It is pretty clear by now that the Steelers will need a tackle in some capacity entering the 2021 offseason. With Alejandro Villanueva. Matt Feiler, and Zach Banner all on expiring deals, it is a major need to protect the likely returning Ben Roethlisberger. The Steelers need to be looking for an upgrade in talent to make this offensive line one of the best in the NFL once again. That starts with the tackles on any given team.
The 2021 NFL Draft has an exciting group of tackles. So much so, that a lot of the guys that will not make this Top-10 are potential future starters. This is a tackle class with the top tackles needed to compete with any other year, and the depth the class possesses only helps it. There will quality players available into the third day of the draft.
10. Liam Eichenberg, Notre Dame
To have someone as talented as Liam Eichenberg this low is truly a compliment to how good this tackle class is. Listen, Eichenberg is a plug-and-play starter in Year 1. He is super polished and ready to make that leap to the NFL. Eichenberg has precise, strong hands. He understands how to frame blocks and push up front at the point of attack. There is no doubt that Eichenberg has a lot of power behind his frame.
The biggest issues with Eichenberg are athletic issues. He has serious limitations with his footwork. They are not necessarily heavy by any means, but speed rushers can beat him to his spot around the edge at times. That is an issue. There is some stiffness in his lower body as well. Those explosive edge rushers can beat him around the arc as a result.
In the NFL, Eichenberg will work best in a downhill, power running scheme that allows him to instill his will upon opponents. There are limitations that might cap his ceiling, but his high floor is undeniable.
9. Dillon Radunz, North Dakota State
A Senior Bowl winner if there ever was one, Dillon Radunz put on a show in Mobile. Granted, this grade has little to do with his performance in Mobile, but his tape showcased many of the same qualities that makes Radunz a solid tackle prospect. Radunz is quick and nimbe on his feet. His footwork is efficient and allows him to get to his set points and stay disciplined against speed rushers.
Radunz can move in his pass sets and in space well. His core strength and balance are optimal. Make no mistake, he will bury opponents into the dirt with an impressive demeanor and good strength. In the running game, he does seem to have some issues framing blocks in the second level and in space. In addition, he is just a little light in his upper body and could stand to add more mass to his frame. However, Radunz should be an NFL starter and is only rising.
8. Jalen Mayfield, Michigan
Boy, Jalen Mayfield is one tough evaluation. But the main thing to come away from his evaluation is that he has top-flight athleticism that can not be taught. Betting on tools is something every good NFL team should do at tackle, which is a often thin position for elite players. If a guy even has the potential to be that, his stock will shoot up. Mayfield is one of those guys. The foot speed is awesome, Mayfield can really scoot, and his fluidity in open space is awesome.
Coming into 2020, Mayfield was dirt raw. He lacks a highly functional anchor and his play strength just is not there yet. In 2019, he did not even know how to properly use his hands and relied solely upon his athletic traits. In 2020, he seemed more consistent with his hands and set points, but with only a two game sample size, it is too small to decode how big of an improvement that was truly. Either way, Mayfield, on traits alone, can be a high-upside starter in the NFL.
7. Spencer Brown, Northern Iowa
The second FCS tackle on the list, Spencer Brown is an easy player to love. His tape is what teams want to see in any NFL starting tackle. There are obviously rough edges to his game, but the core elements of it are perfect for the modern NFL. For example, he is as smooth as butter in every facet of his game. Brown climbs to the second level with ease, can pull in space with a high execution rate, and his pass sets are things of beauty. Truly, his movement skills, length and footwork are his three best traits overall.
A former tight end, Brown is still learning the position to a degree. Picking up and recognizing stunts is something he will work on early in his career. However, he has the necessary improvement curve and demeanor to be scrappy and get better each year. There is a lot of physical traits, like his outstanding length, to bet on, however. Brown’s going to have to fine tune his game, but he should be a very good NFL player for a long time.
6. Teven Jenkins, Oklahoma State
This young man is a mauler, period. Teven Jenkins’ pure strength and power are elite. When facing potential first-round pick Joseph Ossai, Jenkins took him to the woodshed and put him into the turf multiple times. Whenever Jenkins gets his hands on the inside of a defender’s pads the play is simply over. His core strength and balance are fantastic. Add in his grip strength, and Jenkins can be shut down.
