defensive linemen when heads up.
He can be slightly hesitant when moving laterally and defenders can get under his pad level, holding him upright at times.
He also has a tendency of staying too long on the initial block before peeling off to a linebacker on his combo blocks.
NFL Draft Projection/Grade: If some of his technical deficiencies can be ironed out and he can prove his strength/power, then he projects as a starting left tackle with a bit of seasoning for whoever takes him towards the top end of the 2021 NFL Draft. Late first round pick.
6. JALEN MAYFIELD, Michigan
Overall prospect ranking: 42
Mayfield possesses a huge frame and immediately looks like the ideal physical specimen required to play on the edge of an offensive line.
He has good mobility for a man of his size and was very good vs Chase Young 2019, showcasing his athletic potential. Has performed to a high level against a number of quality defensive ends throughout his short career and has shown continuous improvement.
He is a young prospect, only turning 20 in 2021 and has a mere 15 starts under his belt. NFL teams will be asking themselves if his athletic profile, coupled with an ability to continue to refine his technique will translate for him to become a consistent starter in the league.
Has had moments of dominance against the run and a potential day one starter at right tackle. Punishes interior defensive lineman and is able to create wide open running lanes.
Powerful punch and can move defenders backwards effortlessly.
Displays a smooth athleticism as he moves to the second level, showing an ability to be a dominant lead blocker on off-tackle runs and screen plays.
Has been seen to struggle slightly against pure speed, but this may just be inexperience as he appears impatient in his blocks at times. Has shown more and more refinement as his experience has grown.
Doesn’t always manage to get his hand placement in optimal positions, often too wide and lunges at his opponent meaning that he can be caught off balance.
Mayfield is sometimes caught flat footed in his pass block sets, although this is less evident now than it was in 2019.
College right tackle limits the ceiling of where he is likely to be drafted.
NFL Draft Projection/Grade: Has the traits required to transition to the blind side in the long term but lacks the requisite experience at present and will need considerable time and seasoning to do so. Could start immediately on the right side though and so this, alongside his projected future upside grades him as a high second round pick.
7. TEVEN JENKINS, Oklahoma State
Overall prospect ranking: 52
Jenkins enters the draft with NFL level of play strength. He displays heavy hands and strong grip with seemingly effortless power, giving him the ability to displace defenders.
Possesses a desire to dominate and displays a nasty demeanour with plenty of examples of driving defensive linemen off-screen and finishing plays past the whistle.
As hinted at, Jenkins has real grit. He is a bully who packs a powerful punch and wants to drive opposing players into the dirt, showing that he is a high effort player who finishes well.
He is a disciplined and efficient hand fighter with a solid anchor, displaying a consistently low and wide base.
Patient and controlled play style when faced with stunts and blitzes. These characteristics are also evident when he is required to move to the second level, maintaining an efficiency of movement that perhaps disguises his athletic limitations. Such savvy should be seen as a positive, but a lack of athletic traits does limit his upside as noted below.
He could thrive as a right tackle in the right scheme, but his athletic profile limits his range and effectiveness against speed rushers as he is slow to follow their arc around the pocket and doesn't display the quickness in his foot speed to operate with confidence in space.
Balance has also been an issue throughout his career. There are times when dropping into deeper pass sets, he can carry his weight over his heels with a high pad level – a particular risk when he is late to fire his hands against the long arm move employed by edge rushers with length.
Technique on deeper pass sets will need to be refined at the next level. If not, he may be limited to run first, power offenses that enable him to operate to his strengths.
Too quick to flip his hips and engage recovery mode. His foot speed is not good enough to play like this and he can appear laboured against the more athletic edge prospects he has faced.
Could only be viewed by some as a high-level right guard prospect with the potential to kick outside on that same side.
NFL Draft Projection/Grade: Jenkins is a physical mauler who has experience playing at left and right tackle, as well as at right guard. This versatility is attractive to NFL teams, but his likely long-term home is at guard or right tackle which limits his draft ceiling somewhat. Second round pick who could sneak into the back end of the first to a team who falls in love with his physical, competitive play style.
8. ALEX LEATHERWOOD, Alabama
Overall prospect ranking: 53
Former five-star recruit who has excellent strength to be a top-class mauler/run blocker.
Decent athleticism to block edge rushers, but not to the level of those ranked above him.
