Scouting NFL draft's best tackles: Finding best fits for Giants, Jets

ByJordan Raanan and Rich Cimini ESPN logo
Wednesday, April 15, 2020

If there ever were a good time to find the right fit at offensive tackle at the top of the NFL draft, this is the year.

Four highly rated tackles -- Louisville's Mekhi Becton, Georgia's Andrew Thomas, Alabama's Jedrick Wills Jr.and Iowa's Tristan Wirfs -- are expected to be selected within the first 15 picks on April 23. The surprising part is that the order in which they will be picked varies depending on the team and individual.

ESPN talked with 11 evaluators (scouts, executives, coaches and analysts) and tabulated their rankings for the top four, with each first-place vote worth four points, a second-place vote worth three points and so on.

As the chart shows, Becton was our top-ranked tackle, edging Wills for first in total points with 32 and in first-place votes (5-4). The voting highlights how widely opinions vary when assessing the tackles at the top of this draft class.

For the teams at the top of the draft, beginning with the New York Giants at No. 4, there are options.

"What do you need the most out of that pick if it's going to be a tackle?" SEC Network analyst and former Auburn offensive lineman Cole Cubelic explained. "You tell me that and then you can answer that question of [how do you rank the tackles]."

The Giants aren't the Cleveland Browns, who have the No. 10 pick and need a left tackle ASAP. They aren't the Arizona Cardinals, who are at No. 8 and looking to fill a hole on the right side.

The Giants are in position to draft a tackle, start him on the right side or as a swing tackle, and then contemplate a move to the left side when Nate Solder (who turned 32 over the weekend) is gone. That leaves everybody on the table if the Giants don't trade down.

The New York Jets also have options. They are leaning toward offensive tackle with their first-round pick (No. 11 overall) even though they added four linemen in free agency.

It has been a long time since the Jets used a high pick on a lineman -- 2006, when they drafted D'Brickashaw Ferguson and Nick Mangold in the first round. Since 2007, they have made 21 picks in the top 50 overall, and not one was an offensive lineman. Every other team has taken at least two linemen in the top 50 over that span, according to Elias Sports Bureau research.

That could change with this year's options.

1. Mekhi Becton, Louisville

What he would bring: Becton is a mountain of a man with capabilities above and beyond the other top tackles. The LeBron James of offensive tackles is how one evaluator described Becton physically. His ability to reach-block and drive defenders to the sideline is special. He can move, play with power and finish. He's the ultimate upside prospect after one standout season. After a mediocre 2018, Becton worked himself into shape and played like a top-10 pick under a new coach in 2019. If he keeps trending in this direction, someone might be getting a Hall of Fame-type player.

Giants fit: Becton could start at right tackle and eventually shift to become quarterback Daniel Jones' personal, long-term blindside protector. Becton played on both sides at Louisville. General manager Dave Gettleman has already said you could make the argument the No. 4 pick should have "gold jacket" potential. In that case, if the Giants don't trade back, Becton is the best option. He's the tackle who could produce greatness given his physical gifts. But Becton also comes with the most risk, which diminishes the chances he will be the Giants' pick.

Jets fit: The Jets would be nuts if they pass on Becton, who should be the No. 1 tackle on general manager Joe Douglas' draft board. What separates Becton from the rest is he can play left and right tackle, and his ceiling is higher than any of the other tackles in the draft. If they want to keep him at left tackle, where he played his final two seasons at Louisville, they could move recently signed George Fant to right tackle. Despite his size, Becton has the athletic ability to play in an outside zone scheme. He also can get to the perimeter on wide-receiver screens, a staple in coach Adam Gase's offense.

They said what?!

  • "Nobody can do what he does. They really can't. Where I had him a year [ago] was fourth or fifth round -- maybe take a chance on the guy. ... Now he does things on tape that nobody else can do. Physically they can't do." -- NFL scout
  • "He's an outlier because he brings that old-school size like Orlando Pace, Jonathan Ogden, Lincoln Kennedy with the new-school athletic skills of your 305 and 310 guy (his weight). And he's doing it at [6-foot-7], 360. We've never seen that before. There is nobody who really does that. Not even Trent Brown, who is almost 6-10, 400 pounds, moves like that." -- Duke Manyweather, Becton's trainer and an offensive line scouting and development consultant
  • "He's a human excavator. Has uncoachable traits, like his length, being 6-7, being 360 and being able to move the way he does. He has more flaws than Wirfs, Thomas or Wills, but he's raw." -- Cubelic
  • "It's ridiculous how good he can be. You don't have many people on this planet that are that big, that strong and that fast. ... We don't love his character. Just some lazy stuff, nothing major." -- NFL scout
  • "Trying to get around him is like orbiting the sun ... I believe he's going to get better. I don't believe he has reached his ceiling." -- Brian Baldinger, ex-NFL lineman and NFL Network analyst

2. Jedrick Wills Jr., Alabama

What he would bring: Wills is a powerful right tackle and a force in the run game. He can slide in immediately, starting Day 1 and playing at a high level. Alabama coach Nick Saban talks glowingly about Wills, saying he's easy to coach, dependable and would fit into any culture. Saban even thinks Wills could successfully make the transition to left tackle. He doesn't come with much risk.

Giants fit: This is where the Saban-Joe Judge connection comes into play. The Giants already have former Alabama running backs coach Burton Burns on staff. He has seen what Wills can do and would likely provide another stamp of approval. Wills would be an ideal fit in an offense expected to be more run-heavy than most. No wonder the buzz on Wills to the Giants has been building in league circles. He would start on the right side and, depending on how things shake out over the next few seasons, potentially move to the left. Wills seems to be the most likely match for the Giants -- low risk, dependable and powerful.

