I have never been a scout or a NFL General Manager, but I am willing to watch a ton of football. By watching about 200 snaps of each prospect, we can really get a feel for a player and then know what we are talking about a bit better. It is no exact science, but the NFL hasn't quite figured out drafting either, so we are going to do the best we can.To read more about the 2016 NFL Draft Project, Click Here.
There is no question that as the NFL becomes more and more a passing league, the requirement of suitable pass protection grows in importance. For that reason, left tackles are always going to rise to the top of the draft only slightly less quickly than even quarterbacks. This isn't said a whole lot, but if you look at drafts and big contracts, you will quickly find that the left tackle can live a life that requires very little public ridicule but offers a fortune almost as big as the QB1. If you had a choice, certainly that would be the career path many would aspire to enjoy.
Somehow, however, there grew a theory in recent years that this is the best way to get a premium talent without the fear of a busted pick. When Trent Williams and Tyron Smith were top tackles in 2010-2011, teams started to think that the sure thing was with left tackles. But since, 6 offensive tackles were taken with Top 10 picks between 2012-2014, with zero being considered stars in this league: Matt Kalil, Eric Fisher, Luke Joeckel, Lane Johnson, Greg Robinson, and Jake Matthews. Some are OK and some are slightly better than that, but when you are paying the prices for these guys that the pick carries, OK is not what teams have in mind. They want Tyron Smith, who will be the best offensive linemen in Dallas from 2011 until possibly 2025. They want a cornerstone. And they didn't get that.
This draft has two likely top 10 picks. One appears to be a generational talent in Laremy Tunsil. And then there is this impressive talent from Notre Dame: Ronnie Stanley, who played all 4 years for the Irish and replaced Zack Martin at left tackle for 2014 and 2015. There, he stood tall and kept his QB from ever getting touched by his man. In other words, he was nearly perfect at pass protection the entire time he stood guard. And that is why many assume he has a chance to transition nicely to the next level.
What I liked:He is a very big man who moves pretty well - especially right at the snap he is generally the first lineman out of his stance and in position. This gives him a tremendous advantage to get in his spot before he is overtaken by a speed rusher, but it does flirt with the occasional false start. He is very strong and will fight hard with a great disposition that you want to see from this spot on the field. He is finishing plays and making sure you don't get any sort of flow from play to play. I really liked how he seemed to do much of his best work late in games, and he stood his ground very well against some fine pass rushers including Shaq Lawson in a showdown where both had their moments, but I thought Stanley won the day in pass protection. His run blocking is pretty solid in zone blocking concepts, and while he is not elite at getting to the second level of the defense, he is capable and willing to get downfield on screens and misdirection plays.
What I did not like:He is clearly not as athletically gifted as Tunsil. His just is not as "twitched up" as the other tackle in this debate, and he moves like a normal tackle moves who is that size, which means he is at a quickness disadvantage against many speed rushers. He relies on positioning and technique, which needs to improve in his development at the NFL level. This simply means he is more of a solid specimen instead of an athletic freak of nature. You won't see feats of brilliance as much as you will just see solid and dependable tackle play. And that is more than fine for what the position asks as this is not a beauty pageant. He will also get caught holding a bit as his arms get outside his man, and anytime you start grabbing the outside of the arms, you are going to get flagged. But, I think he will develop well.
Summary and Potential Fit For the Cowboys: Odds are pretty good that he will go very high in Round 1. He is not Tunsil, but in another draft, he would be the best tackle in the draft. He does the most important thing well, which is protect the blindside of QB1. He moves well and runs men past the back of the pocket and stays engaged until the whistle. He appears to have strong competitiveness and good instincts for the game. I don't love him in the open field and like I said, he has average quickness in tight spaces for a man his size. But, overall, I think he makes the grade as the type of guy who is gone in the first hour or two on draft weekend and can slide right in and play right away. I know some will discuss whether he is a right or left tackle at the next level, but I think he can play left tackle all day. The questions are whether he can eliminate the occasional flags and still keep his stellar pass protection performances at their level as he moves to a league where there is a stud sack guy across from you every snap of the year.