Jenkins’ real limitations come with his overall athleticism and framing of blocks. His footwork is not great and he is not super smooth in space. There is some real clunkiness to his movements. Then when moving into the second level, Jenkins does have some trouble connecting with his assignments. Some of this could suggest he is better kicked inside to guard, but given his strength and tape, he should work outside-in at first.
5. Alex Leatherwood, Alabama
Leatherwood’s week in Mobile brought lots of discussion upon him. He struggled the first two days, but the third and final day was a strong showing for Leatherwood. The main discussion was around if Leatherwood should kick inside to guard. While that is certainly, possible, there are lots of traits to say that Leatherwood should be a tackle. In fact, some of his tape shows he may be a better fit there anyways.
Leatherwood is smooth, but not particularly quick on his feet. It is not as quick as someone like Mayfield, but it is more than adequate. His real standout moments come when he is working downhill. Leatherwood just moves people with great power, pad level, and overall strength at the point of attack. His aggressive tone will draw the interest of many teams for good reason.
If he moves inside, it will be because of the stiffness in his lower half. That can get him beat by twitchier edge rushers who can flatten that arc around the bend. Even still, Leatherwood’s length, hands, and football IQ can make up for some deficiencies, and he should be tried out at tackle first.
4. Samuel Cosmi, Texas
Cosmi is another athletic guy that has high upside due to those traits. He is fleet of foot and can get deep into his sets and to his set points in no time. Cosmi knows how to use his hands and has great grip strength. Once he has a rusher locked up, the rep is pretty much over thanks to his impressive grip strength. His hand usage was the area where he was much improved in 2020.
Cosmi is not a mauler up front. Play strength is not as much of an issue as his anchoring ability, however. That anchor ability gets him stunned by more powerful rushers at times. More so, Cosmi just does not have great length overall. His relies on his instincts and footwork to make up for his lack of length.
Cosmi can serve to use an NFL weight training program to bulk up more throughout his frame, and refine his technical skills overall. There may be some early bumps, but his upside is through the roof.
3. Rashawn Slater, Northwestern
Rashawn Slater is a lot of fun to watch. This guy’s balance is absurd. His ability to reset after being stunned and somehow still control the pass rusher is so impressive. It takes elite balance and core strength to anchor down as well as Slater does at times. These are the true traits that stick out from his game. The other traits that are obvious are his quick feet and highly functional athleticism. Slater is a phenomenal athlete for the position and can play anywhere along the offensive line.
Slater’s length does show up more than most would like to admit. It is seriously an issue and while he can be a good tackle, he might be elite on the interior given his traits. The only other knock might be that Slater does not have a ton of nasty in him. This is not a guy who will knock defenders into the turf consistently. Even still, Slater is a first-round prospect and will be a very good pro.
2. Christian Darrisaw, Virginia Tech
It is hard not to love Christian Darrisaw and what he brings to the table. A wicked athlete with great length, Darrisaw is a prototypical tackle that was built in a lab. There is just not a lot that Darrisaw can not do. His pass sets are smooth and he has excellent open field mobility. Darrisaw is perhaps the best pulling tackle in the class. There is significant nastiness to his game and Darrisaw sends guys flying at times.
The key thing that will sell most teams on Darrisaw just how diverse he is. The guy can get downhill and blow guys out of gaps or work on zone runs and take excellent angles make the requisite blocks in space. There is still some strength that he can add to his frame and Darrisaw does have some moments where his pad level sweels. But he should be a starter early and perhaps one of the best tackles in the game in the future.
1. Penei Sewell, Oregon
The top tackle is no surprise. Sewell has held this position for a long, long time, but it is far from a massive gap at this time. There are the obvious traits that Sewell possesses. He has excellent length, foot quickness, and fluidity in space. The physical tools are all there for Sewell in spades. The mentality is also there for Sewell. He will blow defenders off the ball and rag doll them. At times, it gets comical to watch.
Sewell is far from an infallible prospect, however. His grip strength shows definite issues at times and it can cause Sewell to fall off his blocks earlier than he would like. That is also somewhat of a balance thing, as when Sewell falls off his blocks, he literally falls to the turf. He is a little less polished than most would like to admit, but that just means Sewell has great upside, too. Sewell was a natural pick for the best tackle in the class.
Note: Alijah Vera-Tucker and Jackson Carman were graded as guards