Should the Titans select Laremy Tunsil with the No. 1 pick?
Many believe that the Tennessee Titans should select Ole Miss LT Laremy Tunsil with the No. 1 pick in the 2016 NFL draft. After taking Marcus Mariota with the same selection in 2015, the notion is the Titans must protect their franchise QB.
The logic is sound considering Tennessee QBs were sacked a league-leading 37 times last year. Overall, their offensive line finished with a pass blocking efficiency of 74.2, which was 27th out of the 32 teams. The need is obvious, but the old adage that draft strategy should be concerned only with “best player available” dictates that the Titans need to do their due diligence with the other top prospects. After all, their pass rush could use the boost provided by a Joey Bosa or a DeForest Buckner and their secondary would benefit from a playmaker like Jalen Ramsey.
With that said, let’s take a look at Laremy Tunsil to determine whether he’s the right pick for the Titans at the top of the draft:
Where Laremy Tunsil excels
As far as production goes, Tunsil graded extremely well in limited snaps in our system. He gave up just three sacks and 12 hurries in 599 snaps in the two years we’ve been grading college football. Tunsil returned from suspension his junior year in Week 8 and proceeded to give up just five hurries in 235 snaps. Despite facing quality pass rushers like Myles Garrett of Texas A&M, Carl Lawson of Auburn, Arden Key of LSU and Emmanuel Ogbah of Oklahoma State, Tunsil graded positively in every game in pass protection. On the majority of plays, the Ole Miss left tackle won his battles, flashing the quick feet and hand use necessary to win against rushers likely to succeed at the NFL level.
Tunsil’s run-game production was equally (if not more) impressive than his performances in pass protection. His work on the move is an absolute joy to behold and will make a team that covets athletic lineman incredibly happy. The way he locates and sustains at the second level is remarkable. No other lineman is as effective blocking in space as Tunsil as illustrated by the block below.
When Tunsil engages, linebackers find themselves moving backwards in a hurry. Men with his size and athleticism are a rare breed. Players capable of down blocking 300-pound defensive lineman as well as drive blocking 220-pound linebackers are few and far between. Attempting to go around Tunsil instead of through him is equally as forlorn. One feature that stands out is the way he chops his feet at the second level, allowing him to redirect with ease on the move. Realistically the Razorback’s linebacker, shown in the video below, had no chance of making the play.
Where Tunsil falls short
As effective as Tunsil can be in pass protection, he’s far from flawless. The numbers look great but not all hurries are created equal. Tunsil was beaten cleanly on a handful of occasions but was bailed out by QB Chad Kelly’s ability to escape pressure. He has a tendency to grab with his outside arm instead of punching with his hands, which exposes him to speed rushes. Myles Garrett exploited that technical deficiency drawing a holding call in their Week 8 matchup.
Tunsil’s tendency to grab rather than punch was also exposed on a couple of plays against Arkansas and Mississippi State. On those occasions he avoided hauling down the defensive lineman but he was beaten for pressure nonetheless.
It wasn’t just speed rushers who gave Tunsil problems. There were times when opponents got the better of him on bull rushes. The ability to anchor is a crucial trait in the pro game, because the league’s best edge rushers have the ability to win with speed or power. Elite defensive ends and outside linebackers are capable of mixing up their rush moves to keep opposing offensive tackles on their toes. Tunsil showed a frequent inability to arrest backwards momentum, suggesting he needs to work on developing his lower body strength. Below is one example from the game against Arkansas where Tunsil ultimately ended up on his back.
Even on plays where the ball was thrown quickly — on short passing concepts — Tunsil didn’t always anchor effectively. Here’s one example where he wasn’t charged with a pressure but gave up significant ground to Myles Garrett.
Overall Tunsil is still an effective pass protector, but he remains somewhat raw. The numbers are impressive but the tape suggests there are still some flaws in his game which the best pass rushers may be able to exploit.
On the other hand, Tunsil shows few weaknesses in the run game. The athleticism to make blocks at the second level and track down defenders in space on screens stands out. Tunsil is adept at blocking in-line as well though. He down blocks effectively and generates impressive movement on double teams when blocking on the frontside. Ole Miss mostly ran power plays but it’s probably not a stretch to suggest he’s capable of reach blocking on outside zone considering his athleticism. If there’s one criticism — and this is the sort of nit-picking reserved only for potential first overall picks — Tunsil doesn’t appear to possess a nasty streak. There were occasions where he had the opportunity to bury opponents but chose to simply disengage instead.
The bottom line
Tunsil’s upside is off the charts. He is rightly considered the top offensive tackle in this draft and a sure-fire first round pick. He very well may end up of the same quality as Trent Williams or Tyron Smith. With that said, his flaws suggest that level of performance in the NFL is far from certain. Those flaws should make the Titans think twice when turning in their card. Notre Dame’s Ronnie Stanley is not far behind Tunsil in terms of production.
However, there is a serious drop off in the quality of defensive lineman behind Joey Bosa and DeForest Buckner and in the defensive backs behind Jalen Ramsey. If college performance trumps need for the Titans, then Tunsil will find himself still on the board when the commissioner announces that the Cleveland Browns are on the clock.