In Pro Football Network’s 2020 NFL Scouting Combine buzz article, PFN Insider Tony Pauline reported on Friday that teams have started moving Alabama offensive tackle Jedrick Wills from tackle to guard on their draft boards.
“Moving in the other direction is Jedrick Wills, as teams are concerned about his ability to mentally process a complex blocking scheme,” reported Pauline. “Some teams now project Wills to guard.”
Later on that same day, Pauline reiterated what he was hearing by saying, “Additional sources confirm my earlier report that several teams have moved Jedrick Wills off their tackle board and are now grading him as a guard.”
There have been many tackles who have moved from tackle to guard when transitioning from college to the NFL. In recent years, players like D.J. Fluker, Zach Martin, Brandon Scherff, Andrus Peat, and Ereck Flowers were all tackles drafted in the first-round who have all moved inside to guard at the NFL level. Yet of all of these players, there isn’t a more puzzling decision than this call to move Jedrick Wills inside.[sv slug=”vegas”]
The case against moving Wills inside
Moving Wills from tackle to guard is completely crazy. All of the evidence seems to point the other way. Breaking it down may demonstrate my point better.
In the cases I mentioned above, every single one of those tackle prospects had to move inside due to physical limitations with their profile.
D.J. Fluker was a mammoth of a tackle at 339 pounds with 36 3/4” inch arms. However, he was forced to move inside because he was clunky in pass protection. Speedier pass rushers got the better of his massive frame. Moving him inside to use that size and power more efficiently without becoming a liability makes complete sense.
Zach Martin was a phenomenal tackle in college. This man deserved to play tackle with the tape he put out. He was a great athlete in college and fundamentally was one of the cleanest that I’ve scouted. However, Martin’s arm length fell below the 33” mark the NFL swears by for tackles. Martin has just become the best guard in the NFL for the last several years. The tape certainly translated.
Scherff, Peat, and Flowers were much like Fluker. They had over 33” arms, but they struggled to deal with speedier pass rushers on the outside in college because of their physical profile. All three of them had a tight lower body that would have been exploited when going up against the freakier athletes in the NFL. Tackles cannot have balance issues or bend at the waist and succeed for long in the NFL. I think this was evidenced well by how Flowers’ career started when he played tackle for the Giants early on.
So, recent first-round tackles have moved from tackle to guard based on either not meeting the arm-length threshold of 33 inches or because they had a clear physical limitation that prevented them from playing on the outside.
Jedrick Wills has neither of these issues. He measured in at the NFL Combine with 34 1/4” arms, which passes the 33-inch mark. Physical limitations? You can try telling him he has those limitations because I won’t.
Check out Jedrick Wills get out in space and manhandle this defender. Great movement skills and he’s just violent. pic.twitter.com/ekgm7YIF0C
— Nick Farabaugh (@FarabaughFB) February 29, 2020
In pass protection, Wills has excellent footwork to mirror pass rushers out wide at all angles. His pass sets are things of beauty, and he can execute just about every set in the books. This makes the rationale about moving Wills from tackle to guard because of his “inability to handle complex blocking schemes”…puzzling at best.
Jedrick Wills played at the University of Alabama. You don’t start for Nick Saban if you do not have a great understanding of the game of football. Wills operated in an offense with several pro concepts. OC Steve Sarkisian worked in the pros for years before moving to Alabama, and his offense is full of several pro concepts as a result. Wills demonstrated outstanding IQ operating this scheme and has no problems quickly ID’ing blitzes and stunts by the defense.
Wills is a pretty clean offensive tackle prospect in every aspect of the word. So why the hesitancy? It’s bizarre for the NFL to consider this.
Look back at 2019 tackle class
Consider three of the four offensive tackles drafted last year in the first-round: Alabama’s Jonah Williams, Washington State’s Andre Dillard, and Alabama State’s Tytus Howard.
These issues weren’t mentioned with Jonah Williams last year. While many people commented that Williams should move to guard, it was because of his arm length more than his actual skill set or his mental acuity. Williams’ understanding of the Alabama offense was highly praised. Wills looks much the same as Williams in this regard.
The NFL seemingly didn’t have a problem with Andre Dillard nor Tytus Howard’s inability to handle complex blocking schemes despite one coming from the FCS level and the other playing for Mike Leach. Both were drafted at tackle. Dillard played in an offense that heavily utilized wide sets for tackles, uncommon in the NFL, and ran a limited number of run-blocking concepts coming from the Air Raid offense under Mike Leach.
Tytus Howard was a raw athlete playing tackle who struggled to identify stunts and blitzes at the FCS level. He was still learning how to play tackle after transitioning from quarterback to tight end to offensive tackle. Both of these guys were drafted as tackles to play tackle in the NFL despite their offensive situations. They were drafted to be developed and groomed to play tackle in hopes of reaching their ceilings.
So why do we hear this about Jedrick Wills, one of the most pro-ready tackles in recent memory? Why would teams push him inside instead of developing him at tackle?
At the end of the day, Jedrick Wills is a tackle prospect. If a team wants to draft him to play at guard because they are already set at tackle, then that’s fine. None of the top-10 teams do. Several of these teams have holes at tackle right now. To take Wills off the board at tackle completely or moving him down is puzzling and even hypocritical, given the NFL’s penchant for taking raw tackles in the first round over the last several years.
AJ Schute is a Draft Analyst for @PFN365. You can follow him on Twitter @AJDraftScout.