Heading into the 2016 season, the biggest hole that needs filling for the Bills is unquestionably at right tackle. Jordan Mills is the front-runner and that’s not really a good thing. Seantrel Henderson has been patchy during his first 2 years in the NFL and has recently been diagnosed with Crohn’s disease (which will be a lifelong issue for him keeping weight on).
Rounding out the RT depth chart is former 2nd round pick Cyrus Kouandjio. Kouandjio was a player I had high hopes for but has, so far, failed to materialize into a starting calibre player.
With such an uncertain future at RT, I thought I would take a preseason look at some of the options that might present themselves in the 2017 draft. This list only includes seniors (there are a few very impressive juniors that might declare). With a whole college season left before the draft, all rankings are subject to player improvement/regression.
Chad Wheeler – USC (6’6”, 310)
Chad Wheeler is still only 22 but has 34 starts under his belt already. He started every game as a freshman, played 8 games in 2014 before tearing his ACL, and played 12 games last year (missing Notre Dame with a concussion).
The first thing that jumps out with Wheeler is how fluid he is in space. For a 310 pound man, he moves beautifully. As a pass protector, Wheeler is incredibly nimble and light on his feet.
He uses his length very well to keep outside-shoulder rushers going beyond the pocket and times his punch effectively. One area of improvement for 2016 is how he handles rushers that cross his face. He had some real issues against Kevin Anderson (Stanford) with oversetting.
As a run blocker, Wheeler is better suited for a zone blocking scheme. He’s not a guy that generates a lot of movement without momentum. He plays with a ragged intensity in the run game that’s normally effective but isn’t necessarily that pretty. His hand placement and anchor allows him to seal running lanes with the minimum of fuss.
Wheeler does have some off-field issues to address. He missed USC’s bowl game in December after being subdued by police for being belligerent (punching windows/walls). The incident led to him having a psychiatric assessment. It seems inevitable that this will affect his draft stock but the talent is absolutely there.
Forrest Lamp – Western Kentucky (6’4”, 300)
Forrest Lamp has been a mainstay for the Hilltoppers since his first game. He started off at RG for 3 games before being moved to LT and he’s been there ever since (36 consecutive starts on the blindside). Dependable and durable as they come, only allowing 11 pressures (and zero sacks) on 529 pass protection snaps.
Lamp is a player that seems to be under the radar at the moment but he’s a very impressive prospect. Lamp was a 2015 favorite of the guys at Pro Football Focus. With a similar build to 2016 2nd round pick Cody Whitehair, many will be tempted to peg him as a guard.
Lamp does seem to lack a little bit of length but it isn’t a death sentence with the way he plays. He possesses plenty of power in his hands and his consistent hand placement allows him to exert that snap after snap. He’s athletic enough to keep speed rushers at bay but has a steady anchor to deal with power equally as effectively.
As a run blocker, he’s not a pure technician but he displays a mean streak a mile wide. He gets to the 2nd level in a timely fashion and identifies the nearest threat correctly more often than not. Doesn’t often struggle to move head-on defenders in the run game.
He might be a great guard prospect but I feel he can play tackle to a high level.
Conor McDermott – UCLA (6’8”, 310)
McDermott is a current one year LT starter at UCLA but will turn 24 in October and has had two shoulder operations in the recent past. Both will prove to be red flags to some teams.
McDermott has a bit of an issue with playing too tall but hardly surprising given his frame. He shows the ability to effectively use his length to steer defenders away from the pocket and has plentiful power in his hands. The biggest flaws in pass pro are the consistency of his hand placement (he really struggles to reset his hands when beaten to the punch) and his mental lapses. He can be a tad slow off the snap.
His power is a big asset in the run game. When his hands are correct, he can move defenders with ease.
Athletic enough to pull and seems like a solid fit in a power scheme. If he can switch to RT without too many issues, he would be a very strong candidate to be the other bookend to Cordy Glenn for Greg Roman.
Zach Banner – USC (6’8”, 360)
Zach Banner is a mountain of a man but that’s half of the problem with him. USC list him as 360, he played in their bowl game at 387 pounds! In spring he was measured at 373 pounds (via Daniel Jeremiah) and claims he’s currently at 342. His weight continues to yo-yo and it’s crucial for the kind of player he is that he settles in that 330-340 range.
When he’s relatively trimmed down, his foot speed in his kick slide is impressive and he’s a remarkably smooth mover for being such a lump. As you’d expect, he’s incredibly powerful and has the pass pro technique to keep the pocket clean. He can anchor against power very well. His biggest flaw is that he struggles passing off defensive linemen effectively.
As a run blocker, he’s an imposing figure and a nightmare to deal with. He can simply lean on people and exert his will, sometimes driving defenders 5-10 yards downfield with ease.
The biggest reason he needs to stay on the lighter side is his 2nd level blocking. He has the size to engulf linebackers but needs to have the athletic ability to get there. All too often when his weight balloons, he can’t go home and lunges wildly at thin air.
Banner is a prototypical power scheme RT but he needs to take his weight seriously. If he doesn’t, nobody else will take him seriously.
