I started watching Michigan State left tackle Jack Conklin, having never seen him play before this. After a couple of games, I decided that he was a guard at the next level. It wasn't that he played badly ... It was actually more a combination of two things.
He's a mauler type of run blocker who likes to give defenders a li'l extra something something at the end of the play if possible. Nothing dirty, he looks to leave a man flat on his back like a cockroach before the whistle blows if possible.
And I can dig it!
That's normally the kind of "scrappy" mentality that you see from future guards rather than tackles. It's not that most tackles are soft, it's just that most of them are usually more athletic while the guards rely more on brute force, the good ones at least. Conklin played like a guard most of the time and in this context that is very much a compliment.
Second, I didn't like his pass set. At all.
Conklin consistently turned his shoulders perpendicular to the line of scrimmage way too early for my liking. That usually results in giving up a shorter corner around the edge or allows skilled rushers to win with a good counter inside move.
I want my offensive tackles keeping their shoulders close to parallel to the line of scrimmage for as long as possible so they can react to any inside move before the rusher can get quick penetration on the quarterback, while still maintaining the ability to turn and ride a speed rusher past the level of the quarterback. It's a delicate balance, especially when every pass rusher is different, but with Conklin he was turning his shoulders before the rusher was even threatening to make an edge rush half the time.
With a pass set that bad, he'd turn into barbecue chicken trying to stop edge rushers in the NFL. Especially if he was trying to do it at left tackle where all the magic tends to happen.
Listen, there is nothing inherently wrong with projecting a tackle to convert to guard on the next level anyway, especially if they can excel there. Former Notre Dame left tackle and current Cowboys offensive guard Zack Martin is a prime example of a guy who was drafted in the middle of the first round and transitioned from tackle to guard. Not a single soul is complaining about where he went, so it's more about whether the guy can play well no matter where they put him.
The more I watched Conklin play, the more I noticed that even with his shitty pass set he didn't get beat all that much. There were several times when I was just sure Conklin was going to get beat around the edge at the beginning of the play, but somehow he almost always recovered to keep the rusher off his quarterback.
I had to confront the fact that I might've been a little too hasty in assuming Conklin only had a future at guard.
Could Conklin actually be a legit NFL tackle?
I was still sorta on the fence about that when I looked up his combine numbers. Conklin is a big guy, but I had no idea he was 6'6. That's pretty good height for a tackle, but I would say it's somewhat uncommon to see guards that tall. Then I noticed that he also has 35-inch arms, which is pretty damned good for a tackle. The one physical knock on trying to play Martin at tackle in the NFL was the fact that his arms were less than 33 inches long. Good for a guard, not so great for a tackle. Physical stature-wise, Conklin checked all the boxes for an NFL tackle, however.
Then I see his testing numbers.
A flat five-second 40? There ain't many occasions when an offensive lineman is going to run 40 yards down the field on a given play. Hell, some of them might not run 40 yards down the field in a whole game. But a five-second 40 is something, especially when the guy's physicality isn't in question at all. At the very least it showed that Conklin is more of an athlete than I was giving him credit for after watching his tape.
So why didn't I see that kind of athleticism from watching him play? Even with the shitty pass set, a guy who can run that fast at that size should have stood out on film at some point.
What I came to realize is that Conklin was doing some things so awkwardly technique-wise, like his pass set, that it was hard to notice his athleticism. Watching him again, I noticed Conklin's athletic ability is what saved his ass time and time again. For instance, he might come off a little too aggressively at times in his run blocking and almost let a guy go, but then he would somehow find away to adjust his hips and end up slamming the guy to the ground.
Other times, he was over compensating so much for his shitty pass set by bailing out to beat speed rushers that when those edge rushers tried to come back inside, Conklin's feet would get stuck in the ground where he couldn't react quickly enough to stop them.
Almost every single time, and there were weren't many mind you, if Conklin had an issue blocking an edge rusher it was because he ended up stopping his feet and couldn't recover.
The rest of the time he made it work.
Maybe he didn't always look pretty doing it, but he was actually damned effective at just about everything you generally want an offensive tackle to be able to do. That includes pulling and kicking out the end man on the line of scrimmage on the other side of the center.
It also included the ability to get up on the second level and make blocks on linebackers ...
... and even safeties at times.
Last, but certainly not least, it also included the ability to execute a proper reach block.
Like I said, not always pretty, but usually effective.
It doesn't mean Conklin won't be a guard at the next level because whichever team that drafts him might prefer him inside. What it does mean is that he probably could also be drafted as a right tackle, and he could actually do a good job there as well.
I am still not sold on Conklin as a left tackle at the next level because of his technique issues. Sure, he could improve in those areas, but without any guarantees, I'm just not sure I'd take him with the thought of making him my starting left tackle. If he evolved into that, great. If not, I think you have a solid guard or right tackle for the next five to 10 years.
One last thing, the only guy who seemed to give Conklin any real amount of trouble was DeForest Buckner in the Oregon game. Conklin and Buckner went at it several times and make no mistake about it, Conklin gave as good as he got.
A few times, however, Buckner definitely got the better of the exchange, manhandling Conklin.
Of course, Buckner is a guy who I think should be taken in the top half of the first round, so expecting Conklin to dominate him for a full game was probably not practical. Still, if I wasn't sure about whether Conklin's physical play would translate well to the NFL, especially after he only repped 225 pounds 25 times at the combine, his play against Buckner might scare me.
But then again, he put a whupping on just about everybody else.
Didn't matter if it was a defensive end, a linebacker or a defensive back blitzing off the edge, for the most part, Conklin was able to put the clamps on all the other cats who tried to stunt on him, aside from Buckner.
I particularly enjoyed how he would sometimes try to drive some of those dudes into the cheap seats. It doesn't always translate into a guy being a good player, but I have a soft spot for on-field bullies like Conklin. I always will. Nothing wrong with just doing your job and blocking a guy of course, but if you can embarrass and demoralize him a little bit in the process, why not go ahead and do so?
With Conklin's size, speed and position versatility, I think he has a bright future ahead of him in the NFL. I know some folks don't value right tackle as highly as some other positions on the offensive line in the first round, but ask yourself how differently the Super Bowl might have turned out had the Panthers had a better player at that position. I bet the Panthers are going to spend damn near the whole offseason pondering exactly the same question as they try to get back to the big show.
Jack Conklin isn't on the same level as Laremy Tunsil or Ronnie Stanley, but he is surely worth a first-round pick. Not only because of his play, but also his salty on-field demeanor, which will probably be a hit in any locker room. If you are a team who already has an established left tackle but still needs help on the offensive line, you could do a lot worse than Conklin.
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. They have the TV copy of 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 former Michigan State left tackle play against Oregon, Michigan, Indiana, Ohio State and Iowa. Those represented the second, seventh, eighth, 11th and 13th games on Michigan State's schedule last season, respectively.