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Thor's Tackle Rankings

by Thor Nystrom
Updated On: April 21, 2020, 2:45 pm ET

My previous entries in this scouting series examined the quarterbackrunning backwide receiver and tight end classes. Spiderweb graphs sourced from mockdraftable.com, SPARQ scores from Three Sigma Athlete, and RAS from Kent Lee Platte

1. Tristan Wirfs (Iowa) | 6'5/320


SPARQ percentile: 99.1

RAS: 9.74

Comp: Bryan Bulaga (Lance Zierlein)

Wirfs is a country-strong athletic freak with potential four-position versatility. The former Iowa state champion high school wrestler ranked No. 1 on Bruce Feldman’s Freaks list last summer and then had one of the most dominant NFL Scouting Combine showings we’ve ever seen from an offensive lineman, breaking the position record for the vertical jump (36.5”, better than CeeDee Lamb and Jerry Jeudy’s showings) and tying it for the broad jump (10’1).

Iowa shifted Wirfs to LT without issue in-season last year to cover for Alaric Jackson’s injury before shifting Wirfs back to RT when Jackson returned. Iowa HC Kirk Ferentz said Wirfs only spent most of his career at RT because Jackson happened to get installed at LT first. “He can do both,” Ferentz said of Wirfs. “I think you could play him probably anywhere but center, and he probably could do that if you gave him some time. You play a guy like that inside, he’s basically going to kill guys. He’s a dominant player that way. Me personally, I would play him at tackle if I was still in the NFL.”

In 2017, Wirfs became the first Hawkeye freshman to start at tackle for Kirk Ferentz. Brandon Scherff, Riley Reiff, Bryan Bulaga and Robert Gallery didn’t. Speaking of Scherff, Wirfs shattered his old school record in the power clean with four reps at 450 pounds. We talk about fluidity in terms of movement – that’s fluidity in the power department. And here’s the crazy thing: Scherff set his school record as a grizzled fifth-year senior. Wirfs broke it in the months following his 20th birthday party.

Once Wirfs gets his hands on a defensive end, he’ll drive him into the upper deck if the refs forget to blow the whistle. In pass pro, Wirfs confidently leans on his athletic tools, setting a nice base, shuffling his quick feet with mirror steps, using sledgehammer arms to punch holes in chests and stall the engines of edge rushers, and dropping a cruise ship anchor. Because Wirfs is a little shorter for a tackle. Skyscraper edges can give him trouble. When a long end can keep Wirfs on the outside, it has the effect of playing down both his natural movement and strength skills.

He’s quick and nasty, accelerating into his man in the run game with speed and force. When he gets those meat cleavers into your chest and pumps you full of electricity, you go backwards, sometimes, you end up on your back. One area to work on is second-level blocking. Despite his experience and athleticism, Wirfs sometimes looks awkward in space, taking bad angles and arriving upright. This is a correctable quirk, and he’s gotten better at playing lower in general.

Heading into last year, Wirfs was an amalgamation of all-world tools that he hadn’t completely put together yet. His 2019 campaign gave a great indication of where he could be headed as an NFL player. Wirfs’ PFF grade improved from 74.8 to 91.3 (No. 4 nationally among tackles). He’s shoring up his weaknesses quickly, and heads into the NFL confirmed to be one of the great tackle athletes the league has ever seen.

2. Andrew Thomas (Georgia) | 6'5/315


SPARQ percentile: 53.8

RAS: 8.22

Comp: Russell Okung (Lindy’s)

For a player who dominated in the SEC since his true freshman season, Andrew Thomas has curiously seen his stock stagnate a bit as newer, fresher names have arrived on the scene. But let’s not forget that this kid posted a dominant 92.4 PFF grade and allowed only six pressures last fall. He outplayed Mekhi Becton his entire career against superior competition, starting 41 of 43 career games and earning All-American accommodation in two of three seasons. Thomas is the best-graded tackle in this class and also outperformed last year’s top SEC tackle, Jonah Williams, as a sophomore (80.6 for Thomas to Williams’ 76.9) and junior (Williams: 89.2).

Thomas’ is a well-built banger with easy athleticism and prodigious brute strength, with a ferocious punch that has sent future NFL edge rushers flying. His joints shouldn’t be as pliable as they are. Thomas is a 320-pound spring, with the supreme flexibility to coil back into sunken hips and the supreme burst to strike with ferocious power. He explodes off the snap looking to rock his man. In pass pro, Thomas sets a nice wide base and leans on his power to keep his man outside and his flexibility and quick feet to keep them in front of him. He doesn’t take plays off, and the former four-star prospect has drawn raves for his character.

