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April 13, 2018

Eagles 2018 NFL Draft preview: Offensive tackle

Over the next couple of weeks, we'll be taking a look at each of the Philadelphia Eagles' positional groups. We'll determine if the Eagles are likely to select a player at that position with one of their six picks in the 2018 NFL Draft, as well as note some players who make sense. Today we'll look at offensive tackle.

Previous draft preview positional analysis

Quarterback | Running back | Wide receiver | Tight end

The Eagles' roster is so stacked that offensive tackle is (rightfully) thought to be among their biggest needs, despite having arguably the best OT starting combo in the NFL, plus an improving 24 year old swing tackle with experience who could start on a bunch of teams.

The starters, of course, are LT Jason Peters and RT Lane Johnson, and the young swing tackle capable of backing up either starter at LT or RT is Halapoulivaati Vaitai.

At some point, the 36 year old Peters is going to retire, and when he does, the Eagles would be wise to have an extra offensive tackle in the pipeline, whether he be as an heir apparent to Peters, or simply as depth if the Eagles think that Vaitai can be a legitimate starter long-term in the NFL.

Is there any more to be said on the subject? No? Well alright then, here are five offensive tackles who make sense for the Eagles in the 2018 NFL Draft.

Connor Williams, OT, Texas (6'5, 320)

I'm still baffled how Williams can even be in the discussion at pick No. 32, as we noted in the Eagles draft visit tracker yesterday. Back in December, we profiled Williams as a potential trade-up option in the first round, with the thinking being that he would never slide as far down as wherever the Eagles were going to be picking.

However, after missing a big chunk of the 2017 season with a knee injury, and then not playing at his best once he did return, some of the shine is apparently off of Williams, which to me is kind of nuts.

Prior to 2017, Williams was thought of as an elite offensive line prospect, and potential top five overall pick. Much of his evaluation this year is certainly on medical testing. If his knee injury is determined not to be degenerative, the Eagles should be all over him should he slide to pick No. 32.

At the Combine, Williams' athletic measurables were outstanding: 

Certainly, however, his T-Rex arms, at 33", have to be considered a concern for an offensive tackle. Still, whether Williams plays tackle in the NFL, or is "merely" an interior offensive lineman capable of playing on edge in the event of an injury, he's a player who can fit on any roster.

A highlight reel from when he was dominant in 2016:

If Williams pans out as an offensive tackle in the NFL, great. If not, I believe his floor is as an athletic quality starting guard or center.

Round projection: 1-2

Brian O'Neill, OT Pittsburgh (6'7, 305)

O'Neill is a local kid from Salesianum School in Wilmington, DE, who enrolled at Pitt as a tight end before moving to RT, where he started the last two years. He is now playing LT in 2017. Under Doug Pederson, the Eagles have prioritized versatility from their offensive linemen, and have embraced the long-term potential of tight ends converted to tackle, as evidenced by Dillon Gordon, who the team was very high on at one time, but did not improve enough from 2016 to 2017 to make the team.

O'Neill is so athletic and versatile, in fact, that Pitt has found ways to get the ball in his hands from his tackle spot. Here's a weird throwback lateral to O'Neill that went for a touchdown:

Get that ball in your outside arm, O'Neill! 
And here's an end-around Pitt ran with him that also resulted in a score:

Lol. As you can see, O'Neill has outstanding athleticism for a tackle, which was confirmed at the NFL Combine:

The Eagles love using an extra tackle as a tight end in their jumbo sets. O'Neill would fit that role perfectly in the short-term, with a long-term ceiling as a starting left tackle, but his technique will need to be refined, which could take time.

Round projection: 2-3

Chukwuma Okorafor, OT, Western Michigan (6'6, 330)

Okorafor was named one of six semi-finalists for 2017 Outland Trophy, which is awarded to the best interior lineman (offense or defense) in the country. The others are Oklahoma OT Orlando Brown, Notre Dame OT Mike McGlinchey, Notre Dame OG Quenton Nelson, Houston DT Ed Oliver, and Ohio State C Billy Price. You have to be very impressive to be included among a semi-finalist group like that if you play at a smaller school.

As you might expect of a 6'6, 330-pound man, Okorafor can move bodies in the run game, and he anchors very well in pass protection. He also has experience both at RT and LT, which will interest the Eagles. On the downside, there are concerns about his hand fighting and his overall technique, though that can be improved with NFL coaching. 

Okorafor is something a size-athleticism prospect, but raw. For the Eagles' purposes, he makes sense as a player they can draft and develop while Jason Peters finishes out his career, though taking a developmental player in the first round isn't ideal. I can see Okorafor being a player of interest if the Eagles trade back out of the first round.

Round projection: 2-3

Joseph Noteboom, OT, TCU (6'5, 309)

At the 2018 NFL Combine, Noteboom ran a 4.96 40 (94th percentile among OTs since 1999) and a 4.44 shuttle (96th percentile).

Here he is working out at the NFL Combine, with Eagles OL coach Jeff Stoutland running one of the drills: 

Noteboom possesses athletic traits that will appeal to Doug Pederson and Co. The downside is that he is thought to be deficient, technique-wise, and could take some time to develop into a player worth seeing the field in the NFL.

For the Eagles' purposes, again, that's fine, as they already have impressive depth at OT, but could benefit by continuing to fill the offensive tackle pipeline.

Desmond Harrison, OT, West Georgia (6'6, 288)

Harrison destroyed inferior competition in the D-II Gulf Sun Conference. Here's a comical highlight reel of him putting guys on their asses:

At the combine, Harrison ran a 4.9, showing that he is a special athlete at 6'6, 288. However, there are a number things working against him:

  1. In the pros, Harrison is going to have to put on more weight, and he's going to have to be coached up by an NFL staff before he sniffs the field in a meaningful game.
  2. He's something of the "Blutarski" of the draft this year, as he was playing college football as far back as 2011 at Contra Costa Community College. I couldn't find an official age for him, but he's old.
  3. He has off-field concerns, as he transferred from that JUCO school to Texas, where he missed a year due to suspensions, before landing at West Georgia.

Harrison is a highly athletic developmental prospect that Jeff Stoutland could try to work his magic with over the next couple years.

Round projection: 5-6

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