Buyer-beware when drafting these 3 offensive line prospects
In preparation for the 2016 NFL draft, PFF’s team of analysts has spent the past few months putting together an overall draft board, as well as positional prospect rankings.
In doing so, we have identified players at each position who qualify as “buyer-beware” prospects, based on where these players are showing up on most evaluators’ draft boards.
Here are three buyer-beware prospects among this year’s offensive line class. All three share similarities: they possess the physical traits to succeed in the NFL, but may not be ready to contribute early in their careers. They are projects, making them risky picks if they go as high as expected in the draft.
1. Germain Ifedi, Texas A&M
A three-year starter for the Aggies, Ifedi began his career as a right guard before moving to right tackle for his final two seasons in Collage Station. At 6-foot-6—and with 36 inch arms—Ifedi has the size, length, and strength that NFL teams crave at tackle. He even looked the part in 2014, PFF’s first season of charting college football and Ifedi’s first at tackle, when he graded well in pass protection. However, his play regressed in 2015. Ifedi finished the season with a -1.9 pass block grade, which ranked 69th among tackles in this draft class—in 2014, his +6.7 pass-block grade ranked 17th among the same group of players. Dealing with speed rushers proved particularly problematic, and that may force him to slide back inside to guard at the next level.
Much of Ifedi’s issues stem from inconsistent technique, whether it’s playing too upright or poor hand placement, Ifedi is unable to make the most of his length and strength. He should be able to outreach most opponents and impose his will upon them, and when he gets it right, that’s exactly what happens—but it doesn’t happen often enough. With time and coaching, Ifedi could be just fine, but he’s a project, and projects don’t always work out, making him a risky choice for a player regarded by many as a potential second-round pick.
2. Le’Raven Clark, Texas Tech
Clark is blessed with the natural size, reach, and athleticism to be an NFL tackle; he absolutely looks the part, and on upside alone, could find his way into the first round. Clark also graded well for us in 2015, finishing the year with the ninth-highest overall grade in this tackle class. However, despite being a four-year starter for the Red Raiders, three of those at left tackle, Clark is still quite raw and struggled at the end of the season when up against some top-tier opponents. Clark had a torrid time against LSU in the Texas Bowl, where Arden Key and Tashawn Bower consistently got the better of him. It was a similar story at the Senior Bowl, where Clark struggled in both the drills and the game itself, winning just 44 percent of his matchups.
Elite physical traits mean that Clark is viewed as likely a second-round selection, but he’s ranked at 121 on the latest PFF draft board. High draft picks are expected to contribute early in their careers, generally seeing the field as rookies. The concern with Clark is that he might not be ready to make that contribution until he’s close to his second contract.
3. Vadal Alexander, LSU
A four-year starter in Baton Rouge, Alexander split his time between left guard and right tackle. He has excellent size and natural strength, but lacks the mobility desired in an NFL tackle spot, likely forcing him back to guard. Alexander has yet to learn to make full use of his natural assets; he has the power to dominate most opponents he faces, but is limited by his technique. So, while his +5.8 run block grade as right tackle in 2015 was solid, it only ranked 33rd among tackles in this draft class, whereas our top-ranked guard prospect, Cody Whitehair, earned a +31.0 run-block grade. As a left guard in 2014, Alexander’s +5.4 run-block grade was 10th-best among SEC guards, while alongside him, La’el Collins was showing just how a dominant run blocker should look, topping all SEC tackles with a +20.6 run-block grade. Alexander has the physical traits to succeed as a guard in the NFL, and will be of particular interest for teams that use a man-blocking scheme. However, he needs significant coaching if he’s going to fulfill his ambitions, making him feel more like a Day 3 prospect than a second-rounder.