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Pro Scouting the Young and Elite Offensive Tackles in the NFL

Pro Scouting the Young and Elite Offensive Tackles in the NFL

The 2020 and 2021 NFL draft classes introduced young, elite, and diverse talent at the tackle position. In 2021, second-year Tristan Wirfs and rookie Rashawn Slater were selected as NFL All-Pros, while Penei Sewell was named to the NFL All-Rookie team.

This piece is less about ranking these players than evaluating what has led to Wirfs, Slater, and Sewell to have success thus far, and where they have room to improve early in their careers. Below are condensed scouting reports based on their NFL game film of the 2021, and 2020 for Wirfs, NFL seasons.

Tristan Wirfs

Strengths

Wirfs is a technically focused pass protector, steadfast in working half of his man. He works a two-hand punch while remaining square, keeping his feet active in a lateral shuffle. He reworks his hands against chops and will execute his snatch-and-trap block against an off-balance rusher. Against speed rushes, he targets the near shoulder pad to steer defenders wide of the pocket.

His one-hand jams are power punches, hitting high between the numbers while the opposite hand matches the opponents to swipe down attempts to get hands on. Stutters and jabs rarely shake him; he has the lateral quickness to mirror. Plays with low and loaded hips that give him an above-the-line anchor to stymie bull rushes. Has the football IQ to anticipate and break down D-Line stunts.

Areas For Improvement

In the run game, Wirfs focuses more on getting to his leverage than driving defenders to create lanes. Wirfs shows adequate acceleration and fluidity getting to the second level but can be passive on the move: stopping feet before contact and getting knocked back by smaller defenders.

Rashawn Slater

Strengths

Slater’s explosion out of stance and power at the point of attack makes him consistently impactful on cut-off and down blocks.  Has elite acceleration to climb to 2nd level and lateral quickness and control to stop and start to connect with agile 3rd level defenders.

Slater works around his average 33-inch arms well. Against length, he counters long arm stabs by connecting to the shoulder pad or armpit. Slater displayed above-the-line ability to rework his hands with no hitch in foot movement. Slater’s best trait is his balance and recovery ability. Once latched to rushers, he’ll lean on defenders with strong body presence without sacrificing balance to redirect for counters. His quick twitch helps reestablish optimal leverage from awkward, acute positions.

Elite Offensive Tackles

Areas For Improvement

Slater can stand to improve his anchor. He is rocked back on his heels often against bull rushes — usually stabilizes, getting feet replanted before conceding too much depth. Let’s longer defenders into his frame easily; will continue to develop counters to length.

Penei Sewell 

Strengths

Sewell possesses elite lateral quickness, strength, and mental processing for a 21-year-old rookie. Showed impressive position versatility; seamlessly transitioning from the left to right tackle midway through the season: 497 snaps at right tackle, 531 at left tackle.

Sewell is a playmaker in space: creating lanes with play strength, mental quickness, and aggression. His initial burst enables strong backside cutoff blocks. He decisively navigates from the 1st to 2nd level with elite speed – spurring explosive runs caving inline on down blocks, planting his foot explosively, and flipping his hips to redirect and find the optimal target down the field.

Sewell flashed punch accuracy hitting the inside part of the shoulder pad and used above-the-line grip strength to steer rushers wide of the pocket. Sewell smoothly processed D-Line movements, transitioning eyes, and hands to his new assignment.

Areas For Improvement

More of a grabber than a puncher: lost when latching onto defenders instead of reworking hands to reestablish leverage. Disconnecting hands from feet will be key going forward; will plant feet to lung into punches. He’ll continue to improve lateral speed, and range: conceded wins around his edge for costly QB pressures. Will develop counters to longer rushers, average arm length of 33 ¼ inches led to chesting up rushers instead of extending to establish good hand positioning.

Elite Offensive Tackles