Jets fit: Wills would be excellent value with the No. 11pick. Just plug him in at right tackle and the Jets won't have to worry about that position for a long time. While some believe he could make the transition to the left side, the Jets wouldn't have to force it because they have Fant on the left. Wills is a terrific run blocker, something the Jets need. When running outside the right tackle, the Jets gained 4.2 yards per carry (ranked No. 24), per ESPN Stats & Information research. You have to believe running back Le'Veon Bell, who averaged a miserable 3.2 yards on all runs, would be in favor of a run-blocking right tackle.

They said what?!

  • "He's got some nasty to him. I like that." -- NFL scout
  • "If you want the best player and are not specifically saying you need left right now, Wills is your best bet in this draft.He's the most physical, plays with the most nasty. I think he has the best lower-body flexibility, and I think he's the most ready, instantly, to come in and impact what you're doing." -- Cubelic
  • "He's the most pro-ready of the group. He'll be a solid starter for a long time. I don't see a great one, but he'll be dependable. He's the safest. Just plug and play." -- NFL scout
  • "When he locks on to you, he doesn't get off you. He's a good finisher ... I believe he could be a left tackle or could slide inside. Everybody that has watched him and evaluated him doesn't think going to the left side would be a problem." -- Baldinger
  • "Can he play left? Probably. But it would be a disservice to him." -- Manyweather

3. Tristan Wirfs, Iowa

What he would bring: Wirfs, 21, is the most athletic of this group. He showed that at the scouting combine, and it should come in handy against the NFL's speedy top-end pass-rushers. His work ethic is also unquestioned. Wirfs was sneaking in workouts at the YMCA in Indianapolis in the days leading up to his eye-opening combine performance. He played in a zone scheme at Iowa, primarily at right tackle, but played left tackle in three games last season and the bowl game his freshman season.

Giants fit: Wirfs is a strong fit and the favorite to be selected by the Giants, who have expressed strong interest from the start. He is a strong run blocker (which should help a team heavily committed to the run) and scheme-versatile, an important factor because the Giants want a multifaceted offense under Judge and coordinator Jason Garrett.Some evaluators think he could develop into an All-Pro guard.

Jets fit: There's a lot to like about Wirfs, arguably the most athletic tackle in the draft, but he's far from a finished product in terms of technique. Some scouts believe it will take him longer to reach his potential than Becton and Wills. That said, he would immediately become the most talented tackle on the Jets' roster. (The same could be said of all four prospects.) Wirfs could replace Chuma Edoga at right tackle, then move to left in 2021, if he's up to it and the circumstances permit. Some believe Wirfs has the ability to slide inside to guard, but the Jets addressed their guard situation in free agency.

They said what?!:

  • "He's a better athlete than I thought. Love the way he comes off the ball. He's got quickness, he's tough, he does everything you want him to do. He can play in every scheme." -- NFL scout
  • "Don't think you can go wrong with Wirfs. Think he's a little stiff. Lacks a little lower-body flexibility compared to Wills." -- Cubelic
  • "He's a high-caliber athlete. He stays square and plays with tremendous power. A mauler in [the] run game." -- Offensive line coach
  • "He doesn't use his hands as well as all the other guys. Your hands can get you out of trouble. All that [superior] testing at the combine, it doesn't show up on tape. You worry about how strong he is. He doesn't play as strong as the other guys." -- NFL scout

4. Andrew Thomas, Georgia

What he would bring: Thomas is the most game-ready left tackle. He's ideal for a team that would want to throw him on the blind side on Day 1, even though he played his freshman season on the right side. Thomas is fundamentally sound, effective in the run game and as a pass-blocker. He's not known as the physical finisher, but he gets the job done.

Giants fit: He's another versatile tackle who can start on the right before eventually making his way to the other side of the line. Thomas makes sense in that he's a safe and dependable option. That fits the Giants, who can't afford another miss on their offensive line without putting Jones and their future at risk. There hasn't been much buzz connecting Thomas to the Giants, aside from some FaceTime sessions with the team.

Jets fit: Scouts are mixed on Thomas, whose pass-protection skills need to be refined. If Becton, Wills and Wirfs are off the board, and the decision comes down to Thomas versus the top wide receiver, the smart call would be the receiver. Thomas can play left and right tackle, and he'd bring some punch to the running game, but his footwork can get sloppy at times. He can't be ruled out because he has strong intangibles (Douglas is big on those) and big-time talent. The decision could come down to whether they believe he can be coached out of his technique issues.

They said what?!

  • "Yes, there are flaws. Sometimes he gets overextended. He doesn't have as much raw power as a Wirfs or a Wills. But I think he's the most game-ready, and he's the most battle-tested at left tackle. And he still gives you some athletic upside." -- Cubelic
  • "He's a safe bet. Very, very fundamentally sound. Run block, pass block -- he can do it all." -- NFL scout
  • "Not an ass kicker. You saw that with his strength in Indy." -- NFL coach
  • "He's got a lot of technique problems, but his size and movement are elite. I just feel like his technique is sloppy, but he's such a good athlete. His footwork is lazy at times. I'm not calling him lazy, but to be consistent at the NFL level, to be a Pro Bowl player -- because that's what you want [with a high pick] -- you want to draft a consistent, Pro Bowl-caliber player. He has that ability, but I believe he has to work a whole bunch on his technique." -- Baldinger
  • "I have no concerns. He's pretty special." -- NFL scout

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