2021 NFL Draft: Is the offensive tackle class “generational”?

The offensive tackles of the 2021 NFL Draft comprise a formidable group, one that might finally live up to the "generational" label that gets thrown around. Is the 2021 offensive tackle class set to be one of the best in years? PFN draft analyst Matt Valdovinos has the analysis.

The NFL has had a bit of a decline in elite offensive tackle play. However, the 2021 offensive tackle class could be one of the best we’ve seen in recent memory. In my opinion, the best class of offensive tackles of the 21st century is 2013. Lane Johnson, Terron Armstead, and David Bakhtiari all hailed from this elite class, and all are comfortably top-10 tackles in the NFL. However, it wasn’t just the top-end talent that made this class elite; it was the depth. Eric Fisher, DJ Fluker, Justin Pugh, and Rick Wagner all became quality starters in the NFL, though some did it with a transition to guard.

In the 2021 class, I believe there are upwards of seven tackles that could develop into truly elite franchise tackles and a number of others who could develop into quality starters. One could very well be a gold jacket talent. So who are these players that could form an elite class?

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The Generational Talent

Penei Sewell, Oregon

If you follow me on Twitter or listen to my podcast, you know I have a big distaste for the term “generational talent.” I believe it’s overused, as some people can’t understand the difference between an elite prospect and a generational talent. However, Penei Sewell is a true generational talent. In my opinion, when Sewell declares, he will be the best offensive tackle prospect since Jake Long was taken first overall in 2008. Sewell will also have a chance at being drafted first overall, though the prospect of Trevor Lawrence will make that a difficult accomplishment. That said, don’t be surprised if a team picking first overall in 2021 is comfortable with their quarterback situation and chooses to take Sewell.

The first thing you notice with Sewell is his evident size and length; at 6’6″ he’s as long as you could possibly ask for in an offensive tackle. Then you notice he’s also 330-plus pounds, and he plays like it. His film is crowded with pancake blocks. He’s not just a mauler though; he also possesses excellent functional athleticism to get out in space and locate defensive backs, something that truly is not easy.

Finally, he’s also well-developed, a testament to the Oregon staff, as they have done an excellent job preparing their linemen for the next level in terms of refining their technique. Sewell, as a prospect, has minimal flaws, meaning he has both an incredibly high floor and a tremendous ceiling. He’s truly a prospect you only find once in a generation, and he is at the top of a loaded 2021 offensive tackle class.

High-upside prospects

Jackson Carman, Clemson

Jackson Carman is someone who I expect to get a lot more love the deeper people start to dive into 2021 offensive tackle film. Too many people are sticking to the consensus picks of Liam Eichenberg, Alex Leatherwood, and Walker Little as the de facto OT2, because they have yet to venture out and realize that there are other very good players at the tackle position. My personal favorite is Carman from Clemson. When watching his tape, the first word that comes to my mind is nasty. He’s a mauler through and through. He finds joy in taking another man’s spirit and driving it into the ground. To pair with this nasty mentality, he’s also a massive human being at 6’5″, 345, and possesses elite play strength.

Carman is also an excellent athlete for his size, and from a height-weight standpoint, he rivals or potentially surpasses Sewell. However, Carman lacks the technical refinement and experience to rival Sewell at the top of the class. Regardless, Carman has a massive ceiling, and I expect all eyes to be on him as a result of blocking for the best quarterback prospect in years: Trevor Lawrence.

Abraham Lucas, Washington State

As a senior in high school, Abraham Lucas measured in at 6’7″ 256 pounds. Now, he comes in at 6’7″, 324 pounds. That’s a massive amount of weight to add in three years of college, and it’s even more impressive that he did it without sacrificing much athletic ability. Lucas has great length and impressive footwork, and is widely considered one of the top pass protecting offensive tackles in the country. At 6’7″, with elite athleticism, expect teams to fall in love with Lucas’ upside.