His anchor is elite. Barely gets moved backwards when absorbing bull-rushes and you will rarely see him in the lap of the quarterback.
Shown an improvement with his patience from his first starting season where he would often lunge and be off balance and spend too much time on the ground.
Excellent recognition of his responsibility and the sealing of running lanes.
His thick arms also make defensive counters incredibly difficult – plenty of examples of swats/chops by defensive linemen being ineffective at removing themselves from Leatherwood’s grasp.
Despite having a quick first step for his size, speed rushers with quick feet have caused Leatherwood issues.
Can seem tentative when pulling and has been surprisingly stonewalled by much smaller players that show resistance.
When faced with an opponent with speed moves or late hands, he can be caused problems.
On the rare instances where he does find himself being pushed back by a bull rush, he needs to be more effective when attempting disengage the defender’s hands and re-establish control.
When going up against stronger linemen in the NFL, his reliance on a stout anchor alone will not be sufficient.
Hand fighting will need to improve and become more instinctive if he were to slide to guard as that control is key to fighting in a phone booth.
NFL Draft Projection/Grade: The question of whether he is a candidate to transition inside is an obvious one as his limitations against speed may become too much to overcome in the NFL. Nevertheless, Leatherwood could be allowed a shot at right tackle to begin his career, but ultimately slide inside and be a long-term starter on the interior. Mid to late second round grade.
9. WALKER LITTLE, Stanford
Overall prospect ranking: 58
Little possesses excellent length and prototypical size to play on the blind side at an extremely high level. Little has terrific awareness and is able to pick up blitzes and stunts quickly.
He has excellent powers of recovery if defenders do get the jump on him and is able to sustain blocks throughout the play whilst finishing them with an aggressiveness that also serves him well in the run game.
Has a quickness and fluid athleticism that allows him to comfortably climb to the second level and locate his blocks effectively.
Shows good footwork and is able to move well laterally.
Long arms allow him to reroute defenders in his path with ease, all whilst maintaining the functional strength to move oncomers vertically where necessary.
Despite already possessing an excellent frame, he looks as though he could still add more weight and power, hinting that we have yet to see what he could truly become.
Could be one of the steals of the draft for one lucky team willing to take a chance.
Is not an overly powerful blocker and is not a mauler in the run game. Walker is an operator who moves with more finesse than violence and is only an efficient run blocker.
Does sometimes overextend in his blocks and so there is a question mark as to how he will fair against NFL speed and bend. May not have the foot speed to compete at the highest level.
Technique will be tested, and he will have to shake off two years’ of rust.
Injury concerns stemming from 2019, but Little should have recovered by now after opting out of 2020. As long as the long-term prognosis is okay then these concerns should be forgotten quickly.
NFL Draft Projection/Grade: A severe injury in 2019 and then opting out of the 2020 season has dampened a first round and possible top-10 projection for Little, and if he could prove to teams that he is healthy, he could be a first-round selection in the 2021 NFL Draft based on his natural talent and ceiling. Unfortunately, a lack of game time and too many ‘ifs and buts’ will see him selected as a mid-late second round pick.
10. LIAM EICHENBERG, Notre Dame
Overall prospect ranking: 60
Eichenberg is an excellent mover in pass protection and could go early to a team that simply recognises this, rather than getting hung up on his apparent average athleticism. He doesn't look like a prototype LT build, but as hinted at, he plays well in the role and passes the eye test more often than not.
Eichenberg identifies stunts and blitzes quickly and moves well in space, rarely overextending himself or getting caught off balance. This is an impressive trait as he does appear to have shorter than ideal arms but manages to win by locking in his hands early in his blocks, which enables him to move defenders effectively.
His footwork is generally clean, and he is patient as a pass blocker.
He has a good feel for the game and seems to know exactly when to leave a double team to peel off into the second level and engage linebackers.
Impressive ability to adjust his blocks at the second level depending on the situation.
He is quick to recognise when his initial push has stalled and when he has to redirect and seal the running lane.
His knack of being able to wring out every ounce of his ability on every play will endear him to coaches, teammates, and fans alike.
Eichenberg does have a weakness when it comes to his pad level as he has been seen to play with a high pad level that results in him losing leverage against defenders and as a result, he does not always drive his man backwards, leading to questions about his ability against the run.
Not the finished product but could mature into an excellent starter if he can prove his functional strength in the NFL.
