As I said in a previous breakdown, I didn't really get to watch much college football last fall, so these breakdowns are usually my first time seeing these guys at all. That is why I initially do not try to rank them. Until I break down at least two guys at every position, I don't have any idea who is the best.
Or the worst for that matter.
I have broken down that second guy at some positions by now, so at the very least I can compare those first two guys and determine which of the two I like more. In this case, Ole Miss left tackle Laremy Tunsil was the first offensive tackle that I broke down. Now that I've watched Notre Dame left tackle Ronnie Stanley, I have a frame of reference for both.
Let me just say this, I think Tunsil is definitely the better athlete. He's better out in space down field on screen plays. Tunsil is a much more powerful run blocker. And, well, he just plays meaner than Stanley on tape.
I would still take Stanley over Tunsil seven days a week and twice on Sunday.
Before you get your #HotTakes ready let me show you why.
Just ... beautiful.
In this era of zone read and read option offenses, like the one Tunsil played in at Ole Miss, you may get to see how athletic an offensive linemen is, but you usually won't get to see him actually make the kinds of blocks that he'll be called upon to make in the NFL.
That's especially true when it comes how players look pass blocking. It's not so much that Tunsil was a bad pass blocker -- if you read my breakdown you know he was actually pretty good at it -- but I just didn't get to see him block an edge rusher one-on-one enough in four games to be truly comfortable with my assessment of how good or bad he was doing it. What I do know is that in those limited opportunities Tunsil definitely got beat pretty badly twice on speed rushes, enough that those plays keep nagging at me even with all the other good things I saw from him on film.
Those two plays would scare the shit out of me if I was the one planning on taking him first overall, especially if I had a real, immediate need at that position.
It is 2016, folks! The days of throwing the ball less than 30 times a game are gone for most teams. Yes, you still need a running game to keep NFL defenses honest, but how many teams still have the running game as the main course rather than just the appetizer?
Very few as far as I can tell.
So, yeah, you could take the guy who racks up a bunch of pancake blocks and who looks good running out to block defensive backs on wide receiver screens, but you had better be damned sure that guy can actually pass block or none of that other shit will matter much in the long run. Your quarterback will be ruined and your franchise will be set back from having not one, but two of their top two overall picks both go down as busts.
I'm just saying.
I fell in love with former Auburn and current Rams left tackle Greg Robinson a few years back and he was even more of a physical specimen than Tunsil. Robinson was absolutely smashing guys as a run blocker in college, consistently driving linebackers off the screen on the second level and he looked like a big ass deer running out to block the force guy on screen plays.
None of that has made a shitting ass bit of difference since the Rams stuck him in the lineup as the starting left tackle. I may not have agreed with the timing of the thing, since I viewed Robinson as raw coming out and thought he would benefit from playing a couple of years inside to work on his technique before moving out to tackle. What I can't quibble with is the fact that he has definitely struggled in pass protection since he took over out there. Oh Robinson is still a pretty good run blocker, but edge rushers are giving him the business on passing downs, and it ain't pretty.
Now guess what folks talk more about, his good run blocking or poor pass protection?
With Stanley not only did I actually get to see him out on an island blocking edge rushers one-on-one in every game, I also saw him lock those guys down game after game after game. He faced speed rushers, power rushers, little rushers, big rushers or some combination of those attributes and the results were almost always the same: little to no pressure.
What makes Stanley so effective is the fact that his arms are almost 36 inches long. He also has really good, quick feet to go with them. His punch isn't necessarily all that powerful, but it is damned effective for two reasons: First, his arms are so long that they usually get to a pass rusher's chest quicker than they're used to; and, second, once he gets his hands on a guy and fully extends his arms, it's hard for the rusher to be able to reach out and get 'em off because their arms are likely much shorter.
I'm likely going to upset a lot of defensive line coaches and probably even some defensive linemen who don't agree when I say this, but most pass rushers are taught to reach out with their arms when they try to do a club move and hit the offensive tackle's shoulder to knock him off balance. And that, my friends, is bullshit!
If you happen to be as strong as an ox and the offensive lineman happens to have short-ass arms that aren't very powerful, maybe that move works. Maybe.
Most of the time, you are just asking for a good offensive lineman to cave in your damn chest when you reach out like that to try to club his shoulder. It's even worse when facing a guy like Stanley who has super long arms because his hands are going to get to your chest so much faster than you expect. Hell, your hand might not even make it past his elbow if you tried to club his shoulder 100 times in a row, except for the rare guy who also has arms that are almost 36 inches long.
The much smarter and efficient way to use your hands to try to club an offensive lineman is to aim for the elbow or wrist before he can get his hands on you. You already know most offensive lineman are aiming their hands at the chest or head area, so just shoot your hands in front of your chest and that gives you an opportunity to prevent the offensive lineman's hands from ever getting to you. Even if they do, you can usually still take their hands off of you and continue on to the quarterback if you hit the elbow or wrist with enough force.
Back to my point about why that still might not work with Stanley's long arms. Usually, when you try to use this kind of club or wiper move, a pass rusher is wise to not only try to time the offensive lineman's punch, but also to judge how close they have to be to the offensive lineman before they can expect that punch to come. This is done by watching a lot of film before hand, but it still isn't quite the same until you actually go against the guy a few times.
It's hard for pass rushers to tell when to expect Stanley's punch.
The pass rusher is still thinking "OK, I got another half step before he's gonna try to punch me" when he hits them. The force of the blow helps slow guys down, and sometimes the shock that the punch got there so quickly slowed them down, too.