While Lucas is technically efficient in pass protection, he has a tendency to play too high. This likely correlates directly to being so massive, but it will be important for Lucas to adjust his pad level before coming into the NFL. Otherwise, he’ll be sacrificing a lot of power.

The other issue Lucas has isn’t entirely his fault but is more a product of his environment. Similar to the issue teams had with Andre Dillard, Lucas is not a refined run blocker. He lacks both experience and technique. That said, we’ll get a better understanding of who he is in the trenches with the new offense under new head coach Nick Rolovich, whose offense at Hawaii ran the ball over 200 more times than Washington State did last year.

Samuel Cosmi, Texas

When speaking to a fellow draft analyst about the 2021 class, he had this to say about Samuel Cosmi: “He’s more project than prospect right now, but the tools are absolutely there.” I couldn’t agree more. Cosmi lacks polish in his pass sets, but his length and functional athletic ability make him an already formidable pass protector. He is also a very strong run blocker who does a great job of using his athletic ability to create movement off the line of scrimmage. Cosmi needs to develop his technique and refine his abilities as a pass protector. Until then, he’ll still be a step below the players listed before him.

Adrian Ealy, Oklahoma

Very similar to Cosmi, Adrian Ealy is much more a prospect than he is a finished product. At 6’6″ with strong athleticism, Ealy was a second-team All-Big 12 selection last season. He’s well coached, coming from Oklahoma, but his development in pass protection is somewhat stuttered. Inconsistency is the major emphasis here, as he can sometimes get lazy in protection. His feet can get sloppy and he can expose his chest. Like many collegiate tackles who possess size and athletic ability, he rarely gets burnt because he’s physically capable of just overpowering opponents. Life in the NFL won’t be like that.

Well-known 2021 offensive tackles

Walker Little, Stanford

Walker Little is someone that the general public views as a great player, that I just can’t get on board with. It’s a classic tale in the NFL Draft: A player is a very highly touted recruit, and despite being mostly a disappointment, still gets selected high. We saw it with Robert Nkemdiche, we saw it with Rashan Gary, and we’re seeing it with Walker Little. Little has talent; he has excellent length and is a plus athlete for the position. However, he lacks refinement in his technique, and is beat in pass protection way too many times to be viewed as a top tackle prospect. Always remember, just because a player was a highly touted high school recruit, does not make him a good NFL prospect.

Liam Eichenberg, Notre Dame

Being an offensive lineman at Notre Dame automatically gives you a chance to be drafted. Starting at left tackle gives you an even better shot. Being a productive 26 game starter at left tackle means you’re more than likely going to be a top-50 pick. Eichenberg is a good functional athlete with strong size who already possesses strong technique and a high football IQ. My only major concern with him is just how high his ceiling is. He’s a safe prospect who’s probably never going to be viewed as one of the NFL’s elite offensive tackles. However, he could always prove me wrong.

Alex Leatherwood, Alabama

Leatherwood was thought to be a first-round selection in the 2020 NFL Draft. However, he was outshined by teammate Jedrick Wills and eventually chose to return to school for his senior season. Now, he has an opportunity to develop his technique a bit more. He doesn’t possess elite length or athletic ability, but he has a firm base and will be a quality tackle in the NFL.

Other 2021 offensive tackles to know

Thayor Munford, Ohio State: Quality tackle who was a very strong piece for arguably the best line in college football last season.

Landon Young, Kentucky: Long and very consistent in the SEC. Was one of the top tackles in the division last year, being above-average in both pass protection and run blocking.

Foster Sarell, Stanford: One of the top pass protectors in the class. I believe Sarell is the top offensive lineman at Stanford, not Walker Little.

Cole Van Lanen, Wisconsin: Quietly one of the best offensive tackles in the Big-10. Aside from a devastating showing versus Chase Young, Van Lanen displayed excellent consistency and I believe he has a strong ceiling based on his athletic profile.

Dillon Radunz, NDSU:  The top FCS tackle, Radunz is a long time starter at NDSU with strong size and plus athletic ability. You can find my breakdown on him here.

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