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2024 NFL Draft

Why Troy Fautanu Will Stick at Tackle with the Steelers

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Pittsburgh Steelers OT Troy Fautanu
Tory Fautanu, Washington Athletics

PITTSBURGH — The Pittsburgh Steelers drafted Washington Huskies offensive lineman Troy Fautanu with their first-round pick in the 2024 NFL Draft on Thursday, and they intend to play him at tackle, the position he played for the last two seasons of his college career.

But in the pre-draft process, many thought that Fautanu could be a guard, or even a center, at the next level.

Fautanu does not have the typical height of an NFL tackle, which likely started the questions about whether he’d be able to stick at the position at the next level. Frequently, tackles with concerns about their length are required to move to guard in the NFL.

Peter Skoronski, drafted with the No. 11 overall pick as a tackle out of Northwestern by the Tennessee Titans last year, checked in at 6-foot-4 with 32 1/4-inch arms. He played his entire rookie season at left guard, and the Titans drafted another tackle in the first round this year.

Graham Barton, who played left tackle at Duke, is 6-foot-5 3/8 with 32 7/8-inch arms. He has widely been projected as a center or guard at the NFL level.

It looked early in the process like Fautanu might be another such player in this class. ESPN’s Mel Kiper highlighted him early on as one of his favorite players in the 2024 draft — but as a guard, comparing him to Cowboys great Zach Martin, from the 2014 NFL Draft class, who checked in at 6-foot-4 1/8, with 32 7/8-inch arms.

“He played left tackle the past two seasons, but I envision his highest ceiling as a guard, where he started two games in college,” Kiper wrote. “I see an All-Pro guard when I watch him move, in the vein of Zack Martin, who played tackle at Notre Dame before moving to guard for the Cowboys.”

But when Fautanu was put to the tape at the 2024 NFL Combine, those size-related concerns about moving positions mostly evaporated. Fautanu is short for a tackle. His height at 6-foot-3 3/4 scored a 0.89 out of 10 for the position, according to RAS. But Fautanu has exceptionally long arms for a person of his height, with a 34.5-inch arm length and an 82-inch wingspan.

Broderick Jones, who the Steelers drafted in the first round at No. 14 last year as an offensive tackle, is 6-foot-5 3/8 inches tall — nearly two inches taller than Fautanu, but only has 34 3/4-inch arms and an 82 3/4-inch wingspan. The difference is pretty small. When it comes to the size of a tackle, the arm length, and the corresponding ability to keep defenders off their chest and in control.

“You know, what are we talking about? If he was a quarter of an inch taller you might not be asking that,” Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin said. “He’s got great arm length, and his tape is very, very impressive.”

The tape is also key. Some players move positions at the next level because of their size. Others move because their play on tape doesn’t exhibit the required skills to play the position at the next level. College offenses are different than NFL offense. College defenders are different that NFL defenders. A subpar pass blocker at the college level might need to move to guard to be protected at the NFL level, no matter how big he is.

There are not concerns about Fautanu’s ability to play the tackle position. He is an excellent pass protector, allowing just three sacks over his entire college career, according to Pro Football Focus. Over his two seasons as a starting tackle, PFF consistently graded Fautanu as a better pass protector than a run blocker.

Fautanu called the projections that moved him to guard “lazy analysis,” and while he said on Thursday that he is willing to play wherever the Steelers want him to, it’s clear that he sees himself as a tackle.

“I think I’m a tackle. Grouping me in a category with the guards because of how tall I am, I honestly feel like it was a lazy narrative that grew legs for some reason. That’s lazy analysis,” Fautanu said in an April interview with The Draft Network.  “Just watch the tape. I played tackle at a high level. Props to my coaches and my teammates that helped get me to that level. I truly feel like I played the tackle position at a legitimately high level. We made it to the biggest game in college football. I feel like I put my best foot forward against the best opponents throughout the entire season.”

“At the end of the day, my mindset has always been to do whatever’s necessary to get on the field though. I want to play. I can’t make my biggest impact if I’m not on the field. For me, I’ll play wherever at this level. I’m willing to play guard or center if that’s what it takes. I took snaps as a center at pro day. I had never done it before. I  picked it up pretty quickly. I’m comfortable playing anywhere. My easy answer would be to continue playing tackle. That’s where I’ve played the last three or four years.”

That’s where the Steelers will play him in 2024, Tomlin confirmed on Thursday. It remains to be seen whether it will be as a left tackle or a right tackle, with the Steelers having the option of keeping Fautanu and Jones where they played last year or flipping them.
But because Fautanu does have the size, speed and athleticism of someone that could be an elite interior lineman, his selection also gives them flexibility along the line down the road. If they team doesn’t retain James Daniels after his contract expires next spring, or if their plan to replace Mason Cole at center this season doesn’t work out, Fautanu’s flexibility to be a quality starter at multiple positions could be an added benefit to his selection.

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