Thomas is not yet a finished product. To become an NFL All-Pro, he will need to clean up his footwork and hand usage. Thomas wants to blast people, and that’s great, but he could improve his blocking strike zone by being even slightly more measured in his approach. Further, Thomas needs to realize he’s not to be the bully in pass-pro, that that doesn’t suit his purposes.

He’s way more comfortable coming forward than shuffling in a half-moon, but that has nothing to do with an athletic limitation. And while it’s great that he throws those hands around with power and ill-intent, we need him to realize they’re meant for controlling as much as dictating. He’ll stop letting fish off the line when he quits reeling like a maniac the second he feels a bite.

These are not insignificant concerns, but they’re all correctable. Especially for a high-character kid. And again: Thomas was the best offensive lineman in this class over the past three years in college, which means something to me. His advancement up the developmental ladder is entirely predicated on technical gains. I see no reason why he can’t get there and become a multi-time All-Pro.

3. Jedrick Wills (Alabama) | 6'4/312


SPARQ percentile: 72.0

RAS: 8.35

Comp: Jason Peters

Alabama pilfered Wills, a native of Lexington, Kentucky, out of the backyard of the Kentucky Wildcats in the class of 2017. A five-star recruit and top-25 overall prospect, Wills saw regular playing time for the first time as a sophomore, starting 15 games at RT while posting a ho-hum PFF grade of 68.7. He returned to start at RT last year and was arguably the most improved lineman in the country (86.9).

Even when he wasn’t playing as well, the athleticism was obvious. So was the hostility. Wills attacks. He’s a 320-pound champagne cork off the snap, and he’s looking for blood from there. His punch may be the most ferocious in the class, and he violently uncoils through contact with those quick feet churning to escort his man backwards.

You rarely see Wills lose a run-blocking rep. His 90.1 PFF run-blocking grade last year was elite. With the power of a snowplow and the feet of a four-wheeler, Wills projects as an elite run-blocker at right tackle in the NFL, the position he played at Alabama. His pro team could decide to work him at guard to start.

If there’s an area to work on, it’s in pass-pro. Wills has a guard-like build, on the shorter side for a tackle and a bit stocky. Without length to use as a weapon, he instead sets up lightning quick off the snap and gets very wide off the edge, forcing his man to take a very wide angle if he wants to beat him with speed. (Spoiler alert: Nobody is beating Wills with power).

On engagement, he uses his prodigious punch to keep separation and dictate terms. But Wills is clearly still raw in this area. Between the wide berth and the inclination to strike, he sometimes gets out over his skis, and that’s where he can be beat, crossing him up with a counter. He’s young yet, and early on the development curve. He should be able to clean that up.

4. Mekhi Becton (Louisville) | 6'7/364


SPARQ percentile: N/A

RAS: 9.78

Comp: Orlando Brown (Joe Marino)

Super fun prospect, a 364-pound mutant who runs a 5.1 forty. But I won’t be attending the Mekhi Becton hype parade. His collegiate portfolio just doesn’t justify a top-15 pick. Prior to last year, Becton had a couple of decent developmental seasons before improving to a solid 81.3 PFF grade, just south of 80.0 as both a run and pass blocker.

And yes, I understand that his highlight reel features clips of atrocities against smaller men. But keep in mind that Becton’s three-worst graded games last year came against Notre Dame, Wake Forest and Miami. He played passable against Clemson, nothing special. The rest of the schedule featured contests against two directional Kentucky teams, Boston College, Syracuse, Willie Taggart’s dead-on-arrival FSU team... you get the idea.

But boy is the package enticing. Becton was like Godzilla in the ACC last year, this freakishly huge, freakishly quick monster with a seven-foot wingspan who could send guys flying backwards with a thunderous punch like they’d just been hit by a bus. Light on his feet for a big fella, Becton presents a puzzle for edge rushers, because you need to cut a wicked corner after a quick jump to beat his length and feet around the outside, and you have to deal with his power if you go inside. He’s a heady player who has a good amount of experience at both right and left tackle after moving to the latter post full-time in 2019.

We must acknowledge the risk profile, though. Becton is a bit like the Denzel Mims of the offensive tackle class – his highlight reel is among the most impressive in the class, and his lowlight reel is the opposite. We always talk about him as a freak of nature in a positive way, but there’s a reason there aren’t more 360+ pound offensive linemen in the NFL. Becton is more athletic than most we’ve seen, but he has the same issue of wearing down as games go on and waist-bending. Speed and power haven’t given him the most trouble, but counter-moves have, particularly when the big fella is sucking air.

