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Will Holden is strong value draft pick for Cardinals’ offensive line in 5th round

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The Vanderbilt product has overproduced throughout his college career.

NCAA Football: Vanderbilt at Florida Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Will Holden wasn’t supposed to be Vanderbilt’s starting left tackle. Instead, that job was reserved for Andrew Jelks -- a more-hyped recruit in the Commodores class of 2012. When Jelks went down with a pair of season-ending injuries the past two years, however, Holden was ready to step up. He turned that opportunity into All-SEC honors and, on Day 3 of the 2017 NFL Draft, a spot in the Arizona Cardinals’ draft class.

The Cardinals selected the Vandy offensive lineman with the 157th pick of the 2017 NFL Draft. The 6’7, 312-pound blocker is a player who has a chance to contribute to Arizona’s offense early after dealing with SEC pass rushers throughout a solid collegiate career that featured more than 100 pancake blocks.

Why did the Cardinals pick Holden?

Holden is capable in pass protection, but stood out as a run blocker throughout his development in Nashville. His ability to find creases, drive defenders backward, and open holes for his tailbacks helped Ralph Webb run for a Vanderbilt-record 3,347 yards in just three seasons. Despite his height, he’s able to get low, anchor himself confidently, and create space. He’s also strong when it comes to getting upfield and clearing linebackers out of the way.

What are Holden’s weaknesses?

His fundamentals allow him to engage pass rushers at the line and keep them in his sights, though an often ineffective Vandy offense led to a frustratingly high sacks-to-big-play ratio the past two seasons.

But that’s not the kind of high-profile assignment that makes a left tackle so valuable.

Holden’s pass block numbers aren’t great — he allowed 11 pressures and seven sacks last fall. He’s not an elite athlete for the position, which means faster defensive ends and linebackers can turn the corner on him with a speed rush and collapse the pocket from the outside. While he’s a disciplined tackle who rarely commits penalties, it’s clear he’ll need to continue growing to be an NFL left tackle.

And that’s OK! Holden has been on a steady path of improvement throughout college and his career remains on an upward trajectory. The fear is whether he’s maxed out his room for improvement based on his physical limitations. That’s what kept him from being a day one selection, but he’s more than worthy of a mid-round pick as a player who can both contribute right away while working toward a greater role.