On tape, Stanley's quick feet allow him to move well laterally. Combine that with his punch and you end up with a guy who is good with his initial set and punch who is also pretty damned good at recovering when he does get beat. I came away so much more confident that Stanley would be able to handle NFL edge rushers than I am in Tunsil's ability to do so.
Now, I'm going to tell you who Stanley's pass set reminds me of, which I know everybody will freak out about because they'll totally disregard the fact that I'm talking about his pass set only: former Ravens and UCLA left tackle Jonathan Ogden. Remember, pass set only.
(I'm sure you won't remember)
Ogden was a li'l bit taller, but his arm length was about the same. When you watched Ogden block guys in college you noticed that even when it didn't look like he threw his hands all that hard, his punch almost always shocked the rusher for a half a second -- just like Stanley. Getting punched like that can totally mess up a speed rusher's play because it's hard not to momentarily stop his feet when he gets shocked like that. Stopped feet means stopped momentum, which means a speed rush probably isn't happening.
Go back and look at those video highlights again. Don't focus on how hard or soft Stanley's punch looks; focus on the effect his punch has on the pass rusher. Watch the rushers and notice how that punch causes them to pause [Bernie Mac voice] and makes them reconsider. Some of those guys are pretty good edge rushers, too.
Ogden was also a powerful run blocker, so for the folks who failed reading comprehension in third grade, I understand if you are upset with the comparison. Stanley is a lot of things, but a powerful run blocker isn't one of them. He's more of a position blocker who tries to gain leverage on the defender and stay between them and whoever has the ball.
That's not to say I didn't see Stanley pancake anybody in five games, because I did. It's just that most of the time he didn't really move people off the spot when he tried. He did seem to be pretty good at the kinds of blocks that required good lateral movement rather than trying to knock people off the ball. I complained about not being able to see Tunsil try any reach blocks in that breakdown, but I had no such problems with Stanley.
He may not be a road grader type, but I feel like I saw enough from Stanley as a run blocker to feel comfortable that he also wouldn't be a liability in the run game on the next level.
That's a pretty low bar, but in today's NFL, I know how much run blocking matters in relation to pass blocking. I put more a premium on the latter than the former when evaluating which offensive tackles will ultimately be seen as successful.
If you are paying close attention you may have noticed that there haven't been any GIFs of Stanley pass blocking in the Clemson game. That is because I wanted to save the best for last.
I didn't really know who Shaq Lawson was before I did his breakdown and obviously I didn't know who Stanley was either. Those dudes went at it in that game. The more I watched of Lawson the more I realized how good of a pass rusher he was. With a chance to watch that matchup again with more context of who Stanley was as a blocker in college, I was able to appreciate the way both guys play even more.
Lawson was basically the only guy who gave Stanley any real measure of trouble for more than a play or two, but he certainly didn't dominate him or even come close. On the whole, Stanley won a lot more of those matchups than he lost, especially near the end. There were, however, a few times when Lawson kind of caught him slipping, mostly on counter moves. It's funny because when I watched Lawson beat Stanley with a spin move inside, that's exactly what made me think of Ogden.
A loooong time ago I faced off against Ogden in college, in the first game of his last season at UCLA, and I beat him with a good spin move. Watching film before that game I noticed how good Ogden's punch was and I realized I was going to have a hell of a time trying to knock his hands down before he got his hands on me. I figured if I could time his punch, I could win with a spin move because hardly anybody had tried to use one on him.
He punched, I did my spin move and his quarterback got the shit knocked out of him just as he released the football.
In their case, Stanley punched and Lawson did a beautiful spin move. To keep his quarterback from getting the shit knocked out of him, Stanley tackled Lawson. Probably the smartest course of action.
It was good to see Stanley had learned his lesson and did a much better job when Lawson tried his spin move. He did get beat by another Lawson counter, but that time it was just a long arm to an inside rip.
At the end of the day Lawson did get some pressure in that game, but he didn't get a sack and barely touched the quarterback. If you are familiar with how Lawson's season went you know that isn't the norm for him, and Stanley's pass blocking was definitely the difference maker.
You may wondering if I'm advocating the Titans taking Stanley number one overall and I guess the answer to that is yes -- and no. What I'm saying is if it were me and I was picking a left tackle that high to protect the quarterback that I picked second overall last year and who was absolutely pummeled last season, I'd need to be damned sure that the left tackle I selected could actually, you know, pass block.
So if it came down to Stanley or Tunsil first overall, I wouldn't give a damn about 40 times or bench press or any of that shit. I'd take Stanley seven days a week and twice on Sunday because I'm reasonably sure from watching his film that, barring injury, he is going to be able to lock down edge rushers for the next decade or so.
My team may not ever lead the league in rushing, but my quarterback should at least make it through a whole season without needing a backiotomy from repeatedly getting blasted from his blind side. If I'm pinning my hopes on a guy getting better at something, I will go with Stanley hopefully becoming a better run blocker rather than hoping Tunsil becomes a better pass blocker.
Since I don't have access to all-22 for college football games, I use the next best thing for my draft profiles and go to Draft Breakdown where they have the TV copy for a bunch of top prospects already cut up and ready to go. Also, their site is compatible with the new NoHuddle app, which turns your cell phone into a "cowboy clicker," which is pretty damn neat. For the purposes of this breakdown I watched Notre Dame left tackle Ronnie Stanley play against Texas, Clemson, USC, Temple and Ohio State. Those represented the first, fifth, seventh, eighth and 13th games on Notre Dame's schedule last season, respectively.