Capable of performing reach blocks, but his limited athleticism and lateral agility make these much more laboured than you would like to see. Attempted reach blocks are often changed mid-play to become a drive block. This is testament to Eichenberg’s intelligence and ability to diagnose what the right action is in any given situation though.
As much as it is a benefit that he does not overextend, the downside is that he occasionally has his centre of gravity too far over his outside shoulder to redirect quickly.
This occasional imbalance of weight can also reduce the power of his punch, think of a boxer throwing a punch off his back foot. Elite opponents will be able to walk through it relatively unscathed to gain control of his chest.
NFL Draft Projection/Grade: Eichenberg’s ceiling may be capped by his relative lack of athleticism and it may affect the number of schemes he is suitable for. He could be the antithesis of the current trend of raw, athletic lineman prospects being pushed up the board as teams chase upside. Although there are legitimate concerns over Eichenberg’s athleticism, especially his lateral agility, he more than makes up for it with his technique. Mid-late second round pick.
The top-10 offensive tackles in this class all offer immediate starting potential in some shape or form, within specific schemes. There is a slight drop-off in polish thereafter, and whilst many listed below could start in the right situation due to exceptional athletic qualities and/or football intelligence, most will require a slightly longer incubation period for various reasons before they receive full-time exposure to NFL-level football. Let’s take a look at who just missed the top-10:
11. JAMES HUDSON III, Cincinnati
Overall prospect ranking: 92
Overview: There has been recent clamour for Hudson to be picked early on day 2, but I don’t quite see it and it would be quite a reach at this stage of his career. Bucky Brooks has him listed as his 5th ranked OT and has highlighted Hudson as a 2021 NFL Draft riser, but that is just based on potential at this point.
Hudson was a 4-star recruit as a defensive lineman, and this mobility and quickness shows up on tape. He is a raw developmental tackle prospect, having only one full year at the tackle position. He will operate well in a zone blocking scheme that utilises his speed, nimbleness and willingness to finish his blocks at the second level.
He is an excellent athlete in the open space and is always looking for a man to attack. Speaking of which, when he gets his hands on his man, he does tend to lock them down thanks to his wide base that he is able to set, staying square and low. This shows the power that he undoubtedly possesses within his frame, as when he is able to latch on, he displays excellent hand placement and can turn his man away from the line, showing great potential in the run game as he shows a nastiness and explosion in climbing to the second level.
Has impressive speed to his footwork, but this can sometimes be his downfall as it hinders his timing and results him being caught off balance too often as defenders fake him out too easily with their pass rushing moves.
He needs to learn to use his size to his advantage as he is not a mauler in the run game and sometimes appears easily overpowered inside. This harks back to his raw current state and as a result, he can be inconsistent. Whilst he does have good speed and athleticism, quick, twitchy pass rushers can get the better of him on the edge as he is slow to respond laterally, often looking lost and out of rhythm in his drop backs.
There is real potential to work with here though, despite much of this analysis being negative and Hudson could be a long-term bargain as a developmental left tackle prospect if taken in the 3rd round or later. May well be overdrafted though due to recent hype and the premium capital usually spent on the position.
12. SPENCER BROWN, Northern Iowa
Overall prospect ranking: 105
Overview: Brown has mammoth size. At 6'8’’, weighing in at 314lbs and ideal 34'' arms, he has the raw tools to become an enticing tackle prospect for NFL teams looking for help on the outside. A two-year starter at right tackle, Brown displays a nasty edge in the run game and looks to finish his blocks by driving opponents into the dirt.
He has the athleticism to seek out and engage defenders across the line, easily clearing them from running lanes thanks to his sheer size and power. He never seems to stop looking for a man to block and this competitive play style is a real joy when watching him play.
Has average lateral quickness and not a particularly explosive get off and his inconsistent response to counters limit the likelihood of a transition to the left side. This, alongside the fact that bendy, fast rushers may easily get the better of him due to his height and high play style.
This high centre of balance and lack of flexibility also cap his recovery skills and will be an issue against much bigger, stronger and faster NFL D-linemen.
A pure right tackle prospect at present, his draft ceiling may be limited and when combined with the level of competition he has played against, he may find a tricky transition to the pro ranks, but he projects as an eventual starter on the right side and will be extremely intriguing due to his elite size. Wouldn't be averse to him being picked in round 3 due to his sheer potential, but more likely to go in the 4th round.
