The 2020 NFL Draft has come and gone. After a month off, we shift our focus to the 2021 NFL Draft. Starting with the “big uglies,” also known as the best group in football. You could easily talk about Alaric Jackson from Iowa or Samuel Cosmi from Texas, but the top offensive tackle in the 2021 crop is Penei Sewell from Oregon.
For Sewell, this fall will be his third season with the Ducks, and he’s already been one of the most successful offensive linemen in school history. Last season, he took home the Outland Trophy as the nation’s top interior lineman. He joined a list of names such as Aaron Donald, Joe Thomas and Orlando Pace.
He’s far and away the top player at the position and has proven he can handle his own against top-tier defensive players everywhere. Let’s jump into some film and see how why Sewell is so dominant.
Torque with inside hand
One of the first things you’ll notice when watching Sewell’s tape is his ability to turn defenders with his strong hands. His head coach, Mario Cristobal, has stated the 6-6, 320-pound offensive tackle has “power that he’s never seen before.”
As you watch the play above, you can see how quickly and efficiently Sewell torques the defender away from the inside gap. Before doing so, he initiates contact with a good punch, rolls his hips, and redirects the defensive lineman to the outside, which allows a huge opening in the B-gap for the running back to run through.
Pass protection and pressures allowed
With the speculation growing that Sewell will be the top offensive tackle in the class, it’s clear that we need him to a top-tier pass protector. Don’t worry — he’s never given up more than two QB pressures in a single game.
Oregon OT Penei Sewell has never surrendered more than 2 QB pressures in a single game. pic.twitter.com/QtqsLwhlIn
— PFF College (@PFF_College) May 31, 2020
In fact, he earned an overall grade of 95.5 by Pro Football Focus. That’s higher than any offensive lineman ever for them, and it’s higher than Joe Burrow and Trevor Lawrence in 2019. His pass blocking grade was listed at 91.1, so it’s clear that 2019 was special for him, but it wouldn’t be surprising to see him take another step and be even better.
Watching the play above, it’s not a traditional pass set by Sewell. However, just watch how he keeps the defender locked down, and he does it primarily one-handed. His left hand is pretty much free for much of the rep, and there are times that you watch him and it looks like he’s just toying with defenders out there.
Operating in space
It’s certainty that the best part to Sewell’s game is how well he operates in space. When I watch him in space, there are times that I see some resemblance to Joe Staley formerly of the San Francisco 49ers. Whoever ends up drafting the talented left tackle, you can only hope you get the longevity that Staley provided for the 49ers over his 13-year career. Let’s see how Sewell operates in space with a vengeance.
Against Auburn, Sewell played against talented defensive lineman such as Marlon Davidson and Derrick Brown. That didn’t slow him down, though once he get around them and got into the open field. On the play above, there’s a designed wide receiver screen where Sewell has to get to the second level and pickup a defensive back or linebacker. In this case, it’s one punch on a defensive back that sends him into the dirt. Clearing this space is key for a wide receiver when they get into space.
Much like the previous play, it’s another wide receiver screen. This time, Sewell hesitates, gets his head on a swivel, and once he gets his eyes downfield, he absolutely levels the defensive back. This type of aggressiveness is what teams are going to fall in love with when they turn on the tape.
The next two plays were my favorites from watching the Sewell tape. This time, we get him pulling down the line and up to the linebacker. Through the entire process, he keeps the same speed and looks to run through the defender while locking his hands inside and following through with the leg drive needed to put the defender into the dirt.
In pass protection on the play above, Sewell helps with the guard but then peels back and helps the tight end. This type of play is what made us fall in love with Quenton Nelson and we’re all going to do the same with Sewell. He’s aggressive, physical and has some of the most refined technique we’ve seen from a left tackle in some time. If you’re looking for a top prospect for the 2021 NFL Draft that isn’t a quarterback, then look no further.