Alabama offensive tackle Alex Leatherwood was a borderline first-round prospect in last year’s NFL Draft, but he chose to return to school instead. Now, with another draft season on the horizon, how does the standout senior match up against the 2021 tackle class? Has anything changed in regards to Leatherwood’s projection?
Alex Leatherwood 2021 NFL Draft Profile
Weight: 316 pounds
Position: Offensive Tackle
Current Year: Senior
Alex Leatherwood is one of those guys who’s always been near the top of his position. In high school, Leatherwood was the third-ranked offensive tackle in the 2017 class, behind Trey Smith and Isaiah Wilson. He was also ranked eighth-overall in the class as a whole. Already looming at 6-foot-6, 327 pounds, Leatherwood was comfortably a five-star prospect. As you might expect, he was heavily coveted.
By the end of his high school career, Leatherwood was approached with offers from several prestigious schools, including Michigan, LSU, Florida, USC, and Tennessee. His most compelling offer, however, came from the Alabama Crimson Tide. There, Leatherwood aimed to be the latest product of a factory that made Andre Smith, Chance Warmack, James Carpenter, D.J. Fluker, and Ryan Kelly first-round picks, among others.
Alex Leatherwood’s career as an Alabama offensive tackle
Alex Leatherwood has been as steady as they come for the Alabama Crimson Tide. At this point, he’s already cemented his place amidst the program’s legacy of dominant offensive line play. Leatherwood immediately fulfilled a valuable role as depth for the Alabama Crimson Tide in 2017. He played in seven games that year, allowing one sack in 44 total reps.
As a true sophomore in 2018, Leatherwood moved to right guard, where he’d start all fifteen games. Although he allowed 21 pressures at that spot, he still earned second-team All-SEC honors from the coaches. He also showcased his versatility to NFL scouts who’d already written his name down for future draft classes.
After Jonah Williams departed ahead of the 2019 season, Leatherwood moved back to offensive tackle, where he again stood out with his consistency and security. Leatherwood started all thirteen games. He also earned heightened success in his 2019 action, making the jump to first-team All-SEC, courtesy of the coaches. Leatherwood was considered a strong draft candidate, but he chose to return to Alabama and finish what he started.
Alex Leatherwood’s return in 2020
Alex Leatherwood came back to Alabama to defend Mac Jones’ blindside and pave open running lanes for Najee Harris. He accomplished both these tasks. The Crimson Tide offense tore apart the league in 2020. In regular season action, Alabama’s attack ranked sixth in the league in total yards per game and was one of just ten units to average over 500 yards per game. Leatherwood played a big part in this production.
Leatherwood again started every game at left tackle, allowing just two sacks and three pressures on the season. The Alabama offensive tackle also minimized his penalty output, accruing just two over the course of the 2020 campaign. Leatherwood again earned first-team All-SEC honors and also gained traction as an All-American. He was also named a finalist for the Outland Trophy. Additionally, he helped the Alabama line win the Joe Moore Award, which recognizes teamwork as a unit.
Alex Leatherwood ends Alabama career on a high note
The Alabama offense put up 52 points and 623 yards of total offense in the National Championship game against the Ohio State Buckeyes. Offensive tackle Alex Leatherwood was a big reason why they found consistent success.
Leatherwood was his usual steady self against the Buckeyes’ under-manned pass rush. The Alabama tackle allowed Mac Jones to operate almost entirely unencumbered by pressure. He also helped pave lanes for Najee Harris in the running game. The championship game was Leatherwood’s stamp on his college career, and it was a powerful ending. The Crimson Tide choosing him as the first player to lift the trophy shows how much he meant to them on the way up.
Analyzing Alex Leatherwood’s 2021 NFL Draft profile
Although Leatherwood returned to the college football stage in 2020, there wasn’t much keeping him from the NFL, from a draft stock perspective. Nevertheless, Leatherwood exhausted his eligibility for his senior season and solidified his place as one of the best rising linemen in college football. His traits put his success into motion.