13. JACKSON CARMAN, Clemson
Overall prospect ranking: 110
Overview: Huge man with excellent power in the run game, Carman is most likely a guard at the NFL level. Is ranked as a tackle here due to having placed almost exclusively there during his college career, but he is unlikely to stick as a blind side protector in the NFL. He is too often beat by speed rushers on the outside and is guilty of holding, sometimes penalised by officials, but sometimes not. This leniency will not fly in the NFL with officials.
Carman doesn't have particularly tight footwork, looks susceptible to inside counters and is lost in space. Despite a lack of overall quickness, he does move well over short areas and displays a mauler’s mentality which suits him well in the run game.
Has good size, power and mass to be a guard, but there are too many issues in his game that need clearing up, making him a likely day three selection with upside and likely good value in the 4th-5th round range.
14. BRADY CHRISTENSEN, BYU
Overall prospect ranking: 118
Overview: Christensen did an excellent job protecting Zach Wilson’s blindside in 2020, allowing just a single sack and three pressures across 409 pass blocking snaps. This earned him All-American honours and along with PFF’s 2020 grade of 96.2 (highest ever given for an LT), has solidified his stock as a mid-round pick in the 2021 NFL Draft.
Christensen is a slightly older prospect coming into this year’s draft, at 23 years of age, but coaches rave about his maturity and work ethic. He appears to have a high football IQ and may find a home somewhere else across an NFL line if he cannot crack a starting blind side spot at the next level thanks to his intelligent play and overall character makeup.
A lack of apparent athleticism and pure power when compared to some of the prospects ranked above him may be the main reason for Christensen’s lower draft stock, but he is certainly worth a flyer in the 5th round and at the very least could provide a team excellent depth at swing tackle for years to come.
15. D’ANTE SMITH, East Carolina
Overall prospect ranking: 158
Overview: Smith is another tackle prospect who possibly projects to guard at the NFL level, but I believe that he should be given the time to flourish as a developmental left tackle prospect as he displays the requisite projectable traits to play the position to a high level. He was outstanding at the Senior Bowl, consistently winning his one-on-one drills and benefited greatly from the weigh-ins, revealing 35’’ arms and an 85’’ wingspan – ideal length to play on the outside of the offensive line.
Smith uses his frame and length to his advantage by looking to extend his outside arm early on his first step to get inside of his opponent’s reach and control the initial engagement. He uses his hands well to counter and swipe when a tackle tries to dominate early in the rep. His wrestling background has served him well in terms of how he can maintain his balance, although he does have a lean frame and could benefit from adding some additional weight in order to develop more functional strength at the next level.
Smith certainly would be worth picking in the 5th round for a team who can afford to be patient with his development. He is unlikely to be a day 1 starter but has the size and mobility to transition into a starting role at some point further down the line.
Just missed the top-15:
16. Robert Hainsey, Notre Dame
Height: 6’4’’, Weight: 302lbs -- Fringe starter, right tackle ceiling (164 overall ranked prospect/6th round grade).
17. Alaric Jackson, Iowa
Height: 6’5’’, Weight: 318lbs -- Experienced backup swing tackle. Possible starter in a pinch (173/6th round).
18. Cole Van Lanen, Wisconsin
Height: 6’5’’, Weight: 312lbs – Powerful, with future starting right tackle potential, practice squad candidate (211/7th round).
19. Myron Cunningham, Arkansas
Height: 6’7’’, Weight: 325lbs – Long developmental tackle prospect with decent upside. Practice squad stash (213/7th round).
20. Royce Newman, Ole Miss
Height: 6’5’’, Weight: 306lbs – Potential backup across multiple positions. Is well worth a shot for his positional versatility (214/7th round).
Best of the rest:
21. Adrian Ealy, Oklahoma (222/7th round-UDFA)
22. Tommy Doyle, Miami OH (228/7th round-UDFA)
23. Drew Himmelman, Illinois St (233/7th round-UDFA)
24. Landon Young, Kentucky (244/UDFA)
25. Dan Moore Jr., Texas A&M (245/UDFA)
26. Brenden Jaimes, Nebraska (247/UDFA)
27. Jack Anderson, Texas Tech (278/UDFA)
28. Jauan Williams, Maryland (301/UDFA)
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