Jon Heck – UNC (6’6”, 300)
Jon Heck is the stalwart of the UNC offensive line, starting at RT since his redshirt freshman year and racking up 37 starts (missing 2 games in 2014).
— WCHL & Chapelboro (@WCHLChapelboro) July 14, 2016
Heck has the requisite length to play tackle in the NFL and uses it effectively against a variety of rushers. His hand placement is good enough to suffice and he plays with a solid anchor. One weakness for Heck is a lack of upper body strength, lacks the jolt in his hands to stun defenders on contact.
As a run blocker, his power issues show up more. He’s currently unable to generate consistent movement in the run game. One positive is that he can use his hands and anchor to seal running lanes off very effectively. A year in an NFL weight room will do wonders for a technically solid player.
JJ Dielman – Utah (6’5”, 300)
There probably isn’t an OT in the class with the raw physical tools that JJ Dielman possesses. He moves effortlessly, like he’s a huge tight end. Unfortunately, his technique is significantly holding him back. Dielman has started 26 games at RT for the Utes over the past 2 seasons.
In pass protection, Dielman is smooth in his kick slide. He glides across the field like a gazelle. He has a decent amount of power in his strikes. The problems with Dielman are plentiful though. He has a habit of ducking his head at contact and can lunge wildly. He bends at his waist pretty frequently and rushes his process to the point of looking frantic.
Watch him against Bronson Kaufusi (BYU) and see how he struggles with a true hand technician.
As a run blocker, Dielman is a bit more consistent. He has a real mean streak and can generate movement without needing perfect technique. He possesses the athletic ability to get to the 2nd level in a hurry but needs to find his man a little quicker. Often finding himself reactive than proactive at cutting off pursuit angles.
I really hope that Utah stick with him at tackle because his potential is through the roof if he can alter his technique.
Adam Bisnowaty – Pittsburgh (6’6”, 300)
Bisnowaty has made 30 starts for Pitt but has missed time every year with back and ankle injuries. Teams will undoubtedly question his potential longevity and durability.
— Cardiac Hill (@PittPantherBlog) July 9, 2016
Bisnowaty looks a little sluggish in his kick slide, struggling to gain depth quickly when required. He looks a lot more comfortable in a phone booth than in space, preferring to get his hands on a defender quickly. He seems to lack ideal upper body strength and can be rocked up by shorter edge rushers.
His run blocking isn’t pretty but it’s effective. He fights like hell to seal lanes off but can struggle to move defenders without downhill momentum. Bisnowaty seems like an ideal candidate to be kicked inside in the NFL.
Dan Skipper – Arkansas (6’10”, 326)
Like Banner, Dan Skipper is ENORMOUS. Skipper plays very tall and exposes his chest a lot to defensive ends. After playing LT in 2014, Skipper switched to RT last season and looked more comfortable from a movement standpoint.
In pass protection, he’s inconsistent in a lot of aspects. His long arms take a while to engage a defender and he struggles to reset once he loses the hand fight. When the hands strike in time, it’s not always where they should be. His habit of striking the shoulder pad is infuriating. He also has a habit of lunging in a blind panic and missing wildly.
If he gets it right, he’s shown able to anchor and rag-doll defenders. As the margin for error decreases in the NFL, his current technique will be found out.
As a run blocker, he can exert his power a little more effectively. A bit of a leaner but he can force movement.
Getting to the 2nd level is an adventure for him, lacking the fluidity in his movement to get up to his assignment quickly. He also looks rather uncoordinated, his flailing arms make it hard to time his hands once he gets there.
Given his height, there’s no way he’s anything but a distinctly average tackle. His versatile use might make him a solid swing tackle option.
Victor Salako – Oklahoma State (6’6”, 335)
Salako is a highly experienced player already. He started 23 games for UAB before the program was closed. After transferring to Stillwater, he immediately became their starting LT and played all 13 games in 2015. After the 2015 season, head coach Mike Gundy stated that Salako played with 2 bone spurs in his ankle, which makes the evaluation a little difficult.
— OSU Sports Extra (@OSUSportsExtra) April 8, 2016
If you watch him against TCU or Oklahoma, you might struggle to understand how he’s even starting for an FBS school. Watch him in the bowl game vs Ole Miss, you start to see the player he’s capable of being. Having nearly 5 weeks to recover from a painful season did him the world of good.
He’s a pretty average athletic specimen and struggles to counter speed rushers. He suffered from mental lapses in every game; false starts, chasing assignments across the formation. He can look a bit clueless when he’s not put head-up on a defender. His hands are slow to engage and tend to miss frequently.
— Cowboy Football (@CowboyFB) July 3, 2016
He struggled mightily as a run blocker but the injury can attribute for a lot of that. He lacked the balance to sustain any meaningful blocks.
After surgery to rectify the issue with his ankle, we can only hope that another year in the system allows Salako to take the next step in his progression and show himself to be a draftable OT prospect. Bone spurs can be a sign of arthritis so there’s a very real chance that he might not be a viable long term option for any team. Medical checks will be huge for him.