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Auburn offensive lineman Greg Robinson

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Michigan offensive lineman Taylor Lewan

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Texas A&M offensive tackle Jake Matthews

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North Dakota State offensive lineman Billy Turner

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NFL draft preview: Offensive linemen

  • Article by: MARK CRAIG
  • Star Tribune
  • April 28, 2014 - 11:27 PM

Big men who can protect the passer in a pass-happy league will be a hot commodity in the first round of the NFL draft.

So what else is new?

A year ago, offensive tackles were taken first, second and fourth overall during a frantic run that saw eight offensive linemen disappear in the top 20 picks. This year, ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. projects three tackles to be taken in the top nine picks and five overall in the first round.

Obviously, there are no guarantees on draft day. But tackles taken high tend to be safer picks (Yeah, we know about Tony Mandarich). Throw in the name “Matthews” and, well, one has to wonder if Texas A&M offensive tackle Jake Matthews isn’t the safest pick in the 2014 NFL draft.

“I’d like to think I wasn’t grand-fathered in,” joked Matthews, whose family’s NFL lineage dates back to grandfather Clay Sr.’s four-year stint with the 49ers in the 1950s. “I hope I earned my way here. It is special the family I came from.”

His father, Bruce, is a Hall of Fame offensive lineman who played 19 seasons. His uncle, Clay Jr., was a four-time Pro Bowl linebacker who also played 19 seasons. His cousins, Clay III, and Casey, play linebacker for the Packers and Eagles, respectively.

“I mean, having a Pro Football Hall of Famer help you figure out the position is definitely beneficial,” Matthews said.

Matthews was a two-year starter at right tackle before he switched to left tackle last year to replace Luke Joeckel, who was the No. 2 overall pick of the Jaguars a year ago.

Some have argued that Matthews was better than Joeckel. Of course, when asked why he didn’t turn pro last year, Matthews came up with the kind of answer you’d expect from a Matthews.

“One of the biggest things was the opportunity to play with my younger brother [Mike],” Matthews said. “He started at center for us last year.”

Of course, he did.

The front-runner

Greg Robinson, OT, Auburn

Considered the most athletically gifted lineman in the draft. He’s one of the heaviest at 332 pounds, but the pounds are distributed so well over a 6-5 frame that Robinson ran a 4.9 40-yard dash. He has long arms, big hands. An ability to protect the blind side and dominate in the run has Robinson projected in the top five.

The contenders

Taylor Lewan, OT, Michigan

The son of former Gophers offensive lineman Dave Lewan should be a top-10 pick. Kiper has the 6-7, 309-pounder going No. 6 to Atlanta, which has the skilled players but needs the grunts. He could play either side after excelling at left tackle for the Wolverines.

 

Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M

Proved he can handle either side very well. Started two years on the right side and then made seamless transition to the left side as a senior. Based on genetics, the 6-5, 308-pounder also is a good bet for a durable, lengthy career.

The sleeper

Billy Turner, T-G, North Dakota State

Turner, a potential Day 2 pick, went to Mounds View High School and is the son of former Vikings running back Maurice Turner. A 6-5, 315-pound tackle in college, Turner is being projected by many teams, including the Vikings, as an NFL guard. The Vikings, who are looking for help at guard, included Turner in their top-30 visit.



 

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