In early 2008, USC wrapped up a strong class after losing just two games. Going into the next year with a strong competition ahead between Mark Sanchez, Mitch Mustain and Aaron Corp for the starting QB spot, the Trojans brought in a stacked selection of offensive linemen - Khaled Holmes, Tyron Smith, Daniel Campbell, Matt Meyer and Matt Kalil.
At the time, Kalil was loaded with potential. He had a tall frame that had yet to be filled out. He had the pedigree - his father, Frank, was drafted by the Bills, and his brother, Ryan, was quickly ascending up the Carolina depth chart at the time.
Fast forward four and a half years, and Matt Kalil is one of the best offensive tackle prospects (if not the best) in the country.
After the jump, I break down what makes him such a valued prospect.
Read any scouting report on Kalil, and the deficiency's the same - a lack of power largely due to his lower body. The rest of the holes in his game are extensions of that: steps that are too wide outside his power base, lunging into his pad level in the run game, etc.
So the question is how much value do you put on a tackle whose pass-blocking skills are elite but whose frame (and the technical response) presents a deficiency at least in his rookie season if not beyond?
That's better left to another. Today in the playbook, let's look at what Matt Kalil can, and can't, do.
Footwork and body position
This is Kalil's strong suit. He has a great feel for positioning and how to put himself in the best place to reactively engage pass rushers. Check out his drop footwork against Stanford in 2010 working against Thomas Keiser (there's no replay, so you may want to watch it more than once to get a good look):
He sets his base about two yards ahead of Barkley's drop knowing that if Keiser tries to go around the back of the pocket, he'll have ample room to push him far behind Barkley. And as Keiser spins, Kalil has room to keep his hands on him until Barkley has a chance to get to his third read on the play.
Offensive tackles who don't have solid footwork and awareness either get too deep, allowing the inside spin move, or engage too close to the line of scrimmage and allow the rusher's angle to flatten out at the QB and not have to curl back up into the pocket. Additionally, Kalil doesn't sacrifice any depth on the rush, keeping Keiser outside the hash mark for nearly his entire rush.
Two other factors that play here - stamina and clutch time performance. This would be USC's final offensive drive of the game, a drive on which they would score a touchdown to take a 1-point lead with less than 2 minutes remaining.
Here's an example in the run game from this season's USC-Cal game. Again, there's no reply so you might want to get a second or third look. And he's not the outside blocker on the line; TE Randall Telfer is playing on Kalil's left shoulder:
Despite losing pad level to Cal's Ernest Owusu, Kalil quickly gets his hips inside allowing Marc Tyler plenty of room to get the 1st down. Note the upper body strength as well to push a 270-pound D-lineman back.
While Kalil may lack bulk below his hips, his upper body strength is sufficient for the NFL level.
Let's just get this out of the way quickly - dude can block kicks.
And yes, you heard Rece Davis right - that was Kalil's third block of the 2011 season...in USC's 6th game of the year. Damn impressive.
While he might not have the power to match that athleticism, he does exhibit great ability to hit the second level when he pulls or rolls. Here's a rushing TD in the 2010 Stanford game where Kalil pulls and goes headhunting to ensure Dillon Baxter gets into the end zone (WARNING: this clip includes a Craig James-narrated replay. Notice how he uses the telestrator on USC #80 WR Branden Carswell after having the commercial break to set it up...)
Here's another run that puts Kalil out in front of the ball carrier to help create room to get into the end zone from USC's 2010 game against Oregon St.:
The level of Kalil's footwork and athleticism are rarely combined in a single prospect, though he's not perfect.
Power and pad level - yes and no
Despite having a powerful upper body and long arms, Kalil doesn't have the lower body to dominate in the run game. And at 6'7", he often allows defenders to get under his pads which immediately puts him at a disadvantage. On top of that, he doesn't have the bulkiest lower body. Unable to generate noteworthy power from his lower torso, he is prone to attempt to compensate by extended his base stance too widely or to lunge into his run blocks knowing he won't be able to sustain them with his legs.
Before I get too negative, here's a good look at his upper body strength with a preview from Kiffinface from this year's Oregon game:
Kalil has room to extend his arms here and shows great upper body strength in carving out an easy first down run for RB Curtis McNeal. He's able to do so only because Terrell Turner doesn't exploit the pad level advantage immediately, allowing Kalil to dictate movement. It's a vulnerability when defenders engage him directly.
Like this, for example. Here, Kalil engages Thomas Keisel far too tall, and is pushed deep into the pocket, nearly blowing up the play. USC almost makes a play out of it, but check the replay starting around the 27 second mark:
While he keeps his feet balanced and his hands at Keisel's pads, he's being driven into the pocket by someone who's 50 pounds lighter than him. On its face, some might look at that and say, "So what? He kept Keisel out of the pocket and maintained his stance." I would say that Keisel is no NFL DE, and, should Kalil go #3 overall to the Vikings for argument's sake, he'd have his hands full in that situation dealing with Julius Peppers or Kyle Vanden Bosch.
To be fair, Kalil is honest enough to know what his inadequacies are, and he knows his limitations. That's a sign of an intelligent player. But sometimes, he's too willing to concede any opportunity to battle knowing he's starting out at a disadvantage.
Here's a play where he just flails at Cal DL Trevor Guyton (who's no poor prospect himself, ranked 101st by NFL Draft Scout/CBS Sports).
Kalil lunges "at" Guyton instead of exploding "into" him, allowing Guyton to initiate the blow up of the play. It's a development off the lack of lower body strength, and one that will likely be abused more obviously at the next level. The ultimate question is how to hide the hole in Kalil's game to make the most of his skill set.
Matt Kalil presents a bit of unique case. How do you approach a prospect with a near-elite (or elite in some people's opinions) pass-blocking skill set despite comparative lower body strength which presents an obvious problem in run blocking let alone pocket protection?
It's a long question, but it requires long answers for someone that has been mentioned often as being the #2 overall pick in the 2012 NFL Draft. The reality is that Kalil is much more NFL-ready prospect than his former teammate Tyron Smith (the top tackle taken in last year's draft), any of the tackles in the 2009 NFL Draft, and arguably nearly on par with Jake Long, the #1 overall pick in the 2008 draft.
There's time left to determine how the draft shakes out. The Rams' opportunity to push the second pick onto a RGIII suitor is weakened should Peyton Manning or Matt Flynn sign before the draft. Make no mistake, though.
Kalil is going to make an impact soon after the Colts pick Andrew Luck.
And for good reason.