This is something to keep an eye on. Louisville shifted offensive schemes under a new staff in 2019, Becton’s breakout year. The new offense, a spread scheme featuring a bunch of screens and play-action concepts, didn’t actually afford Becton many traditional pass pro reps. He struggled with the ones he got. Per PFF, Becton allowed eight pressures in 73 true pass sets and ranked No. 45 among OTs last year in pass-blocking grade. Becton is a top-4 tackle on upside alone, but Wirfs, Thomas and Wills have all proven far more and come with higher floors and comparable ceilings.

5. Josh Jones (Houston) | 6'5/319


SPARQ percentile: 44.7

RAS: 7.24

Comp: Bobby Massey

Josh Jones arrived in Houston as a nothing-burger recruit in 2015, barely eking his way onto the top 1,000 prospects on the 247Sports composite board that cycle. After redshirting his first year on campus, the Cougars realized they’d unearthed a gem. Jones went on to start 45 games at left tackle. His overall PFF grade in 2019 (93.2) is the highest ever for a Group of Five tackle.

Jones combines tap-dance quick feet and a consistent ability to work into the second level. On the move, he plays at his most intuitive. Jones lacks for polish, not ability. Those feet might be quick enough to churn butter, but it’s butter that’s occasionally splashed around the room, as there’s a surfeit of technique and finesse in his footwork off the snap, particularly in pass protection.

Despite his obvious need for tutelage – Jones played under three head coaches during a rocky time in Houston history – he dominated in this area. Further improvement and the sky’s the limit. But if he doesn’t discipline those hands and feet, he’s going to put a glass ceiling on his own development.

Similar story in the run game, where Jones athleticism and aggressiveness shine while his lack of fundamentals frustrate. He showed ludicrous improvement in this area, going from a PFF grade of 62.8 in 2018 to 92.7 in 2019, but has more work to do to become a consistently stellar NFL road-grader. Jones got away with losing the leverage battle and not always being fully on the play-side of the ball in college, but grappling high from poor angles is a habit that is going to get him beat in the NFL. He has the flexibility and bend to get low, he just needs a few tweaks in approach ala his work in the passing game to take the next developmental step.

6. Ezra Cleveland (Boise State) | 6'6/311


SPARQ percentile: 91.7

RAS: 9.93

Comp: Brian O’Neill (Marino)

Another example of Boise State’s superb scouting and development recruiting wing, Cleveland was an overlooked three-star recruit with only two other FBS offers when he signed with the Broncos. After a redshirt year to add a little weight, Cleveland locked down the left tackle post for three seasons, never missing a start prior to declaring for the draft over the winter.

He’s the anti-Mekhi Becton. Cleveland couldn’t toss you if he wanted to. And he doesn’t. Lacking in power but blessed with high-level athleticism, Cleveland’s game is built around quickness, movement and technique. These traits made him one the country’s most consistently stellar pass-blockers over the past three years, with PFF grades of 81.0+ each campaign.

An effortless mover laterally with the agility to shut down your counter ideas, Cleveland frustrates opponents by constantly being in the correct position. His footwork is strong, and it’s clear he’s spent much time working on his hands. They lack thunderous power, but they generally hit their mark when they’re supposed to and return to his frame without a loss of balance or hiccup of movement.

Cleveland’s always going to struggle with power, and for that reason he’s almost assuredly going to be drafted by a zone team. His frame doesn’t look like it will support much more mass, so this is likely just what he is. He won’t have issues with speed in the pros, but he’s probably going to need some help against power rushers – Cleveland just doesn’t have the anchor to prevent getting put on ice skates and pushed back against power rushers.

And while his hand technique is strong, the lack of wattage in his mitts can allow rushers with good strength and balance to crash right through his barrier and into his personal space. In the run game, Cleveland will be fine for a zone team due to his ability to reach any target on any given play, but his inability to drive and finish will keep him confined to that.

7. Austin Jackson (USC) | 6'5/322


SPARQ percentile: 83.3

RAS: 9.38

Comp: D.J. Humphries (Zierlein)

Jackson signed with the Trojans as a borderline five-star recruit out of the Phoenix prep ranks in February of 2017. He played in 14 games right out of the gate as a true freshman before locking in as starting left tackle for the whole of the 2018 and 2019 seasons prior to his draft declaration. He made first-team All-Pac-12 his final year with USC.

