As the Combine and also the draft inches closer and closer we are starting to hear the inevitable chatter of “This prospect while a functional Tackle will most likely shift inside to Guard at the next level”. This year we have heard top talents brushed with this such as Andrew Thomas and Tristan Wirfs, both of whom could certainly play Guard but writing off their prospects at Tackle to me is very premature. It got me thinking that if these top prospects are being muted to move inside then what is the criteria that could suggest such a move? When I look at these two prospects in particular I see no reason to suggest that they should make the transition inside but why do others think that people should not play Tackle in the NFL especially after playing years of the position in College.
Before I go into detail on this, I am not in any way suggesting that a move inside is a “demotion” of sorts. As we know in Cleveland having protection up the interior is every bit as needed to protect your QB as it is on the book ends. History has seen the transition proves pretty fruitful, see the case of Zach Martin, Mitch Morse, and even our own Joel Bitonio. TJ Lang is someone that feels that the move inside is not to be seen as a failure on any prospects part:
“You hear it all the time on big networks, they’re doing their scouting reports and saying, ”Well this guy can’t play tackle, so he is going to be a guard.” They say that like its a slap in the face. They act like its where Tackles go if they can’t make it outside. I’ve never bought that.”
So why is this the go-to for draft fanatics and talking heads at this time of year. A lot of it comes down to physical measurable traits. As these come out more and more people are slotted into a phase of transition. The almost trope like “arm length” measurement where 32.5 inches is unacceptable but 33 Inches is seen as a qualifying standard is going to be thrown around a lot. I always find this strange. Yes you can analyze that more Tackles have this measurable, but the negligible measurement of 1/2 an inch doesn’t take into account what they do with their hands, the speed of their hands etc.
More plausible reasons why people will move inside are due to a lack of foot speed or knee bend . This is far more acceptable a reason for players to at least have this as a fall back plan to maximize their talents in the NFL. Guards physically also need to comprise of a more stocky and compact build, have a run block first mentality while being a good pass protector, but also have jaw dropping strength. Inside it also could be said that you need to have more efficient hip roll to create good anchor points so as to not commit the cardinal sin of being pushed back directly into the QBs lap. This all paints a familiar picture though doesn’t it as it sounds almost identical to the position of tackle does it not?. PFFs’ Sam Monson on Cleveland Browns Daily this week said that teams should strive for “Average” individual play, alluding to the fact that intelligence across the line and also the coherency of the unit is far more important. So we ask ourselves again why it is seen as a demotion?
LeCharles Bentley was also asked about this and he finds it “annoying to hear how the “powers that be” diminish the value of the skill set required to play guard. You can’t play tackle so you can play guard. That’s a complete fallacy. On the inside you don’t have the luxury of corralling someone outside and keeping him there, using space as your friend. For an interior lineman, your point of leverage is at a premium. It’s suggested the guard position is not a place for the taller more upright man and may fit the bill of a player that is shorter, but once again the physical traits aren’t absolute in this. Shorter players can play high and not have the requisite bend to get low and steal the leverage from the oncoming rusher.
Overall looking at the skills needed to play guard in the NFL they are transferable across the offensive line but the nuances of the position are not as simple as “His arms aren’t long enough to play tackle”. Inevitably some prospects will move inside to the guard position, others won’t. From my video study on Wirfs and Thomas particularly I envisage they will be every inch a Tackle at the next level. Especially for Zone Blocking teams of which we know, the Browns are one, but the era of it being a demotion or being seen as the poor relation are coming to an end. Just look at what Joel Bitonio has said previously “In College, it was like, Guard? What the hell is that?. Now I don’t even remember that I played Left Tackle”.
Learning how to play at the NFL regardless of position on the Line is going to be difficult, see D’Brickashaw Ferguson who after two years was written off only to forge a very decent career in the NFL. It is simply too easy to suggest that failing measurables are more of a precursor of a move inside over lack of athleticism. Give me athletic Tackles with 32 1/2” arms like Joe Thomas or Jake Long formerly of the Dolphins who’s arm length was a paltry 32 7/8”. Its an interesting conundrum to decide where a prospects fate does lie, but one that will be brought out rep after rep in training camps prior to the upcoming season.
With that said here are two mid-round prospects that have had stellar careers at Tackle in College that are penned by talent evaluators to move inside, Ezra Cleveland out of Boise State & the uber versatile Calvin Throckmorten from Oregon.