2014 NFL draft position preview: Tackles


Taylor Lewan (77) gives Denard Robinson a lift after a game-winning touchdown against Notre Dame in 2010. (Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

Upgrading the offensive line ranked among the Washington Redskins’ priorities in free agency, and when the NFL Draft gets underway in just less than three weeks, the team is expected to make an additional move or two to help improve the unit.

Washington in free agency added a new starting right guard in Shawn Lauvao, and a versatile backup in guard/center Mike McGlynn. The Redskins pursued Donald Penn with hopes of starting him at right tackle, but he wound up signing instead with the Oakland Raiders.

Tackle remains high on Washington’s shopping list, and the team has hosted a number of prospects at that position for pre-draft visits.

Fortunately for the Redskins, this year’s draft class boasts good depth at tackle, and although Washington lacks a first-round pick, they still should find a quality prospect with the 34th overall pick.

Many draft analysts view Auburn’s Greg Robinson, Texas A&M’s Jake Matthews, Michigan’s Taylor Lewan as the top three tackles aavilable. Alabama’s Cyrus Kouandjio, Virginia’s Morgan Moses and Notre Dame’s Zack Martin also rank high on the list, but figure to go in the late first- to early/mid-second-round range.

● Related:  Jones on Moses at Senior Bowl | Jones on Stanford’s Fleming at NFL Combine | Jones on Tennessee’s James |  Senior Bowl coverage | Combine coverage | Bios of O-line prospects

Kouandjio, a prospect with local roots, should find himself within Washington’s reach next month.

A right tackle for his high school career at DeMatha, Kouandjio ranked among the nation’s top offensive line prospects his senior year. He initially committed to Auburn before changing his mind and joining his older brother Arie, a guard, at Alabama, where he wound up moving to left tackle.

Cyrus Kouandjio (Associated Press)
Cyrus Kouandjio (Associated Press)

Kouandjio has good size (he’s 6 feet 6, 322 pounds) and strength. He proved himself as a dominant run blocker, and after focusing last offseason on improving in pass protection, in 2013 he yielded just 1.5 sacks in 286 pass attempts. But Kouandjio doesn’t have the quickness of an elite NFL left tackle.

His struggles in the Sugar Bowl against Oklahoma’s Eric Striker, and a subpar performance at the NFL Scouting Combine, have led many to believe that he is better suited for right tackle on the pro level.

“I hated to end my college career on that game, but it is what it is,” Kouandjio said at the Combine.

Since February and his unimpressive combine performance (he clocked a 5.59-second 40-yard dash), Kouandjio has worked to clear up questions about his ability, and health. After seeing his underwhelming performance in Indianapolis, some NFL teams reportedly red-flagged him out of concerns that a surgically repaired knee (he tore his anterior cruciate ligament eight games into his true freshman season) still was a problem.

But noted orthopedic surgeon James Andrews, who also serves as Alabama’s team doctor, sent letters to all 32 NFL teams stating that Kouandjio’s knee is structurally fine.

Kouandjio said there are “no issues” with his knee, that he aims to continue to work to improve, and that he has confidence he can develop into a quality NFL lineman. He helped himself with a better showing at Alabama’s Pro Day, but it remains to be seen when he’ll hear his name called.

Work ethic has never been an issue for Kouandjio. He demonstrated this as he worked his way back from the torn ACL in 2011 and started every game in 2012 and 2014. Kouandjio credits his upbringing and lessons learned from high school coaches and teachers for his drive.

When he was 4, his family emigrated from Cameroon to Maryland.

“I worked really hard, even from a young age,” Kouandjio said. “I guess that had a lot to do with where I’m from. I think it has a lot to do with that. I worked really hard. I know everybody told me I was talented, but that still didn’t stop me from working hard. My family was around and coaches were always backing me up.”

He added, “I feel as if I learned a lot of life’s lessons at DeMatha Catholic High School … Our motto is “DeMatha Catholic High School, gentlemen and scholars. We take it to heart. We have a deep tradition of gentlemen and scholars — successful people. We have a hall of fame packed with folks. Deep tradition – deep tradition of brotherhood. It’s a brotherhood, and I feel as if that helped shape and mold the person I am today, and I feel as if it helped me a lot through life.”

Kouandjio saw his family’s lives change for the better when they came to the United States, and now on the verge of becoming an NFL player, he knows he can dramatically improve their lives even more. But he says the success experienced at Alabama – and the desire to build on that – fuels him more than the promise of a big pay day.

“I don’t see making money giving me happiness. I think it’s going to help me be a lot more comfortable, but it’s not going to make me happy. I want to win. I want to go to an NFL team and win some championships. Out of the three years that I played at Alabama in college, I won two national championships. I want to continue doing that. I want to be successful.”

Jones’s top 10 tackles:

rank player school ht. wt. proj. rd.
1 Greg Robinson Auburn 6-5 332 1
2 Jake Matthews (click for bio) Texas A&M 6-6 308 1
3 Taylor Lewan Michigan 6-7 309 1
4 Zack Martin Notre Dame 6-4 308 1-2
5 Cyrus Kouandjio Alabama 6-6 322 2
6 Morgan Moses (More here) Virginia 6-6 314 2
7 JaWaun James (More here) Tennessee 6-6 311 2
8 Cameron Fleming (More here) Stanford 6-5 323 2
9 Jack Mewhort Ohio State 6-6 309 3
10 Antonio Richardson Tennessee 6-6 336 3

Mike Jones attended the Senior Bowl and NFL Combine, and has been tracking draft prospect visits for The Post. Have a question about the draft or anything else concerning the Redskins? Send an e-mail to mike.jones@washpost.com with the subject line “Mailbag question,” and it might be answered on Tuesday in The Mailbag.

More from The Post:

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The Early Lead: Mock drafts don’t account for busts | More

Outsider: Three interior O-linemen who would fit Redskins

Redskins’ draft picks | 2014 draft order | Insider posts about NFL draft

Fancy Stats: Workload suggests Chris Johnson is almost done | More

Follow: @MikeJonesWaPo | @MarkMaske | @Insider | Insider on Facebook

Mike Jones covers the Washington Redskins for The Washington Post. When not writing about a Redskins development of some kind – which is rare – he can be found screaming and cheering at one of his kids’ softball, baseball, soccer or basketball games.
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