Viewed as a sleeper in the summer of 2022, Tennessee OT Darnell Wright has vaulted up boards and is now a potential first-round pick in the 2023 NFL Draft. Is the hype warranted, and how does Wright project to the next level? As his five-star pedigree implies, Wright can be an impact starter at his maximum potential.
Darnell Wright NFL Draft Profile
- Position: Offensive tackle
- School: Tennessee
- Current Year: Senior
- Height/Weight: 6’5″, 333 pounds
- Length: 33 3/4″
- Hand: 9″
Ever since he put on a helmet, Wright has been on a collision course with the NFL draft. He was a five-star prospect and a top-five overall recruit coming out of high school in 2019. He had scholarship offers from all of the blue bloods — Alabama, Georgia, Ohio State, Clemson — but instead chose to play for the University of Tennessee.
Since arriving at Tennessee, Wright has only kept climbing. He started seven games and played in 11 as a true freshman, earning Freshman All-SEC honors. He then became a full-time starter at right tackle in 2020. And in 2021, he moved to the blind side, starting all 13 games at the left tackle spot.
Wright showed a lot of promise early in his time at Tennessee. He displayed versatility, reliability, and high-end physical talent. But 2022 was the first season he put it all together and showcased his potential as a high-level NFL starter.
Settling in at right tackle in 2022, Wright locked down his end of the line for quarterback Hendon Hooker, staving off opponents like Alabama’s Will Anderson Jr. and Florida’s Brenton Cox Jr. Wright earned first-team All-SEC honors for his play. And as the draft process has progressed, he’s made his way into the highest ranks at his position.
Darnell Wright Scouting Report
In the NFL, where nearly every edge rusher is one of the best athletes on the planet, offensive tackles have to have enough in their toolbox to match. Not just size, length, and athleticism, but also proper technique, hands, and leverage. It’s an equation of the unteachable and the intangibles. How does it all add up for Wright?
As you’d expect from a former consensus five-star recruit, Wright passes the eye test. At 6’5″, 333 pounds, he has excellent height and weight, with a massive frame that stores ample amounts of power. He also has great length, which he frequently puts to use in his game.
For his size, Wright shows off impressive athleticism. He’s quick out of his stance and showcases exceptional lateral explosion off the snap. He can quickly snap into position when responding to opponents and is an amped-up mover for his size.
Wright owns impressive initial burst heading to the second level and features impressive short-area athleticism. He can get great depth on his kick and glide across the edge with smooth lateral shuffles. Moreover, he has enough corrective athleticism to recover after initial losses.
Wright’s NFL Combine performance reaffirmed his athletic ability. At his size, he ran a stellar 5.01 40-yard dash with a strong 1.81 10-yard split. He also had a 29″ vertical and a 9’6″ broad jump. Wright’s broad jump figure, in particular, put him near the 98th percentile among offensive tackles. All of this is to say: Wright has the goods.
Wright can cover ground fairly efficiently in short ranges with long strides, and he’s also nimble and fleet-footed for his frame. He’s shown he has the requisite range to make blocks as a puller. But beyond that, Wright brings elite overall power capacity.
Wright stores devastating potential energy and knock-back power and can shock even larger defenders at contact, stonewalling opponents and halting momentum instantly with strikes. Going further, Wright can reload his arms and re-exert power with impressive suddenness and force.
Wright has the ability to channel power through leg drive and move defenders off their spot. He effectively drives power up through his base at the contact point but can also generate incredible power with hip rotation and upper-body torque. Wright can lock out defenders with ruthless torque on run plays and control pass protection reps with that rotation.
Additionally, Wright possesses excellent grip strength. He can lock down rip moves with impressive consistency — especially against smaller defenders — and maintain his anchor even against resistance. Wright has the core strength to keep defenders within his frame and control reps, and he can redirect momentum when opponents lose their balance. Furthermore, Wright’s able to latch and tug down opponents with great force.
MORE: 2023 NFL Draft Big Board
Balance and leverage can be an issue at times, but for his size, Wright is very comfortable leaning and playing beyond his center of gravity. He can create controlled leverage to channel force into blocks. He appears to have good knee bend capacity as well. He can naturally lower himself and manage leverage.
Another impressive trait for Wright, considering his size, is his hip flexibility. He’s able to adjust his initial angle of engagement and flip his hips to redirect defenders in space. Moreover, the Tennessee OT experiences little delay when flipping his hips at the apex to wall off defenders.
Wright still has room to maximize both his hand usage and footwork, but he showed immense growth in 2022. Wright can effectively use independent hands and is active when gathering rushers. He’s very violent in resetting his hands and can actively combat sequential rushing moves in rapid succession.
He has a brutal snatch-and-trap with his upper-body quickness and power capacity, but he’s also shown he can punch and latch inside the defender’s frame, using his core strength to siphon control from his opponent.