Pre-snap Jackson is all coiled energy, first movements quick-draw-at-noon immediate. At his best, he seems like he could melt asphalt with those first steps. His rare athleticism -- 83rd percentile on SPARQ -- can’t be taught, and is apparent on film. The way he regains the upper-hand when beat, the way he zips to the second level.

The obvious outward appeal comes with a number of question marks, however. Because Jackson’s going to need significant coaching with his footwork, with his hands, with his ever-shifting base. And I mean significant. The technical flaws not only dilute his natural athleticism, they have been a consistent issue throughout Jackson’s career.

Yes, folks, he’s a project. You need to know that Jackson was only a slightly above-average Power-5 tackle last year. And his overall 2019 grade of 73.9 was a career high. Gulp. Jackson is a mature player -- he donated bone marrow to his sister last summer -- and the athleticism does certainly shimmer. But unlike a Josh Jones, an athletic tackle who also needs technical help, Jackson's on-field performance left much to be desired in college. Classic boom-or-bust prospect.

8. Isaiah Wilson (Georgia) | 6'6/350


SPARQ percentile: 67.6

RAS: 6.6

Comp: Phil Loadholt

Wilson signed with Georgia as a five-star recruit out of high school and made the NFL leap having played just two seasons of college ball following a redshirt in 2017. Even with the lack of a larger sample size, Wilson has differentiated himself as a pass-blocker first, run-blocker second. At Georgia, Wilson surrendered just nine pressures in 334 pass-set reps for 2019 (hat tip to PFF).

The notorious Spongebob fan from Brooklyn is built like anything but an invertebrate. Built like a planet, Wilson sucks edge defenders in like a black hole. While a respectable athlete, Wilson needs to be coached up in terms of his footwork, which most often becomes problematic when dealing with quicker defenders capable of throwing off the big man’s balance. In the run game, his massive size can lead to leverage issues. But when he locks in, it’s over.

9. Matt Peart (Connecticut) | 6'6/318


SPARQ percentile: 66.7

RAS: 9.0

Comp: D'Brickashaw Ferguson (Jim Nagy)

Peart toiled away in obscurity at UConn for most his career before taking a quantum leap in 2019 (his overall PFF grade of 90.1 marked an almost 20-point jump from 2018). What he lacks for in junkyard-dog toughness and strength, Peart counters with graceful athleticism, quickness and feel. He’s a calm, heady player who knows he can’t be beaten by speed. The defenders who tried try to race around the edge on Peart walked into the noose of an affectless executioner. The Achilles heel here is a finesse game lacking in power. Because he’ll have issues against strength at the next level but is such a smooth, fluid mover, Peart should be ticketed for a zone scheme in the pros. The Jamaica native didn't pick up football until high school and showed rapid improvement over the past couple of years, he could develop into a high-end pass protector in the NFL.

10. Prince Tega Wanogho (Auburn) | 6'5/308


SPARQ percentile: N/A


Comp: Morgan Moses (Renner)

A native of Nigeria, Tega Wanogho first played football in high school. He quickly established himself as a high-end defensive line recruit, signing with Auburn. After redshirting with an injury in 2015, he was shifted from defensive line to offensive line in the summer of 2016, earning a starting job a year later. Raw as could be, Wanogho was benched in a nightmarish outing at Clemson where the offensive line was roasted for 11 sacks. He made an enormous leap in 2018, posting a PFF pass-blocking grade of 89.6 that was easily the best of any tackle on this list last season. But he regressed to a 76.4 pass-blocking grade in 2019 as his overall grade fell by seven points.

He’s still extremely raw, and you’ll just have to live with the inconsistency as he develops (and the risk profile if you draft him), but the tools are exciting. Wanogho is a puzzle for edge rushers, because he’s as long as a bridge, he sets up wide as a cruise ship, and he knows how to use his hands.

However, he has a tendency to get clowned by counters. The run game is very much a work in progress, as play strength and technique both need big improvement. He didn’t test at the NFL Combine, but we know Wanogho is a great athlete. He’s a former top-25 Feldman Freak with a 415-pound bench, a 560-pound squat, a 32-inch vertical, and a 4.95 forty.

Thor Nystrom

Thor Nystrom is NBC Sports Edge’s lead CFB writer. The 2018 FSWA College Sports Writer of the Year, Nystrom’s writing has also been honored by Rolling Stone magazine and The Best American Essays series. Say hi to him on Twitter @thorku!