As a prospect, Leatherwood most often wins with his size and power. At 6-foot-6, 316 pounds, Leatherwood is a massive bookend blocker. He also has absolute levers for arms. His length allows him to extend toward linemen, and he has the play strength to maintain his anchor once he has both hands on his target.
In pass protection, Leatherwood has the length to disrupt incoming edge rushers, and he also has the grip strength to keep a hold on them through the play. Additionally, Leatherwood is fairly smooth when shuffling along the edge. He has good footwork and stable lower-body mechanics, and he keeps his shoulders square to his assignment. This enables Leatherwood to always keep his opponent in front of him. When he gets into position, he has the arm quickness to latch on and suffocate the rush.
Alex Leatherwood’s utility as a run blocker
Just as Leatherwood’s length/power combination helps him in pass protection, it also allows him to create lanes in the running game. Leatherwood is an above-average athlete when traversing to the second level. He also brings good vision when navigating congested running lanes, and when at the second level, he has good angle awareness to free up space.
Although he doesn’t have elite get-off or mobility in traffic, Leatherwood can get from Point A to Point B with little issue, and he displays the requisite explosive burst to pop into his targets. Additionally, he can use his length to negate the difference. Once he has his hands on a player, Leatherwood possesses the ability to bulldoze defenders with his strength. He’s also determined to play to the whistle.
Are there issues with Leatherwood’s game?
Leatherwood is fairly well-rounded offensive line prospect. The Alabama offensive tackle is smooth and consistent as a pass blocker, and he has enough athleticism to couple with his power as a run blocker. However, his body control and balance both need work.
Leatherwood doesn’t have great recovery athleticism. Thus, he sometimes struggles to adjust and recover when he mistimes a pursuit as a run blocker or gets beat laterally in pass protection. He’s better at recovering in pass protection, however, as he’s able to stay upright and maintain his base. That said, Leatherwood can become a more controlled player.
Most of Leatherwood’s other notes revolve around down-to-down volatility. For the most part, he’s a consistent player. However, he can still improve his hand usage arsenal, and he can be more consistent with his initial strikes. There are times when Leatherwood adequately latches on in pass protection but then struggles to recover when the edge defender counters. He can also expose his elbow pockets when extending, and smarter, stronger defenders can take advantage of this.
By successfully stacking punches, properly utilizing contingency plans, and cleaning up minor errors in his upper-body technique, Leatherwood can up his game. He possesses the necessary physical and mental traits to be molded into a starter.
Alex Leatherwood’s best fits in the 2021 NFL Draft
Despite his minor inconsistencies, Alabama offensive tackle Alex Leatherwood attracts recognition as a player who’s worth starting-level draft capital. Where exactly Leatherwood goes remains up for debate. Some feel that he’s worth a Round 1 selection. Depending on how NFL teams view him, falling to Day 2 is a possibility as well.
The main question surrounding Leatherwood is what he’ll play at the NFL level. He played both offensive tackle and offensive guard in college, and he put together quality reps at both positions. While this may cloud his outlook, I see it as a positive for Leatherwood. Teams value versatility on the offensive line, and the Alabama offensive tackle certainly has that.
Teams that can use Alex Leatherwood’s talents
On late Day 1 or Day 2, Leatherwood fits well with teams that have multiple needs on the line. Additionally, his functional athleticism and power dictate that he can fit multiple schemes. Teams like the Steelers, Bengals, Bears, Jets, and Dolphins have the need flexibility to pick Leatherwood and move him as they see fit.
Wherever he goes, Alex Leatherwood is a fairly safe draft pick. He started over 40 games in his Alabama career, and with his solid athletic traits and overwhelming power, he was able to make an impact every week. This security is one reason Tony Pauline has Leatherwood ranked as his seventh overall player and his second overall tackle. With his NFL future all but guaranteed in 2020, Leatherwood didn’t get complacent. That drive and tenacity may endear him to scouts, and if he tests well at the NFL Combine, he could finally lock in Round 1 status.