For the most part, Wright has good upper-lower synergy and can use his hands and feet in conjunction to neutralize rushers. With his wide frame, he can consistently keep opponents in front of him and tightly extend inside the torso.
He has a solid sense of timing and can flash his hands and bait linemen into extending before swatting down extensions and latching with force. He leverages his frame well and has a strong outside hand to keep rushers from prying past.
With his footwork, Wright shows the capacity to use leverage steps off the snap to achieve the proper angle when blocking rushers. He also displays discretion and awareness with his set angle based on defender alignment and play call. Wright is fairly patient and disciplined with his positioning. The Tennessee OT can control reps by carefully managing depth, and he actively tempos his footwork to match rushers.
Going further, Wright can continually reset his base to absorb power. He’s an assignment-sound player who’s always alert and is very smooth and consistent at picking up stunts. Among other things, Wright actively works to exert physicality and dominate opponents. If opponents give up leverage, he’ll bury them into the turf. And as a draft prospect, his starting experience at left and right tackle, as well as right guard, will be valuable.
Wright’s Areas for Improvement
While Wright has great functional mobility for his size, he’s not elite in that department. He can’t always recollect his feet quickly after blocking in space. He also lacks elite range and change-of-direction ability. And in space, it can be difficult for him to manage his pad level. With his size, he naturally plays too tall at times. He can’t always sustain blocks with a taller pad level, and defenders can exploit his frame with superior leverage.
Wright’s length is exceptional, but that’s not quite an elite feature, either. Longer opponents can work past his arms to latch, rip, and wrench him off balance. They can also goad Wright into leaning too far and bending at the waist, which can impact his ability to keep his leverage and sustain blocks.
Going further, Wright’s hands can be too wide and high at times. Thus, defenders can get under his pads and slip free. Especially on moving blocks, he can be too wide with his grip. Although Wright has good knee bend capacity, he can stand to bend his knees more at times. His tendency to occasionally bend his waist detracts from leverage and restricts him from drawing power up through his base.
Wright has great hands, but there are times when he fails to strike cleanly. This, along with his width, can open up his torso to opposing power. Wright employed more independent hand usage in 2022, which is promising, but his two-hand extensions can still be too wide. He sometimes gets too grabby and bear-hugs his opponents. He’s also prone to occasional false starts.
Even after improvement in 2022, Wright’s footwork can still be a bit more controlled. He’s gotten better at maintaining balance through weight transfers, but he does occasionally plant too early and lurch past his center of gravity. Additionally, when defenders get a good first step, he sometimes panics and will turn his hips too early, allowing angles inside.
Current Draft Projection for Tennessee OT Darnell Wright
On my board, Wright is a top-three OT prospect in the 2023 NFL Draft, a top-25 overall talent, and a natural right tackle worthy of mid-to-late Round 1 consideration. He had a Day 2 grade coming into the 2022 season, and he effectively delivered on his five-star pedigree, morphing into a high-level performer.
The potential was always visible with Wright, who has a five-star pedigree and visible talent on tape. At 6’5″, 333 pounds, with near-34″ arms, he has dominating size and power, and he also has impressive explosiveness and short-area athleticism for his size. With his burst, he gets off the snap quickly, and with his micro-mobility, he can match rushers, recover, and tempo his footwork off the line.
As a run blocker, Wright can still improve at managing his leverage and keeping his hands tight, but his power capacity gives him road-grader potential. Meanwhile, he’s one of the class’ best pass protectors at the tackle spot. He’s synergetic with his hands and feet, can demolish rushers with precise, violent snatch-and-traps, and has the anchor to absorb power.
Even with his occasional leverage issues, Wright has shown he can play beyond his center of gravity, bend his knees, and lower himself. And with his hands, Wright has shown he can reload and re-exert with ruthless efficiency and force. He has tremendous potential as a pass protector in the modern NFL, and at his maximum, he can be an impact starter — well worth the price of a first-round pick.
Tony Pauline’s Scouting Report for Darnell Wright
Strengths: Strong, slug-it-out, small-area blocker who is best at right tackle. Keeps his feet moving, stays square, and properly places his hands into defenders. Powerful, drives opponents off the line run blocking, or controls them at the point once engaged in a block.
Patient, displays terrific vision, and works well with teammates. Possesses a tough, nasty attitude and is always working to get a pad on defenders. Sets with a wide base and works to bend his knees.
Weaknesses: Lacks quick, fluid footwork off the edge as well as lateral blocking range. Lack of agility hurts his ability to finish blocks. Not a natural knee bender.
Overall: Wright is a tough, nasty road grader who will get consideration at right tackle or even inside at guard. He’s a power-gap lineman who can be starting by the end of his rookie season in the right system.
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